A frightening article this week talks about the risks of “systemic collapse”.
The gathering storm of human-caused threats to climate, nature and economy pose a danger of systemic collapse comparable to the 2008 financial crisis, according to a new report that calls for urgent and radical reform to protect political and social systems.
How did we get here? One major factor of the problem is silos. We live in an age of complexity, meaning that there are unprecedented interconnections among people, businesses, nations and continents, and yet we still largely apply linear thinking. That means we break things up into pieces to try and understand them better instead of concentrating on the dynamics and patterns that come from being interconnected.
This tragically dated linear thinking affects every aspect of our lives. It influences how we learn at school and university where subject matters are divided up, it leads people to shape their organizations into “matrices” that have difficulty communicating with each other, and it prevents leaders from understanding urgent problems and providing effective solutions. The current urgent risk of systemic collapse exists because critical areas are “studied in isolation”:
Until recently, most studies of environmental risk tended to examine threats in isolation: climate scientists examined disruption to weather systems, biologists focused on ecosystem loss and economists calculated potential damages from intensifying storms and droughts. But a growing body of research is assessing how the interplay of these factors can create a cascade of tipping points in human society as well as the natural world.
The problem is that reality is not waiting for us to catch up – the effects of interdependent risks are unfolding in a rapid and non-linear way:
…the authors of a paper published in Science warned the risks were far greater than assumed because 45% of tipping points were interrelated and could amplify one another.
Now for the good news…
It is not all doom and gloom, even though the clock is ticking. We already have the knowledge and understanding to tackle problems systemically. The problem is this knowledge is not being spread fast enough because leading schools are not teaching it. Yes, some business schools may offer courses in Systems Thinking but if they also teach Cost Accounting as a way to understand finance then they are missing the point.
When leaders are equipped with systemic methods and tools, not only can they gain real insight into problems to prevent them before they occur, they can contribute to creating positive systemic benefits. While it is true that catastrophe can be round the corner because risks are interrelated and can amplify one another, the opposite is also true. Precisely because they address interplay, systemic solutions can lead to amplified and interconnected benefits. Systemic can be positive, not just negative. This is the kind of knowledge that leaders need to arm themselves with to face the urgent and imminent systemic problems we face at every level and in every region.
The IPPR report that triggered the scary article also states:
“…the younger generations will need help in finding the energy and a sense of control that often eludes them as they begin to realise the enormity of inheriting a rapidly destabilising world”.
The only way they can find hope, understanding and any form of control is in understanding the systemic dynamics of what is happening. Control is possible, but not if people continue to think it can be achieved with a “divide and conquer” mindset. Unless we change NOW what we are teaching future leaders, they will continue to struggle.
Silos are our enemy
At Intelligent Management we constantly urge organizations to think, plan and act systemically and to abandon silos for a systemic model. It’s not enough to try and get silos to communicate through various techniques that are workarounds. That way you end up with a kind of ‘Frankenstein’ of living parts sewn together. What is needed is one, whole system where flow is optimized and everyone works together, contributing their competencies in a synchronized way towards a shared goal.
A future that is prosperous and sustainable is not utopia, it is systems science. Systemic knowledge, methods and tools already exist. What are we waiting for?
Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore, helps leaders in organizations speed up flow, overcome silos, and shift towards a whole system way of working through a synchronized Network of Projects. We support our international clients through education, training and the Ess3ntial multi-project software to schedule competencies and unlock the potential of human resources. Based on our proprietary Decalogue methodology .
See our new books The Human Constraint – a business novel purchased in 36 countries so far and ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York, by Dr. Domenico Lepore, Dr. Angela Montgomery and Dr. Giovanni Siepe.