To understand and address 21st century challenges, we have to become familiar with complexity, systems thinking, and resiliency.
There are no shortage of tools, resources, and information available to guide and support our capacity to tackle these challenges. At interCHANGE 2015, Mark Cabaj outlined the approach leaders need to implement when embarking on challenging, complex work.
To start, we must move away from leadership that relies on a “born with it” attitude, to leadership attitudes oriented toward developing the capacities and capabilities of others to support authentic responses to 21st century challenges. For example, developing a leadership capacity for situational awareness or “knowing what’s going on around you”.
Leaders who increase their situational awareness are able to effectively identify issues as simple, complicated, political, complex, or chaotic. The capacity to differentiate between these types of issues begins to orientate leaders and teams towards appropriate responses. Issues that are often the hardest to shift (i.e. poverty, hunger, inequality, community resilience, sustainability, etc.) always fall in the complex category and these types of challenges require leadership capacity to engage in adaptive responses.
Adaptive responses are participatory, systemic, and experimental in nature:
- Participatory responses engage multiple stakeholders and build broad-scale ownership and action. They are about gathering a wide sense of the multiple facets that make up a complex challenge and understanding the issue from multiple perspectives. Participatory approaches are inclusive, and stakeholders are instrumental in defining the problem and shaping the solutions.
- Systemic responses begin by understanding a complex challenge by exposing the roots. They recognize the challenge has many interconnected factors and interventions in one area of the challenge will likely result in unanticipated outcomes in another area of the system.
- Experimental responses aim to learn by doing and iterations (trial and error). The strategy or plan emerges over time as lessons are learned and new approaches are developed. Experimental responses are flexible and shift along with the context they are a part of.
Adaptive responses move conversations away from silver bullet or cookie cutter solutions and into a new space where unpredictability is embraced, root causes and connections are explored, and diversity of perspective, knowledge, and experience is necessary.
For more information and resources on adaptive responses, check out the interCHANGE 2015 resources page.