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Leading in Complexity: Why Agility Allows Us to Thrive in an Unpredictable World

By Mathias Eifert

The Story

Our ability to usefully predict the future has always relied on a lot of assumptions, but increasingly our challenges defy straightforward cause-and-effect expectations. Instead, opportunities and threats emerge in response to both shifting external constraints and our own actions. This “new reality” even has its own buzzword: VUCA, which stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity. Agile leaders need to embrace the truth that unpredictability significantly reduces productivity while simultaneously amplifying risk. Crucially, leadership approaches that don’t consider the critical role of emergence increase the likelihood of significant failure.
In this session, Mathias discusses how the Cynefin framework helps us make sense of what kinds of problems we’re dealing with, as well as how to adjust our leadership and problem-solving approaches. He examines how various agile practices help us surface and manage emergent opportunities and the risk that comes with unpredictability.

The Learning

Understanding complex problems and how to approach them enables leaders at every level to make a better case for agility, improve tradeoff decisions under ever-present constraints, and move beyond process to an outcome-focused view of agile transformations.

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