Leadership Organizational Change & Complexity

Following is a splendid piece of insight coming from my friend and colleague, Michael Josefowicz, on honing leadership skills in a complex environment.


For economic development, entrepreneurs and organisational change it’s all the same.

1. Create leaders.
Make them believe they can manage complexity by showing them they can.

2. Create high performance teams.
One person always has a limited view. Often right, sometimes very wrong. Without a high performance team in place that can disagree within a context of trust the chances of getting it very wrong increase radically.

3. Choose a problem that is both solvable and worth solving. Focus on the problem and the constraints of time and money. Leadership and high performance team practice can be learned with any problem.

After that it’s all simple and self sustaining.


What is most interesting is the direct relationship between leadership skills and problem solving. It would involve developing a wide range of human skills to operate at the level of “unconscious competence” in a complex environment.

How Individual Consciousness Affects Leadership Decisions

Years back when I visited Singapore for the first time I was quite taken aback by the affluence of this South East Asian city state. It didn’t look like Indian cities — Mumbai or Kolkata.

It was spotlessly clean. It was economically well off, orderly and easy to go around though stradled with harsh punitive rules. But what stuck me most was the clear absence of slums or ghettos — so prevalent across the world — especially in rich cities. Instead there was public housing where the poor were housed. No one lived in slums.

The architect of modern Singapore – Mr. Lee instantly became one of my several role models.

But the question is — why did he not allow slums to organically develop, as they do and instead spent money on creating public housing to avoid people living in slums?

Was it because he wanted to create a cleaner and better image for Singapore to attract foreign investments, given that an estimated 40% of world maritime trade now passes through Singapore?

Or was it that he had an unwavering empathy for the poor and wanted to give them a better deal in life as he did for ministers and civil servants of the state by ensuring that they earn high salaries?

Delving deeper I saw that these weren’t the reasons for Mr. Lee to go for mass public housing.

With a big ethnic Chinese majority but sizeable Malay and Indian minorities, Singapore suffered race riots in the 1960s. This deeply influenced young Mr. Lee’s consciousness, which he never quite forgot till he passed away at the ripe old age of 91. So after a painful divorce from Malaysia in 1965 he went for public housing and enforced quotas in allotment of public housing to force integration of the three major ethnic communities. All this was done to avoid the painful repetition of ugly detrimental race riot.

And his mindful action did pay off the intended benefit. Political stability and social order that followed, attracted huge foreign investment in a climate that proved “ease of doing business” that ensured Singapore to grow into one of the richest countries of the world.


In Nemetic terms this is the play of the RGB waves, where —

R wave (event) — ethnic riots

G wave (behavior) — segregation of the ethnic communities from the major Chinese ethnic community and tension between those

B wave (consciousness/intention) — change of consciousness and intention of Mr. Lee

This gave rise to a new set of RGB waves, through the action of Mr. Lee, which may be described as —

R wave (event) — investment in public housing and allotment through quotas.

G wave (behavior) — Political stabiity and social order

B wave (consciousness/intention) — one of the world’s richest country.


The Economist, March 28th – April 3rd 2015, The Wise Man of the East, page 16.

When People Choose to Engage?

Here is a story shared by a good friend of mine:

When a Toyota executive asked employees to brainstorm “ways to increase their productivity”, all he got back were blank stares. When he rephrased his request as “ways to make their jobs easier”, he could barely keep up with the amount of suggestions.

This story raises many questions, which are:

1. Why did the leader get ‘blank stares’ when he asked people to find ways to increase productivity?

2. Why did people readily engage with enthusiasm when asked by their leader to find ways to make their job easier?

3. Was the leader asking the same question in two different ways?

4. Did the questions show a leader’s intention to his/her people? Is demonstration of intention vital for meaningful engagement to take place?

5. When do people choose to engage?

6. Is there a general lesson in this story that a leader can learn and consistently apply in his/her work to engage people?

7. Can the same lesson be learned by teachers to engage their students?

8. Would the lesson be useful for parents, spouses and partners?


Contradiction and Nemetic View of Leadership

This is a video conversation between John Hagel III and John Seely Brown talking about negotiating fast paced changes in today’s world that does not even blink to throw surprises at us on a daily basis. They suggest that we look at underlying structures, sense changes and respond as best as we may. Great advice.

However, the Nemetic perspective about this phenomenon is similar yet different.

In Nemetics, the ‘ripples’ are events both helpful and unhelpful, that happen spontaneously. Such events are called R waves. Leaders need not focus much on such events to fix them but it is necessary to take note of those since R waves are just symptoms of deeper truths waiting to be uncovered.

The underlying structure that creates such ripples of the R wave is the G wave that denotes ‘behavior’. Leaders also need not focus too attentively on the G wave but take note of that too. This is because it is the best place to capture ‘signals’ to detect incipient traces of R wave events taking birth.

And the underlying theme that modulates G wave is the B wave, which stands for things like intention, management consciousness and public consciousness manifested as design, policies, rules, guidelines, etc. It is the source of all the energy that flows through any system causing it to evolve over time within authentic and/or inauthentic constraints. So, it is the B wave that calls for intense leadership focus. It is here that dramatic and long lasting changes can be brought about through minimal and effortless design interventions.

RGB is the Nemetic view of leadership to negotiate complexity.

Authentic Leadership

In response to my blog post on ‘Watching Desires‘ my colleague Michael Josefowicz remarked, 

“the first necessary condition to start the journey towards liberation by paying attention to our thoughts, emotions, desires, personality, actions etc. It should neither be too tight nor loose. In that way we experience life through the music that it produces. That is how one engages with life.”

I might add our own failures. I’m thinking of all the policy makers who look for the answers to public and organizational problems in others. Leaders who look for “better workers” or “more efficient technology.” Anything but how they can learn from their own failures.”

That is one of the great blind spot of a leader. 
Any well intentioned leader starts his journey by understanding and facing his own failures. Blaming others is a sure sign of weakness or cunning. That is inauthentic leadership. 
However, facing one’s own failures of the mind calls for a great deal of courage, patience, perseverance and the power of ‘see’. 
It is neither too easy nor too difficult. 
It is the hallmark of authentic leadership. 
And it is worth its weight in gold! 

General Principles and Methods of Rapidinnovation

The following forms part of the course notes for the workshop on Rapidinnovation I would conduct on 26th April 2013 at Indian Chamber of Commerce, Kolkata.

 General Principles and Methods of Rapidinnovation:

A) Management Perspectives:

1. Follow your aspirations but check the facts (failures are all around) and re-purpose if need be.

2. Aspiration shapes strategy; Strategy provides vision; Failures stop us from arriving at vision; Improvisation/innovations to eliminate failures pave the way to arrive at the vision.

3. Take failures of any system as the starting point of learning and leadership. Learn to face failures and fears through improvisation and innovation to balance both efficiency and effectiveness.

4. Through inventions, innovations and improvisations we can release the untapped potential of any organization for higher Productivity, Performance and Profitability simply free of cost giving on-going benefits.

B) Read on-going organizational stories:

5. What is going on?

6. What does it mean?

7. What might we do about it?

C) The nature of failures: Catching the snake

8. All failures in organizations are stories of tiredness & unhappiness of the human spirit. However, no management would like to fail. The Loss to the society is irredeemable. What might we do about it?


9. Whatever is visible would fail; whatever is invisible drives all failures.

10. Whatever fails is never the cause or culprit of the failure.

11. All failures are stories of interdependence.

12. Problems only appear when the necessary conditions to solve or resolve them are present.

13. The solution/resolution of any problem lies in the ‘motion’ of the problem itself.

D) The underlying process: PLS3D Awareness

14. Pay attention to a failure or problem or issue, called a point (Point)

15. Connect other points (Line)

16. Connect the lines to form surfaces (Surface)

17. Create a 3 Dimensional view of the failures and problems (3D)

18. Transcend the 3D view (Beyond)

E) What we might do:

19. Achieve balance of forces and fields through re-design

20. Balance contradictions

21. Eliminate imperfections within the interactions

22. Change quantity to improve or change quality

23. Allow ‘negation of negation’ to its natural conclusions.

24. Optimize time between negations.

25. Recreate a new story by changing the stories that cause failures.

F) Learning:

26. Learning is a personal responsibility. It is about personal mastery.

27. Collaboratively learn through self-study, observations, thoughts of others, interactions with peers and mentors and feedback from your own work since learning, understanding and gaining insights might not possibly happen in one stroke.

28. To learn continuously and deeply stop learning; do, think, reflect, experience deeply, bring your unique perspective into anything; be the discipline; arrive at wisdom

29. Use the stories of all failures in an organization to develop training and education within the organization.

30. Luckily, all of that happen in a blink through perseverance and patience, aided by the power of emergent complexity of our 800 MB human genome in a self-organizing way that can beat the best super computer of the world.

G) Measurement Criteria:

31. Productivity, Performance and Profitability (Effectiveness)

32. Reliability, Availability and Maintainability (Efficiency)

33. Health, Happiness, Creativity (Human Spirit)

What Happens When We Fail to Notice?

This is an excellent story of what happens when big players fail to notice the potential of small niche innovators in the market

Arie Goldshlager (@ariegoldshlager) tweeted at 10:35 PM on Sat, Mar 30, 2013: The Blockbuster Innovator’s Dilemma http://t.co/EvFafsUD8L #innovation (https://twitter.com/ariegoldshlager/status/318046359682945024)

A number of things might happen:

1. While you are ignoring; the niche market player might develop the market under your very eyes to the ‘tipping point’ which might topple the Goliath.

2. The attitude of ignoring might serve as an authentic constraint for the small players to innovate as nobody’s business against authentic constraints. Authentic Constraints never pose a dilemma for innovators. It usually makes them better.

3. The very act of not noticing informs innovators about the assumptions the big players are relying upon to work and the emerging patterns they are missing out since they devote more time consolidating  leadership positions in an uncertain market.

Are their any more advantage for innovators?

Rise and Fall of Nokia in India: Missing Patterns

On 28th March 2013, Nokia’s senior VP (India, Middle East, Asia) D Shivakumar quit the company after serving it for eight long years.

Shiv was known for his personal conviction on the importance of leadership. His conviction ran so deep that he sponsored many leadership programs throughout the region.

However, his tenure in India saw mixed results. While Nokia gained in brand image yet it suffered in sales.

Why was that?

Firstly, it completely missed out the emerging market of dual sim wave till it was too late. While competitors launched dual sim models in quick succession Nokia had nothing to offer. When it finally entered the market it was just too late. By that time their competitors have already grabbed 60% of the market share leaving Nokia with little or no elbow room to leverage. It substantially weakened Nokia’s leadership position.

Secondly, the company also failed to notice the emergence of smart phones with Android and Apple OS.

Nokia paid a price for not noticing two significant new market patterns in time – dual sim and smart phones. Their once enviable share of 60% of the market share quickly eroded to less than 40% in a matter of say two years. It now seems that this slide is irreversible.

All because leadership failed to see emerging patterns and act in time. And their aspiration did not match the aspiration of their consumers.

A costly mistake indeed.

Do you think ‘seeing patterns’ is leadership’s number 1 job?


Note: 11th Feb 2014:

That the above analysis made about a year back was correct is confirmed by this article dated 11th Feb, on Nokia’s attempt to stop the  slide http://tinyurl.com/pevtwho 

My prediction is they would still not be able to stage a comeback. They missed a few more vital perspectives in their strategy.

P&G’s Case in India: Aligning Strategy with Innovative Management

Aspiration driven consumption is unfolding with gusto in the rural markets of India.

For instance, take baby diapers. Today, rural sales of baby diapers are in excess of Rs 200 crores. Over the last two years, rural category sales have grown by over 150%, with rural diaper sales accounting for 15% of total value sales of diapers, which is Rs 1300 crores.

A key reason that could be driving such “aspiration driven consumption” is the lowest price of Rs 10/- offered by Procter and Gamble India.

Pampers (P&G’s diaper) has the greatest share of the baby diaper market across India and has also been growing value share consistently. It is a clear sign that rural consumers are choosing to buy branded diapers for their babies”, said a P&G spokesperson.

On the other hand, sale of rural sanitary napkins grew by 74% over the last three years, with sales now at Rs 366 crores.

In this case too P&G’s ‘Whisper’, which is the market leader across India, including rural markets, has also been made available at the lowest priced SKU of Rs 25 for a pack of 8s, which turns out to be Rs 3/- per unit.

(source of all figures & quotes: The Times of India, Kolkata, Friday, March 29, 2013)

The important thing to notice here is the deep relationship between company’s strategy, product design, manufacturing practices and marketing. They are all in sync. Else market leadership isn’t possible.

It does not come as a big surprise when we understand strategy formulation process of P&G.

In the book Playing To Win the former Chairman and CEO of P&G, A. G. Lafley describes the strategy formulation process as answering five important questions, which are the following:

1. What is our aspiration?

2. Where do want to play?

3. How do we play to win?

4. What resources we must have?

5. What management systems must be in place?

Answering these questions did three things for P&G in India:

1. The company matched their aspiration to the aspiration of their consumers.

2. The different management functions that generally run in silos were aligned and were in sync.

3. Helped them to be a market leader in a very short time.

It possibly serves as a clear case where strategy and innovation work together.

While strategy provides the direction and the energy of a vision, innovative management paves the way for achieving the aspirations of both producer and their consumers. And these must be in sync with the aspiration of their customers. Else efforts meet with inauthentic constraints to make operation meaningless.

What do you think about it? Do you think this should be the way to go in such tough economic times?

Other references:

1. Happiest People Pursue the most Difficult Problems:  http://blogs.hbr.org/kanter/2013/04/to-find-happiness-at-work-tap.html

2. Playing to Win: A.G. Lafley, Roger L. Martin, Havard Business Review Press, 2013

Problems, Landscapes, Habits; Leadership in the 21st Century

Excerpts from forthcoming book ‘Dancing on Peaks; Resolving Wicked Problems – A Nemetical View of Life


Fortunately, not all problems that we face in life are wicked. For most of these, though relatively few, we can get over them with our effort and practice. And we can do that so well indeed that they don’t seem like a problem any more. Like for instance, my getting to my desk, booting up my laptop, connecting it to the net and then letting my fingers fly over the keyboard at great speed to write this book is a simple problem. Though years back it took me some time and effort to master the process today it is effortlessly simple and predictable. But I remember my first brush with the computer, which was over two decades back and those were tense moments. It took me hours and some training to figure out MS-DOS and hours of brutal typing practice with some coaching from a friend. Resolution of such problems doesn’t require much thought. These can be easily mastered through controlled and dedicated effort guided by mentors if possible. The solution to such problems are known and are easily available. These I call the “library type of problem”. The operating context is predictable. It is something similar to mastering maths. A teacher or mentor is available and the answers are at the back of the book. We can refer to such ‘library type problems’ as problems of ‘flat landscape‘ since it is akin to walking in the park. Such problems can be easily mastered through the ‘habit of memory’.

Then there are problems that are slightly different to ‘library’ problems. It might be something like this – how can I get from my house to my office (10 km) in the shortest possible time and expense without sacrificing comfort. Given the information, such type of problems are straightforward problems. The problem opens up choices and a fairly intelligent choice has to be made. However, the result is always not guaranteed. Sometimes things can go wrong and we can be thrown off our desired intention. Such straight problems are fairly easy to tackle. And with some experience these can be tackled quite well. Hence I call these ‘experience type of problems. Such problems can be framed like – how to climb Mount Everest safely. There is one particular objective to be achieved. Once that can be done the problem no longer exists. More the experience better are the choices we can make and better can be the associated planning. And with better choices, planning and action the targeted outcome is achieved easily. Adopting best practices in the field also helps a practitioner. Hence such ‘experience problems‘ are problems of ‘single peak landscape‘. Such problems can be mastered through the ‘habit of planning and making choices‘.

Then there is a third type of problem which is continuous in time. We achieve something and then prevailing situation demands that we achieve something more. It is like scaling a mountain range, like the Himalayan range, which is full of peaks. We climb one peak and then we try to climb the next peak and then figure out how to reach the next. Sometimes we can get from one peak to the other peak quite easily, if they are nearby with a reliable connection between them. At other times we might have to take a detour, climb down from a peak and then scale up another. In real life this might resemble improving productivity or opening up new markets in a closed economy. While the economic environment doesn’t change much we strive to become better and better from our existing position. These are not very easy problems to resolve. It is similar to a cricketer who excels playing at local level and then aspires to excel playing his game at regional level before trying to move up and play at the national level. This is where complex problems start to surface. It would need enhanced cognitive skills, a basic level of contextual intelligence, ability to learn from mistakes, strategizing, refining intentions, better decision-making skills, emotional balance and continuous moment to moment adaptation without losing a sense of direction over long periods of time. Such type of complex problems may be termed as problems of ‘Rugged Peaks landscape‘. Such type of problems can be mastered through the ‘habit of time and learning‘.

However there is a fourth type of problem that needs constant adaptation in a complex environment. Such systems are called Complex Adaptive Systems. And the problems in this category can be seen as ‘adaptive type of problem’. Continuing our analogy of the ‘rugged peak’ problems, let us imagine for a moment that the ground below us continuously dances and also gives away at time. So the peaks, which were rather stationary in the previous case now start having different heights at different points of time. The peak that appears small suddenly grows big and the bigger peak suddenly drawfs in relation to the peak we are presently on. Nothing remains constant in both Space and Time. These are real ‘wicked‘ problems. Everything is dynamic leaving us clueless about both position and the rate of change (velocity) at any given instant. It might be better to call them the problems of ‘Dancing Peak landscape’.

In this book we would focus specifically on such problems. Such problems need a high degree of contextual intelligence, where previous experience would hardly be of any use. Sharp cognitive skills would be needed that would call for taking various perspectives at different levels along with a high ability to reflect, ability for deep understanding, instant strategy, quick actions and strong adaptation skills. This type of problem can’t be easily tackled by the habits of ‘memory’, ‘planning’, ‘making choices’, or by habits of ‘time’ and ‘learning’. Taking on such types of problems would need the habit of ‘practice of preparedness, attention and serendipity’, that is the habit of a ‘prepared attentive mind’ moving from moment to moment in time. This in Nemetics we call as ‘attentive contextual intelligence’, which is a mix of collective intelligence, combined with feelings, intuition, rationale and intelligence of an individual.

Finding such problems is not difficult. Actually such problems occupy most of our lives; problems for which we don’t have the answers and can’t predict when such type of problems would surface. And they are dynamic in nature. Slight changes in global economy throw national economies out of gear. It affects business operations, which must quickly adapt in order to survive. Customers change. Markets go topsy-turvy. Profitability goes under tremendous squeeze and the notions and targets of productivity and performance change continuously. Job markets fluctuate. Nature of jobs are redefined. Personal lives get affected. Even Nature gets affected. Climate changes. Plants and animals get affected. It then appears that we are caught in a deep and frightening whirlpool.

Under such situations, there are no answers at the back of the book. There are hardly any choices to quickly select from. There is no question of optimization. Experience hardly helps. Dedicated hard work might prove useless. Agility and resilience might have no real meaning. There is only one answer but we are left clueless. There are no best practices to follow, no techniques to use, no process to adopt, no framework to guide our minds. We either get it or we don’t. If we get it wrong we are doomed to be sucked into the whirlpool even deeper till we suffocate to death. If we get it right we live to see another day and perhaps another new moon. However, the only wherewithal we might have to rely on is the quality of our feelings and thinking brought together through the habit of ‘practice and serendipity’ or simply having a ‘prepared attentive mind’ since the need is to adapt moment to moment. Or simply stated, our contextual intelligence can come to our rescue to maintain balance.

In order to develop and apply such contextual intelligence to wicked problems operating in a ‘dancing peak’ landscape, Nemetics is an option. Nemetics is a flexible thought model that allows us to synthesize mathematical thinking, subjective insights and feelings to re-design our lives for the better. The objective of the flexible thought model is to make sense of complex adaptive systems and to act upon them. It may be effectively applied to various fields like organizations, manufacturing systems, engineering, organizational sociology, economics, design, system design, system reliability and even to psychology and a host of others fields.

In short Nemetics can be best described as a study of origins of the various complex phenomena within which we exist. Or in other words it is the ontological inquiry in general that seeks the transcendental truths operating behind everyday phenomenon.

This practice of Nemetics stems from the fundamentals of complexity science as applied to complex adaptive systems and is based on the time-tested principles of Engineering, Chaos, Complexity Science and humanities like social and economic systems.

Since the aim of Nemetics is to gain direct knowledge of the transcendental the fundamental premise is praxis for the simple reason that the theory of such complex emergence (a term which we shall deal with later) simply might not exist. It has to be worked out. The idea is to move from practice to theory and then to practice again.

In other words we first explain the situation, then act upon it and then only predict the outcome as a way of reflecting on our thought process and our decisions. We do so through attentive reflection. It is a practice to train the eye and mind to be prepared and attentive to spot emergence, engage with its structure and behavior, mull about the drivers that drive complexity and then exchange that helps to adapt to complexity.

Life is then in perpetual beta – no hanging on to assumptions, beliefs and opinions. That points to adopting a stance of nuanced but effective adaptation based on ‘attentive contextual intelligence’. It is a tall order, which asks us to do what is needed to be done and then keep adapting and tweaking as time goes on and situations change.

That is what Leadership of the 21st Century would look like. Problem solving would grow lesser in importance. Problem solvers would be passe. Problem and paradox resolution would take prominence. And persons who can resolve complex problems and have the ability to predict in the short-term would be highly regarded and would be in high demand. That can only be done by people who can gain direct knowledge of transcendental truths through their highly developed contextual intelligence. They with their highly trained minds would be simply priceless!


  1. Types of Problems: Library problems, Experience Problems, Complex Problems, Complex Adaptive Problems.
  2. Types of Landscapes: Flat, Single Peak, Rugged, Dancing Peaks
  3. Habits: Time, Planning & Making Choices, Time & Learning, Attentive Contextual Intelligence
  4. It is not unusual to find combinations of ‘Type of Problems’, Landscapes and Habits co-existing within the same situation.
  5. Whole of life is nothing but a series of changes and issues waiting for resolution, facilitation, modification and nurturing to leverage us to new dimensions and states.
  6. Leaders of the 21st century would posses an unusually high degree of ‘contextual intelligence’ to reach essence of complex situations in a wink and know how to deal with those.