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Complexity

On July 11, 1923 Albert Einstein held his Nobel lecture at Liseberg, on the theory of relativity. The lecture was in German, quite long, and one of the anecdotes from this event was that the Swedish King, sitting on the first row, fell fast asleep well into the event.

‘The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking’ Albert Einstein once wrote. And this quote still rings true today, many years after his death. The economic, social and cultural context we live in is fundamentally a mental construct. And as such not a given, although it very often feels that way.

This also impacts the way we as human beings look at change. Typically with scepticism and concern. Feelings that are extra present, in this chaotic year of COVID-19. We all just want to go back to normal. And fast. 

But here is the problem. I don’t think there is a normal to go back to. The days of stability and incremental change are over. The complex and unpredictable world is our new normal. And this sets a completely new stage for leadership. Because leading in a complex environment is a lot different than leading in a complicated one. 

One of the most over-used words in modern management lingo is ‘agility’. We all have to be agile. Nimble. But this is a rather simplified view on how to navigate complexity. 

Sure, in understanding this new complex world, we have to very careful not get stuck in the wrong strategic paradigms. Make sure that we don’t limit ourselves to the tried-and-tested. But at the same time, we also have to understand, that when steering a ship in stormy weather, the only thing that grounds you is … well … you. The fundamentals of whom you are. 

It is very often said, that in times of crisis, true leadership is revealed. And the reason for this is simply, that a crisis exposes the values defining our leadership. 

Certainly, we have to face – and deal with – this new complex world with open eyes. We have to stay flexible for what’s to come. And we should never long for what was. But at the same time, we have to be extremely aware of that inner compass navigating us through. 

To change the world, we have to change our thinking, to quote Einstein. But the basics or our value-system, we should not rethink. 

Because these are the only constant there is. 

Andreas

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