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Embracing the Simple & Strange with Jim Hazy

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Jim began by emphasizing that first we consider leadership we need to mediate on: what iscomplexity?  There are many sources from biology, sociology, economics, etc.  What links them together is unpredictability of time (you don’t know when something will happen), place (you do know where it happen), social complexity (you don’t know who is connecting, influencing, etc. whom).   What leaders need to do is find the simplicity on the other side of complexity, to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes.

From Jim’s research there are some keys to get to simplicity:

  • Realize that the map is not the territory. Models aren’t reality but help us navigate it.
  • Models are powerful tools as “structural attractors” – they create shared beliefs and experiences and vary in complexity. These can be physical spaces and tools as well as norms, practices.
  • As leaders we must understand “path dependence” – we design structural attractors, such as paths in woods or baseball games, to limit complexity and path dependence.  DW: Hmm, I wonder what are the structural attracters in my organization that limit path dependencies.
  • Under stress, complex systems “self-organize” to relieve the pressure. The challenge is that leaders need to guide the system through different states, from quiet to surge states.  DW: Hmm, do people self-organize in less optimal solutions?


The key challenge is that we’re predicting at a general level but we are acting at a local level. And structural attractors do not always follow the shortest path for the scale that is relevant in your model.  DW: What are the pathways or models that we create that limit complexity where necessary and allow for complexity when needed?

Harvard Graduate School of Education