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Navigating Complexity at Scale with Mary Uhl Bien

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“Complexity Leadership”
System leadership creates the container that allows solutions to emerge over time. In this way, the
process becomes the solution. The “adaptive space” is the container that allows solutions to
emerge. Complexity Leadership is leadership in and of emergence. Emergence is what allows
individuals and organizations to adapt and survive. The pressure of survival is the strongest
complexity pressure that promotes the most adaptation.

 What does it mean to be in the adaptive space?”
In adaptation, there’s a need to innovate: to learn, grow, and change. The polarity of the need to
change against the need to produce generates tension that can lead to creativity. Tension is the
core dynamic of adaptability. In our model, we change the word tension to “conflicting.” Conflicting
occurs when different ideas come together in adaptation. When conflicting is followed by
connecting, it can lead to adaptive outcomes. “Adaptive space” refers to the conflicting and
connecting that happens as a result of the external pressures in the system; it’s adaptability that
creates long term sustainability in the organization.

“Mapping leadership in the adaptive process”
Three different types of leadership is required – entrepreneurial leadership, enabling leadership,
and operational leadership. The entrepreneurial leadership in the entrepreneurial system consists
of individuals and groups who act as leaders, regardless of title, to advance novelty leading to
beneficial change. This requires thinking of leadership as a process and collaboration rather than a
position or title. The enabling leadership are individuals, often in positions of formal authority, who
enable and protect adaptive space. They foster an environment that contributes to ideation and
emergence to occur to flow across. Operational leadership are individuals who help realign and
loosen up the operational system to be able to accommodate the new order.

Harvard Graduate School of Education