Thriving in Complex Times - How to Stay Relevant


Shifting information in straight lines and mirroring the linear processes of the industrial era are no longer efficient.

If you have a look around the current business environment, it doesn't take long to see how technology has affected not only our lives, but also the way we work. Now more than ever the way we work is impacted by forces that are less tangible and controllable.

The ways in which we previously run our businesses and the processes that control them have not really changed despite the fact that the very nature of how we work in many roles is fundamentally different. So what do I mean by this?

As we have moved from the shop floor to the office, much has changed. Many of today’s senior roles no longer build or produce anything of physical value. They simply shift and manipulate information while adding meaning, in order to create perceived value.

Shifting information in straight lines and mirroring the linear processes of the industrial era are no longer efficient or effective for today’s business environment. We need to start thinking in networks not straight lines. We need to focus on building collaborative instantaneous value rather than gradual improvement.  

Markets now shift so rapidly that by the time you create a product, it is almost out of date. Today the value piece of knowledge or the product it represents is also far shorter than it was in the past, and it's getting shorter day by day. Shortening product development time to market is critical to its value life and ultimately your return on investment.

This also means a competitor’s ability to copy or respond to your market offering is also faster and in order to stay ahead of the game you need to be constantly iterating and improving your products and services.

It’s fundamental to equip ourselves with the ability to look into the future with greater accuracy enabling your business to meet the market with a viable product at the same time. Calculating both product design and implementation processes based on the past is too incumbent and slow. Your business requires new ways of working by utilising approaches that are fast and agile. Here are some interesting key insights on how to match the speed of the future in the present.


Think ahead - What is the future context?

Often I’ll suggest to clients that they need to be willing to abandon traditional ways of thinking.

When dealing with complexity one of the key themes I have identified are businesses approaching solutions to their current issues based on their current operational context. Often I’ll suggest to clients that they need to be willing to abandon traditional ways of thinking about accomplishment, by focusing on projecting their solutions into the future in order to calibrate their approach more effectively.

This is the only way they even match the speed of change. Think of it like passing a car on a highway, you don't just match the speed of the other vehicle, you want to pass and leave it behind. You need to project your intention in front or further ahead, in order to be in front.

Too many organisations don't think far enough ahead and unfortunately by the time they create a solution it’s no longer relevant or it's too far away from the current challenge in question. Moving with speed and thinking longer term with a more systemic approach is crucial component for effective change. 

Customer Experience - a new sales pathway

Too often we focus on creating the perfect product rather than the perfect experience.

Ever wondered what catapulted Apple’s dominance within the technology market from one time giants IBM? There was one key shift. They shifted their focus from the product to the experience. They removed ALL KPI’s and other measures from their sales teams except one. Service delivery!

Too often we focus on creating the perfect product rather than the perfect experience. Once you win the heart and minds of an individual, the product sells its self. I am reflecting on a comment recently by Tim Cook the current CEO of Apple, “We sell dreams, not products.” This statement perfectly demonstrates an experience focused approach to market capitalisation.

Very few businesses take the time to understand their clients (or markets) internal expectations of a product, focusing more often than not on the exterior product features, as opposed to the complete Eco system of a product.

Diversity of thinking - multiple inputs

A more systemic approach is crucial component for effective change.

Again reflecting on the recent Tim Cook interview on the Fortune website. When asked about ideas and capturing the market, Tim speaks profoundly about the power and dynamic organisational capability delivered from diversity. Interestingly enough he frames diversity in terms of thinking, not gender or experience. A key difference from the way a majority of people think about it. Shallow or surface diversity is simply the tangible aspect of something that runs much deeper. Tim speaks to the one of the key aspects of Apple’s success, being a deep diversity of thought in enabling Apple to be agile in nimble in the market.

Perfect takes too long - get going early and remember 70% is good enough.

Often we get caught up in cycles of perfection, waiting for the perfect product. We use the excuse of perfection as a reason not to act and as a form of work avoidance. Organisations that capture the market place move quickly and rapidly failing forward as they go. They rapidly prototype and move to a market based on 70% is good enough rule, dynamically steering the product in real time. Let the market do the heavy lifting and product testing for you. Don't wait to be proactive rather than reactive. In short, let the market decide your product fate as opposed to long cycle times associated with internal product development.

Partner - many hands make light work

We can no longer have deep expertise in everything we do. We are now in the age of relationships.

Today many organisations are forced into such high degrees of specialisation in order to be competitive that they are no longer able to commit to the required quality in areas that they do not specialise. The emerging era requires a new model, a partnership model. One where we leverage each other’s uniqueness and specialisations for mutual benefit. Moving together with a common purpose ensures that we can maximise our quality while still delivering on time and budget. This approach can also lead to collaborative product creation that would not be possible working in isolation.



Opinions and facts are not mutually exclusive, but simply parts of bigger picture we are only now beginning to understand.

So few businesses actually measure the impact of their interventions or decisions on the real world. Metrics at best are vague and non-specific. Getting a clear process in place to test and validate your change initiatives is crucial for maximising your return on investment. The net promoter score has been widely used by many companies to seek direct customer interaction about the effectiveness of their product and the purchaser’s experience. It asks five simple questions about whether customers enjoyed their experience and the likeliness that they would refer the product or service to another. Tools, like Net Promoter, allow us to track in real time the success of various stages of product development and deployment. Understanding client experience is a crucial step in growing your business.

Hopefully these simple suggestions will help you get more out of your business while assisting you to be more precise on where and how you spend your time. In this day and age it’s about leverage and getting the most out of yourself and your people with targeted effort.

In order to do this we need to seek out new ways of working that make us efficient, fast and accurate. The organisations that capture the market in the future will be the ones that have mastered what I call THE BIG FOUR of 21st Century Leadership:

  1. Systems Thinking

  2. Agile Performance

  3. Collaborative Cultures

  4. Dynamic Structures

Pete Holliday is an Organisational Development and Talent Strategist that specialises in design and development of 21st Century Leadership programs. He is one of a small number of global thought leaders (Nick PetrieMichael Griffiths and Digby Scott) specialising in new approaches to leadership that focus on the use of Vertical Development.

Pete was recently a senior consultant involved in the design and delivery of an organisational transformation and culture initiative at Thiess Mining. This multi-year suite of Integrated Leadership Development Programs focused on building of Systems Thinking and Organisational Agility capacity at each level of the organisation. This particular project relied on the use of both The Integral Framework and Vertical Leadership Development as key models to assist Thiess with their recent global expansion.