COMPLEXITY, LEADERSHIP, IDEOLOGY AND PERCEPTIONArt Hutchinson
of Mapping Strategy
had a superb post the other day entitled" Mental Maps, Assumptions, Predictions and Complexity: Crichton Speaks
" which analyzed aspects of the talk " Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century
given by uber-novelist Michael Crichton
the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy
. Crichton's address is worth a post in itself, particularly the graphics, but I would like to concentrate on the concepts Hutchinson is drawing our attention toward. Art writes:"...But it causes one to consider the influence that authority (of all types) can have on the perception of facts. The implications of that idea for how leaders lead and how organizations set strategy in an uncertain world are profound "
Leaders play a critical role in the operation of John Boyd's OODA loop
both for the decision-makers and the mass, whether a society, subculture or formal organization. Leaders, so long as they retain the intiative, usually have the advantage of framing
most questions or data points under discussion, thereby determining the parameters of debate. Framing not only influences the " orientation" part of the OODA loop where information is integrated into the worldview but it can also effect "observation" as well. In his talk, Crichton detailed how authoritative definitions drive subsequent human perceptions, creating self-fulfilling prophecies and blind spots.
Leaders can do a number of things to corrupt the OODA loop:1. React to uncertainty by attempting to impose ever higher degrees of control over a complex system.2. Act in unconscious obliviousness to self-referential aspects of data when dealing with systemic questions.3. Accept only the data as valid that comports with ideological preconceptions when making systemic decisions.4. Deliberately attempt to isolate themselves from feedback ( in terms of volume not just ideologically) or " kill the messenger" policies.5. Rely on static assumptions in a dynamic system when making decisions with longitudinal implications.
Ideology, I must note, is not a bad thing per se. In fact, it is a constructive force when used as a guide for outcomes -i.e. the value-set that leads us to setting strategic objectives that result in accomplishing nonzero-sum results. Mankind can hardly live without an ideology because it serves as a psychological simplifier
for the overwhelming systemic complexity of reality. When ideology becomes a filter
for incoming data
or a litmus test
that substitutes for reality, a psuedo-reality that leaders forcibly impose on society, then ideology becomes supremely irrational and monumentally destructive.
What are we to do ? Hutchinson suggests:"In other words, predicting the future is hard. In many cases its virtually impossible - intrinsic to what we're attempting to predict and the precision we're seeking in predicting it - i.e., not simply a failure of our tool-set. Which does not mean we shouldn't try to better understand and 'pre-think' a range of possibilities for how the future might turn out in a certain domain. It's just that many of the tools people employ in doing it (e.g., modeling) should be taken for what they are and nothing more: ways to run more assumptions faster. We should not forget that they're still assumptions." [ Emphasis in the original]
I strongly favor the mentally active, strategic, approach to cognition that Art counsels; frequently we receive information passively and do not bother to examine the premises. Not only do we allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by others and the background " conceptual noise" of the culture but we miss opportunities that are unlooked for - to say nothing of the possibilities that extend, in decision tree fashion, from the road not taken.
Or the connections between the roads. Life is Non-linear.