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Uncertainty

You need to understand that the plan you set at the beginning of a project is unlikely to be the one delivered at the end. All too often we design plans on the basis that rationality prevails, order is desired and uncertainty is banished. However, how will such a style and structure fare in a world where change is discontinuous, random and complex and unexpected market shifts occur at global rather than national level? The notion of predictability and stability are false idols and many consultants need to become more adaptive within the engagement. This state of constant unpredictability is driven by the following factors:

  • Non-linear: The traditional mechanistic model assumes that life is a linear process, one that is predicted, directed and controlled. A look in the newspapers or a glance at the stock market will immediately highlight that this is not always so. Life and organizations are built on a set of constructs that use chance, random disturbance, changing dynamics, turbulence and inter-connectedness as the base presuppositions. Non-linear systems are nothing new and consultants should recognize that life is not an orderly system. You must be able to recognize non-linear undercurrents and not be surprised when things do not go as planned.

  • Interacting structure: Often, you might be invited to undertake a project in one particular part of the business. However, you need to recognize no system acts in isolation. Through this interconnection, changing a variable in one area will in some way affect other areas. Identifying this interconnection is easy where the impact is seen, the problem comes when the impact surfaces in other areas of the business or emerges months, or years, later. It is important to be sensitive to this interrelatedness and to be prepared to modify the plan if it turns out that the engagement is causing problems in other parts of the business.

  • Self-organization: When you try to change a system, there must be an appreciation that change will occur on its own as a result of the interaction between different parts of the system. Beneath the polished veneer that all organizations present to the world, there exists the potential for spontaneous self-organization. Within the stable mechanistic business processes that organizations typically adopt, there is a living force that drives and supports the business but in ways that are not always obvious. To ensure that the assignment is controlled, it is important to appreciate the nature of complexity and self-organization and not necessarily regard unplanned activity as a failure. In many cases it is the spontaneous action that emerges from interaction between different parts of the system that enhances the change process.


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