In the era of complexity, small, occasional deviations can have massive impact – More Insight from General McChrystal’s Team of Teams

When I read a book in order to deliver a synopsis of that book, I am asking “how do I present this synopsis? What are the most important thoughts to get across from this book?”

I work hard to choose good books. And, I am seldom disappointed. And, as I read as thoroughly as I can, at times, some point screams out at me – “you must blog about this.”

This is why I usually have a few blog posts prompted by each book I read for the First Friday Book Synopsis.

Like this month’s book… As of this moment, I have 450 highlighted passages from Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a imageComplex World by General Stanley McChrystal (with David Silverman, Tantum Collins, Chris Fussell). I am overflowing with observations, and new insights I have learned.

One area has especially intrigued me — this book is a great “explainer” book on the modern rise of “complexity.” He writes from his perspective of fighting a new kind of “asymmetrical” war, but ties the challenge into many other arenas (like business). He finally helped me grasp just what this means.

Read these excerpts from the book:

Efficiency remains important, but the ability to adapt to complexity and continual change has become an imperative.

While we might think that our increased ability to track, measure, and communicate with people like Tarek (the street vendor who set himself on fire in Tunisia, 2010) would improve our precise “clockwork universe” management, the reality is the opposite: these changes produce a radically different climate—one of unpredictable complexity—that stymies organizations based on Taylorist efficiency.

Lorenz’s butterfly effect is a physical manifestation of the phenomenon of complexity—not “complexity” in the sense that we use the term in daily life, a catchall for things that are not simple or intuitive, but complexity in a more restrictive, technical, and baffling sense.

Complexity, on the other hand, occurs when the number of interactions between components increases dramatically—the interdependencies that allow viruses and bank runs to spread; this is where things quickly become unpredictable.

The density of interactions means that even a relatively small number of elements can quickly defy prediction.

In other words, the real world is full of the knotted interdependencies of complexity, and science was not equipped to deal with this—indeed, science actively avoided these unpleasant truths, preferring to simplify things to fit the clockwork universe.

…a hallmark of complexity is that small, occasional deviations can have massive impact.

Here is what he is saying. In the old “efficiency is the goal” world, every step could be plotted, and every impact of each step could be predicted on the other steps.

Not anymore!

Thus, now, you can’t predict the next steps, and you can’t predict the next step’s impact on the next, next step.

The book points to this difficulty in every arena, including in modern business and management.

This presents a truly new profound challenge. This alone makes the book worth reading carefully.


(I really am looking forward to presenting this synopsis).


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