Where did it all go wrong…


I thought Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, encouraging the House of Commons to vote to delay Article 50, Brexit blah, blah, only to vote against it was a remarkable spectacle.

There again, the whole of Brexit has been a remarkable spectacle and becoming more spectacularly remarkable!

• Setting a deadline

without a plan how to get there, was a poor start.

• Having an unworkable plan wasn’t a great idea.

• Starting the clock running against you, only to have to ask for more time, was something of a classic

• Having no idea how to keep the troops on-side, tops it off, nicely…

… but it’s complex.

Managing complexity takes a bit of doing.

For a start it’s a good idea to stop thinking you are in control. Mostly, in complex environments, you’re not. We make the mistake of confusing plans for reality. It is virtually impossible to plan a plan, beyond scenario setting.

No one saw Brexit coming and no one had a plan. A lot of people still don’t.

CCGs have burned the midnight oil, planning and strategising for years ahead, only to find they are now heading for extinction.

In complex situations you probably won’t have the whole story. You can only try to assemble the best picture you can.

Complexity means you are likely to be flying blind… for at least part of the journey.

You have to accept, you are where you are. Working in the ambiguous present. Nimbleness and flexibility are better friends than long-term thinking because clarity will come in stages.

This means… it’s ok to change your mind. Politicians seldom do. Boards rarely do.

Changing your mind isn’t macho and so much of management and politics is ‘macho’.

Having a vision, a position or a point of view is all very well until events, data, information or dare I say, gut-feel, tells you, you need to think again.

Is everything complex or are there havens of simplicity? Usually you’ll find some… call them anchor points.

In complex situations no one can understand everything. Starting from what you do understand and working outwards is no bad approach. Going for simplicity.

Usually 20% of the problem will have 80% of the complexity.

That leads me to the next point. It’s easy to get trapped into analysis-paralysis.

Talking to others often helps unpick complexity. So often, an organisation’s ‘big’ problems are a culmination of lots of smaller problems. Go to where the smaller problems are.

Delayed discharges start a long way away from the wards and beds. Talking to the people doing the job, the front-line and working backwards, often invites complexity to unpick itself.

Perhaps Mrs May has been much smarter than we think. Maybe she is not trapped in complexity. Maybe everyone else is.

Her mission; leave the EU by 29th March with the best deal possible. It may not be perfect and I might overrun the time, but that’s the deal. Simples.

Prof Valerie Iles writes about muddling-through, elegantly. Muddling has nothing to do with ineptitude. In complex situations it might be better to ‘muddle through’ than try to find the ‘why’ and fix for every nuance of the situation. Trial and error is better.

The Prime Minister is ‘muddling through’. Given the unchartered nature of the situation we are in, that’s OK.

Leaders cope with complexity by saying, I think I can find a way through this, stay with me, what do you think… they are deliberate about building trust.

Leaders are honest; ‘there is no strategy for this, let’s work our way through it, together’.

Leaders go to where the issues are and ask for help.

Leaders celebrate tiny steps of success to show progress is being made… proof there is a way through.

Leaders reimagine the problem, set the direction, don’t make excuses when things go wrong.

Most things start simple, escalate through complexity and level-off simple. Managing the bit in the middle; connecting the dots, open to serendipity, being agile. That’s savvy management for complex situations.

Sounds easy? Where did it all go wrong…

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Reproduced at TrainingPrimaryCare.com by kind permission of Roy Lilley.