Change starts with People

Change starts with People

So amidst the complexity of change, what are some of the key common patterns that we see emerge..

If we begin an exploration of any human change, one clear pattern that inevitably emerges from amidst the complexity is that in brief, people make change happen.

The key themes that emerge from an exploration of people involve issues of leadership, politics and cultural change.

Let us again use the Cynefin framework to explore the role of people in tackling chaos, complex, complicated and simple challenges.

Chaos & Leadership
Amidst the challenge of any change a degree of chaos may be the starting point. While no one individual can solve all chaotic problems alone, there is no question that leadership is essential to escape chaos.
As many leadership books make clear, single individuals make leaders who are willing to take a lead and do something, to provide that beacon of light for others amidst chaos and to point the way forward.

Many stories of leadership abound from all walks of life. Whether looking at the course of World War II and the role of leaders like Winston Churchill or the recent push for Healthcare reform in the US led by Barack Obama, for real change an individual needs to lead that change.

Beyond taking initial control of a chaotic situation, an effective leader will have a deep understanding of the domain they are leading in and have identified common patterns that need to be harnessed/addressed.
To gain a good understanding of the common patterns and solutions likely to succeed, a leader will often give a small yet diverse team scope to generate ideas that may succeed. The size of  the team is important here also and there is evidence that  ideal teams are small in number.

Change in a complex field ideally requires a blend of top down leadership and bottom up innovation. This is why a good leader will encourage diversity in their team. With enough diversity, some solutions will thrive while others may fade/fail.

The field of politics involves groups of people making collective decisions, which is in itself a complex endeavour. This is naturally more art than science which helps illustrate that dealing with complexity can feel/appear more akin to an art form than scientific endeavour.

An understanding that solutions in complex systems cannot be made failsafe but safe to fail is key. Some leaders may be either uncomfortable with this principle or unable to communicate it.
My sense is that some leaders hold a naive yet commonly held and harmful view of change that in the 21st Century complicated solutions are available (again thinking of systems in machine rather than organic terms) and that failure is not an option. My experience is that this misunderstanding of the nature of change in complex systems is still a real barrier to progress.

Of course if leaders don’t harness and foster diversity and innovation to tackle complexity, the nature of complex systems is that others will network and innovate despite the leadership (rather than because of it).


Amidst the complexity, if a large group of experts tackle a complicated problem then, given enough analysis, related complicated solutions can be developed.

Engaging these wider body of influential stakeholders is key to achieving the cultural change needed in change.

If the complex nature of the domain is adequately understood by those involved, then patterns inherent in the complex system can be harnessed to develop reusable solutions that can be scaled  and maintained for complicated purposes.

However if the complex nature of the domain is misunderstood, those key patterns will be missed and complicated solutions are developed that struggle at scale and are hard to reuse and/or maintain.

Again, as many professionals have not been trained in complex versus complicated systems, it is my experience that professional groups commonly devise (in parallel) complicated solutions that struggle when then attempting to align or integrate their respective solutions, often due to a clash of cultures that have developed independently.


Over time as the system moves away from chaos to complex, in order to deliver any complex or complicated solutions there exists a requirement for underpinning simple tasks that are then delegated to large numbers of staff…

Within the structure of armed forces, change at this level is delivered by the frontline troops who are given simple orders to follow. In non militaristic organisations the principle is similar so that frontline staff should have simple tasks to fulfil.
Again the nature of complex systems are that if the tasks given are not well defined and easy to do then staff will often find a workaround..

We now move on to look at the common change pattern involving process

Godin, S (2008) “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: