For Complex Development Problems: We Need Bridging Leaders

This afternoon I saw in CNN how residents in Fargo, North Dakota pulled themselves together to protect their town against rising floodwaters by piling sandbags over threatened dikes.

Knowledge management (KM) is about achieving effective group action. During crisis situations — when a common threat is publicly visible and cause-and-effect relationships are known to everyone — effective group action follows easily. In complex development contexts, effective group action can happen if there is a leader who can see (better than most people can) and lead through three kinds of complexity:

  • Dynamic complexity: when causes and effects are far apart in space and time, and therefore less publicly visible;
  • Generative complexity: when the future is difficult for most to predict, or is likely to be unfamiliar or different; and
  • Social complexity: when people who are affected or who should take action do not share similar assumptions, beliefs and interests.
    (Source: Adam Kahane’s book “Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening and Creating New Realities,” Berrett-Koehler, 2004)This type of leader is called a bridging leader. Continue reading
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