Friday, January 27, 2012

Responsibility in a complex world

Happy Australia Day!  I hope you all survived okay.
Many of you will be familiar with my philosophy on responsibility - essentially that we are responsible to do what we can, whatever that may be.  I like to reflect on this on Australia Day, and what this means as an Australian citizen.

I've been thinking lately about how responsibility and leadership work in a complex world.

Leadership often comes up in discussion of 'Australia' - usually bemoaning a lack thereof.  The leadership we can't see is that from the top.  The sort of nationalism-building narrative Paul Keating might praise, and demand from our political leaders.


But do we really need more leadership from the top, from a professional politician?

Innovation isn't effectively generated from the top.  The organic mess of local interactions is needed to generate the new ideas and understanding required.  Outside of the usual 'filtering up' philosophy, people study the generation of innovation in distributed systems.

Leadership in distributed systems is much less widely considered, but it's no less important.  Ideas are just potentials until something actually happens as a result, and you need leadership to deliver.  Sometimes you will be able to filter the idea up to someone else to lead - maybe your manager, or theirs.  In a complex world this isn't the best approach. When life gets challenging, the best point of action is likely not the top, but somewhere nearer the source of the idea.  Leadership needs to be distributed too.

And my point?  An increasingly complex world requires distributed innovation and leadership.  A system of distributed leadership requires us all to take responsibility.  Not for playing follow-the-leader with those above us, but for local leadership.

John Baxter

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