+61 2 91887292 adam@adamcallender.com

Embracing our Negative Capability

Managing a business today is fundamentally different than it was just 30 years ago. The most profound difference, we’ve come to believe, is the level of complexity people have to cope with.  Sargut & McGrath

When you think a classic leader, they have this persona of being across everything and enjoying insight and control over their domain.  The reality now in many organisations is that it is an illusion.  To make the most of our opportunities, we need to be open to the environment and the complimentary expertise around us.

This article was inspired by Dr Jason Fox who suggests that leaders and managers should come to terms with the fact that some matters might have to be left unsolved and uncertain. That we should be walking away from a Command & Control mindset.  So often when we become responsible for the performance of the team or the organization.  With the shift driven by the abundance of information, complexity now affects products, markets, jobs and organisations.

We now better appreciate the need to empower knowledge workers to explore and embrace this complexity in our organisations.  That managers or leaders are best to give up the Alpha mindset and be enablers and supporters of members, coaching them towards clarity and purpose.  Acknowledging that there is unknown aspects and that persistence is required in order to find success and to perpetuate it.

In more complex domains° we need different qualities of leadership in the mix. Negative capability… includes the ‘informed and active humility’, in which the sources of indeterminacy are better understood so that knowledge can be more adaptive and resilient. Tom Murray via Dr Jason Fox

Interesting to consider the case of Pepsi – a generation ago, selling sugar water used to be pretty easy, there were 2 main brands of brown sugar water and that was about it.  It was distribution lead, as it had to be super easy to lay your hands on it at a moment’s notice. And you had to make it aspirational to drink, Michael Jackson drinks it so should I?

Since that time, there have been disruptors like Red Bull building extreme credibility through base jumping, downhill shenanigans in cities around the world, oh an a pair of F1 teams seen on the global stage.

Along the way there has the realisation that sugar is not ideally consumed in bulk.  There were artificial sweeteners, however, they have had conflicting opinions shared on varieties of them. There are now a multitude of suppliers and a multitude of categories, where selling water has become compelling.  Buying a drink over time has become a lot more complex driven by choice.

Negative capability has become a crucial tool for navigating the dissonance-creating complexity of modern culture.   Tom Murray via Dr Jason Fox

Thinking about all of this.  We recruit and develop experts in their fields.  Through our interaction empower the experts in our teams, giving them the mandate to tackle their area and how it shifts and changes with time.  Coaching them through it, i.e. asking them appropriate questions, showing curiosity and assisting with clarity and responsibility.  Finally, creating safety in the organisation through acknowledgement of trial and error.


Embracing Complexity, by Tim Sullivan, featured in the Harvard Business Review in September 2011

Learning to Live with Complexity, by Gökçe Sargut and Rita Gunther McGrath, featured in the Harvard Business Review in September 2011



Visit me at www.adamcallender.com

Puppy photo from Unsplash