Navigating Complexity, Part II

Change is inevi­table — what do we have to do?

In our previous posting [1] we addressed the character and impact of funda­mental changes in our working and living environ­ments. Today we discuss how we might respond to the inevi­table change that is already taking place. We will focus on the factor of “navigation” that can help us to determine our position, to identify our goals, to intervene, and to help shape the change.

By Dr. Friedhelm Böttcher and Dr. Karl-Michael Schumann

The author and founder of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, believes that the change brought about by digitiz­ation is inevi­table: „We can or should attempt to prohibit some of the results or manife­sta­tions of the techno­lo­gical shift, but the techno­logies are not going away. Change is inevi­table. We now appre­ciate that everything is mutable and under­going change, even though much of this alteration is imperceptible“[2].

Although digitiz­ation is unavo­idable, it also creates large scope for new ideas and confi­gu­ra­tions with enormous prospects. But how can these oppor­tu­nities be exploited in a world that is changing so rapidly that our ability to absorb new things is no longer suffi­cient. A World, which perma­nently confronts us with new capabi­lities where it may take many years to reach a social consensus on their possible uses and effects? How do we orient ourselves in a dynamic, in which we endlessly experience ourselves as beginners (“Newbies”), regardless of age and experience, in which constant “Becoming” is the normal state?

Many companies engage in enormous efforts to master the digital trans­for­mation and its processes to remain viable in the VUCA world. The results of these efforts show, however, that simply incre­asing efficiency and organic growth is no longer enough [3]. Rather, new strategies and process models must be developed repeatedly in order to ensure the ability to act and to succeed long-term.

Provide Navigation Systems

In the “VUCA-World” it is becoming incre­a­singly difficult for managers and companies to control external and internal influ­encing factors, to guarantee the viability of strategic and opera­tional decision-making processes and to appro­priate the necessary resources, compe­tencies and skills. Many develo­p­ments are no longer predic­table, important infor­mation is missing and cannot be obtained. Even in the past, companies and execu­tives were repeatedly confronted with the fact that tradi­tional world­views and models no longer function. We have learned to expect such changes and to deal with them, but not with the complexity and dynamics with which we are confronted today. Now, we urgently need new tools and, above all, navigation systems that help us to

  • Determine our position, and find points of reference,
  • Identify spheres of action, and our goals,
  • Act and intervene in a controlling manner.

The compi­lation of key figures such as turnover, costs or market data certainly forms the basis of a navigation system. For navigating in the VUCA-World, however, more advanced granu­larity and trans­pa­rency is necessary, which among other …

  • … makes use of the “Innovation Gap” analysis [4] to under­stand the true investment in innovation activities required to be successful in the long run. This analysis provides orien­tation because (a) it requires a plausible and consi­stent explanation of how an uncovered business growth gap is to be filled and (b) it ensures that innovation projects are closely linked to corporate strategy and innovation strategy.
  • … analyses the expected sales and profit contri­bution, the proba­bility of success of the current projects, and the resources tied up in each one of the projects. This analysis will reveal whether the right measures have been taken, and which options exist for additional future activities.
  • … ensures that even weak signals are recognized, which indicate an immediate or future need for making decisions. Those weak signals are parti­cu­larly important that indicate early devia­tions from an expected behavior pattern and thus provide a better chance for timely action.

In view of the dynamics of the changes, it is less important (and often not even possible) to make precise forecasts. Rather, we must aim at antici­pating and circum­venting dangerous obstacles, and at finding one’s own place, one’s own design space in the VUCA world. Next week we will be presenting navigation instru­ments here at Until then, we look forward to your feedback and sugge­stions on the subject.

Picture credits: cybrain


List of sources

[1] The article series is based on a keynote lecture given at the VDI Annual Injection Molding Confe­rence in Baden-Baden on February 20, 2018.

[2] See Kelly (2016), “The Inevi­table: Under­standing the 12 Techno­lo­gical Forces That Will Shape Our Future”, Penguin, New York 2016, p. 2ff.

[3] Keeley, L.: “Ten Types of Innovation,” Wiley, New Jersey, 2013

[4] The innovation gap is defined as the diffe­rence between the realistic sales forecast for the next few years and the targeted growth target.