Daily leadership activities to leverage complexity. 12: equifinality – No one best way!

This is a simple but powerful concept coined by both general biologists and the father of “General System Theory” (Ludwig von Bertalanffy). Two ideas are the basis of this concept. First, in an open system, there is no one best way to reach a goal (or certain state). Second, not all the viable options are equally efficient, but we can’t know which one more efficient ahead of time.

As we discussed in a previous post all organizations are open systems exchanging both particles and energy with their environment. In such systems, we can’t project ahead of time how future state will look like because of the nonlinearity of the system.

This concept contradicts early (but still widespread) management theories using machines to conceptualize organizations. A machine is a closed system and therefore there is always one best way to reach a goal. Even if there is a high probability for one way to be more efficient when we start the journey, we don’t have any clue which way will become the most efficient until we will reach the goal. 

The number of autonomous and diverse parts of the system and their interaction between them and externals create too many options that we can think about. Those options will change future conditions and therefore change how the outcome will look like.

How do all the above apply to leadership, management, and complexity? First, equifinality is an outcome of complexity. As a manager or a leader, you should identify different ways that are available to reach a goal and reach a consensus on which way to follow. After you select a path, evaluate all the viable options all the time to make sure the previous decision is still the right one. 

A continuously moving landscape will introduce many changes to any system. Each of these changes might reveal a more efficient and new way to reach the goal. This is your sole responsibility as a leader to find those new ways and make other people aware of them.

Just a continuous track of ways to reach a goal and which one of them looks like the most efficient one at any time will increase the odds to end up using the most efficient way. Sticking to one way will work in more simple systems. In any social system sticking to one way will end up not using the most efficient way.

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