Waysfinding, complexity and opening spaces

Listen to this episode to meet Sonja Blignaut and learn about being  “complexity fit” and much more.   (29:09)

First a quick introduction: Sonja is the founder and CEO of More Beyond and she works with clients to create resilient and agile cultures and leadership. She works primarily with complex systems theory and has the gift of making it understandable and doable for all of us including in our daily lives.


What follows are key ideas and phrases from our conversation, edited, sometimes adapted, and is not an actual transcript.


Context matters almost more than anything else

You need to honor the context of every system that you enter, every system that you interact with.

We need people who are “complexity fit”, able to think beyond categories, think beyond linear ideas of cause and effect.

Most people are almost natural navigators of complexity

We’ve made complexity a “thing”, you know, once you name something, it becomes a thing.

We all interact with complexity. Some of us just make it explicit and others don’t.

We encounter complexity in our everyday lives in ways so familiar that we navigate it without conscious awareness. Driving through traffic to go shopping in a store is complex. Raising a family is complex.

What is complexity?

People have a misunderstanding of the word. They either see complexity something that is very difficult, higher order complicatedness or as something you can’t manage, you can’t control, similar to chaos.

Complexity is not good or bad. It just is. It’s like change. It’s not good or bad. It just is. And you already know how to navigate it.

We’ve been accustomed to seeing organizations as wonderfully ordered and predictable spaces where we can have five-year plans and they’ll actually happen.

It’s time to let go of that and to see that organizations are similar to other complex contexts that you already know how to navigate. You need to bring those skills into the workplace.

Complex or complicated?

How do I explain complicated and complex?

  • I use the metaphor of living in a zoo compared to living in a jungle. It’s the difference between, an ordered system that I can fully understand by looking at the parts and it is knowable and controllable versus a complex interconnected ecosystem where things are connected in ways I can’t fully understand. It’s entangled and I can’t take it apart because then I destroy it. And just by interacting with it, I’m changing it.
  • Another explanation people understand is going to the root word.
    • Complicated means folded. So a complicated problem is something I can unfold, even if it’s like an intricate origami fold. I can fully understand it. And then replicate it.
    • The root of complex is plex which means woven together. I prefer tangled. It’s almost like a bramble bush, where the moment you start pulling on one of the ends, the thing gets even more tangled together. You can’t unfold it and understand it.

WaySFinding – term possibly coined by Sonja

Today we are in uncharted territory. We’ve got climate change, a global pandemic, social unrest, all happening at the same time. The levels, of uncertainty and unpredictability are off the charts. We haven’t had to make decisions in these kinds of contexts before.

In complexity, there’s never just one way, and I think I made it WaysFinder, because if you use wayfinder you trigger that mindset again of  “I just need to find the one right way”.

Little or big nudges?

Sometimes we need little nudges, sometimes bigger ones. And sometimes little nudges make big changes.

People love to use the analogy in organizations of bringing about change: It’s a really big ship to turn. In the real world, what turns a big ship is a small little rudder. You only need a 2% shift in the small little rudder. And that’s the difference between ending up in South or North America potentially.

Safe to try

We don’t leverage this non-linearity that exists in complex systems, enough. you know, small, local changes, you know, safe to fail. I like to call them safe to try.

Many of these small little nudges, small little experiments can actually have system-wide ripple effects, whereas really big multi-million-dollar interventions can have zero impact.

The gig mindset and leadership opening spaces

Jane asked: “You said my book, The Gig Mindset Advantage, has provided a new framing and language to help you see that when you were lucky enough to encounter someone with influence as well as a gig mindset, real transformation followed. What do you mean?”

Sonja: “When people with a mandate, with some level of power and authority in an organization have this gig mindset, they can open a space for others.”

Those people are able to create adaptive space where you can create the conditions for more of this gig mindset to emerge.


You can reach Sonja on LinkedIn
sonja@morebeyond.co.za

082 338 7495

Follow her on Twitter: @sonjabl