Jackson Pollock painting or chessboard?

Most institutions -- be they governments, corporations, education or health care systems -- try to run things as if they were playing chess, each move orderly, sequenced. But today’s word is complex, more like a Jackson Pollock painting than a chessboard.

So Independent Diplomat Carne Ross suggested at last week’s BIF8 innovation conference.

In a complex system it’s almost impossible for top-down leaders to create order, hard as they may try. Order emerges in complex systems from the bottom up, said Carne.

As a corporate rebel this metaphor is quite powerful to me.

  • How can we foster more participatory environments for people to create the change needed to succeed in an increasingly complex world?
  • Is it just a matter of more of us stepping up and leading, regardless of title?  Of not waiting for people with official titles to confer approval?
  • Do we find ourselves as rebels still playing chess, following long-held "ways of working" rather than collaborating and activating colleagues in new ways?
  • Do we find ourselves painting by numbers when what's really needed, and may be so much more rewarding, is paint freely and without worrying about convention like Jackson Pollock?

Change is a-comin. Are we brave enough to let go of status and certainty and create new participatory ways to work, to innovate, to prosper?

Painting by numbers always bored me as a child. I knew what the painting was going to look like, which was so uninspiring. The act of full-in creating without knowing exactly how it might turn out is risky, but these days following the usual paths isn't going to solve the issues at hand.

What other questions does this metaphor raise for you?