Interview with Simon Wardley

We proudly present Simon Wardley, one of this year’s teachers, in our Leading Complexity Program starting September 2023. Here is a summary of the interview below.

M: Hi, Simon. It’s great to have you on the program this year. Could you briefly say who you are for those who don’t know you?

S: I am Simon Wardley; I work in research for DXC. I am best known for Wardely Maps. I do a lot of speaking at public conferences, and lastly, I appointed myself as a Thought Lord. I got so tired of people calling themselves thought leaders I thought oh well, I’ll be a Thought Lord then.

M: You will be the first Thought Lord on our program. So why should leaders care about the complexity?

S: I assume you’re leading in an organization that is a dynamic and complex system. Secondly, the organization is doing something in a landscape, usually an economic landscape, which is a dynamic and complex interaction of economic components and forces. It is like what we are doing. 

But we usually cheat. I like Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety.

Basically, the controlling system has to have as much complexity as the inputs and outputs of what is being managed to manage the space effectively, and what’s interesting about that is there are two solutions to this.

Either you make the controlling system cable of coping with understanding what’s going on, or the second solution is you pretend that what’s being managed is simple, and we’d love to do that through KPIs. They make life simple for us rather than expose us to the horror going on.

M: Your session is “Situational Normal, Everything Must Change”. What’s your key message for leaders?

S: One of the key things to me is situational awareness. We operate in multiple different Landscapes. One is very familiar, territorial Landscapes, which we understand in terms of land and borders. But we also operate in economic, technological, political, and social landscapes. There are so many systems that you can’t predict certain outcomes for. 

But I try to understand that landscape it’s actually operating in. Because if you can’t see that. It’s like generals fighting a battle without any maps of the territory.

And so I see this going on in the economic, social, and political spaces. My stuff is about how to map those out. Is this a problem for organizations?  

Well, just in the economic space alone, we’ve had Brexit, we had Covid, we’ve had the Ukraine conflicts, and of course, all of these organizations suddenly discovered they don’t understand their supply chains at all. But they could have done it beforehand. There are ways of finding these constraints. And so that’s the sort of stuff I look into.

M: Great, that sounds so intriguing. We look forward to hearing more about that in your session on October 12th.

S: See you soon, thank you so much for inviting me.

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