Leading into the Future III: From the Pendulum to the Fire
Here is where the change in landscape occurs. Researchers and theorists who are seeking to understand complicated problems often describe the settings in which problems emerge as “rugged landscapes.” (Miller and Page, 2007, p. 216) This type of landscape is filled with many mountains of about the same height. Think of the majestic mountain range called the Grand Tetons or the front range of the Rocky Mountains that citizens of Denver Colorado see every day. Compare these landscapes with a landscape in which one mountain peak dominates. In a rugged landscape that is complicated, one finds many competing viewpoints about which mountain is higher or which vista is more beautiful. A similar case can be made regarding the challenging problems facing the 21st Century leader.
There is one particularly challenging kind of problem: the dilemma. When certain problems that leaders face appear impervious to a definitive solution, it becomes useful to classify them as dilemmas. While dilemmas like other kinds of problems are complicated, they are also complex, in that each of the many elements embedded in the dilemma is connected to each (or most) of the other elements (Miller and Page, 2007). We may view the problem from one perspective and take action to alleviate one part of the problem. Then we immediately confront another part of the problem, often represented by an opposing stakeholder group:
We tighten up our policies regarding new product development and find that creativity is dropping off. We increase the price of a service that we deliver in order to increase revenues and find that we are losing customers, thereby losing revenues. Leaders may not always recognize a dilemma for what it is. Newly minted leaders are particularly inclined to see problems and dilemmas in a limited or simplistic way and attempt to deal with them as if they are puzzles. When that happens, these leaders dig themselves deeper and deeper into the complexity, seriousness, and paradox of the “mess.” (Schön, 1983)