I am in the process of reading Adam Kahane's excellent book Solving Tough Problems : An Open Way of talking listening and Creating New realities.

I think Kahane has an excellent insight into why problems in South Africa are so complex.   

'...I knew that problems are tough because they are complex and that there are three types of complexity:dynamic, generative and social' 

  • Dynamic complexity:A problem has low dynamic complexity if cause and effect are close together in space and time. In a car, for example, causes produce effects that are nearby,  immediate, and obvious; and so, why an engine doesn't run can usually be solved by testing and fixing one piece at a time. By contrast, a problem has high dynamic complexity if cause and effect are far apart in time and space. For example economic decisions in New York affect the gold price in JHB...Management Theorist Russell Ackoff calls them "messes" [and they] can only be understood systematically, taking into account the interrelationship among pieces and the functioning of the system as a whole.

    Generative complexity: A problem has low generative complexity if its future is familiar and predictable. In a traditional village, for example, the future simply replays the past, and so solutions and rules from the past will work in the future. A problem has high generative complexity if its future is unfamiliar and unpredictable...Solutions to problems of high generative complexity cannot be calculated in advance, on paper, based on what has worked in the past, but have to worked out as the situation unfolds.

    Social complexity: a problem has low social complexity if the people who are a part of the problem have common assumptions, values, rationale, and objectives. In a well functioning team, for example a boss or an expert can easily propose a solution that everyone agrees with . A problem has a high social complexity if the people involved look at things very differently. South Africa has the perspectives of black versus white, left versus right, traditional versus modern-classic conditions for stuckness. Problems of high social complexity cannot be peacefully solved by authorities on high; the people involved must participate in creating  and implementing solutions (
    all emphasis and underlying is added).

Kahane has really helped me to articulate why South African problems are so tough. We live in a county which has problems of high dynamic (cause and effect are far apart), high generative (a future that is unfamiliar and unpredictable) and high social (people involved look at things very differently) complexity. He goes on to affirm what many off us intuitively know and are trying to articulate.

Highly complex problems can only be solved using processes that are systemic (taking into account  
social, political, economic and international dynamics i.e holistic), emergent (using creative teamwork to identify and influence...current choices) and participatory (the people involved are seeking to solve the problem together).

The implications of this are significant for the way we think about leadership and solving problems. I think it also sheds some light on why people shy away from leadership or expereince 'burnout' in leadership. These leaders experience the complexity of the problems their country, business, church faces and instead of thinking (and leading) in a systemic, emergent, participatory way they try to lead in an authoritarian, top-down way which leads to disillusionment, frustration and a retards the potential to actually solve the problem.

His book has so many other profound insights (and I haven't even finished) and I would recommend it to anyone (esp. South African's). It will get you thinking.In a highly dynamic, generative and socially complex society/religion/country/continent like ours we need systemic, emergent and participatory ways of solving our problems.