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COVID-19 - Systems & Complexity Thinking in Action

First delivered at Mark Esposito's Systems Thinking course at Harvard, April 2020.

This talk examines various responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on economic & social impacts (less on the medical side), with the goal of introducing complexity thinking to organisational strategy.

It introduces complexity thinking using Dave Snowden’s Cynefin framework and demonstrates how system loops evolve in the complex domain as a result of safe-to-fail probes. It introduces Simon Wardley’s value chain mapping technique, and shows how organisations can use it to scan for exaptive opportunities as they are making sense of the chaos. Finishes with a still-evolving early view of the macro/mega response of governments, the looming threat of climate change, and the importance of metrics & diversity in system evolution.

How will our economic & social system evolve?

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COVID-19 - Systems & Complexity Thinking in Action

  1. 1. COVID-19: Chaos & Complexity In Action Harvard, Apr 2020 by Steve Purkis images:pixabay.com
  2. 2. Influences (not endorsed by either) Network
  3. 3. Nano: Personal
  4. 4. Chaos
  5. 5. Chaotic systems are unordered. Random & unkowable. There is no link between cause & effect. Act Sense Respond
  6. 6. Complex
  7. 7. RR legend daughter me Seek Attention Whinge R Annoyed Positive Self- Esteem Fed Up Punish Happy Praise Play Fun R ✘ ✘ ✘
  8. 8. Human Behaviour is Complex Probes ✘dampenamplify
  9. 9. Probe Sense Respond Complex systems are semi-ordered. Unknown unknowns. No clear link between cause & effect (sometimes knowable afterwards). Interacting with the system can change it.
  10. 10. Micro: Small Business
  11. 11. source: BBC unemployment
  12. 12. Small businesses shutting down
  13. 13. evictions source: The Guardian “Buy-to-let lenders have not offered any assistance to landlords from our experience. Essential workers are not exempt from such evictions” “Estate agents, property management agents and landlords are very keen to evict tenants as they need the rent paid in full during these difficult times”
  14. 14. Care for children during work hours Go to daycare legend kids parents home daycare landlord bank gov’t Go to work invoice salary pay daycare pay rent pay bills pay mortgage pay tax charge interest profit Daycare System ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘ ✘ profit ✘ ⚠️ ⚠️ ⚠️ ⚠️ ⚠️
  15. 15. legend kids parents home daycare landlord bank gov’t salary pay rent pay bills defer mortgage pay tax charge interest survive Daycare System: Response profit ⚠️ emergency support unemployment benefits take care of kids during work hours can’t pay rent evict reduce rent savings reduce interest rates
  16. 16. Meso: Businesses
  17. 17. 3 Factors Impacting Corporate Response There are many more, of course… Existing Fragility ● Business model ● Supply chain Cash ● Savings ● Borrowings ● Cashflow $ Remote-friendly ● Customers ● Workforce ● Processes
  18. 18. Evolution ValueChainvisibleinvisible Genesis Custom Product (+ rental) Commodity (+ utility) uncharted industrialised Modal Digital’s Value Chain Modal’s Customer E-commerce Site E-commerce Consulting Hosting (eg: AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) E-commerce Technology (eg: Magento)User Interface Customisations Third Party Integrations User Experience & Interface Design Bespoke Customisations Technical Support Remote-first workforce Remote-first customers
  19. 19. Evolution ValueChainvisibleinvisible Genesis Custom Product (+ rental) Commodity (+ utility) uncharted industrialised Modal’s Customer E-commerce Site E-commerce Platform as a Service (eg: SFCC, Shopify) competition standards competition & standards Hosting (eg: AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) E-commerce Technology (eg: Magento)User Interface Customisations future competitionThird Party Integrations User Experience & Interface Design product add-onsBespoke Customisations E-commerce Consulting Technical Support Modal Digital’s Value Chain Already under threat!
  20. 20. Evolution ValueChainvisibleinvisible Genesis Custom Product (+ rental) Commodity (+ utility) uncharted industrialised Modal’s Customer E-commerce Site E-commerce Platform as a Service (eg: SFCC, Shopify) Hosting (eg: AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) E-commerce Technology (eg: Magento)User Interface Customisations Third Party Integrations User Experience & Interface Design Bespoke Customisations E-commerce Consulting Technical Support Modal Digital’s Value Chain COVID-19 impact ✘ ✘
  21. 21. Loss mitigation: ● Furlough employees (gov’t support) ● Cut contracts for unnecessary services ● Debt collection (push clients to pay bills) Modal’s Response Scan for Exaptive opportunities. ● What parts of our value chain can we reuse? ● They are using employees as probes! Watch this space! Act Sense Respond
  22. 22. “before human involvement, natural, low-intensity wildfires occurred every few years to burn up fuel, plant debris, and dead trees, making way for young, healthy trees and vegetation to thrive. That new growth in turn supports forest wildlife.” - www.worldwildlife.org
  23. 23. Prediction: a new wave of more resilient companies who are less susceptible to cash-flow & supply-chain shocks.
  24. 24. Macro: Economies & Societies
  25. 25. climate change legend threats people scholars NGOs firms gov’t Economic & Government responses emergency support unemployment benefits reduce interest rates Gov’t responses peoplefirms admin overheads reduced workforce covid-19 academics NGOs UBI? politicians anti-lockdown protests 2nd amendment support dividends?!
  26. 26. Innovation Happens at the Edge “Connect on similarities, benefit from differences” - Valdis Krebs
  27. 27. Economy and Society are fundamentally intertwined
  28. 28. The metrics we focus on greatly influence the behaviour of social systems.
  29. 29. $ ≠ Value source: Schwartz’s refined theory of basic human values
  30. 30. Is it time for new metrics?
  31. 31. If so, what behaviour will emerge?

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