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Dec 6, 2021

On this episode of the Cohere podcast, Lauren and Bill talk to Dr. Sharon Varney, author of the new book "Leadership in Complexity and Change", and leading researcher and practitioner in the field of Complexity Science. 

In the early 2000s, Drd Varney came across complexity theory. "That’s how the world really works", she thought! And so began her journey into academia as she explored what that meant for leadership and change practice. Now Sharon brings those insights into her leadership and organization development work in many different sectors.

Sharon continues to enjoy a close working relationship with Henley Business School. Working at the interface of academia and practice, she is constantly striving to advance the leading edge of informed practice.

Her new book, ‘Leadership in Complexity and Change’ addresses complexity straightforwardly without dumbing it down. It draws on her award-winning doctoral research and the practical application of key ideas by a wide range of managers and professionals in diverse sectors from retail to healthcare, finance, charities and government bodies. It is unashamedly hopeful, ultimately practical, with a robust academic pedigree.

In the episode, we discuss a working definition of complexity science, explore the nature of change as it relates to organizations, how anyone within an organization is actually participating in ongoing change (whether they realize it or not), and how we all can be more mindful and intentional about leadership in the midst of constant change.

Key Quotes:

“Drawing on complexity science helps us understand the world a bit more fully and that can help us make some different choices, perhaps more deliberate choices about what we say and do in our everyday lives.”

“T​hose who are really inside-inside, are the ones who are making change happen. They are the ones who understand the context. They are the people who will either create change or, or not.”

“You can't outsource change. We change from within organizations. So you can put in a new structure, that's actually the easy part, but whether the new structure will deliver the benefits that were hoped for, or different ways of working, or whether you are changing a whole team out and bringing in new people will actually change the culture - you don’t know that. There are absolutely no guarantees for that. So, you've made a change. It cost a lot of money. It costs a lot of emotional energy and you may or may not have gotten any benefits from it. So insider actions and insider words are how change actually happens. It's actually quite mundane and sometimes we don't notice it because we're expecting it to come in a big, shiny, package with a large price tag attached to it.”

“If we're trying to work on change in organizations, we need to ask ourselves who's in the conversation and who's in the community - they can be really helpful questions because then it draws attention to, and who's not who, whose voices are we not hearing?”

“Diversity is really important because differences create novelty and innovation. That's what complexity science will tell us. It is micro-differences - coming in with a different experience of life of, of the world, just might cause us to react in a different way. It's differences that create something new.”

Resources from this episode:

Find Dr Sharon Varney online:

Books mentioned in this episode: