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Delivering Simplexity

Comprehensive Organisational Development

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”     Richard Buckminster Fuller

Purpose of Document

This paper is intended to articulate the elements that would be required to deliver full-spectrum support to organisations wishing to develop their capacities to meet today’s conditions fully.

Framework:  Stages in Human Development[i]

Stage 1: Order.  Human history displays three recognisable stages since the Renaissance with a fourth more hazily discernible.  All affect today’s society and today’s organisations.  The first of these stages saw the development of order that superseded feudal and aristocratic power.  It brought a reliance on reason rather than tradition. Over time, Western humanity developed laws, enforcement systems, the Bill of Rights (and equivalents) and the accounting systems that underlie all subsequent commerce.  It is characterised by rule-based behaviour, linear hierarchies in organisations (churches, police and military).  It may also be prone to bureaucracy and stagnation – an inability to embrace progress. 

Stage 2: Strategy. The second stage emerges as individuals seek to move beyond the constraints, to express innovation and individuality.  It shows up in the industrial revolution and its later phase of accelerated technological innovation.  These are characterised positively by excellence, huge creativity, striving for the best methods and maximising development.  This stage has been propelled by individuals striving to maximise their self-expression both in their work and the material rewards it brings.  It conspicuously rejects any form of spirit and gradually replaces religion with the authority of its materialist scientific perspective.  It brings challenges because its way of thinking sees things not people; its self-expression spills into greed and unfettered consumption; it is heedless of sustainability issues (assumes that the next technology will fix them) and subverts pre-existing regulatory and process constraints if they do not fit its strategy. 

Stage 3: People.  The following stage emerges partly as a reaction to the negative effects which arise when money and “things” come first.  It seeks to re-introduce humans into the alienating culture and is concerned to find fairness, re-establish care.  It also represents the desire to find “who am I?” (psychology),  “who are we?” (sociology) and to explore the bond between people.  It rejects earlier hierarchies and seeks greater consensus.  It introduces the human spirit into the discussion, generating conversations about work-life balance, stress management and peer relationships.   

In part, the challenge of our time originates in the tension between these three stages, each present and nested within the subsequent stages like Russian dolls.  It is between rules and innovation, between collective and individual benefit, between reason and emotion, between spirit and matter.   The challenge is secondly in the effects of human expansion – all of the visible issues including population pressure, resource constraints, climate instability, politics of diversity, knife-edge economic conditions.  These individual issues are compounded by speed of change and high interactivity so that the effects are chaotic, fractal, unpredictable and filled with tipping points and “black swans”.  The management challenges are visible and palpable.

The turbulence created by the challenges just mentioned, together with the visible need to deal with the tensions between those systems (and those that came before them) demand a synthesis that has previously not been present.  Einstein’s regularly quoted observation about needing to find a new level of thinking in order to solve problems from earlier ones is built in to what humans have done. It is an evolutionary imperative that we must adapt to changing conditions.  We need new responses to survive external change and to allow further expansion.  What must these new responses consist of?

The next stage

We have to harmonise previous stages at the same time as rising to meet the problems of turbulence, with all their macro consequences.  Within organisations the turbulence and unpredictability, people’s aspirations toward self-expression and prosperity, together with planetary sustainability issues conspire to challenge old ways of being.

The stage now emerging is the first one in which we are learning to see vertical complexity.  The humanising stage that precedes it has a glimpse of the complex in its recognition of diversity but that inclusiveness is often based on us “all being the same underneath” and all being “equal in spirit”.  These fundamental truths sit within in a bigger paradox.  The diversity is that the expressions of human “beingness” which derived from the first three stages are very different and potentially inharmonious.  Organisations are required to recognise that people do not all think and work the same way.  More than that, they must recognise the value that each of those expressions bring to the table, and find ways to maximise the healthy voice and contribution of those differences. 

The latest stage recognises this vertical complexity explicitly.  However, to be adaptive to the conditions just described it must also recognise the chaos, the horizontal complexity.  On top of that it must accommodate the speed of change and grasp the dynamics of how change works and how to work with it.  It must do this and it does do it.  If the prior stages were respectively about rules, strategy and people, the new stage is about simplexity – the simplicity that emerges the other side of complexity. The rest of this paper will describe what its response tells us.

"I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the other side of complexity”  Oliver Wendell Holmes

Aspects of the shift to Simplexity

  1. Multiple Intelligences

One aspect of Vertical development is in the “multiple intelligences” model (Howard Gardner).  As humanity has emerged from its animal-like roots we have taken Physical (survival) Intelligence and added Intellectual capability (IQ).  As the strategic stage’s search for excellence addressed the people stage space of individuality, Daniel Goleman’s “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ)[ii] emerged, teaching people to maximise their effectiveness through skilful management of self and others. 

As we transition to the latest stage Cindy Wigglesworth’s book SQ21 “Spiritual Intelligence” (2013) has shown up, encouraging wider awareness of multiple worldviews and acting as an advanced form of EQ which embraces mindfulness, explicit awareness of our Values and the deeper knowing that can come from our “Higher Self”.   SQ offers fresh ways of thinking which enhance the ability to manage both our own and other’s emotional responses, to find a higher perspective from which to choose and to lead.  Taken together with EQ, SQ means that we can train people in the wider cognitive bandwidth that improves listening, hearing and expressing to others at the same time as taking out more of the “noise” and inefficiency that characterises “drama” in the workplace.  It develops the leaders that others will choose to follow.

“Those in decision-making positions have to attend to systemic balance if they want to achieve stability”    Klaus Horn / Regine Brick (2009)[iii]

One further intelligence to include here is that drawn from Peter Senge[iv] which John Mackey[v], founder of the $2bn “Whole Foods Market” corporation and author of “Conscious Capitalism” calls “Systems Intelligence” (SyQ).  This is the ability to understand how all the different components of a system interconnect and behave over time.  It is complementary to analytical intelligence, which typically separates out the components to understand their relationships. 

The ability to recognise the dynamic interconnectedness of whole systems shows up in sciences like ecology.  From an organisational point of view this capability is essential if complex dynamics in the business flow and in the external conditions are to be integrated into decision-making.  Leaders must respond to multiple stakeholder needs and balance competing Values; this calls for systems which reveal the variables and accommodate them within the flex and flow of the organisation.  Speaking metaphorically, we must ensure feedback of weather, sea conditions, navigational information and mechanical function to those who must steer the ship.

  1. Complex Cognition

Shifting to simplexity requires that we move out of linear thinking.  The new and more complex cognition will be supported by techniques of mindfulness, “Presencing”[vi] and their like as well as by somatic approaches that support recognition of the “unknown knowns”.  There is good research evidence emerging that validates how engaging the right-brain can provide a key to increased creativity.  However creativity is not all that is enabled and not all that is required.  A surfer cannot analyse the ocean wave; similarly the problems of the complex, high-change and high-interaction world cannot be met by linear analysis.  It is probable that linear analysis was always inadequate.  The law of unintended consequences and the “man plans, God laughs” perceptions show them to have been an illusion that we could only sustain when there was a longer time between cause and effect. 

Letting go of the monopoly of a linear-analytic method opens new pathways in business management and consulting. It complements the potential of logical thinking and digital analysis with the invisible knowledge and concealed information already existing in the organisation’s system.”   Klaus Horn / Regine Brick (2009)

CEO’s worldwide have stated (IBM survey 2010) that their biggest challenge is unpredictability.  Our way of approaching problems has to become emergent, fractal and dynamically responsive in order to meet that unpredictability.  Our toolkits and our organisational structures will be required to support those new approaches.  The seeds of this thinking have been present at least since Tom Peters’ “Thriving on Chaos” (1987) and Charles Handy’s “Age of Unreason” (1990).  Its depth has not been fully understood, still less applied. It cannot be bolted on because it is a fundamental re-orientation.  Fractal living requires deep pattern recognition which analysis cannot deliver.  Mindfulness techniques open up our individual capacity to perform such pattern-recognition. 

Note that digital techniques for pattern recognition and hidden information are already in use in data mining.  Mindfulness or “Presencing” are the equivalent for data in the human knowledge field and may be allied with collective perception harvesting tools like Open Space, Systemic Business Intelligence and World Cafe.  These harness the “wisdom of crowds”, bringing to the surface more of the information and supporting the emergence of “the things people know, but didn’t know that they know”.  All of these taken together enable facilitators to reveal the organisation to itself, in place of older models of “consultancy” which made expertise and insight a property of the consultant, encouraging dependency and adding to the illusion of “top-down” control.

“The reality is that centralized decision makers simply don’t have enough information to manage the specifics of corporate life. But because centralization is an idea in good currency, corporations apply the model … to solve almost every problem. In so doing, power is amassed at the very top, rigid hierarchies are developed, workers lose their freedom while productivity eventually slows down.”     Bob Fishman

  1. The shift out of hierarchy.

Early types of large organisations were amenable to command and control – a “Rules” model where one person would be at the top of a tree, dispensing orders all the way down.  Armies and religious orders have modelled this for centuries.   At the practical level it has been increasingly undermined in modern organisations by functional differentiation, by the need to incorporate niche technical expertise and by the need for rapid responsiveness at subsidiary levels.  A CEO is now required to ask “how can our computer systems handle this change?”; customers will not be satisfied to wait while a decision is passed up the management chain.  The complexity of job functions means that people have to be trained; they develop their own niche expertise and distinct roles.  They are not ciphers and interchangeable components.  Even if that was true of factory workers in an industrial context, it is not so in a knowledge and service economy filled with high-touch interactions. 

Correspondingly, the perceptions of the individuals concerned have also undermined and challenged hierarchy. Employees are decreasingly likely to tolerate being treated as interchangeable functions and numbers.  “Because I am the BOSS – that’s why” is no longer a viable answer in most organisations.   The response of the Strategic stage to this can be seen in the development of dotted-line, matrix-style reporting and have blended in the People stage through a mix of hierarchy with consultation.  These have increased organisational flexibility but are not enough to deliver full organisational responsiveness which maximises the intelligence at every level.  Consultation is an inefficient and often slow process.  Dictatorship is efficient at delivering what may be the wrong outcomes; consensus can fail to deliver in time any outcome whatsoever.

Holacracy is one approach which seeks to offer a governance framework which will deliver non-hierarchical capability.  It is not yet clear whether it is scalable for large organisations.  There is evidence (Laloux) that it is possible for self-organising approaches to emerge in order to provide balanced, responsive and distributed decision-making.  Each organisation will need to undertake the journey in its own way.  Some may be able to postpone this, many will not if they are not to be left standing in the wake of those who do, or of start-ups which begin from a different place.  Companies like Google and Virgin have already rewritten the map.

“In complicated systems, we can try to figure out the best solution.  In complex systems, we need workable solutions and fast iterations.”        Frederic Laloux[vii]

  1. The requirement for Sustainability

This requires little explanation.  We know well the effects of human failure to include this in our thinking.  The impulse to change this is in part the “green” agenda.  Even more it is an aspect of the new stage because Simplexity understands systems with greater depth. This is not only the integration of developmental stages; it is the interweaving of the world at a practical level.  Simplexity joins the dots and connects everything to everything else.  The new stage is primarily functional and recognises what humans need to do in order to survive and thrive as a species.

“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different. Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.   The best way to predict the future is to create it.”           Peter Drucker

Simplexity:   Delivering Flex-flow

The world has been experiencing and observing the dynamics and shifts that I have described. I see a set of viewpoints arising around us from various observers and perspectives attempting to describe the elements of the package which is needed.  All of these viewpoints suffer from the need to present themselves in text and on 2-dimensional pieces of paper when the territory they describe has three or four dimensions.   Simultaneously all fail in face of the need to present a set of dynamic relationships in static pictures and diagrams.  Much depends on the vision of the reader.

One model of the stages described here (see below) pictures the organisational form in the following terms.

Blue Diagram White BGOrange Diagram White BGGreen Diagram White BGYellow Diagram White BG

The diagrams depict the trajectory from rigid hierarchy in the rules system to the silo-breaking matrix or network of the Strategic stage.  The People stage seeks to pull individuals into consensual circles and creates tension with its predecessor stages as well as possible loss or undermining of leadership.  It may replace networks with “communities of practice”. In the simplexity stage what arises is of a different kind.  It may have the characteristics of all its predecessors and none of them, with diverse entities connected by multi-directional flows and with any of the elements liable to move or disconnect at any time.  This system has been given the description “flex-flow”, and others describe it as a “meshwork”.

Thus diagrams and static pictures present potential constraints to our thinking.  We are required to hold our structures and boundaries lightly.  We also need to see change in a new way.  Linear thinking looks at change as something that happens in between fixed points of stasis.   Emergent thinking recognises that change never stops in living systems.  We are required to let go of the illusory comfort offered by more static viewpoints.  

Changing individuals and changing organisations are two different tasks which are typically conflated and often described as if they are the same thing.  Since the organisation’s “interior” world is the individual’s “exterior” world, they need to be understood and worked with in relation to one another.  The two may change at differing speeds and either may be the driver of the change dynamic.

Similarly, when we talk of “changing culture” we may be dealing with just one area in the following list, or with all of them.  As in the above diagram, it is in the nature of Simplexity that many elements connect to many other elements.  This is the nature of the non-linear world and it may bring discomfort that we have to deal with it, but it is what’s out there.

The following are the elements of flex-flow pull together core features of the multiple approaches which expert thinkers have taken towards these challenges. 


This one comes first in Spiral Dynamics integral’s “five bottom lines” and first in John Mackey’s list of four.  It may encompass Mission, (Conscious) Vision, Goals and Principles and may also be expressed as “higher purpose”.  One might also reflect on the recent expression from Jeff Quintero[viii] of “purpose-ness” as a good replacement for our current description of commercial activity based on “busy-ness”.

Leadership  (Leadership Development, Vertical Development)

There are many leadership approaches which are horizontal, seeking to develop organisational and management skills.    More relevant here are the “Vertical Development” that Barrett Brown[ix] describes, the EQ/SQ growth that inhabits Cindy Wigglesworth’s work, the Self-Authoring and Self-Transcendence as described by Richard Barrett (perhaps similar to EQ and SQ) derived from Kegan and Lacey  plus the various servant leadership and conscious leadership approaches. 

All of these vertical approaches involve an element of self-transformation (Barrett Brown) and personal alignment (Richard Barrett[x]).  It is worth noting that clients may bring differing mindsets and motivations to this work.  Cindy Wigglesworth states that any level from Kegan’s “Expert” (on the Rules-Strategy border) may potentially engage in this journey.  Strategy can be expected to undertake this in order to be the most effective leader they can be.  Those on the Strategy-People border and above (Kegan’s “Achiever / Redefining”) may be more explicitly motivated by stress reduction and work-life balance - as expressed for example by Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee in “Resonant Leadership” (2005).  Individuals who are approaching Simplexity may take it on with fuller awareness of the inner and outer benefits and of explicit higher purpose.  However, at any of these stages and regardless of other aspects of their thinking systems, individuals with an established spiritual / religious framework may embrace the higher purpose because they wish to “serve God” (or equivalent expression) better.

Worth mentioning in the context of such development are the aspects of both self-reflection and understanding diversity of individuals that may be provided by Myers-Briggs, Enneagram and other typologies.  These are essentially static – i.e. do not move horizontally or vertically – but they do allow people to consciously articulate how they work with the “given” aspects of the type that they or others may present.

Profit and Sustainability

Maslow and Graves both place survival as our first human need.  Profit and financial sustainability are the bedrock of healthy organisation.  Anything else is stress and failure to contribute.   At the same time we know that sustainability now has a meaning beyond finances.  Organisations cannot survive at the expense of the environment or their stakeholders indefinitely.  Sustainability is not only the ethical issue which some would limit it to being; it has become one of survival.  Stakeholder Integration (Mackey) and Planetary Ecology (Beck) become aspects of this long-term organisational ecology.


If our purpose does not ultimately serve people, then of what use is it?  Stakeholder integration is one aspect of this service and includes the community that surrounds an enterprise and those who work in it.  But there is also a wider bottom line of meeting societal needs and of being sensitive to people internally as well as externally. 

This also relates to the way in which people are approached as conscious beings with something to contribute.  The techniques of Presencing and systemic constellations etc. all call forth the collective wisdom as being of value to the organisation.  Sensitivity to people is not limited to avoiding the historical tendency to treat them as ciphers.   And since our approach is expressly rooted in our recognition of the human spirit, this category is central to who we are.

“When you adopt a tool, you also adopt the management philosophy embedded in that tool.”  Clay Shirky


When talking of multiple intelligences above we added John Mackey’s fifth element of Systems Intelligence (SYQ) to the usual quartet of PQ / IQ /EQ /SQ.  He tells us that conscious leaders are natural systems thinkers (P. 186) who “see the bigger picture and understand how the different components of the system interconnect”.  He explicitly encourages leaders to develop this capacity (P. 202).

It is possible to take this perspective deeper.  In line with Clay Shirky’s statement above, societies develop economic models, taxation systems and social care approaches out of the mindsets that they are in at the time.  Organisations develop systems, processes, teams, governance structures, incentive packages, supervisory roles and evaluation schemes likewise as reflections of the cultural mindset.

Clare W. Graves proposes a theory that sees our Values as systems of thinking that adapt to our surrounding life conditions in the way that biological evolution adapted to ecological niches.  This being so, and since those processes and structures I have listed become part of the life conditions, they affect the capacity for cultural change (emerging new Values systems).  We tend to have a people-oriented bias towards the idea, as Richard Barrett says, that “organisations don’t change, people do”.  This is an over-simplifying truth.  It is also feasible to encourage change by removing systemic constraints which are capping what is possible. As the following quotations illustrate

“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”  Peter Drucker

“Humans are born to care. Our institutions magnify or depress the human capacity to care.”  Jane Dutton

“Only in growth, reform, and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Where we cannot or do not remove the systemic constraints we should recognise that work done to change culture through the people may not sustain.   New processes may be needed to enable or support new behaviours.  And a moment’s thought towards the discussion about banker’s bonus systems shows that there is awareness that unless you change the rewards the behaviour persists.

Understanding Change

How much change do we want to see in the world?  There is much that Don Beck says that is worth quoting here.

“Getting rid of what you don’t want is not the same as creating what you do want.”

“You need be clear  - “Change FROM what, TO what?”

What kind of change are we talking of – is this a tweak, a significant adjustment while retaining the current system, a major systemic shift or a complete bottom-up and top-down blueprint?

Are the organisational conditions right for the change?  Is there energy in the system (or will the demand for extra capacity collapse an already fragile entity)?

There is a great deal of literature on Culture Change at the mindset and HR level.  There is relatively little on what is required to impel that change through a whole organisation.  What does it take to mirror the world in its ability to create sustainable natural design?  Even Deming’s “Value engineering”, which he represented in his statement to Ford that 85% of their difficulties in producing better cars were management failings (compare with Peter Drucker, above), was arguably narrow-channelled into “Lean” and “Six-Sigma” rather than being developed in its full system-wide implications.

Beck’s questions are a small subset of a method that offers a comprehensive, practical and coherent approach to organisational adaptation.   There will be a separate paper to describe the steps involved and contents of the Simplexity Toolbox.  This paper is the preparatory case for such a full-spectrum approach, one which recognises the systemic challenges, embraces interior thinking and external conditions, engages with both the people and the structural aspects of the change, and mirrors the approach that nature and evolution have taken in adapting species to ecological niches and evolutionary changes.  This “natural design” approach leads elegantly towards the solutions which fit today’s organisations to today’s environment.  Delivering the organisations that can “surf” the wave of complexity and emergence will in many cases call for marked shifts from process-driven and rule-driven compliance cultures towards agile, outcomes driven and responsive or self-organising enterprises which are capable of reflecting and embedding the new leadership approaches.  The Simplexity Toolbox contains the capacity to engage more deeply, less disruptively and with maximum sophistication in this aspect of change. 

Jon Freeman

August  2014.


[i] A much abbreviated version of the stages described in the theories of Clare W. Graves “The Never-Ending Quest” and developed by Dr. Don Beck with Christopher Cowan under the label “Spiral Dynamics” (1996).

[ii] “Emotional Intelligence” 1996.  Daniel Goleman later developed further with Richard Boyatzis

[iii] “Invisible Dynamics” 2009

[iv] “The Fifth Discipline” 1990

[v] “Conscious Capitalism 2013

[vi] “Presence” 2005   Scharmer, Senge, Jaworski and Flowers

[vii] Reinventing Organisations 2014


[ix] Paper “The Future of Leadership for Conscious Capitalism”

[x] The Values-Driven Organisation    2013

Coaching for Difference

What will support you to be the happiest and most effective you can be?

What will help you break through to a new level?

My intention as a coach is to support your transformation.  I have been working on my own development and mentoring others for over 30 years.  I have been a Europe-level corporate director, a consultant and a programme director.  I am familiar with the pressures.

I am a certified Spiral Dynamics master practitioner and trainer and I do recommend Spiral Dynamics assessments to fast-track our conversations. 

I am a certified SQ21 practitioner (advanced EQ and SQ).  If SQ development is what you want we would use those assessments.

Are you hungry for breakthrough and ready to do and be different?  If so, please e-mail me.

The Simplexity Approach to Organisations

Your organisation is never static. 

How do we decode the change that is happening, and help reveal what is naturally next?

Our toolkit surfaces the existing knowledge and energy in the organisation, eliciting a deep understanding of your current conditions and possibilities for change. 

You know more about your business than we do. You also know more than you are yet aware of knowing.  Together we find where you are in within the framework of natural emergence and start from there.

The steps in the Simplexity approach are described in summary papers which you can access here or from the Articles page.

Organisational Simplexity                           The Simplexity Toolbox

Major Articles


Science of Possibility

Science of Possibility

Descriptions “The Science of Possibility” offers a radical perspective uniting science with spiritual experience and non-ordinary views of reality. It provides a comprehensive view through physics, biology, genetics, evolution, psychology and human e...

Reinventing Capitalism

Reinventing Capitalism

Our financial systems are broken - not fit for purpose. The evolution of capitalism has stalled and no longer meets our human needs or the conditions that we face. When we examine how our relationship with money has evolved, we can see how the values...


If you have not read Jon Freeman's new book I strongly suggest you do so. You will be aware of his deep and coherent insights, range of dealing with today's complex worlds, and unique ability to identify many of the dots that most of us miss. Jon thinks and acts from a wider arc than most of us. The Science of Possibility provides clear understanding of how various concept models, including Spiral Dynamics, express emerging "patterns of consciousness" in our never ending quest. He will open your eyes to expanding notions of reality.

Dr. Don E. Beck (Co-author “Spiral Dynamics” and “The Crucible”) on “Science of Possibility”

As brave and as comprehensive an attempt as I have yet seen to put science into spirituality and spirituality into science. Like Freeman, I believe that at some point in the future we will all realise that these two "polarities" intersect in consciousness.

Richard Barrett (author of “Building the Values-Driven Organisation” and “Evolutionary Coaching”) on “Science of Possibility”

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