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“ Leaders must possess the good sense to prepare for alternative outcomes so that agile course corrections can be made. A continuous state of readiness fortifi es the organisation against the debilitating anxiety that uncertainty incites.”

on complexity is time for refl ection. As another great author, Victor Hugo, put it: “A man is not idle just because he is absorbed in thought. There is visible labour and there is invisible labour.” Increasingly, we risk honouring the visible at the expense of the invisible.

AMBIGUITY Ambiguity can be fun. Jane’s celebrated irony is a subtle and intelligent

form of deliberate ambiguity. Managers tend to hate it. Managers want predictability and the management innovations of TQM and the proliferating Sigmas endeavoured to secure it. Ambiguously, Jane would not have disapproved. Order and discipline were the cornerstones of her own multi-tasking. Her ambidextrous intellect would also have known that commodities of discipline and order are not enough for greatness.

In similar vein, unfortunately, the cost and quality control paradigm

of the last century, while useful and necessary, will not get us to the new frontiers of management. Predictability is a vanishing species (as elusive in business as in the business of happy marriages).

Ambiguity inevitably emerges from volatility, uncertainty and complexity. Jane would also have seen the sense in delegation. How else could

she preserve her two hours of uninterrupted writing time? Distributing decision-making broadly creates fl exibility, uncertainty’s natural predator.

Faced with uncertainty, Jane supported, and received support from,

her family through correspondence. She would easily extrapolate and underscore Peter’s emphasis on tight communication and collaboration structures. These can only be maintained by trust—trust built not upon the rationality of sense alone but upon sensibility, which is to say insight, intuition and appreciation. That is how ‘integrated teams’ of sentient beings get built and stay together.

COMPLEXITY Complexity abounds. Its antidotes are clarity and simplicity. If leaders are

to make the future, they cannot be consumed by the multifarious urgencies of today. But stepping back and out of the tumult is immensely diffi cult.

Jane retreated to write in peace. Contemplation and quiet observation

served her well. Jane’s elegant prose distilled complex human relationships into compelling accessible narratives that inspire and delight two centuries later. Peter’s thinking and lucid writing were described as “a ray of light in dark chaos”. He created clarity about the intricacies of leadership, management and society that endure to this day.

It takes time and thought to unravel complexity, especially in our ever-

more complicated and interdependent global economic context. It is not only hard but Sisyphean, as complexity is not likely to abate anytime soon. Today’s common confl ation of leadership and management leaves leaders busy, very busy. Perhaps we need to rethink busy? Maybe the fi rst assault

In turn, ambiguity confounds us by transforming problems into dilemmas— immune from crisp solutions. The leadership challenge is to subvert the dilemma by reframing the issue in a way that creates a navigable path forward. This means resisting the popular compulsion to fi nd an answer in favour of investigating the question.

We are simultaneous victims of Pride and Prejudice. Our pride in solutions

often reveals our prejudice towards patient inquiry. The tyranny of the answer represses the genius of the reframed question. This leads to that awful fate of doing the wrong thing ever more effi ciently. As Peter put it in The Practice of Management: “The important and diffi cult job is never to fi nd the right answer, it is to fi nd the right question. For there are few things as useless—if not dangerous—as the right answer to the wrong question.”

Leaders in our tumultuous times confront singular challenges but enjoy

exceptional resources with which to meet them. The VUCA world is not without parallels to the past. As Admiral Croft observes in Persuasion: “These are hard times for getting on.”

In hard times, being rather clever must be awfully useful. Jane and Peter

were possessed of extraordinary intellects. But their insight into leadership, we might venture, relied much more on insights into humanity that is palpable on the page.

Perhaps reading Ms. Austen on vacation, Peter could read between the lines of time. Perhaps, he knew exactly what Jane would say…

Karen Morris is senior vice president and chief innovation offi cer at Chartis Insurance. She can be contacted at:

November 2010 | INTELLIGENT INSURER | 53

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