“Command and Control” Won’t Work Anymore

I  just finished watching Ken Burns’ series on World War II. It was illuminating and exhausting at the same time. It is available as a DVD set from our local Sacramento Library.

What was significant, for me, was the need and justification of “command and control” thinking as we fought incredibly complex wars on both sides of the world. And what also was compelling was the massive waste and loss of lives and material….and how so much was obvious after-the-fact that was not obvious in the moment.

In today’s organizational life, we are facing complexity as well….yet, what we know is that “command and control” hierarchy is not effective for adapting and innovating. We need to use effective means of gathering multiple perspectives to optimize the collective intelligence, identifying patterns and emergent ideas. How we use our time and resources is at the heart of systemic leadership: we can continue with old patterns of hierarchy when the issues are complex….or we can adopt systemic modes that let the broader stakeholders and silos inform our decisions.

In the various battles and fronts, those all over the map knew the conditions and what was likely to work. We didn’t have communication means to inform generals who were often miles behind the lines. We had to default to command and control, even though the carnage and errors were obvious to those at the front. Staggering losses and years of suffering challenged everyone.

We have choices now: decision-makers in our organizations can tap the unique perspectives and experiences of the many…..and avoid the losses and take up the opportunities that emerge from aggregating the ideas of the many. The collective intelligence routinely generates better ideas than the brightest of individuals. It is exciting to contemplate a future where “We think” is stronger and more often used to support “I think.” And we believe that systemic methods of engagement are at the heart of rebuilding healthy communities.

Jane Lorand is the Director of the Center for Systemic Leadership. She holds a juris doctor (JD) degree from Hastings College of the Law,the University of California at San Francisco. She has an MA in Education and a BA in history from UCLA. She worked for three years as the Director of Research at the Center for Critical Thinking at Sonoma State University. She edited and co-authored, Critical Thinking, What Every Person Needs in a Rapidly Changing World, with Richard Paul. She is a member of the Anthroposophical Society, and a board member of the Center for Educational Renewal, a regional NGO supporting Waldorf Education and Teacher Training.

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