Effective responses to global challenges require a higher level of cognition, not just higher consciousness. The crises and challenges that are confronting leaders cannot be understood and cannot be solved without a cognitive capacity that enables the management of complex systems and processes. Analytical/rational cognition cannot do this.
True systemic cognition is currently almost non-existent. Most ‘systems thinking’ is done with mental/rational representations and cognition. Post-modern cognition is incapable of rigorously understanding complex phenomenon.
Meta-systemic cognition enables leaders to analyse, model, and understand the interrelating systems - social, political, governmental, and economic - affecting the world today.
Such thinking is more comprehensive and fluid than the linear and rational logic of analytical thinking which produces only limited conclusions, viewed in isolation rather than as part of the complex systems surrounding any given issue. Yet most of us are not aware that another mode of perceiving and processing information, as a means to navigating complexity, exists.
By way of examples: an executive has devised a strategic plan, but his attempts to introduce it are subverted by a handful of self-interested senior managers. Thwarted from within, the executive is at a stalemate unable to see that the managers are operating within a system that rewards them for “protecting their patch”. In this case, the system actually places them in opposition to the interests of the organization as a whole. Or perhaps, a CEO exhorts the values of a culture that innovates and takes risks, but does not see that the system in which its employees operate does not in fact incentivize risk or innovation.
Meta-systemic thinkers can see such connections to factors outside the immediate operating environment. Their thought process is fluid and far-reaching, comprehending that external systems are in constant flux, requiring businesses to achieve the same state of adaptability. Consequently, meta-systemic thinkers can predict outcomes and foresee opportunities others cannot - and shift strategies accordingly.
These higher cognitive capacities are already essential in the upper echelons of government and multi-national corporations. Strategists at these levels have to be able to navigate their organizations through an extraordinarily dynamic and complex global environment comprising coevolving economic, regulatory and political systems. These higher capacities are currently in very short supply. Many who are in positions that demand higher cognition cannot deliver it. They are completely out of their depth. Most of the few leaders who possess these capacities to any degree can only exercise them intuitively. They are unaware of how their higher capacities actually operate and have not built them consciously. So they are unable to transmit the capacities to others or to explain cogently how they arrive at their insights.
Fortunately, progress is being made in understanding how to intentionally train these capacities. “Early-adopter” corporations that use these new methods to foster the capacities in their executives will reap a decisive competitive advantage in our increasingly complex world.
Written by Victoria Wilding 2019