Jenifer Berger and Keith Johnston’s Simple Habits for Complex Times is a courageous guide-book on how to adapt to change and lead more effectively and efficiently in a progressively chaotic and unpredictable world. Change…change, change, change…change…change, change…, change… (this is not a tax commercial, but you get the point). No! Change is not free, and the change leadership proposed by Berger and Johnston comes with a bold risk-reward challenge that may impact leaders both personally and organizationally. This post will examine how leaders like us, Leadership and Global Perspective leaders, must learn how to adapt, navigate, serve, and lead ministries, missions, and businesses in an increasingly changing, complex, and unpredictable world. I think the author’s “simple habits” will be dynamic tools that intersect my spiritual warfare research and link with the author’s three recommended leadership practices of: asking different questions, taking multiple perspectives, and seeing systems.
First, asking different questions during unpredictable times can be both a good and bad thing where leaders should be ready for answers that might be outside their comfort zone of influence and understanding. For example, I wonder why some people succeed in complex situation when others do not? I offer the following reflection as an example of adapting, serving, and leading through change and complexity. First, what is VUCA? Berger and Johnston say this acronym stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity conditions we face in the world.  I imagine VUCA like a difficult global maze that leaders must learn to pilot successfully, or risk being stalled in organizational delays and ministry dead ends.
Did you like to play maze games growing up? I did, and I was always good at seeing the best path toward the exit of the maze. I could just glance at the maze and my mind would abstractly run the network of turns, openings, lanes, dead ends, and course reversals to reach the finish faster than my peers. Seeing the different scenarios on how to get to the finish line followed me from my youth games into my public safety, military, and ministry aviation vocations. Whether it was a learned skill, a spiritual gift, or both sometimes; I was frequently blessed to see outcomes and end states during chaotic critical incidents that afforded key decision moments and actions where lives were saved, and property damage minimized. I guess this kind of lines up with the author’s discussions on complexity theory and emergence.
Second, viewing multiple perspectives on any given event is more situational, I think, than they develop in the narrative. “It depends” was always the answer I gave the Critical Incident Commander when asked about how the life-threatening event before us would unfold. There are just so many human factors, environmental influences, organizational actions, unknown events, and timing variables that go into the leadership matrix to successfully solve the challenge at hand. Nevertheless, I strongly believe leaders can lead through unpredictability with courage and grace and I agree with Berger and Johnston that using multiple viewpoints, different lenses, outside the box style thinking, and confronting both sides of the problem promotes good solutions. Sometimes a horizontal group-think and group-participation on the matter is successful and sometimes a more vertical group-follow the leader and trust their training, experience, and relationships with each other will win the day. Like the book title implies, KISS, keep it simply simple.
Engaging situations differently, as opposed to one’s traditional problem solving method, is a “counter-intuitive” approach that can both stretch the leader and find more diverse and creative solutions. I intentionally force myself to apply this practice on a regular basis in our marketplace ministry. We have found amazing ways to grow our people, solve problems, and resist the schemes and challenges that our mostly Christian workforce faces under spiritual warfare scenarios. This book may not be Christian focused, but many of the principles of keep it simple, grown your people, support your people, look for the good in people, and look for opportunities to help people can be related to the Christian commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
Third, seeing systems from a change-agent perspective seems to fit how God has wired me to serve inside, outside, and on the periphery of complex situations. I must admit I enjoy the combination of adrenaline rush from the risk of failure and altruistic high from seeing justice prevail and meeting some needs of the least of these. Over time though, I have learned to guard my joy and enjoy it more as a brief precious reflection rather than linger on the spiritual mountain top. Instead, I apply a fighter pilot habit of always “checking-six” because I have been shot down too many times from fiery darts of pride and arrogance when I stopped scanning for the enemy who approaches from our blind spots. I approve of the author’s system of change leadership as the new normal for our global leadership paradigm. Gillespie also agrees and says the last chapter “is an excellent summation” that encourages leaders to engage situations predictability, apply safeguards, and enable open communications as needed to achieve success.
In summary, this post only scratches the surface of this book’s remarkable insights and practical applications for the field of leadership. I also think it challenges how we apply academic rigor and scholarship to these ever evolving leadership models and methods. How does one guard the goal line of tradition when the players and the playing field is changing, evolving, and advancing in directions not yet understood or measured? My assessment is, it depends and God knows! I thank God for the Holy Spirit living in me to help me sort it all out, within the context and guidance of His sovereign will. I recommend keeping this book in your leadership tool-kit, bookshelf, and digital library.
 Jennifer G. Berger and Keith Johnston. Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. (Redwood City, CA: Stanford Business Books, 2016).
 Ibid., 10.
 Ibid., 27.
 Jennifer G. Berger and Keith Johnston. “SIMPLE HABITS FOR COMPLEX TIMES.” Leader to Leader 2015, no. 78 (2015): 27.
 Matt. 22:39.
 T.R. Gillespie. “Berger, Jennifer Garvey. Simple Habits for Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders.” CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries 52, no. 12 (2015): 2061.
6 responses to “Change…change,change, change…Change”
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‘It depends….’ Yes! Whether we are talking about combat situations or impending social upheaval. There are so many factors, human and otherwise, that will influence the outcome.
God does know and we are all grateful for that. I just hope we are able to discern God’s leading even if it points us in a different direction than we want to go. I think that is what can be readily applied from this book…..the willingness to ask different questions and be open to unanticipated responses.
Thanks for your post.
Great post, Mike!
You assert, “Change is not free…” Exactly! Johnston and Berger challenge their readers to count the cost of leadership and operate from the stance of adaptability. This requires us to accept new ideas and remove old baggage – it requires us to count the cost. They reveal, “Asking different questions is about shifting the mindset, and it is a reciprocal move: your questions can shift your mindset and your mindset can shift your questions” (Berger and Johnston, 18). In what ways have you experienced this mindset shift? How have you seen results by shifting to different questions?
Best question of the week: “How does one guard the goal line of tradition when the players and the playing field is changing, evolving, and advancing in directions not yet understood or measured?” Well done!
Dan’s post will be the current goal line challenge. Circumcision was the ancient one. And like you said, only “God knows”.
God speed my Brother!
Thanks for your reflections on the book’s three main suggestions. Given your long history of leadership in uncertain circumstances, what practices would you recommend that the author did not include?
Mike, it is easy for us to understand the need for “change” as we attempt to keep our ministries current and updated; however, as you tackle your dissertation, in what ways, if any, do you feel that this same mentality of thinking is detrimental to the Spiritual Warfare we are engaging in?
I ask for this reason; I was watching the movie, “The Last of the Mohicans” the other day, when one of the men had to sneak out of the compound to take a note to their army. In the movie, with the guns, cannons, and explosions going off, it was the simple task of not forgetting that the woods were filled with dangerous enemies set on killing him. Though bows and arrows had turned to guns and cannons, the danger had not changed…the enemy was still set on destruction.
Having read this I thought it was extremely enlightening.
I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put
this content together. I once again find myself spending a lot
of time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!