The Trap of Dependency: Strategy in an Era of Accelerating Complexity

trap of depemdemcy

 Moving Beyond The Trap of Dependency

The other day, I was in the process of reading my book, Synchronicity which was first published 18 years ago and recently published as a second edition. I found myself focusing on the key lessons I have learned over the years.

In considering some of these lessons, I thought about all I had learned as a result of founding and operating the American Leadership Forum (ALF), leading Royal Dutch Shell’s long-term planning team, my work with the MIT Organizational Learning Center and the early days of discovering and refining the now well-known innovation process, the U-Process. My most valuable lessons came when I encountered the inevitable ordeals that arose along the path I was following. In Synchronicity, I call them “traps”. The great philosopher, Joseph Campbell, called them the” Road of Trials – when the senses are cleaned and humbled”. He famously said, “Where you stumble, there your treasure lies.” That is so very true.

I learned the hard way about the most effective way to formulate and implement strategy in an organization. For too long in leading ALF, I became too attached to the strategic plan we had carefully developed and which was wildly successful for years. But then the business environment shifted, creating a real crisis for the enterprise. In the midst of this, I clamped down and let my traditional way of operating take over. My habit of thought – relying on the once robust original strategy – almost destroyed what we had so successfully built.

In the book, I called this the “trap of dependency” – being overly dependent upon our well-developed strategic plan. This is a lesson that is profoundly important in today’s world where the playing field keeps dramatically changing – where complexity and change continues to accelerate as never before. This is a world where the business environment turns on a dime and entire new sectors emerge almost overnight, threatening a firm’s current strategy and even its very existence.

There is a much more powerful way to formulate and implement strategy in a world of continuous change, complexity and uncertainty. I’ve called it “tacking into the future”. It’s using our innate capacity to sense and actualize emerging futures. Robert Greenleaf, the founder of the movement known as “Servant Leadership”, called foresight “the central ethic of leadership”, adding that “to see the unforeseeable” and “to know the unknowable” is the mark of the most advanced stage of leadership development.

All my research and direct experience over 30 years reflects that teams can gain this capacity for foresight – learning to tap into the emerging future. What is needed to do this is a quality of insight going beyond our traditional, fixed form of thought. It is knowledge we gain collectively from deploying the U-Process: releasing limiting belief systems; deepening personal awareness and renewal; acute observation of the entire current reality, including identifying the hidden driving forces at work; collectively and individually accessing insights beyond the mind’s previous reach; and acting in the moment.

Using these principles, a team charged with maintaining the overall strategic direction of a firm can learn to formulate and implement strategy in parallel rather than sequentially, creating a continuous cycle of learning and action – “laying a path in walking”.  


  1. Adriana on June 4, 2014 at 8:38 am

    It was more than 10 years I readed Synchronicity , in spanish, and it was so strong the effect on me that I had a great personal transformation. Besides, I always thank you for your generosity exposition of the other authores and the notes. Now you keep being so honest as always. I appreciate you very much. Forgive my english please ! Bye!

  2. Susan Taylor on June 29, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Dear Adriana:

    On the behalf of Joseph and me, I would like to express our gratitude for your thoughtful comments and kind words about Synchronicity.

    • Shirl on August 23, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Grade A stuff. I’m unquestionably in your debt.

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