These four conditions are:
- Volatility – things change unexpectedly, quickly, and rigorously.
- Uncertainty – and we don’t know when and how and where they will change.
- Complexity – and the change happens in non-linear ways.
- Ambiguity – and it is impossible to name exactly what is happening.
As many professionals from organizational behavior and development have rightly identified, these four conditions that Special Ops personnel find themselves in during critical operations is the everyday reality of the operational, economic, political and social environment organizational leaders operate in. Thus, understanding the reflexive responses of people who find themselves in such volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous conditions, and finding methods and approaches that can support them to deal with them effectively is something that many people in leadership development has turned their attention towards.
PREDICTABLE HUMAN ERRORS
As much as these systems are complex, the human in the organizational systems generally base their thinking on good intentioned yet simplistic and linear “impact à result” approaches that regard the systems they deal with somewhat static. Yet, the systems are not simple, static, or linear. They are complex, dynamic, and adaptive. So the results of such an approach is at best unsatisfactory, usually disappointing, and sometimes disastrous, as documented by Dietrich Dörner.
As a result, people fall in predictable errors and traps while living and working in organizational systems without realizing it. They tend to consider each part, each event, each action separate from each other, from the conditions that created it and from the conditions it creates. This has deep roots not only in our psychology, but also in our neuropsychology, in how our brains work and especially how our brains are organized to react to perceived threat.
Neurology as support and as hindrance
Recent breakthroughs in brain research and their spill over effects in behavioral sciences shed light on how we human beings operate in such conditions and why. The research shows, in an overly simplistic summary, two regions of our brains are in charge of our actions and reactions. These are:
- Prefrontal Neocortex, which is basically in charge of all intentional thinking, logic, choice, attention, decision, understanding, etc. This is the part that we usually call “ourselves” when we are happy with ourselves.
- Amygdala, which is the watchtower of the human brain, who is constantly on alert to determine if there are any threats in the environment. If the amygdala perceives any threat, like a tiger in near vicinity, it holds all resources of the brain and body, practically shutting down prefrontal neocortex temporarily, and coordinates these resources for three strategies that has saved humans and other animals from being extinct by being eaten by others: Fight, run, or freeze.