Monday 01 May 2017

The UAE has been an innovative leader among states as the world careens into the Knowledge-based Era. This new era, characterized as a competitive landscape driven by globalization, technological advances and rapid communications, requires new leadership approaches.

National leaders need to understand new ways to implement strategies, including how to execute during crisis, conflict and periods of rapid change.  Using diplomacy, economics, military capabilities and information at the national level is easy conceptually, but strategic implementation remains exceedingly difficult.

Fog, friction and chance degrade plans and confuse signals; any strategy dependent on schedules and clear signals can then collapse, leading to missed opportunities or even worse, to failure.  Complexity will confound everything during conflict, but thankfully, strategic leaders of creative intellect and determination can persevere despite such challenges and still win.

Nations evolve in a dynamic manner over time, due to complicated interactions among states, leaders, economic forces, societal factors and other elements of the international environment. Complexity theory, which is the study of nonlinear dynamic systems, promises to be a much more useful conceptual approach that reconciles the fundamental unpredictability of modern state interaction.

A complex system commonly involves large numbers of dynamic, interacting elements that can produce disproportionately significant consequences. Though such systems can be investigated, such analysis rarely leads to predictive ability because so many conditions are in constant flux; this means that forecasting and predicting is very difficult. Yet such systems are now commonplace in international affairs. Complexity theory offers numerous insights that have great utility for national leaders.

It suggests that highly complex and often unpredictable behavior can still exhibit patterns and most importantly can be managed through adaptability and good information management. Rather than expend large amounts of resources on forecasting for unpredictable futures, many writers have suggested that nations should emphasize flexibility, creativity, and innovation in response to the vagaries of the international environment. Complexity theory suggests that leaders and organizations poised on “the edge of chaos” might enable states to prosper more successfully in an era of rapid change because they can embrace such an environment and still act effectively.

Complexity is more than a way of thinking about the world; it is an approach to problem solving that can help current and future leaders profit from technology, globalization, market fluctuations, cultural differences, and almost anything else. An understanding of complexity can help all of us embrace the challenges and opportunities we face going forward. Advocates note that with such complexity inherent in our world, strategies will remain important, but their main value with be the methods they outline for managing changes in power structures and economic relationships.

Structuring government organizations as decentralized, nonhierarchical networks is a key component of adapting to this approach, as is the development of strategic alternatives, the use of “red teaming” and the development of staff processes that can function well even under very dynamic conditions. 

For national leaders, the essential ability is to develop, through education or experience, the wisdom to determine multiple possible strategic pathways and the judgement to know when to maintain course and when to change in order to take advantage of a fleeting opportunity or counter an imminent threat. This comes at great cost if it is learned through practice; education provides a less realistic but also far less costly method of improving such wisdom and judgment.

Executing a strategy is always challenging; there can be no doubt that the evolving world order will continue to test the UAE, but its ability to evaluate and assess potential threats will continue to serve it well if its leaders remain adept at dealing with complexity. Managing risk in a very uncertain world and developing approaches that can effectively adjust as other states leverage their power and influence, while always dealing with inevitable complexity, can ensure that the UAE remains both prosperous and an innovative leader among states.