There is a famous and crucial law in the theory of systems and complexity, called the Ashby law or Law of Requisite Variety.
In simple terms this law can be stated as follows:
In order to deal properly with the diversity of problems the world throws at you, you need to have a repertoire of responses that are (at least) as nuanced as the problems you face.
The law is crucial because it refers to the capacity of a system to survive in a complex environment: a viable system is one that can handle the variability of its environment.
Or, as Ashby simply put it, only variety can absorb variety.
For you as an entrepreneur, the law clearly calls for high flexibility and richness of capacities and perspective to respond to your challenges. The more variable and fast-changing the environment, the more flexible your enterprise and its internal systems need to be.
It is more and more under our eyes that the complexity of our reality is increasing at a pace that has been never observed before. This means that also your modality and capacity to respond in a more flexible and diverse way need to go to the next level.
You may tend to play in a safe and controlled space by choosing variety reduction. This appears unfeasible and unsustainable in our new reality. Many organizations and social systems, that have grown so far by keeping lower levels of variety, are facing now extremely hard times. They turn to be rigid systems that have not developed the internal stretch to resiliently respond to the external variety. Conversely, it is interesting to know that another implication of the Law of Requisite Variety is that the part of the system with the higher flexibility will play like the queen in a game of chess: it will act as the catalytic element within that system for making the system respond properly and thrive.
Complex challenges are difficult because they require you and your team to change your ways, your mindset, and your behaviours. They are not just complicated technical problems, where your past ways of thinking, relating, and operating can help you fix the problem. They are “non-linear” problems, that cannot be solved by just downloading your proven approaches to problems.
How can you then move faster toward abundant flexibility of perspectives, practices, and tools, learn fast, and become capable to thrive in complex times?
The answer is: together, in circles of entrepreneurs.
“Together” means speed, diversity, richness, resilience, and superior intelligence.
Where do we find a truly new model for thriving together? We cannot be blind here toward the greatest model of all, Nature, always displayed magnificently in front of us.
Even a fast look at the rainforest can provide us with an immediate, easy grasp of the power of togetherness and true interconnectivity. The most diverse vegetation here ensures resilience, generativity, abundance, and anti-fragility to all the parts of the ecosystem, while simultaneously affirming the uniqueness and the fundamental/foundational contribution of each species enriching the soil for all the plants. Every plant shapes a form, a way, an exchange, a contribution, uniquely contributing not only to its own growth and flourishing but also to every other part of the ecosystem. It is the realm of synergies.
It is then crystal clear to us that in order to create multiple and flexible responses we need multiple intelligences, collective wisdom, and upskilled collaborative capacity.
It sounds obvious. Why then do we see entrepreneurs ending up going alone, over and over again, even now, trapped in the downfall of their “hero” mindset?
Often you as an entrepreneur do not see an alternative, a different collaborative approach, and a new leadership model. Fighting harder seems the only way. Taken away by your passion and commitment, trapped in your everyday endless to-do list, you find it easier to follow the known path of working harder and harder, downloading the usual ways of acting, and just throw yourself in the fight arena.
As we see so perfectly in the rainforest, however, another arena is possible, the synergetic arena. Here successful synergies can generate more resources, resilience, and fast response to challenges because of self-reinforcing circles that enhance mutual growth and evolution.
Stephen Covey says it very well: Synergy is everywhere in nature. If you plant two plants close together, the roots commingle and improve the quality of the soil so that both plants will grow better than if they were separated.
It is possible to create ecosystems of entrepreneurs that activate the collective entrepreneurial intelligence to support individual sustainable businesses in a more generative effort.
Circles of entrepreneurs empower each individual endeavour by offering multiple perspectives, expertise, awareness, and diverse competencies in a supportive and insightful environment.
Rosalind Armson, author of “Growing Wings on the Way”, and working with individuals and organizations facing complex and uncertain situations, says:
“While I bring requisite variety to the task of improving a messy situation, I find myself asking, ‘How can I be sure I am not contributing to the process that keeps the mess in place?’ ‘How can I be sure that some of my variety of actions, thinking, and emotions is not getting in the way of improving the situation?’
I am thinking here of my confusions, prejudices, preferences, entanglements, and blind spots.
These too are manifestations of my variety and, unless I can account for them in some way, they can make the situation even more difficult to understand than it was before.
I need awareness of how I interact with situations that I am trying to improve. This means I have to be aware of how I see the situation (my perspective); how I understand the situation; how I distinguish systems within it; how I communicate my understandings to other stakeholders; how I act in it; how I see and recognize the outcomes; and how I evaluate the outcomes.”
This crucial process of increasing awareness and accelerated learning can be held and powerfully facilitated in circles of entrepreneurs. Collective entrepreneurial intelligence helps us respond with increased flexibility and generative capacity to the complex environment we are living in.