Back To All Stories

3 Examples of New Ways to Work in a Complex World

Summary of Aaron Dignan’s Brave New Work masterclass


Research shows 48% of employees are unhappy in their current job, 43% frequently think about quitting, 51% aren’t engaged, and 16% are actively disengaged. 


According to Aaron Dignan, it’s because the problems we face today are complex and we use an out-of-date toolbox to deal with them.

We do time tracking, annual budgets, and loads of meetings, we work in silos, refer matters to big committees, sit at big boardroom tables, have strict holiday leave policies, and maintain command-and-control leadership.

Free Download: 10 Leadership Qualities That Will Help Solve Challenges in 2023

Yet we rarely ask: “Is this serving us in a complex world?”

Like bad habits, any onerous or clunky practices or policies that no longer serve you in this complex world should be seen as organisational debt, he says, because they cost the company dearly. 

Aaron told this week’s masterclass work systems need to change for companies to succeed into the future.

Below we list the highlights of what he said, and 3 examples of companies who’ve changed…


Complicated versus Complex

At the heart of Brave New Work is knowing the difference between complicated versus complex operating systems, says Aaron.

A complicated operating system (such as that in watch or a car engine) is “knowable” and problems can be solved with checklists.

Sense (give me the data) – Analyse (look at the data) – Respond (here’s the solution).

A complex operating system (such as the weather, traffic, a garden, or a young child) keeps surprising you.

It can’t be fixed; rather it is managed, and managed in a relationship.

Probe (try, experiment) – Sense (Is that what I wanted?) – Respond 

In the modern complex workplace, this experimenting and questioning is largely what is needed.


Showing up differently

Unlike a set of traffic lights (a control and compliance system), a roundabout works using trust and autonomy. It requires a driver to participate in the solution. It asks us to show up differently.

Neither the control and compliance system nor the trust and autonomy system are appropriate in every situation.

However, just as roundabouts are 90% more effective in reducing fatal collisions, trust and autonomy systems can be more effective.

When considering aspects of your own company, ask yourself “Where can we show up differently?” 

·       Purpose – How we orient and steer

·       Authority – How we share power and make decisions

·       Structure – How we organise and create teams

·       Strategy – How we plan and prioritise

·       Resources – How we invest our time and money

·       Innovation – How we learn and evolve

·       Workflow – How we divide and do the work

·       Meetings – How we convene and coordinate

·       Information – How we share and use data

·       Membership – How we define and cultivate relationships

·       Mastery – How we grow and mature

·       Compensation – How we pay and provide


3 examples of Brave New Work

Many companies and organisations around the world are moving away from the command and control systems to that of trust and autonomy.


Buurtzorg, a Dutch healthcare company specialising in in-home nursing, understood the value in giving nurses as much autonomy as they were seeking for their elderly patients.

Buurtzorg broke their large workforce into teams of 10 to 12 nurses, with each team taking over full responsibility for what they charged and how they cared for clients.

With a lean administration of just 15 employees, Buurtzorg employs 15,000 nurses and is expanding throughout the world.


Haier Group Corporation is a Chinese multinational home appliances and consumer electronics company.

It’s moved away from siloed teams of HR, Finance, Customer Service etc. to introduce autonomous self-managed operation units, called ZZJYTs (Zi Zhu Jung Ying Ti).

Running like a micro-enterprise, every employee can create and manage his own ZZJYT to implement a project and become the leader.

Haier now has 100,000 employees and acquired GE Appliances in 2016.

Santa Fe Nuclear Submarine

In our interviews on Leadership is Language and his bestselling book Turn the Ship Around, former U.S. Navy submarine captain David Marquet told us how he was given command of the worst-performing crew in the fleet.

By ditching the command and control leadership style and adopting a more empowering approach, David lifted the team from bottom-of-the-pile to the number one position. This trust and autonomy method wasn’t easy, but everybody changed how they showed up to work and became leaders in their own right.

As all the leaders of these companies will tell you, change is often met with resistance and chaos before it leads to transformation and the new status quo.

So, “let’s change how we change!” says Aaron.

Change how you change

To thrive in a complex world, Aaron suggests a loop of Continuous Participatory Change: Tension – Practice – Experiment.

·       Tension – Ask the team “What’s stopping you from doing the best work of your life?” (Too many meetings, boss is a jerk). Don’t respond negatively to ideas big or small.

·       Practice – “What are all the things you could try to get to the adjacent possible?” (Look at innovations adopted by other teams) Or "What can we try that is novel (i.e. something you invent)?"

·       Experiment – Probe, try something, create a safe place to take risks.

Aaron suggests trying “radical things done on a non-radical scale (and perhaps in a non-radical timeframe).”

So, tomorrow, try this. Instead of going through the motions, accept that your company operates in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, and reassess an aspect of your work policies and practices.

Start with the job at hand. What is stopping you from doing the best work of your life? Start there, and start experimenting!

let's change how we change

Invest in Your Learning With Membership to Growth Faculty

Want to keep up with the latest ideas and thinking from the brightest minds in the world?

Discover your potential by learning from the best with Growth Faculty annual membership

·       Unlimited access to dozens of live virtual masterclasses on trending topics around work, career, leadership, and culture; such as psychological safety, burnout, difficult conversations, strategy and execution, micromanaging, accountability and more, with opportunities to chat, ask questions of the speaker, and interact with your peers.

·       Unlimited access to our multi-module leadership programs at both emerging and senior leader level.

·       Discounts on tickets to be in audiences at our Global Headliner in-person events featuring top name speakers.

·       Year-round leadership content on demand with replays of our live events, highlight reels, interviews with top business authors, and more.

Join a community of knowledge seekers who are inspired by the best. See our latest program of live virtual and in-person events.


Keep Informed
Stay Inspired


© 2023 The Growth Faculty

Where Brilliant Ideas Inspire Leadership

Growth Faculty acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country
throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

Privacy Policy    Terms of Service