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Bruce Holland

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A Revolution in Management

For the last 200 years the western world has followed a rationalist decision making model. It's only in the last 20 years that we're starting to seriously question this, due partly to research in to the way the human brain works.

This research has shown that the human brain doesn't work in a mechanical way. Most of our thinking emerges from a first fit match based on a few spot observations, these are then interpreted extensively by previous experience. For example, if we look at the way the human eye works, scientists have found that we keep less than 1 percent of the visual range in sharp focus, and what we actually do is a series of spot observations and fill in the gaps in between based on our past experience. Our reality emerges. Cognitively we worked the same way.

This is a real revolution! For a hundred years management science and practice has focused entirely on mechanical approaches. Now we are starting to find that we aren't mechanical at all. We are taking lessons from biology and chemistry and a new science called Complexity. it's giving us a far better understanding of how the world really works.

Lessons for business:

In their hearts, most senior managers know that this stuff is true. They know that often their best decisions are based on gut feel. They can have the most objective, fully researched information and still go with something that's far softer.

But many middle managers just don't get it ...

.. and this explains why many large organisations have lost the capacity to see the big picture and innovate. Want some proof? A unit of the US army was asked to manage a playground for a day. They were given a week to prepare. They undertook a rational assessment including a psychometric and assessment of the childrens' capabilities. They planned the play and deployed the activities according to a preconceived plan. The result was total chaos. This of course is totally consistent with a way many managers plan, and consistent with what I was taught at business school. Later the unit observed what experienced teachers did, which was to let the children play for a while until patterns emerged. Then they reinforced the patterns they wanted and dampened down the patterns they did not want.

In Complexity, scientists call these, boundaries and attractors. Boundaries are lines in the sand. The trick is not to draw the line too closely or control too tightly because otherwise either people will be immobilised or they will always be crossing the line, and you find your authority is destroyed. But it can't be too far away either, boundaries are required. As for attractors, they are mostly rewards and recognition of various types, usually non financial.

Ironically this is a lot cheaper and easier because you're taking an organic, human system and using it to control human beings rather than trying to impose a logical mechanical way on the way people work.

All of this is a completely different management style.

The mechanical way is like teaching people how to think like computers. What we want of people is their creativity and their ability to form patterns and merge ideas. If we learn the lessons properly it's a huge opportunity to make an impact on the world. New Zealander's pride ourselves at being able to innovate. We should be good at this management style because we're a small culture, we think of ourselves as equals, we have great diversity and multiculturalism, we are far better connected to each other than people in big countries are. One of the worst things we could do is to copy what works over there.


The chances are that most of what your managers are currently doing is detrimental to your organisation. For success you need them to think differently. This is where I come in. A large part of what I do, is to help managers form a new world view based on a living model rather than a mechanical model. The result is a organisation that's far more focused, fast and flexible.



Bruce Holland

Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.

Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.

One of NZs most experienced change agents.

Liberating the Human Spirit at Work
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