Category Archives: complex responsive processes

Complexity&management Conference – 17th-19th May: end of early bird booking 1st April.

What kind of experience can you anticipate at the Complexity and Management Conference 17-19th May at Roffey Park entitled: What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life.  And what might you expect if you sign up to the one day workshop on Friday 17th May? Early bird booking discounts end 1st April 2019 – so book here.

Starting with the one day workshop, you will have a chance to explore the relevance of complexity thinking for your work, drawing on an intellectual perspective which has been developed over a 20 year period. There will be two seminar sessions exploring the key ideas underpinning the body of ideas called complex responsive processes of relating, but in the main you will have lots of opportunities to think with others about what’s going on for you in your organisation. It is time and space to take your experience seriously. Participants from previous one day workshops have

Arendt

found that it has prepared them better for  the conference,  although the workshop can be stand-alone too.

Meanwhile the conference, which begins with an inaugural dinner on Friday evening 17th at 7pm, is not a conventional academic event. You are very welcome to come and present a paper or a particular dilemma from your work during the workshop sessions on Saturday afternoon. But otherwise the only requirement is to come and participate fully with others to explore together why it is important to think critically in contemporary organisational life. In many ways the confer

ence itself is acounter-cultural event: there is time to reflect with no particular end in view apart from making meaning together, what the philosopher Hannah Arendt referred to as thinking without a bannister.

Conference fees, board and lodging are all included in the price. The conference ends after lunch on Sunday 19th May.

 

 

Complexity and Management Conference 17th-19th May – booking now.

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference, on 17th-19th May:  What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life offers the opportunity for delegates to reflect on what it means to be critical and why it is important to be so in today’s organisations. On the first morning of the conference we have invited Professor Andre Spicer to help us get the discussion going. If you want to sign up for the conference and save yourself some money before the early bird deadline expires, then click here.

Here are a few ideas on the traditions of thought to which we will be contributing.

We have a strong critical tradition in western thought, starting with the ancient Greeks. However, the contemporary philosopher Julian Baggini has shown us how a variety of cultures have their own traditions of systematically thinking about the human condition, on the basis that, as Socrates put it, the life unexamined is not worth living. How might we lead a good life, what do we mean by truth, how might we guard against the fragility of goodness, as Martha Nussbaum expressed it?[1] Examining our lives in the back and forth dialectic of discussion is necessary if we are to make meaning and become fully human, but it can have its negative consequences, as it did for Socrates. Problematising, probing, judging comes with its own risks: we are unlikely to be condemned to death for corrupting Athenian youth, as he was, but simply asking questions can call out a strong reaction. Why might that be?

As Kant identified, to critique (originating in judgement, from the Greek krisis) involves imagination and daring:

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.[2]

Kant thought that ‘daring to know’ may require courage to take on sources of authority, so that even religion, perhaps the biggest locus of authority in his day, would need ‘to sustain the test of its free and public examination.’[3] He suggested that subjecting sources of legitimacy and authority to critical inquiry is not something to be undertaken lightly, although it is necessary if we are to liberate ourselves from ignorance. Both implicitly and explicitly, becoming critical means engaging with questions of legitimacy and power and calling into question the status quo.

But is it enough just to doubt and reason on our own and by ourselves? From a Hegelian perspective the answer is no, since Hegelians would claim that we are not just autonomous, rational individuals cognizing in the abstract, but we are socially and historically formed. More, and from a pragmatic perspective, it is not helpful to doubt everything all of the time, but we should engage first with those problems which preoccupy us.[4] To pursue inquiry from a Hegelian and pragmatic perspective means taking an interest in history. How has the phenomenon, the particular predicament we are interested in evolved over time, and what has led to what? We then try to place our  difficulties, within the larger history of social relations and their structural contradictions. This may mean drawing attention to power relationships and calling into question the legitimacy of certain ways of knowing and speaking, perhaps asking the question cui bono, who benefits? It certainly means pursuing these questions through dialectical inquiry, where an abstract notion of truth is replaced by the idea that insight arises in the back and forth or argument in a community of engaged inquirers.

And by taking part in discussion and argumentation we then find ourselves discovering that moral and political judgements in particular are plural. We might enhance our ability to see the world from perspectives other than our own. So in addition to Kant’s injunction to dare to know, we might find ourselves developing greater empathy, imagination and solidarity.

If this kind of inquiry interests you, where you engage with a committed group of peers to discuss current organisational difficulties and discover plural and complex points of view, then this year’s Complexity and Management conference 17th-19th May is the place to be. There may be no resolution to your predicaments but perhaps you will find some degree of solidarity with and from others in the complex responsive processes of relating. Dare to come!

Early bird concessions end 1st April.

[1] Nussbaum, M (1986) The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] An answer to the question what is Enlightenment? 1784

[3] Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.

[4] “We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy…Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” CS Peirce (1992), The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings Vol 1, Bloomington: Indiana University Press: pp28-29.

2019 Complexity and Management Conference 17-19th May

stamp_hannah_arendt-2The 2019 Complexity and Management Conference booking page is now open and can be accessed here.

The title of this year’s conference is: What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life.

On Saturday morning we are delighted to have Professor André Spicer from the Cass Business School, City, University of London to give the keynote on Saturday morning. André holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He has held visiting appointments at universities around the world. André is the author of many academic articles and nine books. The most recent are ‘Business Bullshit’, ’The Stupidity Paradox’ and ‘Desperately Seeking Self Improvement’.

On Saturday afternoon we ask conference delegates to suggest workshops that they themselves would like to run consonant with the theme of the conference, so if you would like to suggest something, then do let me know.

As usual, the event will be highly participative and will offer lots of opportunities for discussion and exploration of the key themes with other delegates. The conference begins with an inaugural dinner on Friday evening 17th May, and ends after lunch on 19th May. The conference fee includes onsite board and lodging for the duration of the conference. Early bird rates apply before 1st April 2019.

As with previous years we are also offering a one day introductory workshop on some of the key ideas informing the perspective of complex responsive processes on Friday 17th May.

Hope to see you there.

Ralph Stacey on complex responsive processes

This video is a very poor quality recording of Ralph Stacey giving his last exposition of complex responsive processes at the Complexity and Management Conference June 2018 before his retirement.

Apologies for both sound and picture quality.

What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life.

Complexity and Management Conference – 17th– 19th May 2019, Roffey Park Institute.

One of the difficulties of thinking, as Hannah Arendt pointed out, is that it tends to unravel things. Next year’s conference will address a theme which has come up again and again in previous conferences, the degree to which questioning, particularly of our own assumptions and value positions, can unsettle. It’s not always easy to question what’s going on, particularly in organisations which encourage us to align and be positive, but what are the ethical consequences of not doing so?

In a recent piece of research carried out for LFHE/Advance HE, we discovered that senior managers in Higher Education establishments may feel conflicted about some of the change projects they are responsible for. Keen to do a good job on the one hand, on the other they may also entertain doubts about the long-term effects of the changes they are implementing. One requirement of surviving in an environment which values change, then, may be the ability to entertain doubt and uncertainty, and to find ways of critically reflecting with others.

Equally, consultants trying to navigate the crowded field of concepts and management fads may find themselves working for clients who seem to be asking for support which the consultant doubts will be helpful – what does it mean to be a critically reflective and reflexive consultant, and what are the ethical implications?

We are delighted to have Professor André Spicer from the Cass Business School, City, University of London to give the keynote on Saturday morning, and help us think these things through.  Originally from New Zealand, André holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne. He has held visiting appointments at universities around the world.

André is the author of many academic articles and nine books. The most recent are ‘Business Bullshit’, ’The Stupidity Paradox’ and ‘Desperately Seeking Self Improvement’ He has worked with a range of organisations including Barclays, TFL, Old Mutual, the City of London, the House of Commons, IBM and CAA. He frequently appears in the international media and writes regularly about work and organisations for The Guardian. He is currently working on a book about skepticism and doubt.

On Saturday afternoon we ask conference delegates to suggest workshops that they themselves would like to run consonant with the theme of the conference.

As usual the conference booking page will go live on the university website early in the New Year. The fee for the conference covers all board and lodging from the inaugural dinner on Friday night 17th May, through to lunch on Sunday when the conference finishes.

In addition we will offer the usual one day introduction to the basic concepts of complex responsive processes of relating on Friday 17th.

 

What leaders talk about when they talk about transformation.

What exactly is transformational change, and what kind of leadership qualities are required if one finds oneself in charge of a project which claims to be transformational? What might we learn about leadership from studying a sector, the Higher Educations sector in the UK, where there are profound changes going on, introduced by successive governments?

These are some of the questions I and colleagues, Dawn James, Jana Filosof, Kevin Flinn,  Rachelle Andrews, Phil Mason and Nigel Culkin from the University of Hertfordshire were commissioned by AdvanceHE (formerly the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education) to ask of the top teams from 6 UK universities. The report we produced will be published very soon. Continue reading

Complex responsive processes – 4 pillars of thought, 5 key insights.

Before starting this post, and for those readers interested in attending the next Complexity and Management Conference, next year it will be slightly earlier: 17-19th May 2019.

Introduction

This post is the theoretical introduction to the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating, which I gave in the afternoon of the one-day workshop preceding this year’s Complexity and Management Conference. It informs a whole raft of publications written and edited by Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin, Patricia Shaw and myself along with all the theses of graduates of the Doctor of Management (DMan) programme at the University of Hertfordshire, who now number 72 (60 doctorates and 12 MAs). The perspective has also been adduced by a wide range of consultants, scholars and graduates of other programmes. I mention this at the beginning of the post because I often get asked ‘what next for complex responsive processes?’, or ‘what or who constitutes the complex responsive processes community?’ I think the question is sometimes aimed at asking who decides what the perspective of complex responsive processes is, to which the answer must be, the original authors, everyone and no one. The glorious thing about ideas is that once published, they belong to everybody, irrespective of whether they are reproduced or developed in ways in which the ‘original’ scholars would recognise. And when other people develop the ideas in their own way, then this just leads to opportunities for further discussion. This is not to suggest that as far as I am concerned ‘anything goes’. The point about having an intellectual position is that you are prepared to argue for it, whilst acknowledging the perspectives of those you argue with.

The perspective of complex responsive processes rests on four pillars of intellectual tradition: it draws on insights from the complexity sciences; it is based in Norbert Elias’ processual sociology; it takes up key ideas from pragmatic philosophy, particularly from Mead and Dewey; and it borrows from the group analytic tradition as set out by SH Foulkes, particularly in terms of the working methods which we adopt on the DMan programme. What all four have in common is that they are concerned with phenomena in a state of flux and change over time, and they are focused more or less on how global patterns arise from micro-interactions, or how micro-interactions embody global patterns. Our particular interpretation reads paradox into the working of complex adaptive systems models (CAS), just as see paradox deployed by Mead, Dewey, Elias, and to a lesser degree, Foulkes. In other words, and in the perspective of complex responsive processes you can see Heraclitan dialectic running through our interpretation of CAS, in the work of the pragmatists and Elias, which draws on Hegel, and perhaps more falteringly in Foulkes. Elias and Foulkes are also informed by the thinking of Freud. There are links, then, between the four pillars of thought which underpin the perspective. Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference (CMC) 8th-10th June 2018 – Taking Complexity Seriously.

Here is the link to the public booking page for the June 8-10th Complexity and Management Conference 2018. This year’s theme is: Taking Complexity Seriously: Why Does It Matter?

At the conference we are marking Ralph Stacey’s retirement from the DMan programme and the University of Hertfordshire after an academic career of more than 30 years.

I’m afraid the site is a bit clunky – for example, if you want to book both the conference and the workshop you have to choose the conference first then continue and book the workshop on the next page. All board and lodging is covered in the cost of the conference fee, but there is no accommodation included in the workshop fee.

Both workshop and conference will take place at Roffey Park  Institute. However, Roffey Park only accommodates 60 people and we are expecting over 100 delegates, so those who don’t stay at Roffey will be placed in a hotel nearby. Transport to and from the hotel will be provided free of charge.

The one-day workshop on Friday 8th is an introduction to complex responsive processes as a body of thought: how did it develop, what ideas underpin it and how do we take up the ideas, for example, on the Doctor of Management programme? Participants will have lots of opportunities to link the ideas to their everyday experience at work through discussion. This one-day workshop is probably not suitable for anyone already very familiar with the perspective. The one-day workshop is introduced by Ralph Stacey and Chris Mowles.

The inaugural drinks reception and supper will begin at 7pm on Friday evening and is included in the cost of the conference.

The conference comprises:

The first key note speech on Saturday 9th June in the morning from Ralph Stacey outlining the development of complex responsive processes, followed by Q and A.

Small group work on the ideas arising from the keynote.

Lunch

In the afternoon there are parallel workshops, which will run twice, convened by members of the broader community of practitioners, academics and other interested parties who would like to discuss some aspect of complexity thinking that they have developed. A full list of the workshops will be circulated closer to the conference.

Supper will be at 8pm.

On Sunday 10th June Chris Mowles will try to give an overview of some of the key themes which have arisen during the conference. Thereafter there will be further group work and a concluding plenary.

Lunch is at 1pm on the Sunday, after which the conference closes.

Hope to see you there.

Complexity and Management Conference (CMC) 8th-10th June 2018 – Taking Complexity Seriously.

Here are the outline arrangements for next year’s CMC, which is held to mark the retirement of Ralph Stacey after more than 30 years at Hertfordshire Business School.

IDL TIFF file

The conference begins as usual on Friday 8th June evening at 7pm and finishes after lunch on Sunday 10th. The conference fee covers all board and lodging, and the theme  this year is:

 

Taking complexity seriously – why does it matter?

A more detailed agenda for the conference will follow, but in outline:

  • Ralph Stacey will give the primary key note on Saturday morning 9th.
  • For the afternoon keynote slot there will be a variety of break-out sessions suggested by conference delegates and informed by the theme of the conference.
  • Chris Mowles will respond to themes which arise during the conference on Sunday morning .

On Friday 8th, there will be a one day introduction to complexity and management for those who have not yet come across the ideas  similar to the one we ran this year.

The one day workshop will be run by Ralph Stacey, and Chris Mowles. You can see a list of their publications on this blog.

The one day workshop on the 8th June will require participants to bring examples of some of the dilemmas they are facing at work. The workshop will start at 9.30am and will cover the following.

Session 1         Some key insights from the complexity sciences for thinking about    managing organizations. Ralph Stacey

Session 2         Participants discuss these ideas in relation to their practical experience at work.                        Plenary.

Session 3         Some key theories from the social sciences: power, process and communication.  Chris Mowles          

                        Q and A.

 Session 4         Experiencing uncertainty live: reflective group to consider the dynamics of this particular group in relation to the theories which have been explored during the day.

A booking site for both events will be uploaded onto the University of Hertfordshire website in early January 2018.

Accommodation for the one day workshop is not included in the fee, but separate arrangements can be made with Roffey Park by those delegates who will need to arrive the night before.

 

 

Working in groups – an overview of themes from the 2017 Complexity and Management conference.

This year’s Complexity and Management conference invited delegates to think about groups. In my response to the three previous speakers, Martin Weegmann, Nick Sarra and Karina Solsø Iversen I asked delegates to consider the importance of groups against a backdrop of an increasingly individualised age, where identification with groups, whether they be communities, trades unions, social movements or other vehicles of collective identification seem increasingly difficult to maintain. This is a phenomenon remarked upon by a wide variety of sociologists in different countries, for example by Robert Putnam in the United States in his book Bowling Alone[1], and to which I drew attention in last year’s conference summing up here. Last year I talked about the way in which we are invited to become ‘entrepreneurial selves’, a trend which Foucault was one of the first to identify as an inevitable consequence of the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism[2].

Screenshot 2017-06-10 15.35.57

Although this is a very powerful way of thinking, this isn’t experienced everywhere the same as I think the two contrasting pictures of train carriages show,  no matter how strong a global trend it is.

Screenshot 2017-06-10 15.33.58

But the phenomenon which Elias in particular described, where we are invited to think of ourselves as closed off from one another is widespread and amplified by modern technology and social media. Our devices are helpful for communication but may also amplify the tendency towards a sense that we are monads: technology can increase individualising and alienating social tendencies which are already emerging, as Sherry Turkle documents in her book Alone Together[3]. It is in this context that groups and groupwork become so important. Continue reading