Category Archives: complexity

Complexity and Management Conference 2-4th June 2023.

Complexity, uncertainty, breakdown: coping, recovering and finding hope in dark times.

With the world in flux, perhaps it’s time to be less naïve about the idea of disruption. Our recent experience tells us that we have struggled to respond to disruptive socio-economic and political forces, let alone harness them for the good. Instead constant upheaval on the grand scale, the banking crisis, the pandemic, political and economic instability, has permeated society and our psyches, and has shown up inevitably in our practices and relationships in everyday organisational life. The effects of political and social turmoil, economic collapse, have set constraints on what we can achieve together in organisations. And they may have produced acute and enduring work place dilemmas which can provoke anxiety, burn-out and a sense of hopelessness. Constant disruption demands a more creative and subtle approach than may be found in orthodox recipes for leading, managing and consulting, or an idealisation of its benefits. Equally, we are required to find more generative responses than those offered by the lords of misrule who come to prominence in dark times recommending simplistic solutions to complex problems.

It is also worth thinking about the possible benefits of the huge disruption to traditional working practices caused by what the Oxford English dictionary now recognises as a neologism: the permacrisis. No profound set of social and economic changes is an unalloyed disaster. Where are the loci of hope?

The Complexity and Management Conference 2023 will address what can feel like a constant state of breakdown, potentially undermining things we may previously have taken for granted, such as plans, rules, loyalties, markets, knowledge, and how we exercise authority in groups.

The conference will be organised around contributors to the recent Complexity and Management series published by Routledge, which include the titles Complexity and ConsultancyComplexity and Leadership and Complexity and the Public Sector. Contributors will talk about their experience of leading, managing and consulting to a wide range of organisations, particularly the public sector. An invitation is also extended to all delegates attending the conference who want to offer a workshop on Saturday afternoon 3rd June.

If you are interested in the difference it makes to take the complex interplay of relationships seriously, particularly in dark times, then book for the 2023 Complexity and Management Conference, 2nd-4th June. The conference is highly discussive and conversation is the currency of participation. It will greatly enhance the conference if delegates bring concrete examples of their workplace dilemmas.

The conference is organised in collaboration with KIOL Executive Programme at University College Copenhagen.

The booking site will go up in the New Year.

Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture 5/10/22

The following is the text of the Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture which I gave at Hertfordshire Business School on Weds 5th October 2022. It accompanies the video which you will find in the post below.

The response to the lecture was give by Patricia Shaw, who co-founded the Doctor of Management programme with Ralph and the late Doug Griffin.

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Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture video

Here is the video recording the Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture on Weds 5th October, where I talked about Ralph’s legacy and Patricia Shaw responded.

We reflected on Ralph’s unique ability to take his experience seriously and make it available to others.

Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture Weds 5th October 6pm

In the Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture, just over a year after his death and birthday, I will reflect on Ralph’s rich and varied life, his deep humanity and his intellectual contribution. Patricia Shaw will respond, offering insights into the continuing relevance of the ideas for the enduring dilemmas we find ourselves facing.

Outline programme:

4pm – 5.30pm – Experiential group. Face to face only.

6.00pm            Ralph Stacey Memorial lecture by Chris Mowles, response by Patricia Shaw.

                        Q and A/observations.

7.45                 Informal drinks and conversation.

The event will be live-streamed. Joining instructions will be sent closer to the time.

In order for us to plan for numbers in person/send a link for streaming, RSVP c.mowles@herts.ac.uk

The Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture on Weds 5th October at the University of Hertfordshire, 6pm.

This is to give advance notice of The Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture on Weds 5th October at the University of Hertfordshire, 6pm. The day we have chosen is close both to his birthday and to the date of his death.

I will give a tribute to Ralph and his legacy and Patricia Shaw has agreed to give a response. We hope to turn the lecture into an annual event.

The lecture will be held at the Business School, de Havilland campus, where Ralph was an employee for 32 years. It will be live-streamed so that people can join remotely. For those interested and present in person, we may follow the lecture with an experiential group.

If you’re interested in attending/viewing then please save the date. Further details will follow.

In addition, the dates of next year’s conference are 2nd-4th June 2023. I am assured that there are no further Jubilee celebrations that weekend.

CMC 3-5th June 2022 – The theory of practice and the practice of theory.

There are still some places remaining for the 2022 Complexity and Management conference. You can book here.

One of the things that delegates always remark upon about the CMC is how refreshing it is to get straight into conversations that matter. You can do this from the moment you arrive: on Friday 3rd June @7pm in the evening you get to meet other delegates for an inaugural dinner from all kinds of practice backgrounds and from all over Europe.

On Saturday morning we have the renowned practice scholar Prof Davide Nicolini @NicoliniDavide who will talk about the importance of a practice orientation in theory.

The afternoon is given over to delegates to talk about dilemmas in the workplace using each other as a resource to think further.

Early Saturday evening there will be a tree-planting ceremony to commemorate the life and work of the late Prof Ralph Stacey, who founded the Doctor of Management programme and the conference, and who loved Roffey Park.

There will be more more lively conversation accompanied by great food on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning we will respond to the key note and themes which have arisen during our discussions on Saturday.

Then there is one more round of reflection until lunch and close at 12.30 on Sunday.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Just 5 days left to claim your early-bird discount -Complexity and Management Conference 3-5th June 2022

When we talk about the theory of practice and the practice of theory, does this mean that the conference is going to be very dry and abstract? The focus of the research community which organises the annual Complexity and Management Conference is on human beings and the complex dynamics they get caught up in when they try and get things done with other people. So we are interested in what we say and do, what we think we mean when we say particular things, how trying to go on together sometimes brings about the opposite of what we intend, and how our identities are changed in the process. We are concerned with reflecting on, and becoming reflexive about everyday organisational dilemmas.

The conference begins with a gala dinner on Friday 3rd June @7pm and welcome drinks.

The mode of the whole conference is conversational. This year we are delighted to have engaged Prof Davide Nicolini of Warwick Business School to give the key note because of his insightful work on the importance of practical knowledge.

There is an opportunity for delegates to present their ideas too, on Saturday afternoon 4th June. This might be a paper or a chapter in a book, or it might be something troubling at work which presenters want to use a group as a resource to think about.

On Sunday we reflect on what we have been talking about on Saturday with the help of faculty members from the Doctor of Management programme. Thereafter we have one more round of reflection in groups and finish off with lunch.

It’s exhausting but invigorating at the same time. Hope to see you there. Book here.

Complexity and Management Conference 3-5th June 2022- early bird booking ends in 10 days.

What can you expect if you sign up for the Complexity and Management Conference, which focuses on the theory of practice and the practice of theory?

The conference is set in the beautiful gardens and rolling meadow of the Roffey Park Institute. The food is great, and all board and lodging is included in the conference fee.

It begins with a gala dinner on Friday 3rd June @7pm and welcome drinks. The dinner is a chance to meet the other delegates and begin lively conversations which ease you into the weekend. We have a wide variety of delegates; consultants, academics, managers from all over the world. Sone are graduates of the DMan programme and many are not

The mode of the whole conference is conversational. Rather than requiring delegates to present papers they are working on, we choose a theme for the weekend, invite a good speaker to give us some ideas to think about, then engage all weekend in sharing practical dilemmas from the workplace. This year we are delighted to have engaged Prof Davide Nicolini of Warwick Business School to give the key note because of his insightful work on the importance of practical knowledge.

There is an opportunity for delegates to present their ideas too, on Saturday afternoon 4th June. This might be a paper or a chapter in a book, or it might be something troubling at work which presenters want to use a group as a resource to think about.

On Sunday we reflect on what we have been talking about on Saturday with the help of faculty members from the Doctor of Management programme. Thereafter we have one more round of reflection in groups and finish off with lunch.

It’s exhausting but invigorating at the same time. Hope to see you there. Book here.

Complexity and Management Conference 3-5th June 2022 – booking now.

The theory of practice and the practice of theory

When people sit together to talk about what’s going on, how they experience work, how they feel about their jobs, there may be some colleagues who complain that this is ‘just a luxury’. There is no time to sit around in a ‘talking shop’ when there is so much to do. And anyway, post-pandemic, haven’t we learnt that we can achieve just as much online?

If you are of the view that sitting around talking and thinking about how we are thinking and talking, what we find ourselves doing at work, then this year’s Complexity and Management Conference is probably not for you. As a broader research community we make an explicit assumption that one of a manager’s key tasks is to talk with their team about what they think is going on, what sense they make of it, and what it means for the group in taking the next steps together.

As a partial answer to the second point, why we are not running it online, we have organised this conference for the past two years online, and have benefitted from a broad range of participation from delegates who live too far away to come. From across time zones and sometimes great distances they have enriched the experience of paying attention to what we are doing. But it’s also the case that some qualities get lost. If we are concerned not just to talk about ideas, but to experience them, then occasionally there is no substitute for getting bodies together in a room. No more so when we choose to talk about the paradox of theory and practice. There is a practice in talking about theory, and the experience of doing so enhances learning in ways which are more than cognitive. We are moved into a different relationship with others and ourselves, a process which is attenuated online. Maybe everyone has recently experienced the difference of coming back to the workplace to work together in the same location as colleagues and has noticed the difference that encountering others makes. Having been out of practice, sometimes it may have felt overwhelming.

There is of course an environmental cost too to organising an in-person conference.

So, we have thought carefully about what we are doing and why, and we delighted to have Prof Davide Nicolini @NicoliniDavide to give us material to think about in his key note on Saturday morning 4th June. Thereafter the afternoon will be given over to anyone wanting to present their work or ideas in parallel workshops. On Sunday we respond to the previous day, and continue the discussion till lunchtime.

The conference fee includes all board and lodging. Roffey Park is set in a beautiful garden bordering a large meadow with a forest beyond. The food is of a high standard, the quality of conversation even higher and we would be delighted to see you there.

Here is the link to book. Early bird rates ends 30th April 2022.

The theory of practice and the practice of theory – booking now

Complexity and Management Conference 3-5th June 2022.

For the past two years the annual Complexity and Management Conference has been held online. Yes, it’s worked well enough, but we’re delighted to be able to plan for an in-person event this June. Meeting face to face, exploring, discussing, maybe disagreeing is consistent with the theme of the conference this year which is the paradox of practice and theory. The kind of knowledge we are interested in, knowledge from practice for practice, is dialectical and emerges from the back-and-forth between engaged human bodies. It is a social achievement involving taking turns, listening, thinking, speaking: it’s about learning to improvise together as an ensemble performance, with all the slips, detours and ambiguity that this implies.

For those unfamiliar with the CMC, this is a not an orthodox conference where people sit on panels and present their academic papers, leaving five minutes at the end for a hurried discussion. There is a place for these, but our interest is in taking the time we need to talk about what matters to us, to do justice to the organisational dilemmas we find ourselves dealing with. The quality of what emerges is consistent with the quality of participation of everyone present. Talking together with no particular end in view is also a practice which develops over time and is uncertain of outcome. In today’s instrumental organisations free flowing discussion is often viewed with suspicion. But at the CMC you are likely to meet others who are committed to exploration, and in taking the time to see where the deliberation leads.

We are delighted to have Prof Davide Nicolini @NicoliniDavide  giving us material to think about in his key note on Saturday morning 4th June. Thereafter the afternoon will be given over to anyone wanting to present their work or ideas in parallel workshops. On Sunday we respond to the previous day, and continue the discussion till lunchtime.

On Friday 3rd June there is a seminar and discussion on my latest book Complexity: a key idea for business and society, which is a way on introducing some of the main concepts informing the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating.

There is an early bird discount until the end of April 2022. Click this link for the conference and/or the introductory seminar.

Write to me with any queries to c.mowles@herts.ac.uk