Category Archives: complexity

Complexity and Management Conference 3-5th June 2022 – the theory of practice and the practice of theory

Practitioners often have an ambivalent relationship with theory, and much academic writing may not help. Academic articles can often seem obscure and are usually aimed at other academics rather than managers and consultants working in every day organisational life. Scholars in business schools have long been aware of the problem and have written about the crisis of relevance of organisational scholarship. Equally, there may also be a tendency among consultants to climb aboard the latest bandwagon, to try too quickly to squeeze complex ideas into grids and frameworks, and to instrumentalise. Consultants are paid to know and perhaps to simplify.

How, then to navigate between the potential collapse of important ideas into instrumental two by two girds and frameworks, on the one hand, and the kind of knowledge that is valued in the Academy? What kind of knowledge do we need from practice for practice?

During next year’s Complexity and Management Conference, June 3-5th 2022, we are delighted to welcome Prof Davide Nicolini to help stimulate our thinking about practice and knowledge.  Davide is Professor of Organization Studies at Warwick Business School where he co-directs the IKON Research Centre and co-ordinates the Practice, Process and Institution Research Programme. His current research focuses on the development of the practice-based approach and the refinement and promotion of processual, relational and materialist research methods. 

As usual the currency of the conference is discussion, and the weekend will comprise lots of opportunities to talk about the experience of trying to get things done together. The conference will begin 7pm Friday 3rd June and end at lunchtime on the Sunday. The booking website will go up in the New Year.

Remembering Ralph Stacey

The following is a longer obituary of Ralph Stacey which was commissioned by Group-analytic Contexts, and which I share here with their permission. It turns in particular on his relationship with the group analytic community, but some of his key ideas about complexity may be relevant for people working in other contexts.

Obituary Ralph Stacey 10/9/42 – 4/9/21

Ralph Stacey, economist, group analyst, Professor of Management at the University of Hertfordshire (UH) for 30 years, and much loved husband, partner, father, grandfather and colleague, died in September this year a few days short of his 79th birthday. His death was sudden and shocking, although for many years previously he had experienced quite chronic ill health. Physically frailer than some in their late 70s, Ralph was nonetheless intellectually robust right till the end. As an internationally renowned academic who developed pioneering ideas about the importance of the complexity sciences for understanding social life, and as someone who could speak without notes, and without PowerPoint slides for as long as required, exiting before his faculties declined had always been important to him. He was granted his wish.

Ralph was a great raconteur, and used to tell stories about his past in a highly self-deprecating and amusing way. He was rarely the hero of his own narrative. One tale he told about his own therapy as part of his training as a group analyst is quite instructive to understand the man. After five years or so he considered leaving the group to bring to a temporary end his therapeutic journey as patient. In response his conductor told him that she thought he still had experience to bring: Ralph, you are not yet fully part of the group. Ralph later recounted this episode as a light bulb moment for him. Indeed, he didn’t feel fully part of the group, and nor did he want to be. He was quite content to be an insider and an outsider, both at the same time. This paradoxical position pervades his thinking, and his experience as a gay, white South African who lived most of his life in the UK, as a critical management scholar who worked in an orthodox Business School, and an as eminent scholar lauding the importance of groups who was himself both shy and retiring, as a person committed to staying in relation, who on occasion could be fantastically stubborn and unmoving. To borrow Norbert Elias’s thinking, Ralph’s position in the social network as insider/outsider was pivotal in producing a canon of work which is still highly influential.

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Complexity and Management Symposium 20th Nov – booking now!

How might we think about the politics of waiting – who waits the longest and for what? If organisations exist in a state of frenetic standstill, where we never catch up with ourselves before embarking on the next change, does ‘slow management’ help? What is involved in the decision to wait or to act, and in what ways is waiting also a form of action? What did periods of enforced lockdown, waiting for things to open up, enable and inhibit?

Complexity and Management Symposium Nov 20th 2021 – booking now.

If you are interested in spending the day discussing, reflecting and arguing with other colleagues, then the Complexity and Management Symposium offers an opportunity to explore the nexus of waiting and time. With a mixture of large group and small in the morning, and presentations on the theme of the complexity of waiting in the afternoon, the Symposium is booking now.

The waiting is over.

Complexity – a key idea for business and society

Coming out at the end of November and turning on 7 types of complexity: thoughts about complex selves, complex action, complex knowledge, complex communication, complex authority and complex ethics, all arising from complex models. A plea for management humility along the way.

Complexity and Management Online Symposium 9.30-5.00pm Sat Nov 20th, 2021. Booking soon!

One of the great promises of an accelerated and globalised world, is that it would increase autonomy, freedom and choice. But that’s not how it has turned out, according to German sociologist Hartmut Rosa . Instead social acceleration has led to greater disorientation and fragmentation and a deficiency of resonance. We find ourselves in frenetic standstill. Nothing remains the same, but nothing essentially changes. The more rapidly changing circumstances oblige us to plan to keep up, the more we realise the plans we do make and our methods of planning are inadequate for the new situations we find ourselves in. Acceleration produces its own disruptions, traffic jams, outages and lacunae.

We are also remade in our relationship with ourselves and with the world. In rapidly changing times greater social advantage is gained by those who have fewer commitments, are more flexible in their sense of self and their convictions. The idea that we might have enduring principals, values if you like, to which we cleave, appears slightly old fashioned. Why would we stand firm for anything in a society which appears to value endless adaptability and flexibility? At the same time we encounter an increase in life events, but a hollowing out of experience, which can lead to depression  and ennui, and an attenuation of resonant relationships. This makes it harder to gain determinacy, to recognise ourselves and others in a shifting world.

Are there advantages to be gained, then by waiting, by dwelling with events to transform them into experience? Is this an argument for staying put, for standing firm, for not rushing on to an idealised future, or at least not yet, but to reflect on what’s going on and to take the time to do so.

The online Complexity and Management Symposium is a good place to do this. The working title is: The Complexity of Waiting. It’s an online event for anyone who enjoys reflecting in large groups and small on the experience of being in relation in the early 21st C.

Enjoy the sense of irony that we have been kept waiting by the university for the booking site to go up. But , it may only be a week before you can collapse the excitement of waiting into the purchase of a ticket for the event. In the meantime, if you would like to offer a workshop in the afternoon related to the theme of the Symposium, please contact me on c.mowles@herts.ac.uk .

I hope to see you there.

Complexity and Management Online Symposium 9.30-5.00pm Sat Nov 20th , 2021

The complexity of waiting.

Your boss summons you for a meeting: she can be late, but it would be unwise for you to be. Or you pass your boss in the corridor as she is talking to another colleague: she asks you to wait while she finishes what she has to say, but the conversation goes on and on. You are doubly frustrated by having to listen to matters which don’t concern you, and by being delayed on the task you are on. Do you dare interrupt and negotiate a meeting at a later time?

These are trivial examples, but being asked to wait often reflects a power relationship, the membership or otherwise of a group, and an indication of social status. The groups of people who are likely to be made to wait the longest are the poor, the unemployed, asylum-seekers, and the otherwise marginalised, who face endless iterations of delay in their dealings with borders or state bureaucracy. Sometimes whole populations of people are asked to wait years, sometimes for generations for a resolution of their displacement and refugee status, like the Palestinians for example. There are hierarchies within societies and between societies and the length of time spent waiting is an index of powerlessness. We have recently witnessed long queues of people waiting to leave the airport in Kabul, while the majority of Afghans have no chance of leaving.

But if you have a first world passport you are unlikely to wait as long in the immigration queue as you are if you are a national of a country in the Global South. If you are a business traveller you are likely to board first and perhaps be accelerated through immigration on your arrival. Money, status, nationality, relationships with the powerful, can all make a difference to gaining access, to being let in, to avoiding bureaucratic entanglements, to getting justice. British citizens are already experiencing their change in status of choosing to leave the EU as they have their passports stamped and join the queue of ‘other nationals’.

But even the privileged have been unable to avoid the uncertain waiting that has afflicted us all during the pandemic. We have been locked down, endlessly waiting, for a resolution, a way out, for hope for the future. In a neoliberal age which privileges action, agency, the constant remaking of the self, we have all experienced, more or less, what it means to have our ability to plan our lives profoundly curtailed. Moreover, we have come to think of ourselves as infinitely networked, speeded up, able to gratify our desires instantly. In contemporary organisations and in normal times we are constantly speeding towards an idealised future. Instead, during the last period we have got used to living with the kind of radical uncertainty that populations in the majority world have long been used to. We are thrown back upon ourselves knowing that our plans are highly contingent on circumstances beyond our control.

In large groups and small, the Complexity and Management Symposium will consider the complexities of waiting, of dwelling in uncertainty. The day will comprise a mixture of small and large groups in the morning and workshops in the afternoon presented by Symposium delegates. If you have an idea for a workshop you would like to present, then please write to me at c.mowles@herts.ac.uk.

I will set up a booking site in the next few weeks on the UH website.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Prof Hari Tsoukas’ key note speech at the June 2021 Complexity and Management conference

This year we held another highly participative conference to discuss the complexity of practice. In order to help us frame the day, we invited Prof Hari Tsoukas of Cyprus and Warwick Universities to give us his thoughts on complexity and practice, which you can watch below.

In the meantime, the Complexity and Management Conference is planning an online symposium for Saturday November 27th 2021, another date for your diaries.

Complexity and Management Conference 4-6th June 2021 – booking now.

The Complexity and Management Conference 4-6th June 2021 – The Complexity of Practice, is open for booking now. Here is the booking page.

This year we are delighted to have Professor Hari Tsoukas, who is well known to many of you,  as our key note speaker. Hari is Columbia Ship Management Professor of Strategic Management at the University of Cyprus and Distinguished Research Environment Professor of Organization Studies at Warwick Business School. He is best known for his contributions to understanding organizations as knowledge and learning systems, for re-viewing organizational phenomena through the lens of process philosophy, for exploring practical reason in organizational contexts as well as the epistemology of reflective practice in management, and for bringing insights from Aristotelian, Wittgensteinian and Heideggerian philosophy to organization and management studies.

The staging of this year’s conference is no less an uncertain undertaking than last year’s. So we are organising for a face to face event, but at the same time preparing to go online. This means that the booking page requires you to make two payments. The first is a deposit (£100), and the second (£700) is to top up the payment to the full conference fee amount (£800). Should the face to face event be cancelled and we move online, we will refund you the top-up amount (£700) and keep the deposit as payment for the online event. This is the way the university best copes with refunds and it will save you going through the whole process again.

The event will, as usual, be highly participative and deliberative. If face to face, the conference begins on the evening of Friday 4th June with complementary drinks and gala dinner, and ends after lunch on Sunday 6th June. The conference fee covers all board and lodging for the event at Roffey Park Institute, Horsham UK. If we move online the conference will be just Saturday 5th June from 9am till 5.30pm.

There are limited places, so book early to avoid disappointment. I will send out an agenda early May once it is clear what kind of event we will be staging.

Whether face to face or online, the afternoon of Saturday 5th will comprise seminars presented by conference delegates emerging from some aspect of their work related to the conference theme on which they would like to convene a discussion. If you would like to convene such a seminar, please contact me.

On Friday 4th June, whether face to face or online, there is an introductory workshop to the ideas which inform the Doctor of Management (DMan) programme, a perspective we term complex responsive processes of relating. The workshop too will be very participative and discussive, drawing on delegates’ every day experience at work.

Looking forward to seeing you there, one way or another.

Complexity and Management Conference 4-6th June 2021

This is to remind you that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will be on 4th-6th June 2021, but with a changed speaker. We are delighted to have Professor Hari Tsoukas of Warwick and Cyprus Universities to give our key note. We are still discussing the theme of the conference, but it will be something to do with the complexity of practice. 

The conference begins @7pm on the Friday evening 4th June, and ends lunchtime Sunday 6th. We hope the event will be face to face at Roffey Park, UK but will plan to put it online if not.

A booking page on the university site will go up as usual later in January.

Exploring the complexity of conflict and organising in the time of Covid-19 – Online Symposium/Practicum Nov 28th

Just a week to go before the Complexity and Management Centre’s online Symposium/Practicum exploring the role of conflict, particularly in the time of Covid-19. There are still a few places remaining, which you can book here.

The morning comprises reflections in a large group setting to experience the significance of conflict to the everyday processes of getting things done together. In the afternoon there will be seminars run by practitioner-scholars who will invite delegates to think about what’s going on for them in their organisational setting as a way of further exploring the generalisability of their insights.

Our last post to warm us up for the event comes from Professor Emma Crewe, who teaches at SOAS and is a supervisor on the DMan programme.

When people fall apart

These days, as I bounce from one virtual room to the next, shapeshifting from my various research teams to a discussion about university finance to teaching PhD students, with no gaps and virtually no gossip in between, my energy drains away all too easily. We no longer have the ability to discern the subtle emotional signs or the cunning political tactics employed by those around us. We are becoming more ignorant of each other. I can’t say no to these conversations  in two-dimensional space because a pull towards collaboration draws me in; but often they leave me feeling empty – it is so hard to read each other and innovate together when we can’t meet, body-to-body, face-to-face, eye-to-eye. To innovate you need to move from separate, differing positions to a new relationship, understanding or action. My experience of Covid is that stuckness is more common than movement.

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