This is to give you advance notice that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will be 5th-7th June 2020, at Roffey Park, speaker and topic to be decided.
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
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.
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? 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.
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.’ 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. 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.
 Nussbaum, M (1986) The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
 An answer to the question what is Enlightenment? 1784
 Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.
 “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.
The 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.
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.
In the following clip from the film Crash (2004) two employees negotiate strategy.
In this post I am curious about a set of approaches which seem to have family resemblances with, and claim to be at least partly based on, insights from the complexity sciences similar to ones taken up and developed on this blog. As with the last post I try to understand the methods in their own terms before offering a critique.
I take together the holacracy method, the sociocracy movement, which appear to be mutually informing to a degree, and Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations. All three offer a partial critique of contemporary management practice and promise a more effective way to structure and run organisations based on principles of ‘self-organisation’. Holacracy in particular claims to offer ‘a complete packaged system for self-management in organizations’, while Reinventing Organizations claims to offer a new worldview. I do not intend to explore the similarities and differences in great detail for fear of losing both myself and the reader, but try to cover some of the main assumptions in each. As with Clear Leadership, there are quite detailed prescriptions as to how to fully realize the perspective. (readers can listen to a recorded telecall here where one of the proponents of sociocracy, James Priest, describes what he sees as the similarities and differences between the different approaches, and includes reflections on Agile and pattern language, which I do not address). Continue reading