Category Archives: Ralph Stacey

Ralph Stacey 10/9/1942 – 4/9/2021

I am writing to let you know that I heard from Ralph Stacey’s family on Sunday that Ralph died peacefully in hospital on Saturday night after a short illness over the summer.

Many of you who follow this site may already know a lot about Ralph and will have met him in person. For those who didn’t know him, here is a brief obituary.

Ralph was trained as an economist graduating with his PhD from LSE in 1967. He came to Hatfield Polytechnic in 1985 having worked in corporate planning for the construction company John Laing, and having briefly been an investment analyst in the City of London. In the same year that the polytechnic became a university, 1992, Ralph was made a Professor of Management.

Ralph was one of the pioneers of adopting analogies from the sciences of complexity into theories exploring group dynamics in organisations. He published his first book in 1990, and went on to write 12 in all, including a textbook which is now in its 7th Edition. Just as important as his publishing record is his founding of the Complexity and Management Centre in 1995, and the establishment of group supervision for doctoral students. He combined the group approach with the development of a conceptual framework he, Doug Griffin and Patricia Shaw termed complex responsive processes of relating, a radical critique of systems theories, into the Doctor of Management programme. As those of you following this blog will know, the DMan is still running 20 years later and has just produced its 71st doctoral completion.

He was a scholar with a global reputation and was invited to speak all over the world. He made contributions to the field of organisational theory, to the development of experience-based pedagogy, and to the thinking of the Institute of Group Analysis where he trained as a group analyst in the 1990s. Ralph ran clinical groups in the NHS as well as groups within the university of Hertfordshire, including working with management teams.

Ralph continued to have a part time role as a supervisor on the DMan programme into his mid-70s and only finally retired three years ago. Some of you reading this post will have attended the retirement event at Roffey Park and experienced the great esteem in which he was held by everyone present.

Those of you who have met him will know that Ralph was a great story-teller. Despite his genius he was self-deprecating; he was kind, generous and provocative. He was also, at times, fantastically stubborn. 

Ralph was a figure of great stature in the academic world. He was a loyal employee of HBS for over 30 years. But above all he was a great colleague, and with his immense gifts and deep wisdom he was very supportive of everyone who sought his help. Ralph helped us understand the world differently, as complex and paradoxical, and through his insights he helped us better understand ourselves. For many of us, he taught us how to think critically and reflexively.

We will be thinking of ways of continuing to discuss his legacy in the coming weeks and months.

If you would like to say something about Ralph and what he meant to you I have created a tribute page here.

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.

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.

 

 

Complexity and Management conference 8-10th June, 2018 – Roffey Park

This is to give  early notification that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will take place at Roffey Park between 8-10th June 2018.

The conference will be held to mark the retirement of Ralph Stacey from the university and from the faculty of the Doctor of Management programme.

There will be more details in the autumn to give more details of the conference topic and the other key note speakers in addition to Ralph.

 

Details of the Complexity and Management workshop, Friday 2nd June 2017

The participants who attend the annual Complexity and Management conference experience the same dynamics as members of any other group, even if it’s a temporary group. For example, one repeating theme at the conference is the established/outsider dynamic of those who have been through the Doctor of Management programme, or are currently on it, and those who haven’t. Participants who have been exposed to the programme because they are graduates, or because they are regular conference attenders are likely to talk in a way which may feel exclusionary to those who are new. Almost every year, new attendees at the conference raise the question as to whether we could have done more to make them feel welcome. There is always the ghost of the DMan-demon at the conference.

For this reason we are holding a one day introductory workshop on Friday 2nd June, to present some of the key ideas which inform the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating. It is a public workshop open to all, not just those who will go on to attend the conference For those who do, it may, or may not, make a difference to the quality of their participation. The conference begins the same evening with supper at 7pm.

You can book for the one day workshop, for the workshop and conference, or just for the conference here. There is a discount for early-bird booking before April 30th. For more details on the workshop, continue reading below: Continue reading

Complex responsive processes in Sydney, Dec 12/16 2016

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Chris Mowles is visiting Australia the week beginning 12th December and will be running a two day intensive workshop and a breakfast meeting with 10000hours .

The two day workshop is entitled:

LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY – 13/14th December

The workshop is suitable for experienced leaders, managers and consultants from all kinds of organizations. It includes a mixture of seminars, break-out discussions, and real time exploration of examples from participants’ own organizations.

Chris will draw on insights from the complexity sciences developed by Ralph Stacey in the perspective known as complex responsive processes, which informs this blog.

Participants can expect to gain basic insights into the complexity sciences understood in social terms, and to experience the importance of reflection and reflexivity in relation to their particular organizational contexts.

To find out more follow this link: http://10000hours.com/chrismowles/

Breakfast meeting Thursday 15th December

10,000 Hours will host a breakfast meeting for experienced leaders, managers and consultants wishing to hear about the what difference understanding organisational life as complex responsive processes of relating can make to the task of leading of managing.

Evening seminar UTS Thursday 15th December

Chris will give a seminar hosted by UTS to interested academic colleagues about some of the difficulties of sustaining critical management education in the UK. He will talk in particular about the  contribution of the Doctor of Management programme at the university of Hertfordshire.

Lunchtime seminar RMIT Melbourne 16th December

Chris will give a similar seminar to interested academic colleagues in Melbourne at lunchtime in RMIT.

If you are based in Australia and any of the above interests you contact Chris at c.mowles@herts.ac.uk

Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics – 7th Edition

New edition published this month: the revised and updated version of Ralph’s textbook including sections on process organisation studies, new organisational  examples and more up-to-date references.

Stacey and Mowles

Against Common Sense: managing amid the paradoxes of everyday organisational life

The following is the text of a talk given by Chris Mowles at the University of Hertfordshire on Friday Feb 13th as part of the MBA Masterclass series.

In this talk I try to cover four things:

I address why I think there is a problem with much contemporary management theory and explain why I think it is necessary to argue against what is taken to be common sense in management.Unknown

I introduce paradox and explain its roots in philosophy and point to how it manifests itself in the complexity sciences, as an alternative to some of the simplified assumptions and dualisms in much contemporary management theory.

I give some examples of how paradox manifests itself in everyday organisational life.

And finally I suggest some implications for managers for taking paradox seriously for what they might find themselves doing at work.

Why against common sense?

I am using the title of this talk, against common sense, to make a general critique of what we might think of as the majority literature on management, but also to highlight the meaning of the word paradox, from the Greek para doxa, or against what people ordinarily hold to be true. In using the term ‘majority literature’, I am not trying to suggest that all management literature suggests the same thing, or that all business schools teach the subject uncritically (this is certainly not the case at the University of Hertfordshire and on the MBA, for example). There is a flourishing substantial minority critical tradition in management theory.

But overwhelmingly, orthodox management journals and books assume that managers are in control, can predict and design organisational futures and organisational culture, can purpose transformation and innovation. Even when the majority literature identifies contradiction or paradox as a phenomenon, it argues that managers can control this too, often suggesting that paradox can be ‘unleashed’ for the creative good of the organisation, or can be brought into dynamic balance.[i] Continue reading