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

The Doctor of Management programme

At the heart of the community of inquiry developing the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating is the Doctor of Management (DMan) programme. It has been running for more than 20 years and to date has produced 75 doctoral graduates. In the pragmatic tradition we encourage students to take their every day experience seriously, and to think sociologically about how their daily travails are informed by, and inform broader socio-economic trends. They are encouraged to take the perspective of the pilot, and at the same time the perspective of the swimmer, caught up along with everyone else amid the swirling currents of every day organisational life. If the theses graduates produce have one thing in common, it is that they are all extended exercises in reflexivity. We encourage managers and consultants to think about how they are thinking and acting with others, and to bring their assumptions about the world more the fore. In doing so they are complexifying experience, but when they do so they are still obliged so say something of relevance and interest to colleagues working in similar domains. They produce knowledge from practice for practice.

If this video makes you interested in the DMan, the conference, or anything else, then please get in touch. The book is available here: https://amzn.to/3GIZYFj . Many thanks to David O’Dwyer  for making this video.

Developing thinking, developing the practice of complexity

More publications are in press following the publication of my book last November. Nick Sarra and Karina Solsø have edited a volume on complexity and consultancy; Kiran Chauhan and Emma Crewe have edited a volume on complexity and leadership, and Karen Norman and I are editing one on complexity and the public sector. More information on their publication dates soon.

Meanwhile Davide Nicolini will be our key note speaker at this year’s conference 3-5th June entitled The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory. You can book for the conference here.

If this video makes you interested in the part time professional doctorate the DMan, which is run psychodynamically, the conference, or anything else, then please get in touch. The book is available here: https://amzn.to/3GIZYFj . Many thanks to David O’Dwyer of https://lnkd.in/edgdxwgA for making this video.

What do managers do from a complexity perspective?

Organising as complex responsive processes of relating

My latest book, Complexity – a key idea for business and society, arises out of a community of inquiry, where a conversation about complexity and organising which has been going on for more than 20 years.

Contributing to the conversation are my faculty colleagues, Kiran ChauhanEmma CreweKaren Norman, Nick Sarra and Karina Solsø, the students and graduates of the Doctor of Management (DMan) programme at the University of Hertfordshire, and the wider research community who attend the annual conference.

If this video makes you interested in the part time professional doctorate the DMan, which is run psychodynamically, the conference, which this year takes the theme of the theory and practice or anything else, then please get in touch.

The book is available here: https://amzn.to/3GIZYFj . Many thanks to David O’Dwyer of https://lnkd.in/edgdxwgA for making this video.

Complexity and Management conference 3-5th June 2022 – open for booking.

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference 3- 5th June: The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory, with key note speaker Prof Davide Nicolini is now open for booking.

As usual there is an early bird discount until April 30th.

On Friday 3rd June there is an introductory day on complex responsive processes. This is suitable for anyone wanting to discuss what’s going on for them at work and to think about it in terms of complex group dynamics, as preparation for joining the main conference starting Saturday at 9.00.

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.

Continue reading

Online book launch – 6-7pm UK time Tues Nov 30th 2021

If you’d like to pop in for just an hour to hear about the new book, to meet others interested in complexity, to meet old friends and perhaps some new ones,  and to celebrate the legacy that Ralph Stacey has left us, then write to me at c.mowles@herts.ac.uk and I’ll send you a link 24 hours ahead of the launch.

Nov 20th Complexity and Management Symposium Cancelled

We are cancelling the Nov 20th Complexity and Management Symposium reluctantly because of insufficient numbers of delegates. Everyone who has booked will get a full refund.

In the meantime, we are planning the annual Complexity and Management Conference for next year 3-5th June 2022 as a face-to-face event. We are delighted to have Professor Davide Nicolini as our key note speaker.

Hope to see you there.

We have a number of publications forthcoming:

November 30th  2021 sees the publication of Complexity – a Key Idea for Business and Society, Routledge, written by Chris Mowles.

In 2022 we will bring out a new series of three titles in a Complexity and Management series of edited volumes from researchers in the wider research community, which address the complexity of working in the public sector, complexity and leadership, and complexity and consultancy, all of which to be published by Routledge.