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 email@example.com and I’ll send you a link 24 hours ahead of the launch.
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.
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.
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.
There are still a few places left for the Complexity and Management Centre’s Symposium/Practicum on Conflict and complexity in the time of Covid-19, on November 28th. You can book here.
The day comprises large and small group discussion of the every-day practicalities of working with conflict in organisations. For more details on the programme, look here.
How are we as hosts of the Symposium/Practicum approaching the day in terms of our assumptions?
There are a number of ways in which conflict is understood in organisational literature. The first perspective is to consider it an aberration for the high-functioning, aligned organisation which thrives on positivity and high trust. From this perspective, conflict should be overcome, or mediated as quickly as possible because it’s an obstacle to progress. As a worker in an organisation where this set of assumptions predominate, one might be invited to leave one’s bad self, or perhaps political self, at the door. This might be an idealising environment to work in where a premium is placed on charisma.
A second way of understanding conflict is to think of it as necessary to the exploration of difference as long as the organisation can optimise it to fulfil its aims. Optimising involves not too much conflict and not too little, but just enough. This Goldilocks equilibrium is achieved by managers intervening in the conflict to bring about the desired ends. The assumption here is that the conflict is amenable to intervention, that the manager doesn’t have a stake in the game themselves, and they are able to nudge the conflict into an optimised state. In this organisation the tools and techniques of leadership and management may predominate.
A third perspective conceives of organisations as a market place where lots of autonomous individuals try to maximise their interests. The conflicts arising from competing interests are mediated by contracts and social control mechanisms to maximise efficiency for the organisation. Competition between individuals is to be encouraged if it leads to greater efficiency in the organisation, if you assume that all individuals can compete equally. In making this assumption this economic perspective on conflict denies power inequalities and hierarchies. This kind of thinking often predominates in financialized organisation driven by metrics as ‘price mechanisms’.
Meanwhile, a critical perspective, and one which we adopt as a faculty group in shaping the agenda for the forthcoming Symposium, always creates the possibility for conflict because it calls into question the taken-for-granted. There is no assumption that the way things are is the way they need to be, or that they are inevitably that way, or that we should aim towards some kind of ideal of positive cooperation. There is no assumption that a manager is somehow outside of the ebb and flow of both cooperation and competition which ensues when people try to get work done together, nor that they are unaffected by it, nor that they can intervene to bring it to any equilibrium state. A critical perspective tries to take into account history and power relationships, and assumes that as social beings we are not autonomous, rational individuals trying to maximise our utility. Instead a critical perspective assumes that we act on the basis of a plurality of motivations which raise a variety of ethical questions which can only be considered in concrete situations with particular actors. At the same time there is no attempt to deny that there are broader social trends which advantage some social groups and disadvantage others, sometimes for long periods of time.
If this last perspective on conflict is of interest to you, then it would be great to see you there on the day.
 I found Alessia Contu’s article (2017) on Conflict and Organization Studies, in the journal Organization Studies, April, 1–18 really helpful, although Professor Contu is not responsible for the way I have mangled some of her ideas and added my own.
Exploring the complexity of conflict and organising in the time of Covid-19.
The following is a contribution to the discussion leading up to the Symposium from Professor Nick Sarra, who is a member of the DMan faculty and a Consultant Psychotherapist in the NHS in the South West of the UK. Nick also teaches at Exeter University.
The booking page for the Symposium/Practicum will open to the public from Weds 14th October.
The potential for conflict in the clinical setting and in the time of the Covid pandemic.
Multiple narratives arise from all clinical situations. We have the narrative of the patient or those receiving care. We may also have narratives from all those involved in the patient’s life such as partners and relatives.Then again there are the narratives of the health care professionals involved and perhaps other agencies such as social workers or the police.
The increasing negotiation of these narratives in online environments adds further complexity.The compulsive tendency to keep on ‘self view’, the ability to see yourself along with others on the screen, amplifies a performative preoccupation which may lead to overly mannered gestures from participants. This sense of there being an environment of many eyes without the intimate communication of the directly experienced gaze leads to a quality of the Panopticon, the all-seeing other whose gaze can never directly be ascertained, but which may nonetheless always feel present.This panopticonic quality undermines the fullness of communication through the filmed theatrics, and the experience is impoverished through the absence of live bodies.Continue reading
The Complexity and Management Centre offers a one day Symposium/Practicum on Saturday November 28th to explore the experience of conflict during a time of radical uncertainty. The day is intended as an opportunity to bring practical dilemmas to a community of engaged inquirers, to reflect together and think out loud. In reflecting on conflict at work, we will also take seriously the experience of being together in an online forum.
Why do we think it is important to focus on conflict, and how do we understand it?
A variety of contradictory patterns are emerging in organisational life in the wake of responses to the pandemic. Changes in working practices which may have been considered ideal improvements at some point in the future have happened almost overnight. Everyone has had to be very creative to develop workarounds and innovative ways of being together. The usual negotiations, objections, reflections, adjustments have gone by the board and organisations have shifted rapidly from one way of working to another. This has taken cooperation from managers and staff in exceptional times: a unified response to a shared crisis. Most schools and universities have moved teaching online in record time, staff have dramatically reconfigured services in the health sector, and managers’ ambivalence about remote working have melted away, at least for the foreseeable future. Necessity has been the mother of invention and if my own organisation is anything to go by, many people feel justifiably proud of what they have achieved. Scrutiny of micro-detail, which is one of the hallmarks of managerialism, has not been possible and managers have had no choice but to let staff get on with it.
At the same time removing the opportunity for reflection and deliberation also takes away the possibility of practising every day politics, by which I mean both the public and hidden engagement with difference and the possibility of generating plural points of view. Video conferencing is a flat medium where it is very difficult to discern what’s going on and to develop a felt sense of the other. The accidental and incidental sense-making which takes place after any meeting to decide things has to become more deliberate if it is to happen at all. Since video conferencing can be enervating, meetings can get truncated with the encouragement to become ‘focused’ and ‘business-like’. In doing so it is easy to pare away the human messiness of complex communication. Nuance, doubt, clarification of what is being proposed may all disappear. As a consequence, it has become much harder to organise in resistance, formally or informally, or to lobby to influence the outcome.Continue reading
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 does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life.
For this year’s Complexity and Management Conference 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’.
The agenda for the one day introduction to complex responsive processes on Friday 17th May and for the conference on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th May is here: CMC Agenda
There are still some places available, both for the one day workshop and for the conference, and you can book your place here.
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.