Tag Archives: complexity

Complexity and Management Conference 2-4th June 2023.

Complexity, uncertainty, breakdown: coping, recovering and finding hope in dark times.

With the world in flux, perhaps it’s time to be less naïve about the idea of disruption. Our recent experience tells us that we have struggled to respond to disruptive socio-economic and political forces, let alone harness them for the good. Instead constant upheaval on the grand scale, the banking crisis, the pandemic, political and economic instability, has permeated society and our psyches, and has shown up inevitably in our practices and relationships in everyday organisational life. The effects of political and social turmoil, economic collapse, have set constraints on what we can achieve together in organisations. And they may have produced acute and enduring work place dilemmas which can provoke anxiety, burn-out and a sense of hopelessness. Constant disruption demands a more creative and subtle approach than may be found in orthodox recipes for leading, managing and consulting, or an idealisation of its benefits. Equally, we are required to find more generative responses than those offered by the lords of misrule who come to prominence in dark times recommending simplistic solutions to complex problems.

It is also worth thinking about the possible benefits of the huge disruption to traditional working practices caused by what the Oxford English dictionary now recognises as a neologism: the permacrisis. No profound set of social and economic changes is an unalloyed disaster. Where are the loci of hope?

The Complexity and Management Conference 2023 will address what can feel like a constant state of breakdown, potentially undermining things we may previously have taken for granted, such as plans, rules, loyalties, markets, knowledge, and how we exercise authority in groups.

The conference will be organised around contributors to the recent Complexity and Management series published by Routledge, which include the titles Complexity and ConsultancyComplexity and Leadership and Complexity and the Public Sector. Contributors will talk about their experience of leading, managing and consulting to a wide range of organisations, particularly the public sector. An invitation is also extended to all delegates attending the conference who want to offer a workshop on Saturday afternoon 3rd June.

If you are interested in the difference it makes to take the complex interplay of relationships seriously, particularly in dark times, then book for the 2023 Complexity and Management Conference, 2nd-4th June. The conference is highly discussive and conversation is the currency of participation. It will greatly enhance the conference if delegates bring concrete examples of their workplace dilemmas.

The conference is organised in collaboration with KIOL Executive Programme at University College Copenhagen.

The booking site will go up in the New Year.

Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture 5/10/22

The following is the text of the Ralph Stacey Memorial Lecture which I gave at Hertfordshire Business School on Weds 5th October 2022. It accompanies the video which you will find in the post below.

The response to the lecture was give by Patricia Shaw, who co-founded the Doctor of Management programme with Ralph and the late Doug Griffin.

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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?

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.

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 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.

Conflict and complexity in the time of Covid-19 – online Symposium/Practicum Sat Nov 28th. A few tickets still available.

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.[1] 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.


[1] 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.

Complexity and Management Centre. Symposium/Practicum Saturday November 28th 2020.

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.

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