Tag Archives: theory and practice

CMC 3-5th June 2022 – The theory of practice and the practice of theory.

There are still some places remaining for the 2022 Complexity and Management conference. You can book here.

One of the things that delegates always remark upon about the CMC is how refreshing it is to get straight into conversations that matter. You can do this from the moment you arrive: on Friday 3rd June @7pm in the evening you get to meet other delegates for an inaugural dinner from all kinds of practice backgrounds and from all over Europe.

On Saturday morning we have the renowned practice scholar Prof Davide Nicolini @NicoliniDavide who will talk about the importance of a practice orientation in theory.

The afternoon is given over to delegates to talk about dilemmas in the workplace using each other as a resource to think further.

Early Saturday evening there will be a tree-planting ceremony to commemorate the life and work of the late Prof Ralph Stacey, who founded the Doctor of Management programme and the conference, and who loved Roffey Park.

There will be more more lively conversation accompanied by great food on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning we will respond to the key note and themes which have arisen during our discussions on Saturday.

Then there is one more round of reflection until lunch and close at 12.30 on Sunday.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Just 5 days left to claim your early-bird discount -Complexity and Management Conference 3-5th June 2022

When we talk about the theory of practice and the practice of theory, does this mean that the conference is going to be very dry and abstract? The focus of the research community which organises the annual Complexity and Management Conference is on human beings and the complex dynamics they get caught up in when they try and get things done with other people. So we are interested in what we say and do, what we think we mean when we say particular things, how trying to go on together sometimes brings about the opposite of what we intend, and how our identities are changed in the process. We are concerned with reflecting on, and becoming reflexive about everyday organisational dilemmas.

The conference begins with a gala dinner on Friday 3rd June @7pm and welcome drinks.

The mode of the whole conference is conversational. This year we are delighted to have engaged Prof Davide Nicolini of Warwick Business School to give the key note because of his insightful work on the importance of practical knowledge.

There is an opportunity for delegates to present their ideas too, on Saturday afternoon 4th June. This might be a paper or a chapter in a book, or it might be something troubling at work which presenters want to use a group as a resource to think about.

On Sunday we reflect on what we have been talking about on Saturday with the help of faculty members from the Doctor of Management programme. Thereafter we have one more round of reflection in groups and finish off with lunch.

It’s exhausting but invigorating at the same time. Hope to see you there. Book here.

Complexity and Management Conference 3-5th June 2022- early bird booking ends in 10 days.

What can you expect if you sign up for the Complexity and Management Conference, which focuses on the theory of practice and the practice of theory?

The conference is set in the beautiful gardens and rolling meadow of the Roffey Park Institute. The food is great, and all board and lodging is included in the conference fee.

It begins with a gala dinner on Friday 3rd June @7pm and welcome drinks. The dinner is a chance to meet the other delegates and begin lively conversations which ease you into the weekend. We have a wide variety of delegates; consultants, academics, managers from all over the world. Sone are graduates of the DMan programme and many are not

The mode of the whole conference is conversational. Rather than requiring delegates to present papers they are working on, we choose a theme for the weekend, invite a good speaker to give us some ideas to think about, then engage all weekend in sharing practical dilemmas from the workplace. This year we are delighted to have engaged Prof Davide Nicolini of Warwick Business School to give the key note because of his insightful work on the importance of practical knowledge.

There is an opportunity for delegates to present their ideas too, on Saturday afternoon 4th June. This might be a paper or a chapter in a book, or it might be something troubling at work which presenters want to use a group as a resource to think about.

On Sunday we reflect on what we have been talking about on Saturday with the help of faculty members from the Doctor of Management programme. Thereafter we have one more round of reflection in groups and finish off with lunch.

It’s exhausting but invigorating at the same time. Hope to see you there. Book here.

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

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.

Working with the paradox of theory and practice

In this post I will discuss some of the similarities and differences between scientific method in the natural and social sciences and question what it might mean to be scientific about the social. I will focus particularly on the nexus of theory and practice. This is important in the field of management where theories proliferate but where much less work is done to understand how these theories play out and evolve in organisational life, no matter what the strength of the prior claim that they have been empirically tested.

I doubt that anyone would want to make the case that what we are lacking in management is enough theories. Just to take the domain of leadership as an example, we are assailed with contradictory and competing theories, such as trait theories, behavioural theories, theories of transformational leadership, servant leadership, distributed leadership, and more latterly agile and sustainable leadership. An enormous amount of work goes into elaborating theories which are supposed to be ‘applied’ to organisations, accepting implicitly the dualism between theory, assumed to be the most important work, and practice, a lesser activity which has to be brought into line with theory. This distinction reaches back to the dispute between Plato and Aristotle, who disagreed as to the relative importance of each, with Aristotle arguing that in the field of human action, theories are necessary but insufficient:

[phronesis]is not concerned with universals only; it must also take cognizance of particulars, because it is concerned with conduct, and conduct has its sphere in particular circumstances. That is why some people who do not possess theoretical knowledge are more effective in action (especially if they are experienced) than others who do possess it.[1]

For Aristotle phronesis, or practical judgement, will always involve the interplay of the particular and the general, a broad idea about what one is engaged in tempered by the particular circumstances of the forum in which one is acting.

In the Academy, however, the majority side with Plato about the importance of universals, and much greater esteem is accorded to theorising about management. Doctoral researchers in organisational studies who embark on traditional PhDs are expected to make a contribution to knowledge, which can be narrowly understood as the development and testing of a new theory. This is considered to be a close parallel to the methods used in the natural sciences – anything else would be ‘unscientific’. However, scientific method and insights are not monolithic and there are specific differences between the natural and social worlds. In the next section I will rehearse how the analogies from the complexity sciences, which have informed the perspective of complex responsive processes, come to problematize the idea of theory-generation about the social. Continue reading