Why appeals to nationalism involve narcissism and provoke runaway feelings, particularly towards non-members of the group – reflections on the referendum via Norbert Elias

I watched some of the final debate over Britain’s referendum to Remain/Leave last night and wondered at the wild clapping and cheering that greeted references to Britain’s putative ‘independence’ if we vote leave. Boris Johnson referred to this coming Friday morning as potentially Britain’s ‘independence day’. The setting was bound to amplify dynamics in a crowd of 6,000 or so people, particularly with a  debate which swtiches between poles. There is no middle position here: Britain will either remain, or leave. A large, public televised space is not a forum which naturally lends itself to nuance or subtle argument. But in thinking about the intense nationalist emotion that this debate stirs up, particularly for Leavers, I was reminded of Norbert Elias’ digression on nationalism set out in the The Germans. Continue reading

Prepare for rapture – complexity and the dawning of a New Age

A friend alerted me to a website for a consultancy which claims to be offering new insights on management for a new world of work. Apologies for what sounds like, and no doubt is, a caricatured paraphrase of what I found, but here is what I think the site is saying:

We live in a networked world. There’s a lot of change. There is going to be more change and top down command and control is now an old paradigm of management. Some of this change is good, some of it isn’t, but mostly it’s good. But what we need to do is be more aware of the changes and prepare to design more change of the kind that we want. This will mean spreading power around a bit more and being alert to complexity. Leaders need to have visions and set targets to achieve them, then they coach their followers. They will need to be deeply aware and mindful. Followers need to work out how to be empowered and of service. They too will need to be deeply aware and mindful. If we all trust each other a bit more and deal better with complexity we can have more meaningful conversations. Then we’ll get the future that we want. In a more networked world we need: Knowledge. Trust. Credibility.  A focus on results. Continue reading

Sack your coach

Here are three I ideas I take from reading Byung-chul Han’s The Burnout Society in relation to what interests me in complex social processes of identity formation.

The first is his idea that we live in an achievement society rather than a disciplinary society. Byung-chul Han may be taking Foucault to his logical conclusion when he argues that rather than being exploited we have now come to exploit ourselves voluntarily. In contemporary society there is no limit to the extent to which we are encouraged to be flexible accommodating and self-improving. We commit to stretch targets and KPI’s, more for less, smart working, efficiency savings and we make ourselves life-long learners. We focus on our own health and the habitual improvement of the body. Byung-chul Han argues that freedom and constraint now combine in the same individual so we are both the exploiter and the exploited as we endeavor to achieve more and more. As a result, he argues, we risk depression and burn-out. We are encouraged to commit to the dictum that ‘nothing is impossible’, but as a consequence the opposite is also true, that nothing is possible. We can go on improving ourselves, fitting in, meeting new and more exacting targets, getting more for less without end, until we hollow ourselves out. There is no-one else to look to for help or guidance if we are all to be self-starting entrepreneurs. We are entirely responsible for our own futures, we must depend on ourselves rather than others. Continue reading

Six things you can stop worrying about as a leader and one thing that should keep you awake

1 Everyone knows what good leadership is in the abstract and the ideal. But there is no leadership in the  abstract. There is only what you do when you show up at work, and this will never be ideal. So if you are a leader you are always a work in progress making it up as you go along with your colleagues. You won’t always know what to do, and that’s ok. One of the central tasks of leadership is how you work out what needs to be done together.

2 Whenever I work with senior people it is only a matter of time before someone mentions Steve Jobs, Martin Luther King (I have a dream) or Gandhi (be the change you want to see). You are none of these people, nor do you need to be an exceptional world leader to do your job. You might be good at your job and the right person to be leading, and you might just have got lucky or speak the right kind of leaderly language. But the more you play into the ‘exceptional leader’ narrative the more you will invite denigration and opportunities for people to point out that you have feet of clay. As a leader you will have a strong role in people’s fantasies and imaginative life (because of the strength of the leadership discourse) , and this will need to be handled with caution.

3 Relax about the vision thing (see 1 and 2 above). Saints and prophets have visions, and visions of the corporate variety are often so grandiose or vacuous as to be meaningless: everyone wants to be ‘best in class’, ‘world leading’, or ‘internationally renowned’, so what does it mean if you do too? This is not the same as saying that you shouldn’t be ambitious for your organisation, set high standards and want that you and your colleagues do the best you all can. It might be perfectly obvious to you and your senior colleagues what needs to be done, but so might something else in six months time when the game has changed.

4 You are highly unlikely to ‘transform’ anything if you mean by this that you can guarantee bringing about wholesale change for the good. Changes you make will bring about the expected, the unexpected and the unwanted. There will always be unintended consequences, and ‘success’ will depend upon who is judging and when the judgment is made. Large initiatives may make little difference and widespread change might come about from a conversation in a corridor. You must live forwards but can only understand backwards. Leadership, as an academic pointed out, is often about the ‘extraordinisation of the mundane’ – much of what you do as a leader is no different from what most people do at work, but the ordinary conversation you have with a colleague may have special significance because you’re the boss.

5 No one can design organisational culture, not even the most powerful and successful leader, if by culture we mean what we’re all doing together. You can change people’s work, set them targets, punish and cajole, tell them that they have to demonstrate certain behaviours and reward them accordingly, but how they respond to this will be largely beyond your control (unless you live in North Korea). Attempts to manipulate people’s values may well result in resistance, more or less overt, and/or superficial compliance. If people don’t have a choice about their values, rather their values ‘choose them’, then what are you getting in to if you try to dictate your colleagues’ values?

6 And You won’t be able to choose your leadership ‘style’ if by this you think you can rationally chose the kind of leader you want to be before you show up at work, like choosing an outfit. You are much more likely to be moulded by the organisation you work for than to mould it. You will find yourself responding to the game of organisational life in ways which will surprise you as you run to keep up, even if you’re the boss. You’re in charge, but you’re not always in control, not even of yourself.

And the thing which should keep you awake at night is that if you said any of these things in an interview for a leadership role you probably wouldn’t get the job. This is because leadership, as one academic has pointed out, is the subject of much dogmatically stated nonsense which seems to have a grip on the public imagination, not least because some of the tropes about the powers of exceptional leaders are repeated over and over so they are taken for granted as self evident truths. Everyone these days is thought to need leadership training, no matter how lowly their job, and many organisational problems are ascribed to ‘absence of leadership’.  The myths about leadership are now self- sustaining.

Complexity and Management Conference 10-12th June 2016 – booking now open

‘What Mead is proposing is a different way of thinking about everyday social interaction, not as observers of experience but rather as participants in experience, the nature of which is self-organising sense-making. He is drawing attention to what we are doing every day in all our actions and arguing that we have developed the habit of ignoring it. How could this be possible? How could we become so blind to something so obvious? Mead’s argument is quite simply that we have developed the habit of regarding the present as something apart from the future and the past. It has become a habit of thought for us to think ourselves as also being apart from our experience as the present movement of time.’ (Griffin, 2002: 179).

The quotation above is taken from Doug Griffin’s book The Emergence of Leadership: Linking Self-Organization and Ethics which was published in 2002, and it points to the focus of this year’s Complexity and Management Conference 2016. As many of you will know, sadly Doug died on 17th December 2015 and we will be celebrating his contribution to the development of the perspective of complex responsive processes and the vibrant life of the Doctor of Management programme at this year’s conference. It was exactly to this area of inquiry, taking everyday complex experience seriously, that Doug was most committed, and the conference is another way of marking and honouring his work.

In this year’s event guest speakers will set out how paying attention to the everyday complexity of experience has made a difference to the work of their particular institution or area of research. The speakers are:

Henry Larsen, Professor of Participatory Innovation at Southern Denmark University, graduate of the DMan programme, ex- member of the Da Capo theatre company. His research interest is in exploring spontaneity and improvisation in the everyday processes of relating.

Professor Karen Norman of Kingston University and doctoral supervisor on the Doctor of Management programme. Karen was formally Chief Nursing Officer in Gibraltar and Director of Nursing for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH).

Mark Renshaw Deputy Chief of Patient Safety at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Mark facilitated a range of quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and co – led the BSUH falls reduction programme – an initiative that started after a patient died after falling in hospital. This work has reduced the incidence of patient falls by 48%  over five years.

Pernille Thorup – Pernille is on the senior management team of COK (Center for Offentlig Kompetenceudvikling), which is the strategic partner in public sector development for KL (Kommunernes Landsforening), the organization of Danish Municipalities. She has recently undertaken a three year strategy process within the company, drawing on insights from the complexity sciences, which has now involved COK’s clients.

We expect the usual richness and diversity of discussion at the conference.

The conference booking page is now live and can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/hougy85 and as usual there is a discount for early-bird bookings.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Complexity and Management Conference 2016 – 10-12th June: Hertfordshire Business School

Taking complexity seriously – what difference does it make in organisations? 

Venue: Roffey Park Management Centre

A familiar question from many managers who respond to our presentations on the relevance of insights from the complexity sciences to people organizing, is to ask what their practical application could possibly be. If they consider step-wise prescriptions for success to be ‘concrete’, or are looking for tools and techniques, then the injunction to take every day experience seriously may sound quite ephemeral. If the focus in strategic management is on the ‘big picture’ and wholesale change, then the recommendation to pay attention to how the ‘whole’ emerges in everyday interaction sounds very surprising. However, with some managers what we describe strikes a chord.

Additionally, the overwhelming majority of 60-plus graduates of the Doctor of Management programme have found the experience of paying attention to their practice with others transformative, both for themselves and for the organisations in which they work. Every year participants in annual Complexity and Management conference, who come from a variety of organisational backgrounds, bring many examples of how taking the everyday complexity of organizational life seriously makes a difference to expanding possibilities for action. This experience is matched by an increased focus in the scholarly literature on everyday processes of organizing.

In this year’s conference we will discuss the complexity of practice and the difference it makes to pay attention to what we are all doing together to get things done.

Our key note speakers are:

Session 1

Henry Larsen, Professor of Participatory Innovation at Southern Denmark University, graduate of the DMan programme, ex- member of the Da Capo theatre company. His research interest is in exploring spontaneity and improvisation in the everyday processes of relating.

Professor Karen Norman of Kingston University and doctoral supervisor on the Doctor of Management programme. Karen was formally Chief Nursing Officer in Gibraltar and Director of Nursing for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH). She is also a graduate of the DMan programme and continues to take an interest in drawing on insights from complexity theory to inform clinical practice aimed at improving the experience of health care for patients.

Mark Renshaw Deputy Chief of Patient Safety at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Mark facilitated a range of quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and co – led the BSUH falls reduction programme – an initiative that started after a patient died after falling in hospital. This work has reduced the incidence of patient falls by 48%  over five years.  His role has allowed him to explore his interest in complex systems and how behavioural change in clinical practice emerges out of group dynamics and professional ‘habitus.’

Henry, Karen and Mark will talk about their collaborative research project on reducing patient falls.

Session 2

Pernille Thorup – Pernille is on the senior management team of COK (Center for Offentlig Kompetenceudvikling), which is the strategic partner in public sector development for KL (Kommunernes Landsforening), the organization of Danish Municipalities. She has recently undertaken a three year strategy process within the company, drawing on insights from the complexity sciences, which has now involved COK’s clients. The changes in her own organisation and the discussion this has provoked in Denmark more widely, will form the subject of her talk.

A booking page on the university website will be uploaded in the New Year.

Strategy as politics

For those readers not from the UK, the story about the collapse of the not-for-profit Kids Company, an organisation set up to work with children and young people with complex needs in inner cities, may have passed them by. The organisation was founded by a very charismatic and telegenic psychotherapist 20 years ago who continued to be the organisation’s director. She became the darling of governments of all persuasions and seems to have been very successful at direct lobbying of senior ministers, and even the Prime Minister, for money and attention.

The organisation collapsed very dramatically and very suddenly despite the current government donating a £3 million grant, and on a weekly basis the newspapers carry stories of claim and counter-claim and mutual recrimination. These back and forth arguments resolve around the extent to which the organisation was or wasn’t well managed, did or didn’t produce good outcomes for children, had or hadn’t been audited properly, did or didn’t have an effective governing body. This post will focus on the struggle over the definition of what it means to be well managed, particularly with regard to strategy. Continue reading