Author Archives: Chris Mowles

Thinking without end

After the interview with Dawkins on BBC Radio 4 covered in the last post, the argument about evidence and political decision-making took further bizarre turns. The next day John Humphreys interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was asked to comment on Dawkins’ views. Latterly, two researchers were asked to comment further on the discussion. One worked at a religious research institute and the other for an organisation promoting the dissemination of science. As listeners to the BBC we were  led inexorably to think that the only alternative to a scientific perspective on Brexit and evidence, and this a reductive view of science, was to take a faith position. We believe in God or we believe in science. Both are metaphysical positions in the sense that you have to declare your faith in one or the other before engaging with a way forward. Continue reading

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Pragmatic inquiry and Brexit

I listened to the eminent evolutionary biologist and New Atheist Richard Dawkins promoting his new book, Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist, on the radio. He discussed the role of scientific method and evidence, particularly in relation to the Brexit vote. He began by saying that nothing so important as staying in, or leaving the EU should hinge on a binary yes/no vote. But he then went on to extol the virtues of scientific method, which in his radio interview, and in the introduction to the book, he argues should be the preeminent method for making decisions about the world, including Brexit. We should seek out the evidence, public and private, and make our decision according to that. For Dawkins, scientific method is predicated on removing prejudice and gut feeling, indeed all feelings, from rational decision-making and is as relevant to making political decision making as it is to discovering more about the natural world. The best example of a method which does this is the double blind randomised control trial, the gold standard of medical research. He declared that he didn’t want his politicians to be emotional, but rather he wanted them to make the best possible decision, rationally, and on the basis of the best possible evidence. Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference June 8-10th 2018 – Roffey Park

This is to give  early notification that next year’s Complexity and Management Conference will take place at Roffey Park between 8-10th June 2018.

The conference will be held to mark the retirement of Ralph Stacey from the university and from the faculty of the Doctor of Management programme.

There will be more details in the autumn to give more details of the conference topic and the other key note speakers in addition to Ralph.

Complexity and Management Conference June 2-4th 2017 – Agenda

What are the pressures in contemporary life which make it difficult to be in groups?

A couple of weeks ago I worked with a group of senior managers from a British university. They told me about the changes they had noticed in the undergraduate student population over the last decade or so, which point to greater alienation and distress amongst students. Undergraduates seem to have much more difficulty in getting to university on time, in organising themselves, in handing in their work complete and in order. The new student accommodation, which this particular university has recently built, has communal spaces which are largely unused. Mental distress seems much more prevalent, and a higher proportion of students seems to lack the ability to communicate with their peers or with teaching staff. And when students are asked to work in groups they struggle to do so; one lecturer had asked his students to work in teams on a task and found some students trying to evict weaker members of their group so that that they could get better marks. Students were rather nonplussed that they were required to co-operate together.

Is this just a tale of inter-generational misunderstanding, a middle-aged lament about the decline in standards? Or are we witnessing the effects of longer term individualising processes, amplified by technology, which leaves us less skilled in groups and less confident in the art of conversation?

The Complexity and Management Conference 2017 will explore some of these themes in relation to the everyday activity of organising together: we discuss in groups as a way of thinking about being in groups.

There are only ten days to go before the end of the early bird discount, which ceases at 5pm on Friday 28th April .  You can find the booking page clicking this link.

Conference Agenda

The conference begins at 7pm with a drinks reception and dinner on Friday 2nd June, following the one day workshop on complexity and management.

Our first keynote speaker, Dr Martin Weegmann, has written extensively about the potential of groups and group therapy in addressing what he terms ‘modern dilemmas…as new forms of anxiety replace older forms.’ (2014). He will be speaking at 9.00am on Saturday 3rd June. Thereafter we will divide into smaller discussion groups to think about what Martin has said.

After lunch on Saturday, Dr Karina Solsø Iversen will present some of the consultancy dilemmas she faces in her work in collaboration with Professor Nick Sarra. Again, in the later afternoon session we will divide into smaller groups to think and discuss.

The work of the Saturday conference will finish at 5pm and dinner will be at 8pm.

On Sunday morning at 9am Prof Chris Mowles will draw together some of the themes of the preceding day, and participants will once again divide into smaller groups.

The conference ends with a final plenary between 12pm and 1pm on Sunday followed by lunch.

All board and lodging is covered by the conference fee. Any conference delegate wishing to convene a sub-group to present a paper or talk about their work can do so by writing to me and putting forward a suggestion.

Look forward to meeting you there.

 

References

Weegmann, M. (2014) The World Within the Group, London: Karnac Books.

Being our best selves at school

Most Saturday mornings when I’m here I go to the farmers’ market in the local primary school which my kids attended. I was intrigued to see this appended to the door.

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The first thing that struck me about it is how confusing it is: who, exactly is the audience? Is it the children, the staff, both?  What would a child of five or six make of it (given that this 50-something adult finds it difficult enough to comprehend)? Mostly the poster encourages us to live in the present – this is a new day, and we can make a new start on what happened yesterday. But surely today isn’t just a blank page for us to make an impression on because we are so bound up with others: there are all kinds of things unresolved from yesterday which may trip us up today. There are responsibilities and demands beyond learning in school to which we will need to respond. The poster invites us to learn from yesterday, although it’s not exactly clear what we might learn, and how we might do so if we’re exclusively focused on today. We’re encouraged to stop stressing about tomorrow, but we are supposed to stress about today. There are precisely 1440 minutes from which to extract the maximum, as if we were milking a cow. This creates what we might think of as the Extractor’s Paradox: that the more focused we are on getting the maximum out of our time, the less likely we are to do so. It’s just like the pursuit of the butterfly of happiness – the more you chase it, the more it eludes you. And 1440 minutes make 24 hours – shouldn’t we sleep? How anxiety-provoking to lie awake at night worrying about making the best of lying awake not sleeping. Today we’re going to be the best version of us, but how will we know? What happens if we’re not? Who decides? Will we find ourselves endless repeating the day over and over again, like Groundhog Day, until we reach enlightenment?

I realise that this is supposed to be harmless encouragement to everyone in a school to do their best. Unfortunately I find in it the conventional anxiety narrative of the neoliberal society: motivational, slight sinsiter platitudes as a veneer over relentless striving. Don’t rest; maximise; extract; be the best you can be; never stop remaking yourself; yesterday’s achievements count for nothing, because you have to prove yourself all over again today; the world’s your oyster; you can achieve anything.

I know that good schools, particularly ones with very young kids such as primary schools, accept kids however they turn up, ‘best self’, average self or even worst self, partly because they know kids bring with them all kinds of invisible baggage that has been packed for them, unconsciously at home. The school will cope with the cornucopia of selves who present. They acknowledge that school life can sometimes be tedious, that sometimes kids will be bored and will find themselves staring out of the window, and that they won’t be 100% motivated everyday. Kids are likely to enjoy playing and hanging out with their mates in the playground as much as learning in a committed way. They’ll be happy when they are completely absorbed in what they are doing, with no particular end in view. Learning will sometimes be deliberate, and sometimes accidental. And one of the most important lessons will be about learning to rub along with others, being in the mess of life with other people, noticing oneself in relation to others. We bring out the best in each other, we bring out the worst in each other: that’s what we have to learn to live with in school.

Details of the Complexity and Management workshop, Friday 2nd June 2017

The participants who attend the annual Complexity and Management conference experience the same dynamics as members of any other group, even if it’s a temporary group. For example, one repeating theme at the conference is the established/outsider dynamic of those who have been through the Doctor of Management programme, or are currently on it, and those who haven’t. Participants who have been exposed to the programme because they are graduates, or because they are regular conference attenders are likely to talk in a way which may feel exclusionary to those who are new. Almost every year, new attendees at the conference raise the question as to whether we could have done more to make them feel welcome. There is always the ghost of the DMan-demon at the conference.

For this reason we are holding a one day introductory workshop on Friday 2nd June, to present some of the key ideas which inform the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating. It is a public workshop open to all, not just those who will go on to attend the conference For those who do, it may, or may not, make a difference to the quality of their participation. The conference begins the same evening with supper at 7pm.

You can book for the one day workshop, for the workshop and conference, or just for the conference here. There is a discount for early-bird booking before April 30th. For more details on the workshop, continue reading below: Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference 2-4th June 2017

Working in groups: what practical difference does it make to take complexity seriously?

One day introductory workshop on complexity and management Friday 2nd June.

2017Complexity and Management Conference 2-4th June 2017.

The booking page is now live and can be found by clicking this link. There is a £50 discount for booking before April 30th 2017.

‘The present historical situation shows clearly that human problems cannot be solved in isolation but only through concerted effort of the whole of humanity. The future of the human species may well be made or marred according to whether or not it is able to grasp this fact and act upon it while there is still time. Anything we can learn as to the relationships of persons towards each other, and of groups towards each other, is therefore, or great therapeutic significance.’ (Foulkes, 1947/2002)

Foulkes encouraged us to think about the importance of groups and ways of relating 80 years ago in the wake of the WWII – I wonder what he would have thought of our current predicaments. With increased social division, the rise of the far Right and demagoguery, we would be naïve to think that recent political upheavals in Europe and America do not also show up in different forms in organisational life.

Foulkes invited us to be more scientific about groups, seeing them  as a resource, as a means to liberate ourselves from unhelpful, repetitive behaviour, which may be informed by our primitive responses to each other. He thought it possible that we could learn better to adjust to each other and gain insight into our often stuck and unhelpful behaviour.  But by ‘adjustment’ he did not mean that we simply conform mindlessly. Rather, adjustment is made possible from our insight that we are interdependent and through the development of more helpful, negotiated ways of going on together.

The 2017 Complexity and Management Conference takes inspiration from Foulkes, but broadens his thinking by drawing on perspectives from organizational theory, sociology and philosophy. Our intention is to explore the complex responsive processes of relating in groups and to think about their relevance for our everyday experience of organising.

This year we are also offering an additional one day introductory workshop on Friday 2nd June. This workshop is suitable to anyone who would like to attend the conference but has had little exposure to the ideas informing the perspective of complex responsive processes. It is an opportunity to learn some of the basic concepts and to think about them in relation to your experience at work. The workshop is freestanding, and there is no requirement to attend the conference afterwards.

The conference itself runs as usual from 7pm Friday 2nd June till after lunch on Sunday 4th June. The conference fee includes all board and lodging and will have its usual mix of key note speeches, break-out discussions and informal socialising.

Key note speakers this year are:

Dr Martin Weegmann, who is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Group Analyst, and has specialised in substance misuse and personality disorders and is a well-known trainer. His latest books are: The World within the Group: Developing Theory for Group Analysis (Karnac, 2014) and Permission to Narrate: Explorations in Group Analysis, Psychoanalysis & Culture (Karnac 2016).

Dr Karina Iversen is a graduate of the Doctor of Management programme and an experienced consultant working in Denmark. She has co-authored a Danish introductory book on complex responsive processes of relating, which has gained a lot of attention in Danish communities interested in complexity. Karina is also an external lecturer at the Copenhagen Business School.

Professor Nick Sarra is a Consultant Psychotherapist working in the NHS and a group analyst specialising in organisational consultancy, debriefing and mediation within the workforce. He works on three post graduate programmes at the School of Psychology, Exeter University and is a Visiting Professor at the University of Hertfordshire.

If there are any queries then please contact Prof Chris Mowles: c.mowles@herts.ac.uk