I have worked with two different groups of managers over the last couple of weeks to introduce, or reintroduce them to the ideas which inform a complex responsive process perspective on organisations. This perspective, for those unfamiliar with this blog, draws by analogy on the sciences of complexity, and on social science resources to think about social complexity. The intention is to struggle with what it means to consider social order, human action, and social change as complex and non-linear.
The main conceptual pillars contributing to this perspective are insights from complex adaptive systems theory, the pragmatists, political theory and psychoanalytic traditions. It takes an interest in everyday conversation, gossip, politics and power, values and ideology, and the strong feelings provoked by processes of inclusion and exclusion in social life. But in the end the perspective is a theory of theories. It’s possible to read the same scholars and draw different conclusions, or one could stitch them together differently. But as a constantly evolving constellation of ideas it is an attempt to understand social complexity and offers an alternative to thinking that organisations are things to be manipulated by managers based on ideas of predictability and control. In the context of organisational theory there are a substantial minority of scholars who write into similar traditions noticing the complex and processual nature of human organising, although they may not draw on the complexity sciences in the same way or reach the same conclusions. The perspective of complex responsive processes is coherent and radical, but speaking generally is certainly not the only game in town.
If I had to sum up the most important aspects of the perspective for me, it is as an encouragement to think that things could be other than they are and so to pay attention differently.
I am still interested, though, by the strong reactions of groups of managers who listen to the ideas, even if they have come across them before. These reactions arise predictably and unpredictably as a pattern: it is very rare not to encounter them, but the precise way they manifest themselves are slightly different each time. Continue reading