Category Archives: Ralph Stacey

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 5-7th June 2015

Exploring our experience of everyday politics in organisations.
How do we experience power and politics in contemporary organisations? How do we negotiate conflict and compromise? There are always possibilities in the hurly burly of everyday life for us to act differently despite the fact that we are caught up in longer term social trends which constrain our ability to think and act. So what are our degrees of freedom?
This year’s Complexity and Management Conference will explore these themes and more. The conference will be highly participative, and will be based on some presentations followed by discussion in groups, drawing on participants’ experience.
Our key note speakers are Prof Svend Brinkmann of Aalborg University and Prof Patricia Shaw formerly of the Complexity and Management Group at UH and now at Schumacher College.
The registration site for the conference is now open and an early-bird discount applies to all participants who book before April 30th. The booking page can be found here:  The fee for the conference includes accommodation and food from Friday evening through to Sunday lunchtime.
Anyone wishing to put forward suggestions for discussion groups please contact me.
Looking forward to seeing you there.

Now booking! – Complexity and Management Conference 6-8th June 2014

Can leaders change organisational culture? – alternatives from a complexity perspectiveImage

What do we mean when we talk about the need to ‘change organisational culture’? This is a way of speaking which is now taken for granted, whether in relation to banking, the UK’s National Health Service or sometimes whole societies. What is organisational culture anyway, and to what extent can even the most powerful leaders and managers (or politicians) change it in ways that they decide? And if we were to conclude that it’s not possible to change culture, at least not in predictable ways, then why has this way of speaking and thinking become so widespread? What else might be going on, and what purpose does the culture-change narrative serve?

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference will follow on from last year’s discussion of leadership and will encourage the exploration of a term which is widely used but poorly understood. Participants will be encouraged to share their own experiences of organisational change, particularly when it is framed in terms of changes in culture. We will explore together the implications of the discourse of culture change for leaders and managers.

The key note speaker this year is Prof Ralph Staceyco-founder of the Doctor of Management programme at UH and a groundbreaking scholar with his work on the complexity sciences and their relevance to leading and managing organisations.

The conference will be informal and highly participative, as in previous years. The conference fee will include all accommodation and food. The conference will be held at Roffey Park Institute in the UK: as usual.

The booking page on the university website can be found here.

There is a discount for early-bird bookings before May 1st 2014. A more detailed agenda will follow, but the conference begins with a drinks reception @7pm on Friday 6th June and ends after lunch Sunday 8th June..

Participants wishing to set up a particular themed discussion in a working group during the conference should contact Chris Mowles:

Complexity and evaluation

Evaluation is a domain of activity which the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu referred to as a field of specialised production. In other words, it is a highly organised game, extended over time, with its own developing vocabulary, in which there are a wide variety of players who have a heavy investment in continuing to play. Because the game is complex, and played seriously, and those who want to play it must accumulate symbolic and linguistic capital, it is very hard to keep up. To influence the game there is a requirement to be recognised as a legitimate player, as one worth engaging with, and this requires speaking with the concepts and vocabulary that are valued in the game. To call the game into question, then requires the paradoxical requirement of using the vocabulary of the game to criticise the game, and this is no easy thing.

However, a number of evaluation practitioners have begun to question the linearity of development interventions, and therefore the evaluation methods which are commonly used to make judgements about their quality. Since most social development interventions are construed using propositional logic of an if-then kind, there can be no surprise that most evaluation methods follow a similar path. As a recent call for papers for an international conference articulated this, evaluation is understood as being about developing scientifically valid methods to demonstrate that a particular intervention has led causally to a particular outcome. In calling into question the reductive linear logic of the framing of both social development and evaluation, a number of scholars have found themselves turning to the complexity sciences as a resource domain of a different kind of thinking but have done so with a varied radicalism in calling the evaluation game into question. Continue reading

Are we all complexity theorists now? Part II

I began to argue in the last but one post that the complexity sciences are adduced by a wide variety of scholars and commentators who are writing or talking about organisational change, and that this phenomenon may be indicative of the pressure that more linear ways of understanding change are under. Many people realise instinctively, and from their own experience, that  the taken for granted ways of thinking about change, input-process-output, are inadequate for describing what actually takes place when they are caught up in organisational life. However, I also went on to argue that there is still a very strong tendency to try and instrumentalise the complexity sciences. If you like, these commentators are having their cake and eating it at the same time: on the one hand they say that organisations are very complex places, on the other hand they argue that complexity can still somehow be harnessed by some managerial approach or other.  This manifests itself in a variety of different forms, from those people who claim that they can help your organisation model the complexity you are experiencing, perhaps with a computer model or a systems diagram, through to those who claim they have a unique method, which  you can buy off them or be trained in, which will help you manage the complexity in your organisation. In a blog I came across the other day the author was arguing that managers can ‘manage the evolutionary possibilities of the present’  in their organisations.

Previously I have argued that during the last two decades or so strong ideological claims have been made for the unique abilities of managers both to identify, shape and manage change. A cursory glance at the recruitment pages of the daily newspapers will produce a number of different advertisements where managers are sought who can  ‘drive change’ in an organisation.  Clearly there is no job too big for the claims of management as a discipline:   it can manage change, complexity and evolution. Continue reading

Poetry, generalisability and method

The poet Christopher Reid has recently won the Costa Prize for literature for his collection of poem entitled The Scattering which charts the demise of his wife from the moment she received news of her terminal illness through to her dying. The poems are both tender and unblinking, witty and emotional.

In a radio interview Reid expressed his surprise that a collection of poems so personal, and so specific to the particularities of his situation and his relationship with his wife, should evoke such strong resonances with so many of his readers. Many who wrote to him mentioned the powerful experience of recognition that they had had on reading his poems despite the fact that their own experiences of death and dying will have been very different. As a successful poet this need not have surprised him, nor would it surprise anyone else who takes an interest in how patient attention to particularities may at the same time throw up general observations about human experience. Paradoxically, there are generalities in the particular, and particularities in the general. We have addressed the question of how subjectivities are formed in previous posts both in looking at the subject/object dualism as well as drawing on insights from the complexity sciences where the particular is both formed by, and is forming, the general pattern of interaction. Continue reading

Complexity and the credit crunch II

Another view of the credit crunch is set out by Ralph Stacey in his most recent book Complexity and Organizational Reality: Uncertainty and the Need to Rethink Management After the Collapse of Investment Capitalism.

As usual Stacey challenges some of the main assumptions in management theory which are based on predictability and control, and that strategy arises from managerial choosing. Instead, Stacey argues the following:

Organisations are not things but patterns of interactions between people. In these interactions, and among other things, people develop imaginative constructs of ‘wholes’ such as ‘the market’ or ‘Lehman Brothers’. In telling the story of what is happening using these abstractions reality is covered over and people and what they are doing disappear from the tale. The constraints that we exercise over each other, or the power relationships, also largely disappear from the stories we tell about what is going on.

People do of course form intentions, make choices and implement strategies, but do so into a web of other people’s intentions and actions making the exact outcome unpredictable. Continue reading