Category Archives: reflexivity

Complex responsive processes in Sydney Australia – December 13/14 2016

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Chris Mowles is visiting Australia the week beginning 12th December and will be running a two day intense workshop and a breakfast meeting with 10000hours .

The two day workshop is entitled:

LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY – 13/14th December

The workshop is suitable for experienced leaders, managers and consultants from all kinds of organizations. It includes a mixture of seminars, break-out discussions, and real time exploration of examples from participants’ own organizations.

Chris will draw on insights from the complexity sciences developed by Ralph Stacey in the perspective known as complex responsive processes, which informs this blog.

Participants can expect to gain basic insights into the complexity sciences understood in social terms, and to experience the importance of reflection and reflexivity in relation to their particular organizational contexts.

To find out more follow this link: http://10000hours.com/chrismowles/

Breakfast meeting Thursday 15th December

10,000 Hours will host a breakfast meeting for experienced leaders, managers and consultants wishing to hear about the what difference understanding organisational life as complex responsive processes of relating can make to the task of leading of managing.

Evening seminar UTS Thursday 15th December

Chris will give a seminar hosted by UTS to interested academic colleagues about some of the difficulties of sustaining critical management education in the UK. He will talk in particular about the  contribution of the Doctor of Management programme at the university of Hertfordshire.

Lunchtime seminar RMIT Melbourne 16th December

Chris will give a similar seminar to interested academic colleagues in Melbourne at lunchtime in RMIT.

 

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: http://tinyurl.com/k7t2rd4  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.

Experiencing uncertainty

I was working with a group of managers and we had been discussing how a lot of managerial work is about dealing with uncertainty. Things don’t work

questionout quite how you planned, surprises come out of left field, and your boss, or the organisation with which you are working closely, has just decided that something else is now a priority. What you came in to do in the morning has somehow gone off course by the afternoon, but you’re still responsible for your first priority. This was the link I had been making previously to the complexity sciences: I had been arguing that small changes can amplify into big differences, and social life arises in the interplay of differing intentions. But how do you know how to respond and what to pay attention to?

I suggested that we might work together with uncertainty with the group as an experiment the next morning, if they were up for it. We would meet with no agenda as such and the only task would be for the 26 of us to sit together in a room for an hour and a half and talk about how we cope with uncertainty, making links with organisational life, and noticing at the same time how we were dealing with the task together as we were dealing with it. I was explicit about the fact that this was a group method developed by the Institute of Group Analysis as a way of paying attention to process from within the process itself. I told them that would participate with them, but that I wouldn’t be in charge. I warned them that they might find it a bit uncomfortable and anxiety provoking, but they were a group of social work managers and no doubt they would have been in situations like this before.

They said they would like to try it. Continue reading

Meeting to achieve measurable outcomes

In the last post I discussed the ways in which people regulate themselves and each other in everyday life. I made the argument that without this self- and group discipline there would be no order in social life. As we have pointed out many times on this blog, après Bourdieu, Elias and Foucault,  and by drawing on analogies from the complexity sciences, power relations both enable and constrain what it is possible to do. There is, however, a general tendency in more popular management literature to suggest that somehow we can do away with or ‘transform’ power relations by being nice to each other, or by being appreciative, or by being open and transparent, or authentic. These perspectives convey the implicit idea that power is somehow unpleasant or illicit. But this is to cover over or even to miss the productive nature of power. Power produces a regimen of resistance and compliance, the exact patterning of which will always be unpredictable, but is likely to give rise to both routine as well as a degree of novelty. But to ask the question about how disciplinary power operates in social life is not simply to enquire into how ‘they’ are doing something to ‘us’ but also to probe into how we are doing things to ourselves. How we try to influence each other to organise our joint undertakings can say a lot about the kinds of pressures we are under and how we aspire to being professional. Continue reading

Appreciative Inquiry II – AI and the positive psychology movement

In an article called ‘The Happy Warrior’, which draws on a poem by Wordsworth of the same name, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum takes aim at the positive psychology movement, which is one of the contributing influences on Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Nussbaum is drawn to Aristotle, Wordsworth and Mill because they develop a highly nuanced and subtle understanding of what is broadly termed happiness, or positive states of mind, in the positive psychology literature.  She is offended by what she terms the ‘conceptual breeziness’ of the positive psychology movement and argues that it is often highly reductive of what is a nuanced and subtle area of human concern. For Nussbaum, it is impossible to reduce the idea of happiness to a single, one-dimensional metric so that it suits the quantitative calculations of cognitive empirical research into subjective states, which is the bread and butter of positive psychology.

It is worth rehearsing some of her arguments here, since a lot of what she says also applies to AI, which focuses relentlessly on the positive to the exclusion of the more problematic aspects of organisational life.

Continue reading

Appreciative Inquiry as a variety of religious experience

In an article in the journal AI (Appreciative Inquiry) Practitioner in 2012, the author and AI practitioner Gervase Bushe quotes from some of his personal correspondence with one of the founders of AI, David Cooperrider. They had both been deliberating over the reflexive turn that AI scholarship has taken during the last few years, where it has begun to acknowledge what it refers to as the ‘shadow side’ of organisational life, which practitioners have begun to worry may have been covered over by an appreciative approach, or even may be provoked by it. Cooperrider is tempted to resist this critical development, concerned as he is at the possible reintroduction of what he considers ‘deficit modelling’ and draws on William James’ Varieties of Religious Experience to describe a kind of ‘hot and alive’ state that he is trying to engender: ‘I think we are still on this quest for a full-blown non-deficit theory of change…Whether someone would call the initiating experience ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, the transformational moment is a pro-fusion moment when something so deeply good and loving is touched in us that everything is changed…I don’t think we  really understand the possibilities of that kind of change that kind of change yet and we aren’t going to until we take this to the extremes.’

Although he slightly mangles the quotation in Bushe’s article, Cooperrider  is drawing from one of James’ chapters on religious conversion, where he describes the psychological changes which occur when someone experiences a profound religious conversion: ‘All we know is that there are dead feeling, dead ideas, and cold beliefs, and there are hot and live ones; and when one grows hot and alive within us, everything has to re-crytallize about it.’ James argues that such experiences can be transformative and create new and stable states of equilibrium. The new state of conversion is experienced by the individual as overcoming a divided and wavering self, which has previously comprised a lower and higher part of him or herself. To experience religious belief is to identify with the higher part:

He becomes conscious that this higher part is coterminous and continuous with a MORE of the same quality, which is operative in the universe outside of him, and which he can keep in touch with, and in a fashion get on board of and save himself when all his lower being has gone to pieces in the wreck.

Cooperrider, via James, is making a direct claim for what he clearly considers to be the spiritual and transcendental potential of AI, that by enquiring into the good we can transform people, and institutions, to the good. Continue reading

Management fads and the importance of critical thinking

One of the main themes of Mats Alvesson and Hugh Willmott’s new edition of their book Making Sense of Management is that management, and the ubiquitous tools and techniques that accompany the practice are widely taken for granted as neutral, technical and helpful. In detail, and at length, they call these assumptions into question. Further, in a forthcoming article in the Journal of Management Studies, Alvesson, with his co-author André Spicer go on to accuse organisations of practising both knowledge and stupidity management. By stupidity management they mean the way that many organisations rush into adopting the latest management fad that everyone else is taking up, simply because everyone else is taking it up. They point to an absence of critical reflection and questioning in many organisations.

It is this process, endlessly rushing towards the next big idea provoked by an anxiety about keeping up with ‘the latest thinking’, or perhaps because of (self-imposed) coercion from peers or scrutinising boards and other agencies, that keeps the management shelves of bookshops filled to overflowing, and management academics and popular writers busy (and sometimes rich). Continue reading