Tag Archives: politics

Complexity and Management Conference 17th-19th May 2019 – booking now

This year’s Complexity and Management Conference, on 17th-19th May:  What does it mean to be critical? – complexity, reflexivity and doubt in everyday organisational life offers the opportunity for delegates to reflect on what it means to be critical and why it is important to be so in today’s organisations. On the first morning of the conference we have invited Professor Andre Spicer to help us get the discussion going. If you want to sign up for the conference and save yourself some money before the early bird deadline expires, then click here.

Here are a few ideas on the traditions of thought to which we will be contributing.

We have a strong critical tradition in western thought, starting with the ancient Greeks. However, the contemporary philosopher Julian Baggini has shown us how a variety of cultures have their own traditions of systematically thinking about the human condition, on the basis that, as Socrates put it, the life unexamined is not worth living. How might we lead a good life, what do we mean by truth, how might we guard against the fragility of goodness, as Martha Nussbaum expressed it?[1] Examining our lives in the back and forth dialectic of discussion is necessary if we are to make meaning and become fully human, but it can have its negative consequences, as it did for Socrates. Problematising, probing, judging comes with its own risks: we are unlikely to be condemned to death for corrupting Athenian youth, as he was, but simply asking questions can call out a strong reaction. Why might that be?

As Kant identified, to critique (originating in judgement, from the Greek krisis) involves imagination and daring:

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.[2]

Kant thought that ‘daring to know’ may require courage to take on sources of authority, so that even religion, perhaps the biggest locus of authority in his day, would need ‘to sustain the test of its free and public examination.’[3] He suggested that subjecting sources of legitimacy and authority to critical inquiry is not something to be undertaken lightly, although it is necessary if we are to liberate ourselves from ignorance. Both implicitly and explicitly, becoming critical means engaging with questions of legitimacy and power and calling into question the status quo.

But is it enough just to doubt and reason on our own and by ourselves? From a Hegelian perspective the answer is no, since Hegelians would claim that we are not just autonomous, rational individuals cognizing in the abstract, but we are socially and historically formed. More, and from a pragmatic perspective, it is not helpful to doubt everything all of the time, but we should engage first with those problems which preoccupy us.[4] To pursue inquiry from a Hegelian and pragmatic perspective means taking an interest in history. How has the phenomenon, the particular predicament we are interested in evolved over time, and what has led to what? We then try to place our  difficulties, within the larger history of social relations and their structural contradictions. This may mean drawing attention to power relationships and calling into question the legitimacy of certain ways of knowing and speaking, perhaps asking the question cui bono, who benefits? It certainly means pursuing these questions through dialectical inquiry, where an abstract notion of truth is replaced by the idea that insight arises in the back and forth or argument in a community of engaged inquirers.

And by taking part in discussion and argumentation we then find ourselves discovering that moral and political judgements in particular are plural. We might enhance our ability to see the world from perspectives other than our own. So in addition to Kant’s injunction to dare to know, we might find ourselves developing greater empathy, imagination and solidarity.

If this kind of inquiry interests you, where you engage with a committed group of peers to discuss current organisational difficulties and discover plural and complex points of view, then this year’s Complexity and Management conference 17th-19th May is the place to be. There may be no resolution to your predicaments but perhaps you will find some degree of solidarity with and from others in the complex responsive processes of relating. Dare to come!

Early bird concessions end 1st April. On Friday 17th May there is a one day introductory workshop to the ideas underpinning complex responsive processes of relating.

[1] Nussbaum, M (1986) The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[2] An answer to the question what is Enlightenment? 1784

[3] Introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.

[4] “We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy…Let us not pretend to doubt in philosophy what we do not doubt in our hearts.” CS Peirce (1992), The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings Vol 1, Bloomington: Indiana University Press: pp28-29.

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Groundless hope

In the recent general election in the UK in May the political discussion sometimes turned on the idea of hope. Each of the political parties was keen to convince the electorate that their particular plan for the UK, their ‘vision’, was the best recipe for hope. They each promised UK citizens a better future (although the vote may have come down to people’s perception of the least worst option). Equally, the current leadership election contest in the Labour Party which has been triggered by the party’s humiliation by the Conservatives, has provoked some jostling amongst the candidates. Each has been arguing that their particular platform offers most hope particularly to the poorest in society who have been most severely hit by government initiatives which target benefits.

To a degree you can see how politicians are caught in something of a double bind. One the one hand if they fail to set out some kind of transformative ‘vision’, a promise of hope, then no-one will follow them (even if it is as simple as ‘yes we can’, or ‘change we can believe in’). On the other hand, and because we have come to distrust politicians with their grand promises, any grand narrative is bound to be met with a sceptical response. Nonetheless, each of the candidates seems to be setting themselves the impossible task of coming up with a ‘clear vision’ for the future. 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: 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.

Complexity and Management Conference 5th-7th June 2015

Conference theme: Exploring our experience of everyday politics in organisations

How do we negotiate degrees of freedom with each other in what we can increasingly experience as regimes of disciplinary power in organisational life? How do grand schemes for whole-organisation transformation play out in every day relationships between people?

This conference will invite participants to discuss and reflect upon the every day politics of getting things done together, noticing the negotiations, compromises and improvisations which are necessary to take the next step.

Between now and then we will be posting further reflections on the topic on this the Complexity and Management blog.

The key note speakers this year are  Svend Brinkmann,  who is Professor in general psychology and qualitative methods as well as Co-director of the Center for Qualitative Studies, and Professor Patricia Shaw, co-founder of the Doctor of Management programme at UH and currently working at Schumacher College. Here is Svend’s profile page at Aalborg university http://personprofil.aau.dk/117579?lang=en and here is Patricia Shaw’s at Schumacher College: http://www.schumachercollege.org.uk/teachers/patricia-shaw .

The conference will be informal and highly participative, as in previous years. The conference fee includes accommodation and food and will be held at Roffey Park Institute in the UK: http://www.roffeypark.com

The booking page on the university website will be set up in the New Year.

A more detailed agenda will follow, but the conference begins with a drinks reception @7pm on Friday 5th June and ends after lunch Sunday 7th June 2015.

Participants wishing to set up a particular themed discussion in a working group during the conference should contact Chris Mowles: c.mowles@herts.ac.uk

Elias on culture – the struggle over collective emotional bonds

It has become axiomatic that organizations need to change their cultures in order to reform or modernise, or to adapt to a changing world, or to bring about some kind of improvement in performance. Implicit (and sometimes explicit) in this kind of thinking is the idea that certain organizational cultures are more conducive to success than others, and that adopting a particular culture is likely to lead to organizational improvement. It has become a way of talking as though organizations can ‘have’ a culture which can be identified and changed from one state to another. Culture becomes reified, or ‘thing-like’, and is capable of being shaped and manipulated. Usually there is a close link in the discourse to values which are thought to relate causally and directly to behaviour. Restating the values required of staff, usually ones chosen by the Chief Executive or the senior team, is supposed to lead to improvements in the workplace.

As a counter to this idea of culture existing in one organisation as an object of intervention by senior staff, and as something manipulable over the short term, I would like in this post to think about culture evolving over the longer term in society at large with the sociologist Norbert Elias. In doing so we come to notice some of the paradoxical qualities of culture, how it both includes and excludes, and how it involves values as voluntary compulsions, which can take on the qualities of the sacred. Continue reading

Being passionate and excited

It has become a way of speaking in organisations that people feel compelled to say how ‘passionate and excited’ they are about a particular idea,  an area of work, or if they are applying for a job. I have begun to experience this as a kind of tyranny, because it feels competitive and coercive, and ultimately, trite. It seems as though it has become impossible to apply for a job without saying how passionate and excited you are, and if it is a leadership position, to claim additionally that you are visionary and transformative. So many people are passionate about what they are doing (sandwich companies are passionate about the sandwiches they make, the truck which passes  on the motorway heralds that the company is ‘passionate about logistics’) that it feels that something important has become trivialised and banal. It is just another saying to be tossed off lightly.

It also leaves those with a greater reluctance to give in to this kind of expressivism exposed to the accusation that if they can’t compete about how passionate they are then perhaps they are not committed to, or interested in, what they are doing. Being passionate and excited are surely  not sufficient qualification on their own for doing anything well. I am reminded of the lines in WB Yeats’ poem The Second Coming: ‘The best lack all conviction while the worst are filled with a passionate intensity.’ Sometimes it is being passionate that closes down opportunities for listening and noticing, and paying attention to the particular importance of context and difference. It is a claim for authenticity that deceives.

I was forced to reconsider the idea of being passionate  when I listened to Aung San Suu Kyi’s first Reith lecture ‘Securing Freedom’, where she talks of her own passion for freedom, drawing on Max Weber and Vaclav Havel. In linking passion, power and political action she has helped me retrieve the word from its contemporary shallowness. Aung San Suu Kyi  is using the term very differently from the way it has come to be taken up in contemporary organisational life, and she describes the consequences of being passionate in both practical and paradoxical ways. Continue reading

How possible is it to plan to be innovative?

I was invited to give a key note speech at the Participatory Innovation Conference (PINC 2011) at the University of Southern Denmark in Sønderborg. A variety of academics, business people, representatives of local and national government attended and participated in two and half days of interesting discussion in the five thematic tracks in the conference. There were a large number of papers presented which seemed to me to set out two broad narratives about innovation, which are interconnected, one could even say interdependent, but through a relationship of negation. One might argue that it would be impossible to understand innovation without taking both views into account, but at the same time it would be important to recognise how one narrative threatens to completely extinguish the other.

Continue reading