Complexity and the credit crunch

Chris Mowles summarises Ralph Stacey‘s latest very interesting, work. It resonates strongly for me.

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.

This makes much sense to me too:

Contrary to the dominant view of management, no one, no matter how powerful, can control the interplay of intentions in an organisation, or between organisations. The patterning of intentions will often bring about outcomes which nobody intended or wanted. It can also escalate small local changes across entire national and international populations generating widespread patterns of change of an uncertain kind which we might call ‘globalization’, ‘credit crunch’ and technical innovation.

My experience is that many conversations in organisations are based on the notion of controlling the whole system, or attempting to wrest control from others. I often find these conversations unsatisfying; I get more engaged when people talk about stuff that is more local to them, even if it’s more uncomfortable territory.

I often sit through briefings that are full of abstractions about the organisation feeling as though I should understand what I’m being told but not really feeling engaged. I think it’s because I lean to Stacey’s view and don’t really get the idea of organisations as concrete things. It’s nearly always more interesting when people talk more openly about their personal feelings and concerns, stuff that is more local to them. Maybe we need to spend less time trying to find the levers of power and more time noticing the more subtle ways in which we interact with and influence those around us.

1 thought on “Complexity and the credit crunch

  1. Chris Mowles

    Hi Johnnie,

    glad you were interested in Ralph’s book. I don’t know if you would also be interested in coming to the annual complexity and management centre conference from 4-6th June at Roffey Park management centre. Both Ralph and I will be speaking as will the Swedish academic Mats Alvesson. The conference is focused on the idea of management as a profession.




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