I promised to write up my presentation from the 2015 Complexity and Management Conference, which was entitled Exploring our Experience of Every Day Politics in Organizations. My task was to pull out a few themes which struck me, and to respond to the keynotes of Svend Brinkmann and Patricia Shaw. This post tries to identity common threads, lacunae and opportunities for thinking arising out of what our guests said and links these to reflections on what it might mean to reflect systematically on the politics of everyday life in organisations. Continue reading
At the Complexity and Management Conference this weekend (5th-7th June at Roffey Park) we will be discussing a variety of themes concerning power and politics in organisations. As a small contribution to the discussion I offer the following:
There are two managerial tendencies in contemporary organisations which in my view work against the exploration of difference, and cover over the opportunity for collective reflection.
The first is the increasing prevalence of instrumental reason in the shape of rhetorical appeals to ‘what works’, or what ‘adds value’ or is best for effectiveness and efficiency. This is not to argue in favour of inefficiency or ineffectiveness, or allowing employees to do whatever they want, but if we start from the premiss that there is no one best strategy, then all options about what employees might do together to improve organisational outcomes will bring with them advantages and disadvantages. It depends when the evaluation is made, and who is judging.
If the future is uncertain then we can never be sure what will work and what will not until we try something together, and even then we may disagree about what we find. So it may be worth exploring the merits of different courses of action and tolerating dissent, disagreement and contestation before we embark upon something.
The second tendency can arise as a direct result of the first, that there is a lack of shared experience of deliberating together, and therefore a greater reluctance to consider it. All kinds of reasons are given for not thinking together: because there isn’t time, because it will open a can of worms, because it will be just a talking shop, because it’s a luxury we can’t afford, because we’re an action-oriented organisation. In effect what then happens is a closing down of opportunity to seek different perspectives which prevents bringing about what Hannah Arendt referred to as ‘enlarged mentality’, the possibility of experiencing human plurality. The ability to consider the perspective of others was of prime importance to Arendt, since it enables us to decentre ourselves and avoid narcissism, as well as preventing tyranny where there is only a hearing for one point of view.
Another aspect of deliberating together in public, particularly when we are face to face, is that the intimacy of being together obliges us more actively to find ways forward. But confronting each other with our differences can be painful, and it isn’t always easy to do.
These are some of the themes we will be struggling with, more or less painfully, on the weekend, and here is the rough agenda for the discussions.
Look forward to seeing you there if you have registered, and if not we will try and post some reflections on what happened afterwards.
The Complexity and Management Conference 5-7th June 2015 Early Bird Discount ends 30th April 2015.
Here are three new publications from DMan faculty members published this month:
Commons and Lords: a Short Anthropology of Parliament – Emma Crewe
The House of Commons: an Anthropology of MPs at Work – Emma Crewe
Managing in Uncertainty: Complexity and the Paradoxes of Everyday Organisational Life – Chris Mowles
The following is the text of a talk given by Chris Mowles at the University of Hertfordshire on Friday Feb 13th as part of the MBA Masterclass series.
In this talk I try to cover four things:
I address why I think there is a problem with much contemporary management theory and explain why I think it is necessary to argue against what is taken to be common sense in management.
I introduce paradox and explain its roots in philosophy and point to how it manifests itself in the complexity sciences, as an alternative to some of the simplified assumptions and dualisms in much contemporary management theory.
I give some examples of how paradox manifests itself in everyday organisational life.
And finally I suggest some implications for managers for taking paradox seriously for what they might find themselves doing at work.
Why against common sense?
I am using the title of this talk, against common sense, to make a general critique of what we might think of as the majority literature on management, but also to highlight the meaning of the word paradox, from the Greek para doxa, or against what people ordinarily hold to be true. In using the term ‘majority literature’, I am not trying to suggest that all management literature suggests the same thing, or that all business schools teach the subject uncritically (this is certainly not the case at the University of Hertfordshire and on the MBA, for example). There is a flourishing substantial minority critical tradition in management theory.
But overwhelmingly, orthodox management journals and books assume that managers are in control, can predict and design organisational futures and organisational culture, can purpose transformation and innovation. Even when the majority literature identifies contradiction or paradox as a phenomenon, it argues that managers can control this too, often suggesting that paradox can be ‘unleashed’ for the creative good of the organisation, or can be brought into dynamic balance.[i] Continue reading