Category Archives: GH Mead

Complex responsive processes – 4 pillars of thought, 5 key insights.

Before starting this post, and for those readers interested in attending the next Complexity and Management Conference, next year it will be slightly earlier: 17-19th May 2019.


This post is the theoretical introduction to the perspective of complex responsive processes of relating, which I gave in the afternoon of the one-day workshop preceding this year’s Complexity and Management Conference. It informs a whole raft of publications written and edited by Ralph Stacey, Doug Griffin, Patricia Shaw and myself along with all the theses of graduates of the Doctor of Management (DMan) programme at the University of Hertfordshire, who now number 72 (60 doctorates and 12 MAs). The perspective has also been adduced by a wide range of consultants, scholars and graduates of other programmes. I mention this at the beginning of the post because I often get asked ‘what next for complex responsive processes?’, or ‘what or who constitutes the complex responsive processes community?’ I think the question is sometimes aimed at asking who decides what the perspective of complex responsive processes is, to which the answer must be, the original authors, everyone and no one. The glorious thing about ideas is that once published, they belong to everybody, irrespective of whether they are reproduced or developed in ways in which the ‘original’ scholars would recognise. And when other people develop the ideas in their own way, then this just leads to opportunities for further discussion. This is not to suggest that as far as I am concerned ‘anything goes’. The point about having an intellectual position is that you are prepared to argue for it, whilst acknowledging the perspectives of those you argue with.

The perspective of complex responsive processes rests on four pillars of intellectual tradition: it draws on insights from the complexity sciences; it is based in Norbert Elias’ processual sociology; it takes up key ideas from pragmatic philosophy, particularly from Mead and Dewey; and it borrows from the group analytic tradition as set out by SH Foulkes, particularly in terms of the working methods which we adopt on the DMan programme. What all four have in common is that they are concerned with phenomena in a state of flux and change over time, and they are focused more or less on how global patterns arise from micro-interactions, or how micro-interactions embody global patterns. Our particular interpretation reads paradox into the working of complex adaptive systems models (CAS), just as see paradox deployed by Mead, Dewey, Elias, and to a lesser degree, Foulkes. In other words, and in the perspective of complex responsive processes you can see Heraclitan dialectic running through our interpretation of CAS, in the work of the pragmatists and Elias, which draws on Hegel, and perhaps more falteringly in Foulkes. Elias and Foulkes are also informed by the thinking of Freud. There are links, then, between the four pillars of thought which underpin the perspective. Continue reading

The entrepreneurial self and the social self: reflections on the 2016 CMC

Here are a series of articles which illustrate the way in which business vocabulary has entered into our way of talking about ourselves and our relationships:

This is from Forbes magazine and suggests you treat yourself as a product and a brand.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 12.38.12

This is from the Wall St Journal and shows a family who have pinned a mission statement to their fridge and have agreed targets for each other.

Screenshot 2016-06-14 12.44.19

Continue reading

Complexity and Management Conference 10-12th June 2016 – booking now open

‘What Mead is proposing is a different way of thinking about everyday social interaction, not as observers of experience but rather as participants in experience, the nature of which is self-organising sense-making. He is drawing attention to what we are doing every day in all our actions and arguing that we have developed the habit of ignoring it. How could this be possible? How could we become so blind to something so obvious? Mead’s argument is quite simply that we have developed the habit of regarding the present as something apart from the future and the past. It has become a habit of thought for us to think ourselves as also being apart from our experience as the present movement of time.’ (Griffin, 2002: 179).

The quotation above is taken from Doug Griffin’s book The Emergence of Leadership: Linking Self-Organization and Ethics which was published in 2002, and it points to the focus of this year’s Complexity and Management Conference 2016. As many of you will know, sadly Doug died on 17th December 2015 and we will be celebrating his contribution to the development of the perspective of complex responsive processes and the vibrant life of the Doctor of Management programme at this year’s conference. It was exactly to this area of inquiry, taking everyday complex experience seriously, that Doug was most committed, and the conference is another way of marking and honouring his work.

In this year’s event guest speakers will set out how paying attention to the everyday complexity of experience has made a difference to the work of their particular institution or area of research. The speakers are:

Henry Larsen, Professor of Participatory Innovation at Southern Denmark University, graduate of the DMan programme, ex- member of the Da Capo theatre company. His research interest is in exploring spontaneity and improvisation in the everyday processes of relating.

Professor Karen Norman of Kingston University and doctoral supervisor on the Doctor of Management programme. Karen was formally Chief Nursing Officer in Gibraltar and Director of Nursing for Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH).

Mark Renshaw Deputy Chief of Patient Safety at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, Mark facilitated a range of quality improvement and patient safety initiatives and co – led the BSUH falls reduction programme – an initiative that started after a patient died after falling in hospital. This work has reduced the incidence of patient falls by 48%  over five years.

Pernille Thorup – Pernille is on the senior management team of COK (Center for Offentlig Kompetenceudvikling), which is the strategic partner in public sector development for KL (Kommunernes Landsforening), the organization of Danish Municipalities. She has recently undertaken a three year strategy process within the company, drawing on insights from the complexity sciences, which has now involved COK’s clients.

We expect the usual richness and diversity of discussion at the conference.

The conference booking page is now live and can be found at: and as usual there is a discount for early-bird bookings.

Look forward to seeing you there.

Strategic Management and Organisational Dynamics – 7th Edition

New edition published this month: the revised and updated version of Ralph’s textbook including sections on process organisation studies, new organisational  examples and more up-to-date references.

Stacey and Mowles

Against Common Sense: managing amid the paradoxes of everyday organisational life

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.Unknown

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

Acting into organizational complexity: comparing and contrasting relational leadership and complex responsive processes of relating

At the Complexity and Management Conference 2013 our guest speaker, Ann Cunliffe, described her ideas about what she terms relational leadership, which are also set out in an article in Human Relations here. In her conference presentation and in her article Ann Cunliffe responds to what she understands as a crisis in leadership education and practice. In the news we are presented with example after example of failures of leadership which also point to an impoverished moral understanding on the part of leaders about their responsibilities, she argues. Cunliffe sets out her alternative by drawing on Bakhtin, Ricoeur, Heidegger and Shotter whom she adduces to develop her argument that leadership work is to be found in the everyday conversational activity of people trying to achieve things together. Her ideas turn on the idea of inter-subjectivity, that we are formed by others just as we form them, which she argues has implications for the way we think about our relationships. We should, she says, develop better anticipatory awareness about what matters in those relationships and the moral consequences of our responsiveness, or lack of it, to others. Responsibility arises, Cunliffe argues after Ricoeur, by recognising oneself as another.[1] Continue reading

Trust in Organisations

A search of Google Scholar indicates that books and journal papers to do with trust, organisations and leadership numbered a few hundred per annum during the 1960s, jumping to the low thousands during the 1970s, and approaching 10,000 per annum in the 1990s. During the early years of this century the number of publications has numbered around an average of 40,000 per year. These numbers indicate a major increase in, and concern about, the presence and role of trust in organisational life, including the exercise of leadership. In this note I want to give a brief indication of how this issue is approached in the management literature and how it is approached in the sociology literature. To aid in the comparing and contrasting I will draw on Hosmer’s[i] classification of four different approaches to understanding trust:

  • Trust as an optimistic individual expectation, focusing on expectations that others will perform in competent and morally correct ways.
  • Trust as an interpersonal relation, focusing on the dependence of the trustors on the trustees to respect the trustors’ interests. The relationship is one of vulnerability for the trustor.
  • Trust as a rational decision to  do with protecting one’s interests made after risk analysis or a calculation in terms of economic transactions costs (which I will not cover in this note).
  • Trust and social structure. Continue reading