In-depth Interview: Complexity Theory, Philosophy, and Leadership for the Modern Times: A conversation with Dr Jean Boulton

December 2022

Speaker: Dr Jean Boulton (Cranfield School of Management)

In this “long conversation” type interview, Professor Andrey Pavlov and Dr Jean Boulton take a deep dive into complexity theory and its relevance to strategy and leadership. They discuss the core attributes and implications of complexity theory, different schools of thought within complexity thinking, the resonance of complexity theory with major philosophical traditions as well as Buddhism, Daoism, and modern physics, the implications of a “complexity worldview” for acting in an uncontrollable world, and the practical lessons that complexity thinking has for management, strategic decision making, and leadership as well as our everyday lives.

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Throughout 2021, the Strategy Group hosted a series of invited talks that explored new developments in scholarship at the intersection of Strategy, Organization Studies, and Complexity.

Webinar: How Can Evolutionary Social Science Evolve?

June 2021

Speaker: Professor Geoffrey Hodgson (Loughborough University)

When it was published in 1982, “An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change”, by Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter, made a big impact, particularly in management and in innovation studies. But despite their (unacknowledged) use of the Darwinian principles of selection, variation and replication in that seminal work, there is an enduring reluctance among evolutionary economists to acknowledge their Darwinian source or to develop these concepts further. Instead, researchers in this area have fallen back on the vague term “evolution”, as if it had a single, precise and widely shared meaning.

A key ambiguity is whether it refers to one entity or a population of multiple entities. There is no precise meaning of “evolution” and attempts to invest it with one have understandably failed. In the absence of an over-arching theory, some practitioners of “evolutionary economics” have even downplayed the principle of selection, which was there at the start.

Webinar: Complex Responsive Processes of Relating – Taking Experience Seriously

May 2021

Speaker: Professor Christopher Mowles (University of Hertfordshire)

This webinar gives a brief introduction to complex responsive processes, a perspective which combines insights from the natural and social sciences. The Complexity and Management Centre at the University of Hertfordshire has been working with ideas from the complexity sciences understood in social terms since the early 90s, based on the work of Ralph Stacey. The complex responsive processes perspective invites people to take their experience at work seriously and pay attention to the emergent social dynamics of trying to get things done together.

One of the most prominent illustrations of these principles is provided by the Doctor of Management programme at the University of Hertfordshire, which is run as a psychodynamic research community drawing on ideas informed by group analysis, pragmatic philosophy and process sociology refracted through the complexity sciences. The intention of this talk was to encourage reflection about what these ideas might mean for strategy-making in organizations, which led to a very rich Q&A discussion.

Webinar: Leading in Complexity: Enabling the Adaptive Process in People and Organizations

April 2021

Speaker: Professor Mary Uhl-Bien (Texas Christian University)

All who have experienced the global pandemic of 2020 know that we live in a changed world. People no longer question whether we are in complexity, that reality has been made explicitly clear. What they want to know now is, what do we do about it, and what does it mean for how we need to lead differently?

Professor Uhl-Bien discusses leading in complexity from the standpoint of enabling the adaptive process in people and organizations. The adaptive process happens when individuals and systems engage tensions between pressures for change (e.g., innovation, novelty, learning, growth) and pressures for stability (e.g., current performance, short-term results, status quo) through conflicting and connecting to generate adaptive outcomes. It is a fractal dynamic, meaning that the same process occurs across any level. Once you know the process, you can enact it in any situation that requires adaptability.

The talk begins by focusing on the adaptive process at the individual level (cognitive process), applies it to the organizational level (system-level change), and concludes by discussing implications of the adaptive process model for leadership and followership behaviors, skills and mindsets.

Webinar: Critical Systems Thinking and the Management of Complexity

March 2021

Speaker: Professor Michael C Jackson (University of Hull)

This talk discusses the nature of complexity, the development of systems thinking, the emergence of critical systems thinking, and how to conduct interventions on the basis of critical systems practice. The world has become increasingly networked and unpredictable. Leaders of international bodies such as the UN, OECD, UNESCO and WHO, and of major business, public sector, charitable, and professional organizations, have all declared systems thinking an essential leadership skill for managing the complexity of the interrelated economic, social, and environmental issues they face.

Systems thinkers have developed different methodologies attuned to different aspects of complexity; examples being systems engineering, system dynamics, organizational cybernetics, and soft systems thinking. Critical systems thinking helps us to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of these systems approaches in dealing with different aspects of complexity. It recommends using systems methodologies, models, and methods in informed combinations when confronted by complexity.

Webinar: Complexity, Process Metaphysics and the Practice of Strategic Wayfinding

February 2021

Speaker: Professor Robert Chia (University of Glasgow)

Instead of a priori relying on elegant strategic models and elaborate strategic plans to direct strategic action, Strategic Wayfinding begins with direct intense engagement with actual goings-on occurring at the coal-face of the organization/environment nexus.  In times of unprecedented turbulence, Strategic Wayfinding better equips an organization with the ability to negotiate the radical uncertainty of events such as the current pandemic to secure its continued survival and growth.

Webinar: Strategic Context Determination as an Underexplored Area in Strategy Process and Practice Research

January 2021

Speaker: Professor Robert Burgelman (Stanford University)

Strategic context determination is an emergent part of the strategy-making process activated by key actors in organizations to resolve the indeterminacy that exists between newly emerging autonomous strategic initiatives and the corporate strategy in force at a particular moment in time. Strategic context determination processes are an important part of the means by which organizations are able to evolve through a process of “becoming,” closely related to complexity theory and adaptation at the edge-of-chaos views of organizational evolution. Further research on strategic context determination processes may shed additional light on the determinants of the cycle time of strategic change and corporate innovation and renewal.

This webinar was not recorded.