Monthly Archives: May 2014

Good EduBloggers Recommended By Twitter Community: Representing Diversity of Twitter Community, Not *Just* White Males

Good EduBloggers Recommended By Twitter Community: Representing Diversity of Twitter Community, Not *Just* White Males

I was inspired to call out to Twitter tonight, by tweeting: “Recommendations needed4good eduBlogs representing cross-section of diversity of blog/twitter community, not *just* by white males please :-)”

I’d been motivated to do this because one male top edu-blogging tweep, who has a MASSIVE Twitter following, today blogged his own list of top ten edu-bloggers. And they were all white males. Now I am sure there was nothing intentional in this, and that it was just a personal list of favourites, and that there was total merit and quality applied in his own personal opinions and judgement criteria. What worried me a little though was that this is how ‘Old Boy Networks’ start. A successful white male extends credit to fellow white males, and perpetuates the success of other white males in society, to the unintended exclusion of non-white, non-males.

So, just with the idea of initiating a more inclusive and evolving list, this is a list of tweeps everyone who contributed tonight came up with. Some *are* white males by the way 🙂

I haven’t checked the blogs of all these people actually, and some of them may just be tweeters rather than have a blog, but please do feedback in comments and add your own recommendations etc.  I am sure there are plenty more good edublogs out there by non-white, non-males.



























































Complexity Science CatchUp: Part 3 – Into Y2K and Implications for Management

Complex CatchUp: PART 3: Into Y2K

Sooooo…. Did you read my last two blog posts? If so, big round of applause and let me buy you a drink the next time we bump into each other :-)) If not, I have no idea if this third in a row post will make sense to you, so please go back two moves and read the others just to make sure you didn’t miss anything.

Read them? Right, good. You’re all up to speed and you know what I’m doing here. It’s a chronological tour de history of the world according to complexity science. Abridged. I started with aeons of sameness preceding the Cambrian Explosion, fast forwarded via Aristotle, Emile Durkheim, Taylorism, Einstein, mentioned modernism, slipped in Stuart Kauffman going to university, and my own birth, ahem, ended the last century with postmodernism and Stuart Kauffman phoning someone up to organise a conference… So this third and final epic post starts with, yes, you guessed it, that conference… there’s a lot more practical advice for management here by the way… enjoy…

1991 – Conference: “Organization and Evolution of Southwestern Prehistoric Societies.”

So in 1991 there with this conference held in Santa Fe, organized by Santa Fe Institute (see previous entries on Chaco Canyon and associated projects for relevance).  A general introductory paper [to the above conference] was written by George Gumerman, conference co-organizer. Gumerman said, “The increase in variety of social conventions [in the social change in the history of the South West] is in many ways analogous to the ‘Cambrian Explosion’. The sudden increase and richness of life forms in the Cambrian has been attributed to the occupation of a ‘vacant ecology’, an environment which was available for and receptive to evolutionary experimentation.”[1]

The vacant ecology idea is interesting, ‘an environment available and receptive’ to some stuff happening, trial and error style. Lots of interactions producing a lot of diverse and novel outcomes, and suddenly a whole new level of emergent order was created. Real history and real biology, as well as amazingly sound metaphors transferable to other complex systems.

1991, August 19 – J. Baden, The Wall Street Journal – Newspaper article

Another such complex system is the economy. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, John Baden, of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, wrote: “When we understand that the economy is an ecosystem – not a machine isolated and insulated from the environment – we grasp fundamental truths about what makes the economy work.”[2] You need to go back to my first post and see the entry for Adam Smith on this one, especially the idea of the ‘invisible hand’. When you look at the macro patterns in the economy, that are not being controlled by any singular organisation, person or paycheque, and you see the movement over time, you can’t help but be impressed by the underlying beauty of it all, that no-one, absolutely no-one, is controlling. Control is totally decentralised. Decentralised control is another big theme in complexity science.

1992 – Book by Lewin, R. “Complexity: Life at the edge of chaos.” 1st edition. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.

There are many key texts I would recommend you read to get to grips with complexity science, but the one I found great as an introduction / starter book to the topic, was this one by Lewin. I’ve quoted a lot from it in these past three blog posts. One of the most significant quotes I loved the most in there was where Lewin said, “Complexity Science offers a way of going beyond the limits of reductionism, because it understands that much of the world is not machine-like and comprehensible through a cataloging of its parts; but consists instead of organic and holistic systems that are difficult to comprehend by traditional scientific analysis.”[3] I think this has to be one of the biggest learning points of all: you can’t be mechanical, you need to go for holism over time, and try to make sense of the dynamic, emergent patterns rippling between the network nodes in the decentralised system. And that applies to any system because everything is interconnected.

1992 – The Harvard Business Review. ‘Is Management Still a Science?’ David Freedman, November-December 1992, 27.

To take this topic into the realms of management practice, and for managers to think about what it all means to them (including SLT teams in education), you need to think about what paradigm is shaping your manager mindset. Is it a mechanistic one?  In 1992, the Harvard Business Review carried an article title ‘Is Management Still a Science?’ The author, David Freedman, answered the question thus: “Management may indeed be a science – but not the science most managers think”. In other words, the way scientists perceive the world has changed dramatically in recent decades, but many managers still follow an outdated scientific mind set, one that is now heading toward the intellectual scrap heap – namely, the mechanistic, reductionist perspective.[4]What was considered needed was a paradigm for managers that cohered with the non-mechanical perspective of the world that complexity science was beginning to offer. Out of such a paradigm managers might then adopt the right approaches, tools and methods for interacting as part of complex systems on a daily basis.

1992 – The Business Network, a corporate affiliates program, is established by the Santa Fe Institute. (International alliance).

These insights were recognised as having large value very quickly in the business world, and as such the SFI were able to set up a network at warp speed. Back in 1992 they reported, “We have approximately 50 member companies from around the world. Membership in the program provides early access to innovative research, learning/educational opportunities, and networking opportunities.”[5]Managers were starting to make the paradigm shift.

1995 – P F Drucker, ‘Managing in a Time of Great Change (New York: Truman Talley Books/Dutton, 1995).

However, key challenges were seen immediately. First and foremost was the historical path dependency created by the previous century of scientific management driven through by Taylor, Ford and Fayol. Lewin summarised the pertinent issues thus, “Although management theory has undergone many revisions since the early decades of the century, particularly with the impact of Peter Drucker’s thinking, Taylorism still remains the dominant influence today, with the machine model of business as its core, and embodied in a command-control style of management.”[6]Indeed, throughout many industries and sectors, this is still the case now, even 20 years after THAT was written. Many managers are just responding to what has gone before, and what has gone before are very deeply entrenched ways of doing things. What would it take to really change things? Really???

Lewin went on to highlight the main implications for managers:

 “Complexity scientists have identified a few simple rules by which complex adaptive systems operate. Those rules are presented here, with a translation of what they mean in the business context[7]:

  1. The source of emergence is the interaction among agents who mutually affect each other: Managers should attend to relationships characterized by mutuality among people, among teams, and among companies, in order for novelty to emerge.
  2. Small changes can lead to large effects: Seek to lead change through many small experiments, which search the landscape of possibilities.
  3. Emergence is certain, but there is no certainty as to what it will be: Create conditions for constructive emergence rather than trying to plan a strategic goal in detail. Evolve solutions, don’t design them.
  4. Greater diversity of agents in a system leads to richer emergent patterns: Seek a diversity of people, their cultures, their expertise, their ages, their personalities, and their gender, so that when people interact in teams, for example, creativity has the potential of being enhanced.

“Some of these practices are already present in some current management paradigms, particularly in Peter Drucker’s model of business, for instance with its emphasis on businesses as communities. But complexity science brings these practices together under an umbrella of a scientific understanding of the deep nature of business organizations. Specifically, whatever enriches the interactions (that is, relationships) among agents (that is, people) in the system will lead to greater creativity and adaptability. Management guided by the principles of complexity science therefore constitutes a style that is very human-oriented in that it recognizes that relationships are the bottom line of business, and that creativity, culture and productivity emerge from these interactions.”

If you look at that 4 point list again you will no doubt think to yourself that this makes sense. But really, are we evolving current management practices in line with these in a decentralised way? Or are we still driving them from the top-down? Is there a veneer of doing things so as to engage people, while all along you are just manipulating things to go your own way? Is the system you are managing within really decentralised enough for there to be a richly enabling environment? All good food for thought, and still salmon swimming upstream for the most part, sadly due to the very hardwired nature left by the legacy of scientific management in so many subtle ways that we don’t even know when we are adopting them.

1995 – Stuart Kauffman became associated with Ernst & Young’s Centre for Business Innovation.

In the fray of this emergent field being applied to the business world, the scientists started to work with the consultants to see how companies were not only complex systems, but nodes in the network of much larger complex systems that they were only a tiny part of. Director Christopher Meyer set the trend with E&Y teams to try to understand workings of companies in the highly-connected global economy. McKinsey & Company, and Coopers and Lybrand soon followed. But not everyone was convinced.

1995, June, Scientific American, “From Complexity to Perplexity”, J Hogan (Journal article).

In 1995 a sceptical criticism of complexity theory was published in the Scientific American. Quite rightly too – nothing wrong with healthy debate and critique on *any* idea, especially stuff as big as this that would require a whole rethink of the way we do *everything*!

1995, September. Unilever Research, Merseyside, UK, join SFIBusiness Network. (Alliance).

In spite of the reticence from some corners of the world, however, it didn’t stop others from joining in to see the benefits of adopting the complexity science perspective. Unilever was one giant that stepped into the mix as well. The company notes about themselves, “Unilever was formed in 1930 when the Dutch margarine company Margarine Unie merged with British soapmaker Lever Brothers. Both companies were competing for the same raw materials, both were involved in large-scale marketing of household products and both used similar distribution channels. Between them, they had operations in over 40 countries. Unilever NV and Unilever PLCare the parent companies of what is today one of the largest consumer goods businesses in the world.”[8]They were no small player, and their involvement in the SFI network added significant gravitas to the endeavours of the SFI.

1996 – The Mckinsey Quarterly, 1996, Number 1, 6 & 15. “Spider Versus Spider”. J Hagel. (Journal article)

Further developments in the field of complexity science applied to business and management came by way of the realisation that competing was out and that cooperating together was in. Lewin writes: “The death of competition: In the new economy, strategy based on conventional competition and cooperation will give way to strategy based on co-evolution, as companies adapt in concert. “Web strategies turn traditional strategic thinking on its head,” says John Hagel, a consultant with McKinsey and Company. “The conventional approach dictates that firms first define their own strategy and advance its aims. Web strategy asserts that the two basic choices confronting senior management are which webs [or ecosystems] to participate in [or to form], and what role… to play in them. In other words, firm strategy follows web strategy.” In traditional business thinking based on head-to-head competition, the bottom line is win-lose: “I win, my competitor loses.” But in the more complex, co-evolutionary business environment, the bottom line is win-win, because most businesses succeed if others also succeed. Competition is part of the picture, of course, but only a part. Cooperation and building mutually beneficial networks is important, too.[9]

This resonated with the metaphor offered in ‘The Red Queen Effect’, the idea that if you are just seeing yourself in competition with others all the time, it will take all you can do to keep up and you will end up just running on the spot. In other words, not really growing along your own path, but just surviving by keeping up with the lead determined by others. Not very innovative or original, eh?

Lewin went on, “Companies can change and advance in the Darwinian, self-centered sense, but this is of limited value in the longer term. The more important challenge is to seek opportunities in a complex network of other companies, each of which might sometimes be collaborators, sometimes competitors, and sometimes both at once. In other words, the notion of competition as we know it should be allowed to die and replaced by thinking more in terms of whole systems. John Hagel also believes that the simple Darwinian metaphor is of limited value in an increasingly high-tech world. “Webs emerge from the turmoil wrought by uncertainty and change” he says. “They spread risk, increase flexibility, enhance an industry’s innovation capability, and reduce complexity for individual participants.” And, in a phrase that contains interesting biological overtones, Hagel states that “the more companies – and customers – that join, the stronger the web becomes.” Similarly, many ecologists believe that the more species there are in a community, the more productive and stable the community can be.”[10]

So, resilience and strength depends on collaborative and co-evolutionary relationships with all, rather than the so-called success of the individual.

1996 – A Brandenburger and B Nalebuff, ‘Co-opetition’, New York: Doubleday Currency, 1996. (Book)

A new word was spawned to talk about a way of doing things in line with the above. Lewin writes:

“Adam Brandenburger and Barry Nalebuff use the term ‘co-opetition’ to describe  joint strategy [see Lewin on ‘the death of competition’], a word coined by Ray Noorda, founder of the networking software company Novell. For many traditionalists in business and economics, this death of old-style, head-to-head competition as the number-one route to success will prove hard to accept, because the idea goes all the way back to the 18thcentury and the ideas of Scottish economist Adam Smith. He argued that if individuals were left free to pursue their own selfish interests, patterns of economic activity would emerge that would serve the greater good, guided, he said, ‘as if by an invisible hand.’ Almost a century later, Darwinincorporated Smith’s thinking into biology, in his theory of natural selection. The core of the theory is that individuals act in their own interests, from which the evolutionary patterns we see in the world arise. Competition in this context includes whether one species or another of, for instance, a see-eating bird will dominate in a particular ecosystem: The invisible hand at work again, this time in the biological realm. It is therefore ironic that modern economists embraced Darwinian metaphors earlier this century, raising the notion of the survival of the fittest through bitter competition to the level of a business law, and apparently believing that their business theory was being inspired by laws of nature. In effect modern economists were embracing Adam Smith’s economic theory, but in a modern, biological guise. The irony doubled, however, because just as prevailing economic wisdom elevated the power of competition to new heights in the late 1970s and 1980s in the United States and Europe, ecologists were engaged in a fierce debate over whether competition really was the dominant force traditional Darwinism held it to be. The outcome was that ecologists realized that, though important, competition was just one of the many factors that shape ecological communities. The emergent effects of ecological webs were at least as important, if not more so. The rest of the world has, however, been slow to catch up with this new perspective, because the most common popular conception of evolutionary theory is still dominated by the ideas of competition and survival of the fittest. This is the case among most business theorists and practitioners.[11]

Sad, but true, and dog-eat-dog is unfortunately the way many individuals behave as well. But the science says, “Don’t!”

1996 – Harvard Business Review. Article written by Brian Arthur of Santa Fe Institute. (Journal article).

But by the second half of the 1990s some key messages were starting to be reinforced, especially the message that businesses were part of a rich interconnected eco-system, or complex adaptive system. Lewin noted that in an article on the fast-paced world of high-technology companies, the Santa Fe Institute economist Brain Arthur used the term ecosystem (or its derivatives) seven times.[12]

“Every company is embedded in a larger complex adaptive system; that is, the economic sector in which it operates. Every company, irrespective of its economic sector, is a player in an economic web of connections that can be thought of in terms of business ecosystems. The notion of using ecosystems as a metaphor for business systems, while once considered bizarre by most managers, is now becoming more common, as the network character of the new economy is becoming ever more apparent.[13] “Pimm’s statement [see 1998 interview] about the requirements of a successful would-be invader in ecosystems is echoed with uncanny similarity in Brian Arthur’s 1996 article, when he comments on the commercial failure of Steve Job’s NeXT workstation: “A new product has to be two or three times better in some dimension – price, speed, convenience – to dislodge a locked-in rival.” No one questioned that Steve Job’s NeXT workstation was technologically excellent. Powered by chips from Motorola, the machine was easy to use, had multimedia capabilities, and was far more advanced in many ways than its competition. And yet, when it was introduced in the late 1980s it failed to achieve the kind of market share that its technical muscle might have implied. A network of connections in the form of often informal alliances among key companies, such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel, repelled the would-be invader, just as occurs in nature.[14]

So what would have made a difference? Perhaps if Steve Jobs had sought to co-evolve his new idea within the network that repelled him it would have had lift off. Then again, it might not have been the same end product; you just never can tell. We can’t go back in our time machine to find out the answer to that question, and history didn’t happen that way. Things emerged as they did at the time and that was that.

1996, March. American Programmer. “Strategic Planning in the Contemporary World”. C. Crook. (Journal article).

Therefore, further implications for managers have to do with strategy in general. Out with the linear, and in with the flexible, adaptive and networked strategy. Lewin cited Colin Crook, a former senior executive with CitiCorp, who stated: ‘We must abandon the formal, static, linear planning process… In the nonlinear world, no predictions remain valid for too long’.[15]Because business are complex adaptive systems, nested in a larger complex adaptive system (the economy), managers should always expect surprises, no matter how carefully they plan, or how simple the goal. Indeed, they should not even attempt to plan too precisely, because inevitably a linear approach will fail in some respect or other as the business environment constantly changes.[16]

In other words, change needed to recognised as a fundamental constant, in order to keep adapting in an ever shifting landscape, together with others on the landscape.

1996, July 17-19 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 1. San Francisco, CA. (Conference).

A huge insight was the need for people in business to also become more interdisciplinary. The first Embracing Complexity conference brought together visionaries from across disciplines – from the laboratory to the assembly line, in the sciences, industry, academe, and the cultural sphere – to share ideas and innovations in an environment of experimentation and fun.[17]

This interdisciplinary approach allows people to work together on common problems from different angles, and for cross-fertilisation of ideas to occur in innovative ways. But you have to be prepared to explore and discover. Another question for you there: how often do you expose yourself to different disciplines that your line of work seemingly has nothing to do with? More food for thought maybe.

1996-8 – Stuartdy of companies using complexity ideas.

Over two years towards the end of the 1990s, Birute Regine & Roger Lewin conducted a study of a dozen companies in the US & UK whose management practice was guided by principles of complexity science. This resulted in a book, called ‘The Soul at Work’. See 2000 entry. Some interesting outcomes emerged from that study, importantly in terms of the foundation of trust and respect between people to take risks while in a caring environment that tolerated failure in a healthy way.

1997, May 1 – Roger Lewin interviews Stuart Kauffman, in Cambridge, MA. (Interview).

Struggling to understand the vast interconnectedness of everything? Stuart Kauffman said: “The way to think about economic webs is in terms of niches around some kind of activity. In the days before the automobile, transport centred on the horse-drawn carriage, which required wheelwrights, blacksmiths, saddleries, way-side inns, and so on. This was the horse-drawn carriage ecosystem. Then, when automobiles arrived, a whole new ecosystem coevolved, requiring paved roads, gas stations, motels, and so on, which replaced the previous ecosystem.[18]The equivalent of food webs in the business world are economic webs, which describe patterns by which companies do business with other companies, and how. Economic webs have always existed in society, of course, But in today’s fast-moving, high-technology economy, their patterns are much more complex than they once were, and the patterns change more rapidly, too, as companies break old alliances and form new ones in the quest to survive and thrive.[19]If, as a wheelwright, for instance, you were unable to transform yourself in the face of this change [as above], perhaps to make wine barrels or rustic furniture instead, then you would go extinct, as your niche – making wooden wheels for carriages – shrinks to virtually nothing. The process of co-evolution is producing even more complex economic webs in the world of high technology, with software, hardware, and Internet companies interacting to produce a complex economic web. The co-evolutionary process can also be thought of in terms of what complexity scientists call adaptive, or fitness, landscapes. The wheelwright we spoke of can also be thought of as living on an adaptive landscape, one that describes his potential economic status, depending on whether he uses his skills to make carriage wheels, barrels, or rustic furniture. In the pre-automobile era, making wheels would represent a high peak on his landscape, whereas making barrels or furniture would be far less attractive. When the demand for wheels falls with the arrival of the car, the height of the wheel-making peak sinks dramatically, and making barrels or rustic furniture becomes strong, through a change in fashion, that peak might eventually become higher than the previously occupied wheel-making peak; that is, the wheelwright can now make more money making furniture than he ever could making wheels.” [20]

In other words, if you’re a teacher of English as a foreign language abroad, for example, but then you have to leave the country you are in due to a military coup, you can still make a living teaching English as a foreign language in another country, or even back home teaching to foreigners who have immigrated. You could also diversify and do TESOL, adapt and upskill, help English kids with private tutoring, and even work in mainstream education teaching them GCSE English in schools and colleges. I’m sure you can think of other examples of this kind of transferability necessitated by change that occurs at the macro level beyond your control.

1997, June. Rudy Ruggles, Ross Little: “” “s Littles, : “mbracing Complexity 5: Growing the Adaptive Organisation. x Adaptive Systems to Business a ‘any ways analogous Enabling Complex Adaptive Process through Knowledge Management” (Paper).

Another new domain that sprang out of the 1980s-cum-1990s was knowledge management, which was really taken up due to international competition with new competitors in countries, where manufacturing was cheaper, suddenly entering the market and putting the jitters up long established industries. Intellectual property was suddenly a big issue, and the need to manage knowledge within an organisation. A poor man’s version of knowledge management would be crippling, however, but a co-evolutionary take on knowledge management would be liberating and enabling knowledge sharing through networks with high collaborative gains.

Ruggles explained this for managers in the abstract to a paper, “Processes are supposed to take inputs, act on them, and produce output which is more valuable than the inputs. However, because of the speed of change, many processes need to adjust often if they are to maximize the value they add. This paper describes how organizations can enable complex, knowledge intensive processes to adapt to changes in their environment. We analyze processes through the lens of complexity science, a field which has focused on how groups of highly connected, intelligent agents behave. We have established a taxonomy by which organizations can identify the types of processes upon which knowledge management efforts will have the highest payoff and how knowledge can be managed in the context of these processes in input, execution, and output terms. When linked to processes that create value for the organization, knowledge management is key to ensuring that complex adaptive processes are as effective as possible, providing the foundation for a true knowledge-based business.”[21]

This almost seems old-hat to me now, as social networking and creative commons licensing have really unleashed the power of collaboration and flattened hierarchies in many respects. But do you think we have gone far enough? I certainly feel like when you blog you are giving away your knowledge and sharing it with the great and the good. Similarly, some people definitely collaborate to produce excellent and much enhanced co-evolved work together, even in the day to day of Twitter’s edu tweeping community.

1997, August 3-5 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 2, Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Conference).

The need to continue networking and drip-feeding complexity science into a multi-disciplinary field that included managers kept being recognised and delivered on. In 1997 “Scientists, practitioners, translators, educators and business managers were” again “brought together to participate in a conversation around the application of complexity science to business.”[22]

And large firms kept getting involved.

1997, September – BTexact Technologies, Ipswich UK, join SFI Business Network. (Alliance).

One of those large firms was the UKs British Telecom. They said about themselves, “BTexact Technologies is BT‘s advanced communication technologies business, helping businesses and organisations gain maximum advantage from communications technology, creating value and competitive advantage by combining a deep knowledge of networks and networked applications with proven skills in business consulting, change management and innovation. Collaboration with leading academic departments has always been part of our research capability. They are now extending this collaborative ethic through research projects with partners in business and government. They say they have seen that the best ideas often emerge through bringing together people from diverse backgrounds, with commercial and technical insight contributing specialist expertise in return for a share of the reward”.[23]Key employees were engaged to investigate how to best apply complexity science learning into the organisation and its practice. Many outcomes were gained. I’ll blog about these separately another time.

1998, January – Roger Lewin, Teresa Parker, Birute Regine: “Complexity Theory and the Organisation: Beyond the Metaphor.” (Article).

Many people worked hard to apply complexity science learning to organisational life and practice. Lewin and Regine were interested in the interactions between people within organisations in working life. Find the article online at: They summed up their key findings in the abstract:

“To look at business organizations as complex adaptive systems is to see their properties as emerging from the interactions among people in the workplace. The metaphor accords with experience because it suggests that the essence of business organization is what individuals do, not what executives plan. The paper examines two investigations, both based on this CASview, but very different in approach. The first uses an agent-based computer model of social behavior known as Sugarscape, developed by Robert Axtell and Joshua Epstein of the Brookings Institution.[i]The second is a framework developed by Roger Lewin and Birute Regine that categorizes the interpersonal relationships among the members of an organization.”[24]

The interpersonal relationships side of things went on to focus mainly on the pre-mentioned topic of trust, care and supported risk-taking and failure. This as a message is mentioned time and again in terms of the growth mindset now. I’m sure you all now what I’m talking about.

1998, May 1 – Roger Lewin interviews Stuart Pimm, A University of Tennesseeecologist (Interview). 

The relevance of biology to other systems was still being refined and Lewin kept on reporting on this topic. Following an interview with ecologist, Stuart Pimm, he writes: “In ecology, the traditional view was encapsulated in the phrase, “The Balance of Nature,” in which ecosystems were seen to rest at equilibrium until they were disturbed, then found a new equilibrium. However, just as in economics, the shape of the ‘eco-bowl’ is constantly changing, causing constant fluctuations in species’ populations in ecosystems, the result not just of external changes but of internal dynamics, too. “Ecologists didn’t deny that complex dynamics exist in nature,” says Stuart Pimm, “But they explained them as the result of genuinely unpredictable factors in the external world, such as fluctuations in climate. More and more of us are beginning to realize that these behaviours are emergent properties of the internal dynamics of the system itself.”[25]

“One such emergent property is the ability of an established ecosystem to exclude a would-be invading species, even when the latter is competitively superior to its potential rival within the community. The network of species’ interconnections in a mature ecosystem, of which the would-be invader’s rival is an established part, protects the incumbent species from outside competition. Pimm says that “the potential invader has to be very much more competitively superior, if it is to surmount this system level effect,” which he has seen in ecosystems simulated in the computer, and in real habitats in Hawaii. Pimm’s statement about the requirements of a successful would-be invader in ecosystems is echoed with uncanny similarity in Brian Arthur’s 1996 Harvard Business Review article, when he comments on the commercial failure of Steve Job’s NeXT workstation…”[26]

This has already been referred to above, as has the need to respond to this learning point by collaborating with others in a co-evolutionary manner. The right qualities would be needed to do this of course. I.e. top-down, command-control management styles wouldn’t really work, would they? Not with other members of a network characterised by decentralised control and therefore a flattened hierarchy.

1998, August 2-4 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 3: Exploring the Application of Complex Adaptive Systems to Business. Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Conference).

By the end of the 90s the interdisciplinary complexity conference crowd were starting to deliver some tangible lessons. The CBI reported, “Embracing Complexity 3 demonstrated the power of partnership between science and business. Attendees learned from innovators who were implementing complexity-based approaches to facilitate investment decision-making, organize and inspire teams and re-evaluate corporate strategies. The conference allowed those in attendance to consider with leading journalists and academics the challenges of translating these concepts to their own organizations.” [27]

Clearly, scientific management legacies were being weighed in the balance, and not just found wanting, but being replaced with better things.

1998, winter. Sloan Management Review. ‘Strategy Innovation and Quest for Value’. G Hamel (Journal article).

In terms of realising the potential of complexity science for innovation, Gary Hamel made it clear that a key lesson was not to have senior management taking the lead, but to enable preconditions within an organisation so that innovation could flourish from the bottom-up. Gary Hamel (strategy consultant) wrote: “Once we start thinking of strategy as an emergent phenomenon, you realize that we have often attacked the wrong end of the problem. Strategists and senior executives have too often worked on ‘the strategy’, rather than on the preconditions that could give rise to strategy innovation… Order without careful crafting – I’d like to suggest that is the goal of strategizing.”[28]

As implications for practice, Lewin writes: “Rather than setting goals and setting the route to reach them, the manager should create the conditions that will nurture creativity, rather than try too assiduously to direct that creativity; otherwise creativity is more likely to be stifled rather than enhanced.”[29]

1998 – J H Holland, ‘Emergence: From Chaos to Order’. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1998. (Book).

Meanwhile, John Holland published in more depth on the topic of emergence as applicable to organisations in business. Lewin explained:

“Emergence can be described as a holistic phenomenon, because the whole is more than the sum of the parts. But John (Holland) balks at loose use of the word, because it is often enveloped in a veil of impenetrability. “I hear people talk about holism in a way that avoids investigation,” John observes. “I hear people say that because the business environment is a complex system, is holistic, you can’t plan. It’s a bit like saying I can’t plan in playing chess, because there are so many ramifications, and I don’t know what my opponent will do, and so on. All of that is true, but I’m not going to do well at chess if I don’t plan, am I?” We had a lively discussion about the issue of ‘control’ in such systems, because one of the tenets of complexity science is that you have little control of emergent patterns, and yet here John was talking about planning in chess. We eventually agreed that, yes, you can have control over moving the individual pieces, but you can only influence the unfolding pattern. “The same is true in business,” John observed.[30]

Hollandelaborated further: “The Greeks argued that all machines can be constructed by combining six elementary mechanisms, namely the lever, the screw, the inclined plane, the wedge, the wheel and the pulley. In an intuitive way, this leads me to look at emergence in terms of elementary mechanisms and procedures for combining them. It’s the interaction among these mechanisms, or building blocks, that generates emergence.” John goes on to argue that a complex system that is produced by the combination of one set of building blocks can itself become a building block for a ‘higher’ system, and so on, in an inclusive layering, or hierarchy. For example, a business is a complex adaptive system in itself, generated by the interaction of the building blocks (people’s behavior) within it; the business is then a building block in the larger complex adaptive system, which is the business sector in which it operates; and the business sector is a building block of a still larger complex adaptive system, the national economy; finally, national economies are building blocks in the global economy. “It’s building blocks all the way down,” John quips, “and I’d like to get to the notion of what that means.”[31]

Lewin asked John what the implications were for managers when they recognized that a business was a complex adaptive system. “It lets you see that it is not a fixed, monolithic structure,” he responded. “At the end of a fifteen year period, hardly anyone who was in a company at the beginning will still be there, and yet the company will still be there. You can thing of complex adaptive systems as emergent patterns that persist even when you have a turnover of their constituent parts, like a standing wave in front of rock in a fast-running river. The wave remains constant, even though the water molecules change all the time. It’s the same with the human body. The molecules in our tissues are being replaced all the time, so that after two years almost all will be new ones, and yet you remain the same person… Managers have a tendency to focus too closely on the bottom line, the quarterly results. But there are many things that go on in a business whose value will be realized only years or decades in the future, particularly n innovation. This is what I call paying attention to the long horizon.”[32]

I’ll let you draw out your own implications for practice from that – it’s not hard, is it? Surely, at the simplest level, a major thing would be to stop obsessing about short term targets, or numerical goals. It must surely start to become about the qualitative patterns emerging from between many people playing in the longer game.

1999 – Lewin, R. “Complexity: Life at the edge of chaos.” 2nd edition. University of Chicago Press: Chicago (Book – With after-word examining business thinking in framework of complexity science).

Lewin’s second edition made clear more tangible implications for managers in practice. He said, “Complexity science implies that CEOs and managers must give up control – or, rather, the illusion of control – when they are trying to lead their organization to some goal. But they do need to create the environment in which creativity can emerge. The message of complexity science is not simply to stand back and wait for the right solutions to emerge. Too little control is just as misguided a business strategy as too much. Some structure is necessary. The degree and nature of control that CEOs establish in their companies strongly influences what emerges, in terms of culture, creativity, and adaptability.”[33]

 “Parallels between business communities and ecosystems are intriguing, and they flow from the fact that both are complex adaptive systems. This being the case, there are some disconcerting implications for business executives. The first rule of complex adaptive systems is that it is almost impossible to predict who is a friend and who is an enemy. Ecological field experiments, in which a predator is removed from a community, illustrate this point. The predator’s prey, species A, might be expected to thrive, because it is no longer being prayed upon. But about half the time species A suffers when the predator has gone, because the predator has another prey species, B, which is A’s competitor. With its population no longer kept in check by the predator, species B may then push species A to local extinction through being competitively superior. These effects are only one or two steps into the network, and yet we are already in the midst of uncertainty. Venture a few more steps, and it becomes almost impossible to work out combinations of harm and good: This is complete uncertainty.[34]

“In the business ecosystem, CEOs face the same problem of working out who is a friend and who is an enemy, and how this might change as the environment changes. Not merely competitive interactions are important in the business ecosystem, but rather the entire complex of interactions. In addition, being part of an interconnected network of companies – the business ecosystem – has dangers as well as benefits. The benefits include the opportunity to reap great rewards through forming alliances, and thriving within the network, protected from potential invaders. But this same interconnectedness that protects ecosystem members also poses the threat of disaster. When everything is connected directly to everything else, changes in one part of the system may be propagated throughout the system, and sometimes organizations may go extinct through no fault of their own. This is an example of small changes provoking large effects, with innocent victims suffering as a result. [35]

“These aspects of complex systems – unpredictability and the possibility of extinction because of changes in other parts of the system – are distinctly unnerving to those who cherish predictability and control. Embracing complexity in the business context is not particularly comforting. The strength of complexity science lies in giving business a perspective that is grounded in reality. [36]

We could compare this to the uncertainty and unpredictability that comes in the education sector, largely due to the whim of the government minister in role at the time, and the outcomes on the day of a weird Ofsted visit.

1999, April 11 – Warsh, D. “Untangling Economic Complexity” in BostonGlobe, Sec. F, P1.

Complexity science was hitting the headlines – perhaps it had hit a peak of faddism? The Boston Globe ran an article, which asked the question, “What to make of the current vogue of ‘complexity Studies’ in finance and economics’? It said a good start had been made but there was a long way to go. There still is.

1999, July 25-27 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 4: The Adaptive Enterprise. The CambridgeMarriott, Cambridge, MA. (Conference)

The CBI interdisciplinary conferences continued and more lessons for management practice were shared: You “must be more agile, responsive, and connected to adapt to marketplace changes. Complex natural systems must also evolve, and constantly reinvent themselves as the environment shifts. During our 4th annual Embracing Complexityconference we explored adaptation in the connected economy through the lens of complexity science.”[37]

Agility, responsivity, connectivity and adaptivity became big themes.

2000 – Lewin, R., & Regine, B. “The Soul at Work: embracing the power of complexity science for business success.” (Book).

Regine and Lewin published the result of their research carried out in organisations between 1996-8. It was all about trust, care, support in the workplace, and tolerated risk taking and failure. Growth mindset? Oh yes.

2000, April 25-27. CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 5: Growing the Adaptive Organization. Paris, France. (Conference).

The CBI interdisciplinary conference team started to use the conference space to experiment in co-evolutionary ways in real time. The CBI reported, “Recent breakthroughs in our understanding of nonlinear dynamics point to a new way of looking at the world. The science of complex adaptive systems, or complexity, suggest that eco-systems, economies, and even social systems may evolve according to unifying principles. EC5 brings together visionaries from across disciplines to share ideas and innovation in an environment of experimentation.”[38]

That was all in the States of course. Meanwhile, back in Europe

2000, June. Menno Marien, Jeroen Kemp and Frank Wagner submit Kompass proposal (idea).

This ultimately took shape as RODEO project (the one I worked on while employed as a researcher at Cranfield University, UK), but the initial goal was to bring together in an EC context researchers and practitioners to investigate and improve strategic business development, knowledge-based and networked. When Kompass was rejected, it was then put forward as LISS.

2000 – 2001 – Chacosynthesis project (Research).

Although this was by now in the background, work on the Chaco Canyonwas still ongoing, “The Chaco Synthesis Project , now in progress (dated May 2000), will summarize archaeological work completed by the Chaco Project (1971- 1982). A series of five conferences and a final “capstone” conference will consolidate information concerning different aspects of Chaco archaeology. Subject-matter experts will produce two publications, and a popular publication will also be produced.”[39]

2001, April. LISS submitted (idea).

The Kompass project proposal was rejected by the European Commision, so LISS was put together instead. LISS was also rejected, and new project put forward as RODEO.

2001, August. Baillie Gifford, Edinburgh, Scotland, join SFIBusiness Network (Alliance).

The interest in the SFI business network was still going strong. Investment company Baillie Gifford were keen to jump in. They said about themselves, “Baillie Gifford has been one of the success stories of the investment management industry in the last 20 years. In a period where expansion through acquisition has been an industry trend Baillie Gifford has managed to expand organically at a rapid rate, growing funds under management and advice by more than 40 times in the last 20 years. In a period when the ownership of financial firms and their management have become more distanced Baillie Gifford has prospered through its partnership structure and independent status. These have enabled the firm to adapt quickly to changing circumstances and to be at the leading edge of modern financial management systems and thinking.”[40]

Adaptive responses to change were obviously a key interest, and one that complexity science has much to offer on.

2001, October/November. RODEO proposal submitted and accepted (idea and success).

A complexity science project to integrate learning from the domain with knowledge intensive businesses in the EU was finally accepted in 2001. People involved up to that stage included: Menno Marien, Jeroen Kemp, Frank Wagner, Gianni Sabastiano, Steve Evans, Agnes Bradier, Michael Wunram, Frithjof Weber, Marc Pudlatz and Fiona Lettice. I was just finishing my undergraduate degree at the time, but got involved as a researcher the following year.

2002, March 13. CBINetwork Global Web Cast: The Adaptive Enterprisein Action(Duration: 60 minutes Web cast)

To take their learning global, the CBI network delivered a global web cast, setting their stake in the ground thus:  “There is no doubt that highly connected systems are more volatile. If the past two years were about connections—among business units, companies, and even industries—the next will be about adapting to the highly volatile environment in which business is conducted. Those organizations that see volatility as a permanent condition, and not a bump along the path of strategy execution, will be the ones that survive and thrive. Tom Manning, Global Managing Director of CGEY’s Strategy & Transformation Practice described how companies can become more flexible by applying the Adaptive Enterprise framework and principles. Tom specifically discussed CGEY’s approach to working with clients and cited recent examples of work in this area. Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, largely through the Center for Business Innovation’s pioneering research into the science of complex adaptive systems, is emerging as a leader in this important field.”[41]

The big themes emerging for management to contend with were consolidating around maintaining strong networks to be resilient and adaptable in turbulent conditions.

2002, April

Finally, the EC project RODEO got started – the kick off was in Bremen, Germany. The full project title was, ‘Robust Development of Organisations – Adaptation through Complex Business Development within Turbulent Environments’ (EC Project: IST-2001-35329, April 2002 – September 2004). The vision of the RODEO project was to build up a coherent perception of the modern business organisation, grounded in complexity theory.  Based on that construct, an integrated approach and respective instruments for business development would be built, where the key focus was on achieving adaptability and robustness in turbulent environments.  “Business development” was understood as the holistic and continuous process of developing and aligning products/services and different markets with the organisation’s employees and competency sets. Partners included: The Bremen Institute of Industrial Technology and Applied Work Science, University of Bremen – Germany; University of Stuttgart, Institute for Technology Management and Human Factors – Stuttgart, Germany; Competitive Design Network (CDN) – Rubi, Spain; Cezanne Software – Italy; Innovation Ecology – Israel; Innovation Network Austria GmbH (INNA) – Austria; Skandia Group – Stockholm, Sweden;  INDRA – Spain; Hoffmann GmbH – Pforzheim, Germany; CCSO – The Network of CIM Centres of Western Switzerland, and, last but not least Cranfield University, at the International Ecotechnology Research Centre (which is where I ended up working).

Conclusions in brief…

The history I’ve presented is relative to the context and discipline I am writing from. There is no definitive history of complexity science, just many histories. The telling of history then is understood in both an individualised frame of reference (my own) and socially constructed in a field of already present defined ideas and knowledge. Take this as you will and extract the relevant bits for yourself. There are obvious implications for practice you can make on your own, but if you would like to chat about any of this, comment here or tweet me at @cazzwebbo … there’s more to come by the way… just in case you thought that part 3 was the end (there’s probably another trilogy up my sleeve ;-))

[1] Lewin (1999:18-19)
[2] Lewin (1999:204)
[3] Lewin (pp x.)
[4] Lewin (1999:199)
[5] – accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[6] Lewin (1999:200)
[7] Lewin (1999:202-3)
[8]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[9] Lewin (1999:208)
[10] Lewin (1999:209)
[11] Lewin (1999:209)
[12] Lewin (1999:204)
[13] Lewin (1999:203-4)
[14] Lewin (1999:205-6)
[15] Lewin (1999:202)
[16] Lewin (1999:202)
[17] www.cbi.cgey– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[18] Lewin (1999:206)
[19] Lewin (1999:206-7)
[20] Lewin (1999:206-7)
[21] 1997, June. Rudy Ruggles, Ross Little: “” “s Littles, : “mbracing Complexity 5: Growing the Adaptive Organisation. x Adaptive Systems to Business a ‘any ways analogous Enabling Complex Adaptive Process through Knowledge Management” (Paper).
[22]– accessed 2nd September 2002.
[23]– accessed week commencing 2 Sept 2002
[25] Lewin (1999:205)
[26] Lewin (1999:205)
[27]– accessed week commencing 2 September 2002.
[28] Lewin (1999:202)
[29] Lewin (1999:202)
[30] Lewin (1999:218)
[31] Lewin (1999:219)
[32] Lewin (1999:220-1)
[33] Lewin (1999:200)
[34] Lewin (1999:210)
[35] Lewin (1999:210)
[36] Lewin (1999:210)
[37] – accessed week commencing 2 September 2002.
[38]– accessed week commencing 2 September 2002.
[39]– accessed week commencing 2 September 2002.
[40] – accessed week commencing 2 September 2002.
[41]– accessed week commencing 2 September 2002.


Complexity Sci Potted History Part 2: Like the Whirlpool in the Treacherous Sea of Complex Systems Dynamics

Potted History of Complexity Science: Part 2: The 20th Century CatchUp

Ok, there’s going to be more than two parts… if you are wondering what on earth this is all about, please see my previous blog post by way of a very long introduction. I’m interweaving organisation theory with complexity science and the life sciences here, in chronological order, a potted history at warp speed…

1900s – 1950s: A period of ‘classical’ approach to organization theory

Key thinkers of this era contributed to what Hatch[1]defined as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. Hatch uses a machine as the metaphor of organization theory with a classical perspective, where the image of the organization is seen as a machine designed and constructed by management to achieve predefined goals. The image of the manager is as an engineer who designs, builds and operates the organizational machine.[2]  She said: “There are two streams contained within what organization theorists now call the Classical School. The sociological stream focused on the changing shapes and roles of formal organizations within society and the broader influences of industrialization on the nature of work and its consequences for workers. This was the interest of Classical scholars such as Emile Durkheim, Max Weber and Karl Marx. The other stream comprises what organization theorists sometimes call Classical management theory to distinguish it from the more sociological approach. This stream was shaped by Frederick Taylor, Henri Fayol, and Chester Barnard, among others, and focused on the practical problems faced by managers of industrial organizations.[3]

The mechanical metaphor assumes that top-down control of people and the organisation is possible, and that all parts of the machine will act as desired by the one in control. The metaphor doesn’t allow for the free will, spontaneity or creativity of the humans within it, and nor does it allow for general unpredictable outcomes emerging from within, between or external to it. Complexity science does seek to permit a description of all those things in harmony with any processes and flows within the organisation.  While the classical period had many proponents who applied the mechanistic metaphor in practice, for management the key figurehead in particular had to be Taylor, the father of ‘Taylorism’.

1911 F. W. Taylor, ‘Founder of Scientific Management’, America

Hatch[4]labels Taylor as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. She said: “At the turn of the century, Frederick W Taylor proposed applying scientific methods to discover the most efficient working techniques for manual forms of labour… The new system permitted management to define the tasks that workers performed, and also to determine how they approached these tasks… Taylor’s method shifted control of work tasks from craftsworkers to management… Taylor’s system undermined the authority of the workers and their master craftsmen by introducing managerial control and supervision, and by offering differential pay for performance which eroded worker solidarity… These aspects of Scientific Management earned it considerable and lasting ill-repute as being ruinously ignorant of the trust and cooperation between management and workers upon which organizations depend. So much furore was created by Taylor that Scientific Management was the subject of an American Congressional investigation. This controversy has recently re-emerged in postmodern criticism of modernist management practices where Taylorism and its subsequent developments by Henry Ford (involving the mass-production assembly line which some postmodernists refer to as Fordism) are a favorite target along with the Tayloristic practices associated with the total quality management (TQM) movement. Today, postmodern organization theorists reinterpret Taylorism as an early manifestation of the managerial ideology of control.”[5]

In reference to the prevailing style of management seen now, Lewin says this was developed early this century by F W Taylor. Lewin writes, “His book, The Principles of Scientific Management, became a classic in management literature, and its effect lingers today. Taylor was strongly influenced by prevailing scientific thought, particularly Newton’s laws of motion and the new science of thermodynamics, which together allowed scientists to calculate how a machine could operate with maximum efficiency. Taylor imposed this collective, mechanistic paradigm of science on the world of work, where he became obsessed with efficiency as applied to organizations. There was tremendous waste of effort, he said, because management was unscientific. In the best reductionist tradition, Taylor analysed the system down to its component parts, saw how each worked, and then sought the ‘one best method’ to attain the greatest possible efficiency. Workers, he said, were to be viewed as ‘passive units of production’, and the system, or the workplace, was like a machine. The job of the manager was to ensure that the machine ran smoothly. The workers, while offered financial incentives for faster work, were merely cogs in the machine. The system was extremely hierarchical, with workers expected simply to carry out their narrowly-defined jobs. Taylorism was responsible for tremendous increases in productivity in the workplace, and effectively created modern Industrial Age management. Although management theory has undergone many revisions since the early decades of the century, particularly with the impact of Peter Drucker’s thinking, Taylorism still remains the dominant influence today, with the machine model of business as its core, and embodied in a command and control style of management.”[6]

Taylorism therefore took the mechanistic metaphor to the next level, and although you could argue in favour of some of the outcomes of it for the supposed ‘benefit’ of society (mobilisation of the workforce, industrialisation and economic growth), as indicated above there is so, so, so much criticism. If workers were just carrying out narrowly defined jobs, where was their own thinking and initiative? Had they been stripped of their ‘agency’? Many workers were suddenly not ‘required’ to think, and definitely didn’t have permission to act on their own thinking if they did. This style of management also drove the idea that failure wasn’t ok, because you’d never design a machine to fail intentionally, would you? Risk taking and innovation by the general rank and file was out of the question. The natural ebb and flow of processes emerging from the interactions between people, as complexity science would shed light on, had been stripped out.

1879 – 1955 – Albert Einstein, Germany/Switzerland/US

Meanwhile though, great minds were at work, including Einstein. “Einsteincontributed more than any other scientist to the modern vision of physical reality. His special and general theories of relativity are still regarded as the most satisfactory model of the large-scale universe that we have.”[7]However, it was not only his theories that provided the foundations for more recent developments in science. He himself provided inspiration. Einstein’s famous quote ‘Searching for the secrets of the old one’ – was an inspiration to Stuart Kauffman’s work on Boolean networks, who said, ‘I thought that the Old One wouldn’t fool around, that there’d be some deep logic out there, and I thought I’d glimpsed it in the random Boolean nets.’[8]

During this time period is where you’d start to be accused of being esoteric if your thinking diverged from the dominant mechanistic metaphor. So harking to something other than prescriptive top-down management control, such as, for example, creative scientific genius, or the existence of some deity like spirit or force that gave room for reverence of a spiritual appreciation of the more organic flow of physical reality, was more than a little bit left field. But why was it? Wasn’t this just calling to how things were? The spiritual dimension was of course the only place to call to if the mechanistic metaphor held sway. Like Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’, there was the feeling that there was something more, something else, behind and conflicting with our own imposed delusions of limited control. Although Einstein was heavily involved with contributing to quantum mechanics, he didn’t fully buy into ‘uncertainty’.

And for now, the mechanistic metaphor was more than just a metaphor. It had become reality. And Henri Fayol embedded more deeply that which Taylorwas advocating.

1919 – Henri Fayol, Engineer, CEO, and Administrative Theorist, France

Hatch[9]labels Fayol as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. “Fayol presented what he believed to be universal principles for the rational administration of organizational activities… The principles themselves involved issues such as span-of-control (the number of subordinates that can be overseen by one manager); exceptions (subordinates should deal with routine matters, leaving managers free to handle situations that existing rules do not address); departmentation (the grouping of activities such that similar activities form departments within the organization); unity of command (each subordinate should report to only one boss); and hierarchy (the scalar principle linked all organizational members into a control structure that resembled a pyramid)… Fayol specified the responsibilities of the manager: planning, organizing, command, coordination and control.”[10]The mechanistic metaphor was becoming more and more ingrained in working life. At the same time, it was being used to describe and harness the masses on a social scale, too.

1924 – Max Weber, Sociologist, Germany

Hatch[11]labels Weber as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. “Like Durkheim, German sociologist Max Weber was interested in defining the key characteristics of industrial societies, one of which he saw as an unavoidable increase in bureaucracy. In contrast to feudal and other traditional forms of organizing, Weber emphasized the rational virtues of bureaucracy which included formal authority based on precise and generalized rules and procedures (described as legalistic forms of control)… Weber credited bureaucracy with being objective and impersonal and therefore unbiased and rational (hence his label for this new form was rational-legal authority). [12]Weber himself, however, apparently recognized that the uses of rationalization rest upon value-based criteria. Evidence for this is found in his distinction between formal and substantive rationality. Formal rationality involved techniques of calculation, while substantive rationality refers to the desired ends of action that direct the uses of calculative techniques. Different desired ends will lead to different uses of formal rationality. Weber warned that formal rationality without conscious consideration of substantive rationality leads to an ‘iron cage’ capable of imprisoning humanity and making man a ‘cog in an ever-moving mechanism’. Such sentiments position Weber close to postmodern critics of modernist organization theory, while his interest in values is carried on by symbolic-interpretive researchers.” [13]

Weber therefore identified some of the things that were emerging out of the industrialised, mechanistic metaphor, top-down control era. His forecast wasn’t rosy. The iron cage would be a trap. I’d be inclined to agree. Therefore, how refreshing to have thinking offered by complexity science to liberate us? Maybe. Thinking that would contribute to complexity science was bubbling away beneath the surface.

1932 – Niels Bohr discovered the basic structure of the atom

Physicist Niels Bohr, a promoter of vitalism, said: “The recognition of the essential importance of fundamentally atomistic features in the functions of living organisms is by no means sufficient for a comprehensive explanation of biological phenomena”. Bohr’s vitalism, which derived from his quantum physics, gained some popularity for a while. At the same time, some biologists continued to argue that the laws of chemistry and physics alone were insufficient to explain important features of life, not because of the addition of some kind of élan vital, but because of emergent complexity.”[14]

Emergent complexity… bubbling away.

1938 – ChesterBarnard, Management Theorist, America

Hatch[15]labels Barnard as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. “Barnard extended Durkheim’s idea of informal organization to Classical management theory by suggesting that managing this aspect of organizing was a key function of the successful executive. Barnard emphasized the ways in which executives might develop their organizations into cooperative social systems by focusing on the integration of work efforts through communication of goals and attention to worker motivation, ideas that made a more direct contribution to the field of organizational behavior than to organization theory. However, the significance Barnard and his followers attached to the cooperative aspects of organizations is sometimes blamed for having blinded early organization theorists to the importance of conflict as a fundamental aspect of all organizations. Nonetheless, the consideration Barnard gave to issues of value and sentiment in the workplace identified themes that are echoed in contemporary research on organizational culture, meaning, and symbolism.”[16]From a complexity science point of view, at least Barnard was acknowledging the importance of the interaction between people as a locus for change, albeit still with a top-down, command-control intent.

1950s à‘Modernist’ inspiration to organization theory

Key thought of this era contributed to what Hatch[17]defined as a ‘modern(ist)’ inspiration to organization theory. The metaphor of the modern perspective of organization theory is an organism. The image of the organization is seen as a living system that performs the functions necessary to survival – especially adaptation to a hostile world. The image of the manager is as an interdependent part of an adaptive system.[18]At least we’re moving now in an interesting direction beyond the mechanistic metaphor.

“General systems theory … inspired much of the modern approach to organization theory, and helps sustain continued allegiance to modernism among many contemporary organization theorists. In the 1950s, German biophysiologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy presented a theory intended to explain all scientific phenomena across both natural and social sciences from the atom and the molecule, through the single cell, organ, and organism, all the way up to the level of individuals, groups and societies. He recognized that all these phenomena were related – societies contain groups, groups contain individuals, individuals are comprised of organs, organs of cells, cells of molecules, and molecules of atoms. To generalize, he referred to all of these phenomena as systems. Bertalanffy then sought the essential laws and principles that would explain all systems. Thus, the theory he envisioned involved generalizations drawn at such a high level of abstraction that the essence of all scientific knowledge would be clarified and integrated. He called this General Systems Theory… GST knocked down some of the barriers between the sciences, proposing cross-disciplinary research as a revolution in the way science is conducted. To understand the importance of systems thinking for organization theory, it is first necessary to grasp the concept of a system. A system is a thing with inter-related parts. Each part is conceived as affecting the others and each depends upon the whole… This idea of interrelated parts (in systems theory these are called subsystems) emphasizes that, while all systems can be analytically broken down for the purposes of scientific Study, their essence can only be identified when the system in confronted as a whole. This is because subsystem interdependence produces features and characteristics that are unique to the system as a whole. The implication is that, to comprehend a system, you must not merely analyze (or synthesize or integrate), you must also be willing to transcend the view of the individual parts to encounter the entire system at its own level of complexity.”[19]

Ok, good. Increasing acceptance of holism and interconnectivity and interrelatedness of everything. But still a little ahistoric, and a bit atomistic/reductionist due to assumption of the need to break things down into component parts to study them. Moving on then…

1961 – Conrad Waddington quote

Conrad Waddington said:  “Vitalism amounted to the assertion that living things do not behave as though they were nothing but mechanisms constructed of mere material components; but this presupposes that one knows what mere material components are and what kind of mechanisms they can be built into.” Waddington was an emergentist, but not a vitalist. He believed that the assembly of a living organism is subject to physical laws, but that their product is not derivable from the laws themselves. In many ways, the new science of Complexity is heir to this line of reasoning. It is a new emergentism, a potentially far more powerful brand than any of its predecessors.”[20] All influential thinking for Stuart Kauffman, a major proponent for complexity science thinking.

1961 Stuart Kauffman goes to Oxford

Stuart Kauffman went to Magdalen College, Oxford Uni – read philosophy, psychology and physiology. Discovered a facility for inventing theories to explain whatever challenge he was presented in psychology, including aspects of neural networks. Then decided on Medical School.[21]Neural networks are a very interesting example of interacting agents in a highly interconnected system, a key metaphor for complexity scientists.

Early 1960’s – Breakthroughs in genetic understanding

This was a special time for molecular biology. Two French researchers, Francois Jacob and Jacques Monod made breakthroughs in understanding the regulation of gene activity and their work was recognized by the Nobel Prize Committee.[22]Results from this work enabled a whole raft of ‘new’ thinking.

1963 Brian Goodwin publishes his book, ‘Temporal Organization in Cells.’

Work in the biology field was now getting interesting. It’s amazing how all these themes and disciplines are interconnected and interwoven and how you can make sense of the practical value of all this retrospectively, and how even biology and physics have to do with how you are managed in the workplace.

“Brian Goodwin had studied biology at McGill University, Canada, then mathematics at Oxford a few years earlier than Stuart Kauffman, and had pursued a doctorate at Edinburgh University under C. H. Waddington, one of the recent major figures of British Biology. Waddington believed passionately that organisms must be studied as wholes, and that the principal challenge of biology was to understand the genesis of form. Entranced with this holistic approach, Brian integrated it with the molecular biology of Jacob and Monod, and produced a theory of how gene activity and oscillating levels of biochemicals could contribute to biological form. ‘Temporal Organization in Cells’ was his thesis in book form. … The book was an attempt to show how molecular control systems, such as feedback, repression, control of enzyme activity – in other words, the intrinsic local logic of a complex system – gave rise naturally and spontaneously to oscillatory behaviour and global patterns. Such behaviour is an important component of living systems, such as circadian rhythms and the periodic activity of hormone and enzyme systems.”[23]

So the main point to take from this is that natural behaviour in systems is for interaction to occur within and between interconnected parts and from those interactions spontaneous, novel emergence of patterns will occur.  This theme was seen to repeat across more and more natural and living systems. As Stuart Kauffman was also finding out.

1964 Stuart Kauffman at Berkeleyfor premedical education

Stuart obsessed with embryology, particularly how embryonic cells differentiate, forming muscle cells, nerve cells, cells of connective tissue and so on. He said: “Everything was coming into place, the Jacob/Monod ideas, even the networks I’d played around with in Oxford.” Stuart reasoned that it was all but impossible for natural selection to orchestrate the activity of the one hundred thousand genes in the human genome so as to generate the range of some 250 different cell types. He said, “I had a different solution. Imagine that the genes are as a network, each either active or inactive depending on the inputs from other genes. But imagine that the links between the genes are randomly assigned. The counterintuitive result is that you do get order, and in a most remarkable way.”[24](Systems of this sort are known as random Boolean networks – see entry on George Boole – 1815.)

A perspective emphasising a network view of things was becoming stronger, where seemingly random interactions between ‘members’ of a network were seen to produce order, or emergence, on another level. Something new.

1965 Stuart Kauffman, a 2ndyear med Student @ uni of California, San Fran’

Kauffman worked with Boolean networks a lot[25] [the network proceeds through a series of so-called states. At a given instant, each element in the network examines the signals arriving from the links with the other elements and then is active or inactive, according to its rules for reacting to the signals. The network then proceeds to the next state, whereupon the process repeats itself. And so on. Under certain circumstances a network may proceed through all its possible states before repeating any one of them. In practice, however, the network at some point hits a series of states around which it cycles repeatedly. Known as a state cycle, this repeated series of states is in effect an attractor in the system, like the whirlpool in the treacherous sea of complex systems dynamics. A network can be thought of as a complex dynamical system and is likely to have many such attractors.] Kauffman worked on networks by hand, “My pharmacology notebooks are full of them, all up and down the margins”. The number of possible states even in small modestly connected networks rises rapidly as you increase the number of elements and hand-calculated networks soon become unmanageable. To go beyond about 8 elements, a computer is necessary. Kauffman said: “I got some guy to teach me to program and prepared for my first run – a network with a hundred elements, each with two inputs, randomly assigned” – so he had to shuffle the programming cards.[26]

“He [Kauffman] went to the school’s computer centre to prove he was right and that the entire biological community from Darwindown was wrong; “There I was, shuffling this pack of cards, then handing them to the programmer. This was when you fed your program and data into a computer on a set of punched cards. If the program was to work then the cards had to be in perfect order. One card out of place and the machine was likely to spew out garbage. And there was I, shuffling my data cards, randomizing them.” He felt that the conventional explanation for the origins of order in the world of nature had to be wrong.”[27]This modest network had some 1030 possible states, a mere hundred trillion times the age of the universe, measured at one state per second. The computer ran a good deal faster than one state a second. Even so, had the network ventured just the minutest way into its territory of total possible states before hitting a state cycle, the program would have run for days. But, he said: “I was lucky. It went into a state cycle after going through just sixteen states, and the cycle itself was only four states… it’s the crystallization of order out of massively disordered systems. It’s order for free.”[28]

Kauffman read Brian Goodwin’s ‘Temporal Organization in Cells’, and thought, “Oh, he’s got there first … then … hey, I don’t understand this. What’s it all about… He’s got it wrong.” The core of the book – the generation of order as an inevitable product of the dynamics of the system – resonated powerfully with Stuart’s view of the world. He immediately sent Brian a copy of the early results from the Boolean networks, but didn’t enter into correspondence.[29]

The emerging point of the day though, was that state cycles were significant: systems seeming to fall into chaordic disorder would happen on a regular basis, and from this disorder would arise new, emergent order.

1968 Ludwig von Bertalanffy

Although all these advancements were being made in the life sciences, application reaching into organisation theory was a bit slower. Hatch[30]labels Bertalanffy as a ‘modern’ inspiration to organization theory.  “The modernist view is based on the belief that there is an objective, physical reality in question and thus any perspective is but a different view of the same thing.”[31]As a general systems theorist, Bertalanffy promoted a systemic view of interconnected systems within a boundary, but didn’t really advance to looking at how the interconnected elements of a system might co-evolve over time, which is what complexity science became all about really.

1980s à  ‘Symbolic-interpretive’ inspiration to organization theory’

It wasn’t really until the 1980s that organisational theory was really beginning to catch up with the essence and key implications arising from the life sciences. Key thoughts of this next era contributed to what Hatch[32]defined as a ‘symbolic-interpretive’ inspiration to organization theory. The metaphor of a symbolic-interpretive approach to organization theory is that of a culture. The image of the organization is seen as a pattern of meaning created and maintained by human association through shared values, traditions, and customs. The image of the manager is an artifact who would like to be a symbol of the organization.[33]“Enactment theory and the social construction of reality … underpin the symbolic-interpretive perspective.”[34]

“American social psychologist Karl Weick introduced enactment theory in 1969 inhis book ‘The Social Psychology or Organizing’. According to Weick’s theory, when you use concepts like organization, you create the phenomenon you are seeking to study. Similarly, in conceptualizing the environment, organizations produce the situations to which they respond. Enactment theory focuses attention on the subjective origin of organizational realities. Weick states that he purposely used the term ‘enactment to emphasize that managers construct, rearrange, single out, and demolish many ‘objective’ features of their surroundings. When people act they unrandomize variables, insert vestiges of orderliness, and literally create their own constraints. According to Weick, by stating an interest in organization and establishing a language for talking about it, we reify the subject of our study, that is, we make the phenomenon real by speaking and acting in ways that give it tangibility. The concept of reification can be compared to the work of a mime. [35]

A mime, by pretending to make contact with a door or a wall, causes us to imagine that a wall or door is present – we can see the absent object through the mime’s descriptive attitudes and movements. Reification has a similar power to make us see. The difference between miming and enactment is that we are aware of the difference between the door the mime creates in our mind and a real door. In the case of enactment, we can make an environment, a culture, a strategy, or an organization appear, but once we have done so there is little difference between our creation and reality. Of course we do not usually enact these realities individually, rather there is often a certain amount of social agreement and cooperation that occurs before such existence is claimed. In fact, when an individual persistently attempts to enact their own reality individually, we may view them as abnormal, not fitting in, or, in some extreme cases, insane. Thus, enactment overlaps with social construction of reality theory. [36]

The idea that reality is socially constructed was most forcefully argued by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, two German sociologists who wrote an influential book entitled The Social Construction of Reality. These theorists argued that human social order is produced through interpersonal negotiations and implicit understandings that are built up via shared history and shared experience. What sustains social order is at least partial consensus about how things are to be perceived and the meanings for which they stand. Through interpretation, members of a society make patterns of meaning out of their activities in the world, and then assume that the patterns they imposed exist apart from the interpretations that produced them…[37]Now this is starting to sound like complexity science: patterns arising out of interaction between network members.

The social constructionist position explicitly recognizes that the categories of language used to understand organizations (such as environment, structure, culture) are not real or natural in an objective sense. Instead, they are the product of beliefs held by members of a society. That is, we invent and sustain the meanings of terms that we then use to understand the world. Thus we act and interpret action within a sociological context of our own making. Or, as American cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz put it: ‘man is an animal trapped in webs of significance he himself has spun.’” Symbolic-interpretive research, in examining the subjective, social foundations of organizational realities, begins to make us conscious of our participation in organizational process. This links symbolic-interpretive perspectives with postmodernists who want to take control of these processes and reconstruct the organization world along more emancipated lines.”[38]

The implications of all this led to a conceptualised view of the organisation as more of a flattened hierarchy, than a top-down, command-controlled environment. This wasn’t really being applied in practice though.

1971 – 1982 Multi-disciplinary research on Chaco Canyonbegins

“The National Park Service and the University of New Mexico established the Division of Cultural Research or “Chaco Center” under the direction of Dr. Robert H. Lister and Dr. James Judge. Multi-disciplinary research, archaeological surveys, and limited excavations began. Chaco emerged as a regional center of ceremony, administration, trading, and resource distribution, where year-round residents may have been few, and others may have assembled temporarily for annual events and ceremonies. The Chaco Centerextensively surveyed Chacoan “roads”. The results of the Center’s research at Pueblo Alto and other sites dramatically altered our interpretation of the Chacoan world.”[39]

The relevance of this had to do with the insights from this historical, archaeological evidence also revealing the same patterns in co-evolving human systems as found in other life science systems.
1975: I was born. Lol. Sorry. Had to slip that in :-))

1983 Notion of an interdisciplinary unrestricted institute emerged from informal lunchtime discussions at Los Alamos National Laboratory

This idea later materialized as the Santa Fe Institute. 1984 – The Santa Fe Institute (SFI) was established. (Interdisciplinary alliance). “The SFIis a private, independent, research and education centre. The founding group included, among others: George Cowan (Founding President), Ken Arrow (Nobel Laureate – Economics), Phil Anderson (Nobel Laureate – Physics), Murray Gell-Mann (Nobel Laureate – Physics).[40]The evidence suggesting that similar patterns of co-evolution were found in such a broad span of disciplines and types of systems had required people from different disciplines to work together rather than separately. In so doing they were able to find many more significant overlaps.

1987 Gleick, J. “Chaos: Making a new science.” Viking Penguin

Putting things together with increasing holism was James Gleick, writing in a popular science style to reach a larger audience. He explained: “Classical physics regarded systems as exactly that: systems that, when powerful enough analytical tools were eventually at hand, would require complex descriptions. The central discovery of the recent interest in nonlinear dynamical systems is that this assumption is incorrect. Such systems may indeed appear complex on the surface, but they may be generated by a relatively simple set of subprocesses. The discovery of chaos theory was in the forefront of that emerging understanding of nonlinear dynamical systems, as James Gleick so enthrallingly described in his book, Chaos. Many of the people who, against the better judgment of their more experienced colleagues, pursued an understanding of chaos are now involved with the wider issue of complexity. Still viewed askance by some, they are no longer regarded as completely misguided. I asked Chris Langton if it was fair to say that Chaos is a subset of complexity. “Yes it is, in that you are dealing with nonlinear dynamical systems,” he replied.[41]

So, yes, chaos theory also comes under the umbrella of complexity science. What doesn’t? You may well ask.

1988 Pagels, H. “The Dreams of Reason”.

The impact of this new learning spanning so many disciplines was starting to be understood. Pagels said: “The great unexpected frontier is complexity… the nations and people who master the new science of complexity will become the economic, cultural and political superpowers of the next century.”[42] Has this happened yet? Maybe not. Can complexity really be harnessed? Wouldn’t that be some kind of paradox? Like the paradox of control?

1989, October 20; Science. Cambridge University geologist Simon Conway Morris, ‘Burgess Shale Faunas and the Cambrian Explosion”

This issue of this journal gave George Gumerman the idea for the Cambrian Explosion analogy. The Cambrian Explosion was the part of the fossil record showing lots of sameness for a very long time, but then rapid expansion (almost an ‘explosion’) of diversity on the fossil record. This gave rise to the idea of punctuated equilibrium, and how living systems perhaps went through phase transitions too. Quote: “I could see the overall pattern, and thought, that’s just like the pattern we see in the Southwest. I’d say it’s a nice analogy. Maybe it’s universal to all evolving systems, maybe to all complex systems.”[43](Idea).

The Cambrian Explosion metaphor is brilliant. You can use it for innovation. For a long time things remain the same, but suddenly, something new happens, a trigger, and everything changes. Nothing is the same ever again.

1990s à‘Postmodern’ inspiration to organization theory

Organisational theory was still going through its own phases of transition, and in the 1990s postmodernism was rippling through. Key thinkers of this era contributed to what Hatch[44]defined as a ‘postmodern’ inspiration to organization theory. The metaphor of the postmodern perspective of organization theory is that of a collage, where the image of the organization is seen as a collage made from bits of knowledge and understanding brought together to form a new perspective that has reference to the past. The image of the manager is that of a theorist, where the theorist is an artist.[45]

“Postmodernists tend to view questions of right and wrong, good and bad, as social constructions that would be usefully redefined as matters for personal reflection and practice. The critical aspects of postmodern organization theory trace to Marxist and neo-Marxist theorizing, particularly in Europe. However, some of the earliest uses of the term ‘postmodernism’ referred to aspects of architectural style that emerged in the mid- to late twentieth century, as described by American architect Charles Jencks in his 1977 book ‘The Language of Post-Modern Architecture.’ Structures that are postmodern stand in opposition to the functionalist style of modern architecture that was typical of building design in the 1930s through the 1960s. The major critique of functionalist (modernist) architecture by postmodern architects is that it is sterile and lifeless. Postmodern architects seek to renew traditions of making built spaces symbolically rich and meaningful by invoking past styles and reinterpreting them using the marvelous new materials and construction techniques that inspired the functionalist movement. That is they fuse modern techniques with traditional concerns for the symbolic meanings expressed by built spaces.[46]

As it applies to organization theory, postmodernism evolved most directly out of the poststructuralist movement in French philosophy which is associated with the events of the late 1960s as these unfolded in Europe. It also found its way into organization theory through applications of linguistic, semiotic, and literary theory via the interest in meaning and interpretation introduced by symbolic-interpretive organization theorists. Like postmodern architecture, modernism is generally described as the culmination of the enlightenment project to rationalize human culture and society, and is criticized for its unquestioned value for rationality and for its efforts to develop an integrated theory of the universe based on scientific principles and methods (e.g. Galileo and Newton’s efforts to discover universal laws in astronomy and physics). Modernism in organization theory (e.g. General Systems Theory), which has likewise sought universal explanation that could approach, if not achieve, the status of natural laws, is thus also open to postmodern critique. Postmodernists challenge the modernist desire for unifying views with the belief that knowledge is fundamentally fragmented, that is, knowledge is produced in so many different bits and pieces that there can be no reasonable expectation that it will ever add up to an integrated and singular view. [47]Postmodernists often challenge modern notions of truth and the search for one best way. As opposed to its self-interpretation as the search for Truth, modernism is reinterpreted by postmodernists as a series of truth claims, supported mainly by modernist rhetoric about how scientific and rational modernism is. [48] One idea critical postmodernists particularly like to problematize and deconstruct is power, which, in most industrial organizations, accumulates at the top of the hierarchy. One postmodernist idea for redressing the imbalance is to give voice to silence. This means seeking greater levels of participation by marginalized members of organizations.” [49]

So postmodernism is rather clever. It accepts the history and impact of the mechanical metaphor, and seeks to deconstruct the power hierarchies of its top-down command-control centres, bringing into the equation the voices from the edge of the then flattened hierarchy. I love it!

1990, Spring – Stuart Kauffman telephones Roger Lewin

Kauffman invites Lewin to the University of Pennsylvania to tell him about complexity. He says: “It’s new and it’s going to be big,” he says.
To be continued. Part 3 coming soon!

[1] Hatch (1997)
[2] Hatch (1997:52)
[3] Hatch (1997:27)
[4] Hatch (1997:5)
[5] Hatch (1997:30-1)
[6] Lewin (1999:199-200)
[8] Lewin (1999:42)
[9] Hatch (1997:5)
[10] Hatch (1997:32)
[11] Hatch (1997:5)
[12] Hatch (1997:32-3)
[13] Hatch (1997:32-3)
[14] Lewin (1999:178-9)
[15] Hatch (1997:5)
[16] Hatch (1997:33)
[17] Hatch (1997:5)
[18] Hatch (1997:52)
[19] Hatch (1997:34-5)
[20] Lewin (1999:179)
[21] Lewin (1999:25)
[22] Lewin (1999:26)
[23] Lewin (1999:28)
[24] Lewin (1999:26)
[25] Lewin (1999:27)
[26] Lewin (1999:28)
[27] Lewin (1999:28)
[28] Lewin (1999:28)
[29] Lewin (1999:29)
[30] Hatch (1997:5)
[31] Hatch (1997:8)
[32] Hatch (1997:5)
[33] Hatch (1997:52)
[34] Hatch (1997:34)
[35] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[36] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[37] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[38] Hatch (1997:41-2)
[39] week commencing 2 Sept. 2002.
[40]– accessed week commencing 2 Sept 2002.
[41] Lewin (1999: 12)
[42] Lewin (1999:10)
[43] Lewin (1999:19)
[44] Hatch (1997:5)
[45] Hatch (1997:52)
[46] Hatch (1997:45-46)
[47] Hatch (1997:45-46)
[48] Hatch (1997:45-46)
[49] Hatch (1997:45-46)

A Potted History Of Complexity Science: From 540m Years BPE to Present

A Chronological Presentation of Significant Events, Thought and People in the Context of Complexity Studies: Part 1: 540million years before present, to and including the 19th Century


This humongous and almost tongue in cheek blog post presents seemingly disconnected ideas about science and philosophy in chronological order in order to build to a creative crescendo of an introduction to complexity science. I have outlined key events in history, key people and their contributions to knowledge pertaining to these, actually, very related areas. This first part (it really was too big to present as one whole thing) covers the massive time period from 540 million years before our present era, to and including the 19th Century. This takes you through a potted history from the Cambrian Explosion up to and including the next big thing on the fossil record, Emile Durkheim.

Part 2 will give extra commentary on people, events and contributions framing the subsequent ‘timeline’ in the context of complexity studies and organization theory. The concluding part (part 2, which I will post another day) focuses on recent literature and events that connect ideas from complexity Studies with business strategy until 2002, which was when I first put this timeline together. It was quite a fun thing to do. I also used it to create a gargantuan wall chart, a visual mind map version of the same thing. The wall chart since became rather dog-eared and I had to throw it away, which is rather a shame. However, this remained in the appendix of my PhD nine month review. Enjoy! :-))

Whole Timeline Overview:

540 Million years before present Cambrian Explosion

427 BC – 347 BC – Plato, Greece.
384 BC – 322 BC – Aristotle, Greece.
900 AD – 1150 AD – The rapid rise of Chaco Canyonas an important regional centre.
1642 – 1727 – Isaac Newton, England
1646 – 1716 – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Germany
1707 – 1778Carolus Linnaeus, Sweden
1723 – 1790 – Adam Smith, Political Economist, Scotland.
1809 – 1882 – Charles Robert Darwin, England 
1815 – 1864 – George Boole, England
1849 WashingtonExpedition to Chaco Canyon.
1867 – Karl Marx, Philosopher-Economist, Germany
1877 USGeological survey to Chaco Canyon
1879 – 1955 – Albert Einstein, Germany/Switzerland/US
1893 Emile Durkheim, Sociologist, France
1900s – 1950s: ‘Classical’ organization theory
1911 F. W. Taylor, ‘Founder of Scientific Management’, America
1919 – Henri Fayol, Engineer, CEO, and Administrative Theorist, France
1924 – Max Weber, Sociologist, Germany
1932 – Niels Bohr discovered the basic structure of the atom
1938ChesterBarnard, Management Theorist, America
1950s à‘Modernist’ organization theory
Early 1960’s – Breakthroughs in genetic understanding
1961 – Conrad Waddington quote
1961 Stuart Kauffman goes to Oxford
1963 Brian Goodwin publishes his book, ‘Temporal Organization in Cells.’
1964 Stuart Kauffman at Berkeleyfor premedical education
1965 Stuart Kauffman, a 2ndyear med Student @ uni of California, San Fran’
1968 Ludwig von Bertalanffy
1971 – 1982 Multi-disciplinary research on Chaco Canyonbegins
1980s à  ‘Symbolic-interpretive’ organization theory
1983 Informal lunchtime discussions at Los Alamos National Laboratory
1987 Gleick, J. “Chaos: Making a new science.” Viking Penguin
1988 Pagels, H. “The Dreams of Reason”.
1989 October 20; Science. Cambridge University geologist Simon Conway Morris, ‘Burgess Shale Faunas and the Cambrian Explosion”
1990s à‘Postmodern’ organization theory
1990 Spring – Stuart Kauffman telephones Roger Lewin
1991 Conference: “Organization and Evolution of Southwestern Prehistoric Societies.”
1991 August 19 – J. Baden, The Wall Street Journal – Newspaper article
1992 Book by Lewin, R. “Complexity: Life at the edge of chaos.”
1992 The Harvard Business Review. ‘Is Management Still a Science?’ David Freedman,
1992 The Business Network – established by the Santa Fe Institute.
1995 P F Drucker, ‘Managing in a Time of Great Change’
1995 Stuart Kauffman became associated with Ernst & Young’s Centre for Business Innovation.
1995 June, Scientific American, “From Complexity to Perplexity”, J Hogan
1995 September. Unilever Research, Merseyside, UK, join SFI Business Network.
1996 The Mckinsey Quarterly, 1996, Number 1, 6 & 15. “Spider Versus Spider”. J Hagel
1996 A Brandenburger and B Nalebuff, ‘Co-opetition’, New York: Doubleday Currency, 1996.
1996 Harvard Business Review. Article written by Brian Arthur of Santa Fe Institute
1996 March. American Programmer. “Strategic Planning in the Contemporary World”. C. Crook.
1996 July 17-19 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 1. San Francisco, CA.
1996-8 Study of companies using complexity ideas.
1997 May 1 – Roger Lewin interviews Stuart Kauffman, in Cambridge, MA. 
1997 June. Ruggles & Little: “” “s Littles, : “mbracing Complexity 5: Growing the Adaptive Organisation. x Adaptive Systems to Business a ‘any ways analogous Enabling Complex Adaptive Process through Knowledge Management 
1997 August 3-5 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 2, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1997 September – BTexact Technologies, Ipswich UK, join SFI Business Network.
1998 January – Roger Lewin, Teresa Parker, Birute Regine: “Complexity Theory and the                                       Organisation: Beyond the Metaphor.”
1998 May 1 – Roger Lewin interviews Stuart Pimm
1998 August 2-4 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 3: Exploring the Application of Complex Adaptive Systems to Business. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
1998 winter. Sloan Management Review. ‘Strategy Innovation and Quest for Value’. G Hamel
1998 J H Holland, ‘Emergence: From Chaos to Order’. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1998.
1999 Lewin, R. “Complexity: Life at the edge of chaos.” 2nd ed.
1999 April 2 – Science.
1999 April 11 – Warsh, D. “Untangling Economic Complexity” in BostonGlobe, Sec. F, P1.
1999 July 25-27 – CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 4: The Adaptive Enterprise.
2000 Lewin, R., & Regine, B. “The Soul at Work: embracing the power of complexity science for        business success.”
2000 April 25-27. CBIConference: Embracing Complexity 5: Growing the Adaptive Organization.
2000 June. Menno Marien, Jeroen Kemp and Frank Wagner submit Kompass proposal
2000 – 2001 Chaco synthesis project
2001 April. LISS submitted
2001 August. Baillie Gifford, Edinburgh, Scotland, join SFI Business Network
2001 October/November. RODEO project proposal submitted and accepted 
2002 March 13. CBINetwork Global Web Cast: The Adaptive Enterprisein Action
2002 April: RODEO, an EC project gets started. The project I ended up working on…

Key metaphors used in complexity Studies discussions and described here refer back to 540 million years before present, to the ‘Cambrian Period’. This is where the timeline begins.

540 Million years before present

 “The Cambrian Period marks an important point in the history of life on earth; it is the time when most of the major groups of animals first appear in the fossil record. This event is sometimes called the “Cambrian Explosion”, because of the relatively short time over which this diversity of forms appears.”[1]For 3 billion years, from soon after the Earth cooled sufficiently, the highest form of life was the single cell. A degree of complexity had emerged a little more than a billion years ago, when cells developed packaged nuclei and included mitochondria, but there was eon upon eon of sameness. Then, cellular differentiation and aggregation into multicellular organisms evolved. An ‘explosion’ of new forms occurred, with a large variety of complexity[2].

This ‘Cambrian Explosion’, which occurred about 540 to 500 million years before present, is often cited in complexity studies literature as a metaphor of complex evolution. Stuart Kauffman, now a key figure in the field of complexity science, said: “The pattern of the Cambrian explosion is fundamental to all innovation. You get an initial scatter of new forms, and then it gets harder and harder to improve on them. You see it in biology. You see it in industrial economies.” Lewin also compares this idea with the evolution of social complexity.[3]

The use of the Cambrian Explosion as a metaphor of complex evolution sheds more light on a debate on the perception of order that can be traced intellectually to at least the third century BC.

427 BC – 347 BC – Plato, Greece.

An image of an ordered world where organisms are arranged from the lowest to the highest forms is to be found in Plato and implicitly in the order of creation in Genesis.[4]Plato’s main contributions are in philosophy, mathematics and science.[5]Platonics agreed that living organisms obeyed physical laws, and that the essence of life itself was something extra – a vital force breathed into material. To vitalists many of the more interesting properties of organisms were by their nature beyond scientific analysis. For two millennia, an intellectual divide separated scholars’ views of the natural world, one essentially Platonic, the other Aristotelian.[6]

384 BC – 322 BC – Aristotle, Greece.

Aristotle made important contributions by systematizing deductive logic and he is important in the development of knowledge.[7] He is now thought of as one of many scholars fascinated with the phenomenon or order, the morphological similarities among groups of organisms, and in the way in which individual organisms operate within their environment.[8]Aristotelian thinkers are typified as mechanists, since they asserted that living organisms are ‘nothing but machines’ and are completely explicable by the laws of mechanics, physics and chemistry.[9]This mechanical view became embedded in much scientific thought. But over the last two centuries the debate concerning the validity of this view has been revived time and again. In some ways a mechanical view of the world is seen to be diametrically opposed to one which includes ideas about complex evolution.

900 AD – 1150 AD – The rapid rise of Chaco Canyonas an important regional centre.

Proponents of complexity Studies cite the rapid rise of Chaco Canyonin South West America to explain theories about complex evolution.

Chaconever reached the level of social complexity that can be called a city-state, such as had arisen earlier in Mexico, Central and South America, and in the Old World. But unquestionably it included elements of social and economic organization that are pre-cursors to state formation, a subject that has long enthralled pre-historians.”[10]

Chaco Canyon, for all its wild beauty, seems an unlikely place for a major center of ancestral Puebloan culture to take root and flourish. This is high desert country, with long winters, short growing seasons, and marginal rainfall. Yet, a thousand years ago, this valley was a center of community life, commerce, and ceremony. People built monumental masonry buildings that were connected to other communities by a wide-ranging network of “roads.” In architecture, complexity of community life, social organization, and regional integration, the master builders of Chaco Canyon attained a unique cultural expression. … By 1050, Chaco was well on the way to becoming the political, economic, and ceremonial center of the San Juan Basin. Its sphere of influence was extensive. … After prevailing for 300 years, Chaco Canyon declined as a regional center during the middle 1100s, when new construction ceased. Chacoan influence continued at Aztec Ruins and other centers to the north, south, and west into the late 1100s and 1200s. In time, the people shifted away from Chacoan ways, migrated to new areas, reorganized their world, and eventually interacted with foreign cultures.“[11]

Chris Langton, a member of the Santa Fe Institute, compares what has since been called the ‘Chaco Phenomena’ with the ‘Cambrian Explosion’, and as such it becomes another analogy to explain the metaphor of complex evolution: “Cellular specialization happened in the Cambrian, and… Bang! … All hell broke loose. How about that for an analogy of what happened in the Southwest?” he asked. “Maybe there’s something fundamentally the same about the two systems, so that the patterns are the same, no matter what the details of the system are”.[12]

1642 – 1727 – Isaac Newton, England

Another proponent of the mechanical view of order was Isaac Newton. “Newtonhas been regarded for almost 300 years as the founding exemplar of modern physical science. Newton‘s work in mechanics was accepted at once in Britain, and universally after half a century. Since then it has been ranked among humanity’s greatest achievements in abstract thought. It was extended and perfected by others, notably Pierre Simon de Laplace, without changing its basis and it survived into the late 19th century before it began to show signs of failing (compare quantum theory and relativity).”[13]For three centuries science has successfully uncovered many of the workings of the universe, armed with the mathematics of Newtonand Leibniz.[14]

1646 – 1716 – Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Germany

“Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher, mathematician, and logician who is probably most well known for having invented the differential and integral calculus (independently of Sir Isaac Newton). In his correspondence with the leading intellectual and political figures of his era, he discussed mathematics, logic, science, history, law, and theology“.[15]The world as seen by Leibniz and Newtonwas a clockwork one, characterized by repetition and predictability and linearity.[16] These characteristics are, again, diametrically opposed to those put forward in a view which includes complex evolution.

1707 – 1778 – Carolus Linnaeus, Sweden

“Carl Linnaeus, also known as Carl von Linné or Carolus Linnaeus, is often called the Father of Taxonomy. His system for naming, ranking, and classifying organisms is still in wide use today (with many changes). His ideas on classification have influenced generations of biologists during and after his own lifetime, even those opposed to the philosophical and theological roots of his work.”[17]Linnaeus grouped known organisms according to similarities they displayed and produced his ‘Systems of Nature’, a classification biologists still use today.[18]Linnaeus’ work was used by Darwin and others in conjunction with mechanical philosophies to formulate evolutionary theories.

1723 – 1790 – Adam Smith, Political Economist, Scotland. Key quote: “As if guided by an invisible hand”. 

“Adam Smith was the great Scottish philosopher and economist best known for “The Wealth of Nations”, his pioneering book on free trade and market economics.”[19]“Smith described techniques of pin manufacturing and in so doing was the first to record and explain the efficiencies inherent in the division of labor (DOL). DOL has to do with the differentiation of work tasks and the resulting specialization of labor, ideas that are central to the concept on social structure in organizations. This is why many organization theorists give Smith a place of honor in their intellectual histories.”[20]

Complex evolution proponents make use of Smith’s famous quote, ‘as if guided by an invisible hand’ to explain the idea of emergence that comes out of interaction in a complex system. The invisible hand becomes a metaphor for explaining the unseen transition between apparent ‘chaos’ and ‘self-organization’.

Lewin likens the idea of ‘order arising out of a complex dynamical system’, or ‘global properties flowing from aggregate behavior of individuals’ to the way that ‘in industrial societies, the aggregate behavior of companies, consumers, and financial markets produces the modern capitalist economy, “as if guided by an invisible hand” as Adam Smith put it.[21] Stuart Kaufman said: “Collective adaptation to selfish ends produces the maximum average fitness, each species in the context of others. As if by an invisible hand – Adam Smith’s phrase about markets in a capitalist economy – collective good is ensured.”[22]

1809 – 1882 – Charles Robert Darwin, England 

 Darwin‘s theory of evolution was published in the Origin of Species in 1859. As its implications sank in, late Victorians saw the ‘very foundations of human thought’ being re-laid, affecting ‘the entire intellectual life of our Western civilization’.”[23] Darwinprovides the conventional explanation of order: Natural selection – considered the force that fits organisms to their niches in the world. Similarities among groups are seen as common descent, ‘descent with modification’ as Darwindescribed it.[24] Complex evolution contrasts starkly with Darwin’s ‘descent with modification’.

1815 – 1864 – George Boole, England

Boole was a “mathematician and logistician who developed ways of expressing logical processes using algebraic symbols, creating a branch of mathematics known as symbolic logic.”[25]  Relevant to ideas surrounding complex evolution are random Boolean networks – named after George Boole. The Boolean network theory was a key factor in the understanding of complex evolution as it is currently perceived in complexity Studies. Stuart Kauffman, now a key figure in complexity Studies, applied Boolean networks to his ideas about embryology and cellular automaton computer programming.

A cellular automaton computer program is a row of cells that change attributes according to set rules. E.g. colour – if a cell is white and its immediate neighbours are white, then the cell remains white. Alternatively, if a white cell’s neighbours are both black then it turns black. And so on for all the possible arrangements of adjacent cells. Stack successively generated rows on top of each other, and you get a 2D representation of how the automaton changes over time. The resulting pattern of cells depends on the rules. Some rule sets may churn out a repetitive chessboard, others a series of stripes. Some produce complex patterns and this is an example of how complex behaviour can emerge from simple systems governed by simple rules.[26]

Essential to grasping ideas about complex evolution arising from knowledge of Boolean networks, is the following: “The network proceeds through a series of so-called states. At a given instant, each element in the network examines the signals arriving from the links with other elements, and then is active or inactive, according to its rules for reacting to the signals. The network then proceeds to the next state, whereupon the process repeats itself. And so on. Under certain circumstances a network may proceed through all its possible states before repeating any one of them. In practice, however, the network at some point hits a series of states around which it cycles repeatedly. Known as a state cycle, this repeated series of states is in effect an attractor in the system, like the whirlpool in the treacherous sea of complex systems dynamics. A network can be thought of as a complex dynamical system, and is likely to have many such attractors.”[27]

Terms seen repeatedly in complexity Studies literature extracted from above are, ‘network’, ‘state’, ‘state cycle’, ‘attractor’, and ‘complex dynamical system’.

1867 – Karl Marx, Philosopher-Economist, Germany

Hatch[28]labels Marx as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory. Hatch says[29]In his theory of capital, Marx argued that capitalism rests upon a fundamental antagonism between the interests of capital (capitalists, e.g. the owners of factories and the means of production) and those of labour (i.e. the workers whose activities form the core of the production process).  Marxist theory considers control to be one of the key themes of organization theory, which in Classical management theory and modernist organization theory is interpreted as a primary function of the executive, and in postmodern theories become a foundation for critiques of managerialism.

Marx’s interpretation of the foundations of the capitalist system was in line with a mechanical view of the world. The workplace was another machine to be run efficiently by an engineer. The cogs in the machine were the workers, who were alienated from the process of production. The only way the workers could fight this process, Marx argued, was by unionisation. Unionisation in turn caused antagonism between the owners of capital and its slaves. In essence, Marx elucidated the relationship between the components of this machine-like system.

This recognition of the degree of command and control operating in a machine-like business sets the scene for the ensuing century of industry and commerce. Complexity studies permit an entirely different view of the world, one away from where everything is seen to run optimally like clockwork under the domination of a ruling class determined by ownership. Someone versed in complexity studies might see a power struggle as defined in Marxian terms as, instead, extremely dynamic turbulence – verging on chaos. They would look at the interaction of the ‘agents’ and expect to see some kind of emergent structure of order arising from this near chaos. Any number of solutions and opportunities might present themselves as options, but relatively few of those would actually become realised and most closely serve the self interests of those involved.

1893 Emile Durkheim, Sociologist, France

Hatch[30]labels Durkheim as a ‘classical’ inspiration to organization theory.  She says “Durkheim extended the concept of the division of labour beyond manufacturing organizations to explain the structural shift from agricultural to industrial societies that accompanied the industrial revolution. Durkheim described this shift in terms of increases in specialization, hierarchy, and the interdependence of work tasks. Early modernist organization theorists regarded these concepts as key dimensions for defining and describing complex organizations… Durkheim helped lay positivistic methodological foundations, not only for sociology, but also for modernist organization theory.”[31]

Although the world in which Durkheim lived and breathed was still largely seen in mechanistic terms, he imposed an organic methodological perspective. He saw units of society and organisation as interdependent, and he conceptualised the level of interdependency on a progressive scale ranging from primitive to modern. This in turn facilitated a view incorporating social evolution, so that one society or organisation could be compared in relative terms with another on this scale. Therefore, the next stage of social organisation could theoretically be anticipated. This perspective on society and organisation created an intellectual shift that coincided with Darwinian views of a ‘descent with modification’ type of evolution, which linked in quite well.

The organic view of organisation is also taken by proponents of complexity studies, as is the recognition of the interdependency of its units (which is spoken of in terms of network alliances). However, complexity studies hold that no next stage in evolution is predictable, since evolution is complex and emerges from the interaction of ‘agents’ relative to time and place.
Stay tuned for part 2… 1900’s modernism on…

[1]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[2] Lewin (1999:17-19)
[3] Lewin (1999:17-19)
[4] Lewin (1999:133)
[5]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[6] Lewin (1999:178)
[7]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[8] Lewin (1999:24, 178)
[9] Lewin (1999:24, 178)
[10] Lewin (1999:9) 
[11]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[12] Lewin (1999:17-19)
[13]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[14] Lewin (1999:11)
[15]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[16] Lewin (1999:11)
[17]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[18] Lewin (1999:24)
[19]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[20] Hatch (1997:28)
[21] Lewin (1999:13)
[22] Lewin (1999:59)
[23]– accessed week commencing 2nd September 2002.
[24] Lewin (1999:24)
[25]– accessed week commencing 2 September 2002.
[26] The Guardian, London. August 3, 2002,Chris Lavers, Guardian Saturday Pages, Pg. 12,  Review: How the cheetah got his spots: A New Kind of Science by Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram Media.
[27] Lewin (1999:27)
[28] Hatch (1997:5)
[29] Hatch (1997:28)
[30] Hatch (1997:5)
[31] Hatch (1997:30)

Research Methods & Data Analysis Ideas

Research Approaches & Qualitative Data Analysis

There are research types of merit that you could consider and adapt for use in conjunction with that type of research if you wanted. A summary of these are as follows:


  • Ethnography (‘structural’, Gubrium): ‘Classifies and highlights the social organisation and distribution of subjective meanings as native and diverse field realities’, being ‘concerned with … cataloguing their forms and relationships in time and space’ (Gubrium, 1988:26),
  • Ethnography of communication (‘microethnography’): Focus ‘on the patterns of social interaction among members of a cultural group or among members of different cultural groups’ in order to ‘specify the processes of interaction and understand how these ‘micro’ processes are related to larger ‘macro’ issues of culture and social organisation’ (Jacob, 1987:18).
  • Ethnomethodology (‘articulative ethnography’, Gubrium): ‘Study how members of society, in the course of ongoing social interaction, make sense of ‘indexical’ expressions. Indexicals are terms whose meaning is not universal, but is dependent on the context’ (Bailey, 1978:249), ‘how members of situations assemble reasonable understandings of the things and events of concern to them and, thereby, realise them as objects of everyday life’ (Gubrium, 1988:27), ‘how people in society organise their activities in such a way that they make mutual sense, how people do things in such ways that others can recognise them for what they are’ (Sharrock and Anderson, 1986:56).
  • Ethnoscience (cognitive anthropology): ‘To understand participants cultural categories and to identify the organising principles that underlie these categories… through the study of semantic systems’ (Jacob, 1987:22), ‘to define systematically the meaning of words, or labels – in short the names of things in the context of their use’, in order to ‘construct lexical-semantic fields of linked propositions’ (Werner and Schoepfle, 1987:29, 38).
  • Event structure analysis: ‘To examine and represent series of events as logical structures, i.e., as elements and their connections (including the assumptions that govern these connections) that can serve as explanatory models for interpreting actual or folkloristic sequences of events (Heise and Lewis, 1988).
  • Symbolic interactionism: ‘To see how the process of designation and interpretation [participants are defining and interpreting each other’s acts] is sustaining, undercutting, redirecting and transforming the ways in which the participants are fitting together their lines of action’ (Blumer, 1969:53), ‘understanding how individuals are able to take one another’s perspective and learn meanings and symbols in concrete instances of interaction’ (Jacob, 1987:29).



After you have done your data collection (no mean feat defining your unit of analysis if you are using Twitter by the way!), you will need to decide on an approach for data analysis. Here are a few ideas:


‘Classic content analysis’ (Krippendorf, 1980) would enable you to make contextual inferences from data, while at the same time, ‘ethnographic content analysis’ (Altheide, 1987) would allow reflexive document analysis, the documenting and understanding of the meaning of communication, as well as the verification of any possible theoretical relationships.


‘Discourse analysis’ (Stubbs, 1983:1), the ‘linguistic analysis of naturally occurring connected spoken or written discourse’, could also provide insight into communication and interaction (van Dijk, 1985:4).


‘Document study’ (Bailey, 1978), as an unstructured and non-quantitative approach using a Twitter timeline for example, may result in typologies ‘through which to examine and analyse the subjective experience of individuals and their construction of the social world’ (Jones, 1983:147).


In order to make sense of the collected data according to research type, you will need to determine a suitable data analysis ‘tool set’.


Relevant data analysis techniques you could choose from include variations on ‘coding’, ‘categorising’, and the contextualisation of words and phrases, via indices, word listing and structural analysis. These techniques and their variances are described briefly below (adapted from Tesch, 1991:26-28):


Qualitative Analysis Methods Overview


Locating individual words and phrases: For language orientated research, as a first exploratory step, to classify and look for correlations of same word usage and synonyms, in proximity of one text or several related ones.


Creating alphabetic word lists, counting the frequency of the occurrence of words: To get an overview of the vocabulary used and to enlarge the word/phrase location ‘picture’ by judging where emphasis of a text lies by word/phrase occurrence frequency.


Creating indices (attaching source information to each occurrence) and ‘key word in context’ concordances: To compare the vocabulary of one text with others, by looking at a list of the location of each word or phrase, in order to take context of word/phrase into consideration, by creating a KWIC concordance (key word in context).


Attaching key words to segments of texts: To examine a text for topics where precise words may not appear to sum these up, and then attach an appropriate keyword. Segments dealing with same topic can be assembled by key words and interpreted.


Attaching codes (categorisation symbols) to segments of text: Codes are abbreviations of category names, where categories can be pictured as the conceptual equivalent of file folders, each labelled with the name of one aspect of the research project or one topic found in the data, serving to organise data pieces. These categories may emerge during the analysis or be developed beforehand, or partially either way. Organising data this way is common in ethnographic content analysis, classical ethnography, life history studies, oral history, document case studies and grounded theory, and is a prerequisite for creating well-ordered narratives about the nature of the phenomenon investigated.


Connecting codes (categories): Goes beyond classification and explores whether or not the phenomenon possesses a discernible structure, or whether or not linkages exist between/among particular categories. Most notably this is done in grounded theory, but also in event structure analysis, ethnographic content analysis, discourse analysis, ethnography of communication, ethnoscience and structural ethnography, symbolic interactionism and ethnomethodology. The purpose is to develop propositional statements or to make assertions regarding the structure of the linkages, or to relate concepts in order to discover underlying principles (also referred to as ‘hyposthesis generation’). Researchers may also aim to find support for assertions or to verify them by negative case analysis, etc.


Ok… got that? Put your thinking cap on and play then ;-))

How do YOU respond to ‘The Bitch Goddess of Unpredictability"?

Responses to change

Cheesy musical intro (Alan Price, ‘Changes’):

In your journey down life’s many highways and byways, in addition to deciding which tempting twists and turns in the road to take you will also be beset by the odd confrontation with the unexpected surprise or two. These may be as welcome as a win on the lottery, or as unwelcome as being bitten on the bum by a baboon. Either way, if you live to tell the tale it will be a test of your true mettle as to how you respond to what is foisted upon you by Fortuna, “The Bitch Goddess of Unpredictability” (Gabriel, 2003).

A change can be good or bad, desired or completely unwanted, started by yourself, or imposed on you by others or circumstances. Whatever the case, it is never easy to deal with. But, you can learn to understand it, deal with it, AND respond to it.

There are some basic emotional responses to change: shock, denial, distrust; anger and guilt; bargaining; depression, anxiety and stress; regret; and finally, acceptance (Based on Elizabeth Kubler Ross, on Death and Dying, 1969). See the ‘Response to Change’ diagram below. As it appears in the picture, it can be an emotional roller coaster that lasts over a period of time. It’s not always the case that these phases follow on from each other in such an orderly fashion – they can be messier. But as a rule, the general pattern experienced is as the picture suggests.

In response to a negative change, we can talk about:

          Immobilization: you experience shock and confusion

          Denial: you ignore the changes or its consequences

          Anger: based on your feelings of frustration and hurt

          Bargaining: you seek to minimize the impact of the change… this signals the beginning of acceptance

          Depression: you may perceive the situation as beyond your control and display lack of energy or interest

          Testing: you start to see new ways where you can regain some measure of control, test new ways of coping with new reality

          Acceptance: you fully accept change although you may not like it

Reflection Points:

·         Thinking about your most difficult recent experience of change, reflect on the blue picture to talk about each aspect of your response to the change

·         Did you go through each stage? Sequentially or otherwise?
·         Can you give examples of how you felt at each stage and how you responded to those feelings or how you dealt with your own experience of each stage?
·         If you experienced each aspect of such responses to change again, what might you do to deal with them better?
·         Do you think it is possible to prepare for such responses?

Can you monitor your own response to change?
If you can monitor it, can you self-treat?
Even if it hits you like a truck?

Being positive about change

Unnecessary yet entertaining musical interlude (David Bowie, ‘Changes’:

‘Those who are always learning are those who can ride the waves of change and who see a changing world as full of opportunities not damages. They are the ones most likely to be survivors in a time of discontinuity. They are also the enthusiasts and the architects of new ways and forms and ideas.’ Handy, 1990

Some things you can do along the way…

          Establish what will change and what will stay the same
          Get involved with the change – the more you stay outside the change the more it will feel like something being done to you. Ask yourself how you can increase your involvement in the change.

          Allow yourself to go through some kind of grieving… try to name what has ended… ask yourself: “what will I miss the most?”

o        Q: What has ended? What is ending? What will end? What will you miss the most?

          Celebrate the ending, just like funerals help survivors realise the person is gone so will doing something to celebrate and mark the end of a past.

o        Q: Any ideas?

          When YOU are ready, prepare for a new beginning.

o        Q: How far away do you feel you are from starting to think about new beginnings? What might you do to prepare for that?

Some really positive responses for when you are ready:
Apply creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness to resolving problems or issues

View some of today’s disruptions as the basis for tomorrow’s new possibilities
Stop running from the unexpected
When ready: “start taking responsibility for architecting the future”
o        Q: What would you like your life to look like? Can you imagine a different life, especially with regards to any key issues? How would it look? Describe it as though you can see it and it is already there…

What to expect soon :

          New beginnings
o        Q: Maybe as the new you? :-))

          (The official new start and the psychological beginning are 2 different processes)

          A new beginning can feel daunting, similar to a response to a positive change

          You can wonder ‘is it real or not?’

          The new is unknown – what will it take to be successful?

          It is normal to feel doubts at this stage and sometimes to experience a dip in confidence until the new situation becomes clear

o        Q: If you feel fear, or doubts, about such new beginnings, how might a ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ attitude help? What other tangible things could you do to prepare yourself for a dip in confidence? Might it be enough to expect it and ride the storm?


Getting help in the new beginnings stage:

          Talk to supportive friends and family

o        Q: Who could this include?

          Plan, gather information, imagine, visualise, think and prepare…

          Ask each other to imagine a typical successful day in the new set-up… “What would be happening?”

o        Q: Describe day to day in your ideal world…


Some good one-liners:

          Change is inevitable but temporary (‘this too shall pass’)

          There are natural emotional and psychological responses to change

          Understanding  the change process helps demystify it

          Change is not happening TO YOU… you can MANAGE the change

          Support is needed for going through a change – ask for it and give that support to others


I’d love to hear from you here in comments or you can tweet me @cazzwebbo to relate any of your responses to negative or positive change. Does any of the above resonate with you ? Or do you have another perspective to share ?

For some further personal, reflective reading, you might want to consider: Galpin, Timothy J. The Human Side Of Change. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 1996.

Sentimental musical conclusion (Kelly & Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Changes’):


One for the Researchers – Intro to Grounded Theory & Constructivist Grounded Theory

Grounded Theory & Constructivist Grounded Theory

WARNING: Although this blog post starts out quite wittily light-hearted, it gets progressively more dense and heavy… like me after a few drinks, in fact. But to some up, it’s all about this:
What’s your idea of research? Is it like what goes on in a laboratory with chemistry sets a la Mr Bean? (see pointless, yet funny YouTube vid’ here:

A ‘traditional’ approach to research might well be that you observe something, state a hypothesis, make a prediction, test it, and write up your methods and results, though hopefully not with the explosive ending seen in that clip above. But what about if you’re in a human research jungle (spurious link to jungle themed YouTube vid’ here: and you don’t really know where you are going and actually you’ve learned that making predictions is a form of bias based on your own frame of reference? Why would you intentionally bring a set of prejudices to a situation that might actually be very far removed from how your own misconceptions are colouring it? Surely you would want to understand the meaning of a given phenomenon in the context it arises?

It could also be that your research is in an exploratory phase, where you have to develop some ideas based on a given situation first. This exploratory style would require you collecting data as you go. The data would then have to provide some evidence of a picture you were painting in the context of your journey. Ideally you wouldn’t want to colour your own judgements by bringing too many preconceived ideas with you to the field, not that you can escape them entirely, but you’d at least want to aim for a fresh starting point. So why predict anything? Surely the journey is of value here, not necessarily at the expense of, but definitely in addition to the destination, which isn’t predictable. I’ll repeat and rephrase that: it’s NOT about prediction, folks!!!

It could also be that you do know very well where you are going (context-wise) and you need to record your research journey, a research journey that may well be unique due to the time and place you are embarking on it. You could well be engaging in ethnography, or participant observation – going native? So what might be a useful process for getting going in such a manner? You’ll be pleased to know there is one. Actually, not just one, but a few, that have been developed over the years to become less and less positivistic in nature.

Firstly, one important research approach, that also loosely inspired the way I carried out the research for my PhD, was grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967; Partington, 2002; Charmaz, 2003; Goulding, 2005; Selden, 2005). When its first proponents, sociologists Glaser and Strauss, came up with the idea of grounded theory in the 1960’s, they defined it loosely as ‘the discovery of theory from data’. Meaning: collect your data first, and then work out what it’s telling you theoretically. It was supposed to be theory developed from the ground up. Hence, grounded theory.

In technical speak these two grounded theory gurus described their basic position that generating grounded theory was ‘a way of arriving at theory suited to its supposed uses’  in the place that it came from (1967:3), or, theory derived from and for a specific context, for a specific reason. This method sits nicely with those of the periods referred to in a previous blog post of mine as ‘crisis of representation’ and ‘postmodern experimental’, born out of the ‘blurred genres’ period where greater importance started to be placed on gaining understanding from the local ethnographic context – with a view to understanding what went on between people in different places and settings. Yes, this would produce a ‘relative’ understanding of any alleged meaning arrived at, but that could then be extrapolated out to compare and contrast with other cases or similar phenomena reported on elsewhere. It wouldn’t always be necessary in such cases to have control groups as the research questions you were trying to find answers to might only be relevant in the context you were looking at there and then.

In this vein, though, Glaser and Strauss advocated the use of comparative analysis as a strategic method for generating theory applied to social units of any size, type or whereabouts. So that could apply for example to a household, a friendship group, a class, a school, a local community, village or other social group. And of course these could be anywhere in the world: from the high-rises of Hong Kong to the Gorbals of Glasgow.

A method Glaser and Strauss suggested to discover theory from this starting point, was through the generation of theory from conceptual categories derived from evidence, or data.  So you’d gather your data, analyse it and ascribe conceptual categories to it – or code and theme it, and then develop your context specific theory from there. This was established as somehow ‘factual’ by means of comparative analysis with other social units or within the one in question. Internal validity would therefore be enough, at least in the first instance, to give credence to your findings. You could establish through double- and/or triple-checking, through a variety of methods, whether a finding was really meaningful in the way your research suggested.

The use of empirical generalisations was seen as necessary to delimit a grounded theory’s boundaries of applicability, as was the specifying of a unit of analysis from which to elaborate the particularity of the case (i.e. saying clearly to what and where the findings apply – scoping). Subsequent theory was to be verified through acquisition of more data, from which original theories may be modified. Neither accurate evidence, nor evidence type, nor number of cases, were held as crucial for generating theory. Glaser and Strauss (1967:30) explained:

“A single case can indicate a general conceptual category or property; a few more cases can confirm the indication… generation by comparative analysis requires a multitude of carefully selected cases, but the pressure is not on the sociologist to ‘know the whole field’ or to have all the facts ‘from a careful random sample’. His job is not to provide a perfect description of an area, but to develop a theory that accounts for much of the relevant behaviour… to… generate general categories and properties for general and specific situations and problems.”

The theory generated by this approach is described by Glaser and Strauss in terms of two elements: 1) conceptual categories and their conceptual properties, and, 2) hypotheses or generalised relations among the categories and their properties (Glaser and Strauss, 1967:35). Both categories and properties are described as concepts indicated by the data, and Glaser and Strauss asserted that while a category stood by itself as a conceptual element of the theory, a property, in turn, was a conceptual aspect or element of a category. They advocated the deriving of categories from the data in question, not borrowing categories from other data in an attempt to ‘force round data into square categories’, and that the generation of theory should aim at achieving diversity in emergent categories, synthesised at as many levels of conceptual and hypothetical generalisation as possible. This synthesis, they said, would provide apparent connections between data and lower and higher level conceptual abstractions of categories and properties. Concepts were required to be analytic – ‘sufficiently generalised to designate characteristics of concrete entities’, and sensitising – to ‘yield a ‘meaningful’ picture, enhanced by illustrations that would communicate the meaning in terms of understandable experience. The purpose of this was to enable the reader to ‘see and hear vividly the people’ in the area under study, which would in turn facilitate understanding of the subsequent theory developed for the area.

For Glaser and Strauss, hypotheses were then constructed from the relations generated among the categories arising from the comparison of differences and similarities among groups or units studied (1967:39-41):

“In the beginning, one’s hypotheses may seem unrelated, but as categories and properties emerge, develop in abstraction, and become related, their accumulating interrelations form an integrated central theoretical framework – the core of the emerging theory. The core becomes a theoretical guide to the further collection and analysis of data. … Integration of the theory is best when it emerges, like the concepts. The theory should never just be put together, nor should a formal-theory model be applied to it until one is sure it will fit, and will not force the data. … The truly emergent integrating framework, which encompasses the fullest possible diversity of categories and properties, becomes an open-ended scheme… because, as new categories or properties are generated and related, there seems always to be a place for them in the scheme.”

While Glaser and Strauss offer a clear vision of how to implement grounded theory as an emergent research approach, Selden (2005) and Charmaz (2003) critique their position as  nevertheless being underpinned by positivism and objectivist epistemology. In Charmaz’s view, Glaser’s (1978, 1992) position is accompanied with assumptions of an objective, external reality, a neutral observer who discovers data, reductionist inquiry of manageable research problems, and objectivist rendering of data. Similarly, Charmaz understands the position of Strauss, with Corbin (1990, 1998), to assume an objective external reality, aiming towards unbiased data collection, proposing technical procedures and the need for verification. Charmaz goes on to assert that Strauss and Corbin move into a position of post-positivism through, for example, the proposition of ‘giving voice to their respondents’. In view of this understanding Charmaz presents her own approach, dubbed ‘constructivist grounded theory’.

As a starting point for understanding this constructivist view more fully, it is useful to consider that Collin (1997) refers to the broader level of ‘construction’, and ascribes it to interpretation, analysis and evaluation grounded in the view that human thought, discourse, agreement, or concepts generate the social world in a non-causal sense.

Under this umbrella of construction there are several sub-categories, including the above-mentioned constructivism, social constructivism, and the social constructionist position. ‘Constructivism’ is said to focus on the way in which the individual mind constructs what is taken to be reality, with or without any systematic relationship to the external world (Gergen, 1999; Piaget, 1954; von Glasersveld, 1991; Stacey, 2001). In ‘social constructivism’ individual minds are understood to construct reality in a way significantly formed by relationships (Vygotsky, 1962; Bruner, 1990; Stacey, 2001). While the ‘social constructionist’ approach views the social as the process of articulating individual selves and the world, placing the social relationship as prior and primary over the concept of the individual (Stacey, 2001). In this social constructionist perspective, blame and responsibility are not attributed to the individual since actions are understood as joint, because individuals are understood to shape each other’s actions – “as part of a living ‘we’”, ‘forming while being formed’ (McNamee and Gergen, 1999; Shotter, 1993; Stacey, 2001). 
Regarding, ‘forming while being formed’, I’ve always loved this Escher drawing to illustrate that point:

As for how this impacted on the way I did research for my own PhD, while I accepted the social constructionist view in general, I found that the constructivist view described more accurately the way in which I collected data and the way I derived my findings.

The implications of this in terms of Charmaz’s constructivist view of grounded theory can be seen as follows:

“Constructivist grounded theory celebrates firsthand knowledge of empirical worlds, takes a middle ground between postmodernism and positivism, and offers accessible methods for taking qualitative research into the 21st century. Constructivism assumes the relativism of multiple social realities, recognises the mutual creation of knowledge by the viewer and the viewed, and aims towards interpretive understanding of subjects’ meaning. The power of grounded theory lies in its tools for understanding empirical worlds. We can reclaim these tools from their positivist underpinnings to form a revised, more open-ended practice of grounded theory that stresses its emergent, constructivist elements. We can use grounded theory methods as flexible, heuristic strategies rather than as formulaic procedures” (Charmaz 2003:250-1).

In view of Charmaz’s critique of grounded theory and the more generally stated proposition of the constructivist view above, the research I carried out for my PhD was is grounded in an integration of a grounded theory and a constructivist grounded theory approach.

The way I did this was to assess a variety of methods of data collection in order to fulfil the criteria of grounded theory as I’ve attempted to outline above. I then used data analysis techniques that were complementary to the grounded theory approach as well.

I realise that while this blog post started off fairly lightweight it has in its second half descended into academic-lingo. I make no apologies because those working at this level as researchers will need to get their head round this. However, If you have any questions or wish to discuss further, please leave a comment below or tweet me at @cazzwebbo


Everything Flows & Nothing Abides

Understanding Life’s Biggest Challenge: Change

What is ‘change’? Have you ever thought about it? How does it look and feel to you? Is it a meander through the funky forest of luscious life, taking in the grisly and gorgeous glory of all its sumptuous seasons? Frolicking, fresh and Spring lamb-like, followed by hot, humid and sultry; then perhaps credit crunchingly crisp and in the red, with a dash of cold and contrasting, biting, bracing blizzards thrown in just for good measure? Or is it the marvellous metamorphosis of a crawling caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly?

A multitude of other metaphors come to mind, too. Such as a bonny baby growing into a terrible toddler, an interested infant morphing into a pre-pubescent adolescent, a tormented teen bursting into adulthood, and a mid-life crisis degenerating into the crescendo of growing to a grand old age disgracefully. Ok, I rushed that stage of the life-cycle through a flattering yet rapid demise; perhaps there are a few more shades of nuance and subtlety in the mix before one meets one’s maker.

Image source:

There are of course multiple perspectives of change, and they aren’t all linear. The nature of change might be illustrated by the Hindu parable of the blind men and the elephant …

“Six blind men of Hindustan […] met with an elephant one day. And, after their meeting, each described what he had encountered. The first said that an elephant was like a leaf. The second adamantly disagreed, claiming that it was certainly like a wall. The third described the elephant as a mighty tree, the fourth a spear, the fifth a rope, and the last one thought it was really a snake. Each of them had got hold of a different part of the elephant and so had come away with remarkably different understandings of this creature.” (Hatch, 1997)

I’d say the point was that we are like those blind men. The nature of change in our lives is our elephant. Change is a large and complex, moving phenomenon. It’s only our perceptual equipment that handicaps us in comprehending it fully. Because of that, it’s difficult to ‘know’ about it in a holistic or total way. All perspectives are inadequate in their own way and you have to consider numerous perspectives in order to really make sense of change.

So, where to start? Well, perhaps think about your own life. How have recent changes in your own life felt? How have these changes hit you? How have you responded to these changes? How do you feel about how you responded? Do I sound like your therapist yet??? :-))

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In attempting to define change further, we might turn to Toffler (1971), who said, ‘In the awesome complexity of the universe, even with any given society, a virtually infinite number of streams of change occur simultaneously. All “things” – from the tiniest virus to the greatest galaxy – are, in reality, not things at all, but processes. There is no static point…’ Complexity scientists will love that, especially fans of Ralph Stacey (proponent of the theory of ‘Complex Responsive Processes of Relating’). Imagine a complex infinity of interweaving streams of change, criss-crossing through an interconnected web of life, still unfolding in the course that they flow.

If you think Toffler was a bit too recent for your liking though, how about stepping in your time machine and travelling back to ask Heraclitus what he thought way back in 500 BC? He said, ‘Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed…… Cool things become warm, the warm grows cool; the moist dries, the parched becomes moist….It is in changing that we find repose.’ Change is a poetic constant therefore. Life keeps changing. Its ebbs and flows are one of the few things we can be sure of, apart from death and taxes.

So, if there are infinite numbers of streams of change occurring simultaneously in this interconnected web of life we live, what are some of the main streams of change you might be able to identify running through your life right now? Some may be more obvious than others, while some may not have reared their head at all yet, but just be brewing beneath the surface… ready to pounce like a tiger with very sharp teeth. Just saying. But, in reflecting on your current repose, what big changes have you successfully gone through in your life in the past? Sometimes our ability to emerge still alive through these transitions can be an anchor; just the knowledge that you made it through can help. And yes, ‘this too shall pass’. Of course, some change is positive. But, just as an aside, if change were an iceberg, would you let it sink you and are you a titanic?

Just to pause to reflect for a moment, I wonder what change icebergs are floating above the surface in your life right now, visible for all to see. And if there are any, I wonder what bigger changes are going on beneath the surface. Might it be possible to consider in what way these changes could already by affecting and impacting on the larger landscape of your life? Perhaps now and into the future?

Whether you feel able to postulate such possibilities or not, it might interest you to think about Golembiewski’s (1976) three types of change. Firstly, he identified Alpha Level Change: a gradual, incremental, planned approach to change that cumulates over a period of time and focuses on changes to particular areas within your own life or environment (tip of the iceberg stuff – visible to others above the surface). Second came Beta Level Change: a gradual, incremental emergent approach to change that develops over a period of time to cumulative and comprehensive change in your life or environment (the deeper, under the water stuff). Thirdly, Golembiewski posited the thought of Gamma Level Change: a revolutionary, transformational and comprehensive attempt to create change over the whole of your life or environment; this would be a paradigm shift (the entire iceberg in its polar environment that may completely change).

Reflecting on THAT (yes, re-read it and think about it, a few times maybe … go on, that last paragraph, again)… What could make deeper, bigger changes to your life? As, say, opposed to just re-arranging deckchairs on the Titanic type superficial change?

In Search of Lost Time, Down the Stream of Consciousness, in Your Own Canoe

“Nothing is less useful than an adventure without meaning, an encounter without notes… a great ethnographic work is both scientific and literary… translating patterns… far from providing a smooth road… makes the journey appropriately rough… the resulting picture is multidimensional, a kind of holograph that can be glimpsed with tantalizing clarity from certain angles, but that from others dissolves into hazy depths owing to the complex convergence of forces that create the image.”

And so crashed over me that amazing wave of a quote, onto the shores of my first year studying anthropology at university. It was taken from the little book, “The Anthropological Lens: Harsh Light, Soft Focus”, by Peacock. Then, about nine years after I’d done and dusted with my undergraduate degree, I was compelled to dig this quote up again to share it with a new friend who was blowing my mind with other new stuff.

Marcel Proust’s, ‘In Search of Lost Time’. It was recommended to me by that friend, who said it could change your life. I am not sure about that but I do think it encourages you to reflect on your past, your memories and your childhood, and also to pay attention to detail and the like instead of racing through life. It’s also true that since I was introduced to it, it has kept rearing its head. Again, and again. So maybe it did change my life. An enhanced awareness of the world around me maybe.

My friend had said:

“Marcel Proust is a life changing read; “In Search of Lost Time”. The best section is “Swann’s Way”. It’s considered by some to be the best literature of the century. It’s not about the story (which is quite bland) it’s about the writing with its attention to detail and his incredible ability to capture in words human characteristics. I particularly love a famous bit where he’s eating a bun and the flavour stirs up some distant memory which he tries to latch onto, but nearly loses, but then captures it in all its glory. When Swann experiences pangs of jealousy I didn’t believe until I read it that it was possible to capture such emotions in writing. Also, Proust never uses anyone else’s clichés; all his examples and similes and illustrations are brand new and delicious. The first line of the novel has got to be unique, “For a long time I used to go to bed early,” then as he dozes and awakens the walls and furniture seem to slide into new positions as if he’s awoken in his aunt’s house twenty years earlier as a child. Awesome!! Anyways below is a link to what I think is the simplest way of seeing in all its glory the conclusion of quantum mechanics. This to me highlights the idealistic and not the mechanistic view of existence.  I’m sure you understand what I mean. By the way the wonder is in the last few seconds:

We’d chatted briefly about quantum mechanics in a passing interlude on a sunny lawn the previous week.

So my friend had said Proust would change my life… still not sure about that, but he had unlocked part of my old one. He also talked about the ‘Stream of Consciousness’ to me. He said:

“I love “Stream of Consciousness” writing.  My hero is James Joyce, also Virginia wolf. I think James Joyce actually wrote the longest word ever when he wrote about going down a slide and he wrote something like “weeeeeeeeeooooooaaaaaaaaaeeeee” (he did it a lot better). But you actually had to read the whole word –  Hold on a mo – kettles just boiled……….. Hi I’m back with a hot cup of tea, white with two sugars, sip, ahhhh lovely. Now then where was I – Oh yes James Joyce. I think you get the point (stream of consciousness) lol. Anyway, I’ve been watching your retro YouTube clips – excellent. Now I know you like music I’ll send you a few favourite clips of mine, but don’t worry, I don’t expect you to like any. Can you remember in “The Glass bead Game” Joseph Nacht associated the smell of an acorn with Spring and a Schubert sonata, and explained that his appreciation and connection of those 3 things was completely subjective and that while he could explain his appreciation and connection of them to others he couldn’t transmit his appreciation to others – each person must make their own way.  The reason that comes to mind is because it never ceases to amaze me how subjective appreciation of music is. Any way I came across this YouTube video and quite liked it – it’s quite unique – I like the rapper,  lol:

Yes, that video was totally unique, to me anyway. Very much reminded me of a kind of tea-time come early evening dance session at a bar in Soho, London, I went to once with a very funky friend from my halls of residence. I wasn’t cool enough by far but it was quite an atmosphere to soak up and just enjoy being in and witnessing. People were dressed a bit like they were in that YouTube video, although everyone different, not at all similar to each other. It was somewhere in between jazz and funk and blues and retro all at once. How people were dressed did it for me. Love the swing scene (music that is) for all that glamour too. Anyway, that video, my friend guessed me right, I didn’t exactly like it, but not that I didn’t like it altogether, it just didn’t grab me because I didn’t know how to place it. I’d probably need it in a genre or something. I’m obviously not sophisticated enough. It was very arty though and yeah, definitely quirky and funky. Appealing in an aesthetic way. All that retro stuff I like just used to leave me on a silly high and smiling and quite often singing along with a Bic biro.

So anyway, I loved the stream of consciousness idea. If you are a person who has a problem concentrating it can help to kind of give yourself a kick and bring you back to the here and now. And it also helps you stop externalizing and focusing on others in a way that could be destructive in the vein of, “he/she is this or that”. So how about trying to centre yourself, and asking yourself, what am I thinking now? What am I seeing now? What am I feeling now? What am I doing now? Now! It’s like paying attention to yourself in a way that drowns out external noise, so you can get back in the stream you want to be in, in your own canoe. Yes, you read that right: in your own canoe! I Love that metaphor, and it’s gone down well in the pub before now as well :-)) Are you in your own canoe? Well, are you?

My friend said: “I’m glad you like “Stream of Consciousness”. You’re right; it can be a bit of a life changing experience.  It frees you up to be able to write more honestly, which can be less formal and more creative.  That’s what I think anyway.” My friend also said a lot more… cranked up a fair mental whirlwind. Sometimes you meet people who do this to you – these are the inspirational teachers of life. When you are ready, they really do appear.

But stream of consciousness for me was so, so much more than just freeing you up for writing. I’d say it was more like a tool for freeing you up for LIVING! The stuff on resurfacing the consciousness… at minimum it reminds you of things you might have read or absorbed and been influenced by so you can re-examine if you want that in your life or not… but whoooooooooooaaaaaaaaaa, at the deeper level it is the deepest psychological tool known to man, in my humble opinion, for scraping the insides of the darkest depths of your existence. All those people who have been traumatized by goodness knows who or what… it’s a tool to just wipe it all away… the absolute key to authenticity… you can’t live deliberately unless you can sift through every recess of your mind to know what has influenced you in what way (which probably means no one truly can 100 %). Imagine being able to go backwards through time to unpick all that and choose whether you want to keep it or not… (like battered wives or abused children or war veterans with PTSD, etc, etc, never mind just being able to choose to delete the influence a book or a film or a painting might have had on you) because, that is the key to being how we are now and what else will happen in our lives.

Another topic: ‘My town does not exist” – it’s ok, I thought as much all along, I said. Constructs: my town does not exist apart from a social, political and geographical etc construct, a meme, linguistically constructed and reified through people’s conversations with each other, existing because of and through memory. Seen that film, ‘Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind’, by the way? Just as an aside.

A big theoretical guru hero of mine during my PhD that I haven’t mentioned yet… Ralph Stacey…  He proposes the theory of Complex Responsive Processes of Relating (CRPR). He used to be all in tune with CAS (Complex Adaptive Systems Theory) but he decided that while that was ok for non human systems such as ants, birds, bees and computer simulations, humans needed something that included free will and Kantian dualism, paradox, with the use of a temporal, not a spatial, metaphor to apply analogically. Basically it all boils down to everything in life being seen as a conversation; interaction between – the space between being important (remember that phrase from the New Age fiction, The Celestine prophesy?) because it is from there that novelty, spontaneity and creativity emerge; conversation and interaction being a catalyst for creation. Cognitivists hate Stacey’s stuff, because they think it negates reality of things, and reduces everything to some kind of mythological, ontological fairy-tale.

Anyway, the point being, that if in conversation we both agree something exists, then our inter-subjective interaction has just made it real. End of story. So having talked about it, yes, your town does exist, and therefore, because we have created it, we can decide how it is and how it is going to be. We can embellish it and develop it through our conversation, misunderstandings, agreements, and disagreements, all we want, it’s our decision, confusion, and chaotic mess to play out. Only by changing the conversation ourselves or by letting someone else do that can our town be changed. That’s how many consultants in business earn thousands each week, by helping employers change the conversation going on inside a firm. It’s what psychotherapists do with groups and individuals. If someone is depressed they will listen to the conversation the client is dialoguing, accept it to a certain extent as a similar version of the conversation the client is having in their head, change the verbal conversation and try to validate and change the person’s own mental conversation they are having with themselves. Also, ever heard the phrase ‘primary knowing’? That’s an interesting thing. What about ‘shadow themes’? Some stuff for you to look up if you are unfamiliar with them. Do you have an initial mental tornado brewing up nicely now?  I did after all this. Marvellous :-))

Below is a stream of consciousness exercise I developed to run in a workshop after all this. Have a go!

Poetry Night: Stream of Consciousness Exercise

Put on your poet’s cap to write a poem … Title: “The River of Me…”

Unleash your creative and imaginative potential. Get more focus in your life. Learn how to listen to your own voice. Be more grounded. Find flow.

1)       Read my previous blog entry on Jack Kerouac and find some YouTube videos where he recites his work
2)       Think deeply about beat poetry and free writing and stream of consciousness
3)       Do the following stream of consciousness exercise:

Stream of consciousness exercise

Frame 1: words and thoughts of recollections up to ten years old

Frame 2: words and thoughts of recollections up to 20 years old
Frame 3: words and thoughts of recollections up to 30 years old
Frame 4: words and thoughts of recollections up to 40 years old
Frame 5: words and thoughts of how you feel about life now
Frame 6: words and thoughts of things that you want to change
Frame 7: words and thoughts of things that you really, really want to change
Frame 8: words and thoughts of how things are going to be!
Frame 9: words and thoughts of how change feels
Frame 10: words and thoughts of how in tune with life you are – and where life is taking you

You might include words and thoughts about sights, smells and colour, taste and touch, objects, people, speed and light, dark and depth, shocks and horrors, highs and lows, delights and joys, emotions and ideas… or your own ideas 😉

Are you having fun yet? :-))

The pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

Learning to Write: Jack Kerouac Style

In a Jack Kerouac interview on the Steve Allen show in 1959, host Steve asked Jack “a couple of square questions”, while plonking around on the piano, in a very jazz lounge style.

Jack had been at the heart of the beat generation born in the early 1950s, and his book, “On the Road”, an embodiment of the new generation, had been a best seller. It took Jack just 3 weeks to write up this book, after being on the road for 7 years. He wrote so fast he used to like using a big, long, roll of paper, instead of normal typing paper. He’d just keep going and going in a long narrative novel style, and when he wanted to change his narrative thought he would just keep going, as if transforming his own text organically while writing, stream of consciousness style in an outpouring of mind and thoughts. He didn’t go back and edit and re-write, he never went back and changed pages at the end.

As well as being shocking for his era (and banned!), he was refreshing and playful, entertaining and in touch with everyday reality. Reading ‘American Haikus’ he proclaimed, “Well here I am, 2pm – what day is it?”… and “In the morning frost, the cats step slowly”.

In “On the Road” he explains he wrote the book ‘because we’re all going to die…’, and goes on to relate how many in his life are dead already. Everybody being dead resonates with me. He just says it how it is. And makes a pregnant pause to remind us enigmatically to ‘think of Dean Moriarty’.

In “The Beat Generation” he talks about ‘One mad brunette at the bar, drunk with her boys’, and elaborates the essence of the beat, ‘It’s the beat of the heart’. He flows on with a street scene, “Dark, holy, just out of jail, martyred, tortured by sidewalks, starved for sex and companionship, open to anything, ready to introduce a new world with a shrug”… conjuring the internal reflections of his minded experience on the road.

Jack presents a down to earth experience in ‘Bowery Blues’, at the ‘Cooper Union Cafeteria, late, cold, March afternoon’, where ‘Some guy on the corner is waving his hand down, knowing somebody emphatically’, and tells us about ‘A yakking blonde with awful wide smile’ as well as ‘Unutterably sad, the broken winter-shattered face of a man passing in the bleak ripple followed by a Russian boxer with an expression of Baltic lostness’; people watching in a detached yet sympathetic with the human condition kind of way.

In ‘The United States of Poetry’ JK writes he ‘Got up and got dressed up and went out and got laid and then died and got buried in a coffin in the grave’.

In ‘The Mad Road’ he says he ‘could see a bug playing in the hot sun, swoooooosh…’, his thoughts bouncing and pouring out from the internal musings of a man’s mind, connecting himself with his surroundings.

I like how Mike Myers plays with Jack’s style of poetry in ‘So I married an Axe Murderer. Tongue in cheek, a wry smile type of thing.

So what do we have that we can be inspired by and learn from? In ‘The Jack Kerouac Writing Lesson: Belief & Technique for Modern Prose’, his ‘edge between craziness and craft’ comes to us in step by step instructions…

1)      Scribble secret notebooks and wild typewritten pages for your own joy

2)      Submissive to everything, open and listening

3)      Try never get drunk outside your own house

4)      Be in love with your life

5)      Something that you feel will find its own form

6)      Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind

7)      Blow as deep as you want to blow

8)      Write what you want, bottomless from bottom of the mind

9)      The unspeakable visions of the individual

10)  No time for poetry but exactly what is

11)  Visionary tics shivering in the chest

12)  In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you

13)  Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition

14)  Like Proust be an old teahead of time

15)  Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue

16)  The jewel centre of interest is the eye within the eye

17)  Write in recollection and amazement for yourself

18)  Work from the pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea

19)  Accept loss forever

20)  Believe in the holy contour of life

21)  Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in the mid

22)  Don’t think of words when you stop, but to see, picture better

23)  Keep track of every day, the date emblazoned in your morning

24)  No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language and knowledge

25)  Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it

26)  … the list does go on…

 As if you need more of a starting point… just to refer to the film, ‘Dead Poets Society’ and the classroom ‘Yawp’ scene… Student Todd is quietly wanting the ground to swallow him up as he confesses to teacher Robin Williams, “I didn’t do it, I didn’t write a poem”, embarrassed to the hilt. Williams drags Todd to the front, telling him playfully he has ‘Got to get in yawping stance’. Todd eventually yawps out a yawp. Williams says, ‘See! There it is! There’s a barbarian in you after all!’ He then quickly spins him round, demanding more poetry, straight from the heart. “Don’t think – answer! Say the first thing that pops into your head, even if it’s a load of gibberish”. So he does, excellently. His fellow students laugh. Williams demands Todd ‘Forget them!” Todd finishes his heart felt response. All students applaud….
So there you go… work from the pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea… have fun 🙂