Working in groups – an overview of themes from the 2017 Complexity and Management conference.

Are we finding it harder to work in groups? And is the atomisation of society responsible for increases in mental illness? And are individuals being increasingly held responsible for the situation they find themselves in? There is something spookily Orwellian and dystopian in the examples cited from this summary of the Management and Complexity Conference.

Complexity & Management Centre

This year’s Complexity and Management conference invited delegates to think about groups. In my response to the three previous speakers, Martin Weegmann, Nick Sarra and Karina Solsø Iversen I asked delegates to consider the importance of groups against a backdrop of an increasingly individualised age, where identification with groups, whether they be communities, trades unions, social movements or other vehicles of collective identification seem increasingly difficult to maintain. This is a phenomenon remarked upon by a wide variety of sociologists in different countries, for example by Robert Putnam in the United States in his book Bowling Alone[1], and to which I drew attention in last year’s conference summing up here. Last year I talked about the way in which we are invited to become ‘entrepreneurial selves’, a trend which Foucault was one of the first to identify as an inevitable consequence of the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism

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Not everything works all the time

When I worked in mainstream Public Relations, I was often struck, when writing a pitch, by my desire to cover all the standard PR bases for the client.

Mass media? Of course. Your customers and prospects need to see you.

Newsletter? Of course. You need to control your messages.

Events? Of course. You need to get in front of your customers and prospects.

And so on. Switch on all the channels and have them on all the time. It was a percentage game. Something was bound to work, wasn’t it?

But I began to have doubts.

These surfaced particularly when I spoke to small or micro businesses who just didn’t have the resources or the energy to play all the slots. Sounding like a marketing or PR textbook didn’t work with these guys.

So I figured, well what one, two or three things brings you most business? Usually, for small businesses, it was word of mouth. Well, I’d say, can’t you do more of that? No, they’d say. I want to grow the business so I need to be in X, Y, or Z newspaper/trade journal/magazine/on TV.

We would both get a little exasperated and eventually part company.

Bestselling author Jeff Goins (The Art of Work) discovered the secret after becoming a bestselling author and it made my heart leap for joy when I read about it. He admitted to wasting days trying to cover all the marketing bases and discovered that most of his sales came from only two sources.

He discovered the 80/20 principle the hard way.

Of course, run of the mill professionals (and I include my former self in this) will sell you all kinds of things you don’t need instead of working out how you can spend least for optimum results. Things might have changed a bit in our era of austerity, but I doubt it. I suspect it’s made things worse.

Read Jeff’s experience here: https://medium.com/the-mission/dont-do-what-experts-tell-you-do-this-instead-631d7adc990

And think about your own 80/20.

So what shall we do?

Complexity & Management Centre

After a series of workshops in Australia a colleague observed to me that the perspective of complex responsive processes is very good at taking apart the dominant discourse on management. It does so systematically and methodically, and although making no claims to be the only school of thought which takes a critical stance towards instrumental management theory, it appears to offer nothing in its place. As my Australian colleague observed, ‘so what do you leave people with. What should they do?’

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Naked and blue in Hull

The alarm woke me at 0230. I got dressed into the old clothes recommended in the joining instructions, left my hotel room, and stepped out into the dark night.

I walked the 10 minutes to the rendezvous, past the late night revellers and in step with couples wearing onesies, tracksuits and a variety of outfits that could only mean they were heading in my direction.

We were all in Hull to take part in a Spencer Tunick art installation Sea of Hull. For those who don’t know, Spencer Tunick is famous for using naked people as brush strokes on his canvases of usually urban landscapes.

Hull is the UK’s City of Culture in 2017. Tunick’s commission is part of the show. Not only that, but the presence of thousands of naked people in city streets is guaranteed to generate publicity for the big event next year. It certainly worked. I saw pictures in the German publication Der Spiegel the same day.

What possessed me to put my name forward and make my nude modelling debut at the age of 61?

There were a number of factors. I went to university in Hull and have retained a great affection for the place. I wanted to contribute to its City of Culture achievement. I also have ancestral links with the city. But more than either of those things, I wanted to be naked in public without fear of arrest.

I can’t really explain this. I can only suggest that it’s like making a statement that I exist as part of nature. The removal of normal social constraints would be, I thought, quite liberating. And while that felt true of my personal motivation, the event itself was actually more reaffirming of our social instincts.

We signed in and were given a see-through plastic bag with a letter and a number on it. I was B2. I walked to Queen’s Gardens where thousands were already gathered in their assigned quadrant – B1, B2, B3 and B4. Each participant was handed a tub of coloured body make up – a different colour depending our your quadrant. Mine was a fetching light blue.

As a singleton, I found myself in a throng of couples and small groups. Given what we were about to do, I found the idea of striking up a conversation with anyone quite inhibiting. We stood around for a long time.

Then we were briefed by Spencer himself. We returned to our quadrants, told to strip off and apply our make-up.

The gusto with which 3,200 people shed their clothes was impressive. Like we’d been waiting all our lives for this moment. Within minutes we were head to toe in blue, purple or green. Men and women of all ages and sizes. Some were even in wheelchairs.

The make-up had a peculiar physical effect – like we had turned into statuary.

But the gradually overwhelming sense was that we were a community. We were sharing an experience with total strangers, yet felt we belonged to something bigger than ourselves.

The humour developed and spread. Its premise: that we were some kind of alien religious cult and Spencer was our god. When Spencer barked at us to “face the wall” we imbued it with quasi-mystical qualities and chanted: “The Wall. The Wall.” One of Spencer’s assistants, Steve, was continually referenced by our god, so every time Steve was asked to do something we responded with an unearthly ecstatic moan – Steeeeve. Steeeeve.

When we made our way up a street to our last installation – 3200 naked people in coloured body paint – there was a group of young folk on a balcony overlooking the scene. Someone shouted up to them: “You look weird!” And within the humour was a grain of truth. For that hour, we were mainstream. People in clothes were outcasts.

One question most people ask about being naked in a crowd of naked people is whether it is erotic. I guess the fear is that proximity to another naked person could trigger an unwelcome physical or emotional response – an erection or crushing embarrassment. It didn’t. I was struck that I could stand next to a beautiful naked young woman, appreciate her, and not be aroused. The cold air temperature probably helped. But it was more than that. A sense of community. A sense of togetherness that transcended our usual everyday emotions and reactions. A sense that their humanity, their ‘humankindness’, mattered a great deal and was worthy of  care and preservation. Respect and trust was an unspoken contract between us.

Afterwards, my blueness washed away down the shower drain and eating breakfast, I felt a sense of elation. I had been part of something extraordinary. Life-affirming. Human. I would definitely do it again.

 

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

We are getting smaller and we are bringing it on ourselves. Wake up people!

Complexity & Management Centre

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

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

Screenshot 2016-06-14 12.38.12

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

Screenshot 2016-06-14 12.44.19

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