The world is in economic turmoil. As professionals we need to critically review all that we do and how we do it. What is our role, and are we up to it?

A far reaching question that raises many others.

The world is changing. It creates new leadership challenges. Who are the new leaders? How are they being developed? How do people give of their best? How can their organisations enable them to do this given the current situation?

Professionals engaged in developing people and organisations may be academics, consultants or practitioners. How interrelated are these roles? Is our work something to be proud of? Are we contributing to the chaos?

Working in complex contexts, we need the support of new voices a sharing of ideas and experimentation.  The time has come to challenge ourselves, re-evaluate what we have been doing - to rethink and reappraise?

AMED’s 2012 ‘New Thinking for Troubled Times’ series  of workshops engaged people who are pushing boundaries and wanting to explore.  In 2013 we want to tap into the network of radical doers and thinkers even more purposefully.

What will be the next cutting edge?

Will a grand overarching vision emerge – would it help?  

This is the springboard for our ‘Exploring Frontiers 2013’ face to face meeting of minds in the Autumn. Engage with this debate – to shape and drive forward our shared thinking. Share your thoughts, post your ideas and questions here. Or contact me if you’d like to have a conversation.

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We are now taking bookings for the AMEDconference 'Exploring Frontiers' . Prepare to be surprised.

We will be looking to hear from practitioners working in this area before the event (through the web based discussions already started above) and then to develop and work on these during the two days. This will enable us to practice reflection-in-action based upon intuition, theory and real case work; bending our professional skills with a keen sense of the real world context. So please join in this blogs and then build upon these with us in Bournemouth.

As a prompt to prepare the ground for the AMEDconference (8th-9th October 2013) I shall be posting some of the thoughts, questions and ideas that sprang from our face to face meeting after the AMED AGM.  (Rather than attribute, and risk misquoting - I offer my grateful thanks to all those who attended.)

Zone of Uncertainty

The 80 Minute MBA was published just after the world shifted; The 2008 global financial crash is mentioned in the introduction – “Our MBA is one constructed in clear sight of a broken planet and a broken financial system” (p10).  A broken planet might be stretching a point too far. But the current situation puts us all in a zone of uncertainty.

To operate effectively in a zone of uncertainty requires considerable flexibility, or for those acting as agents a high degree of freedom of operation. Something akin to the ‘rules of engagement’ for military operations. But, and there is always a ‘but’, there are difficulties in switching away from where we are right now. Past decisions carry consequences into the present. Similarly things we learned in the past are now part of our thinking, our mind set.

For any organisation it is very difficult to overcome the weight of its history, which has taught it and shaped it in myriad ways . Which constrains it to incremental actions, doing what it can given where it is now. Whereas new approaches may be essential for continued survival. A need to throw away ideas that may seem precious and are currently perceived to retain value, to break the mould and reinvent.

What help can we offer?


 

Ned,

You mention the "weight of history in organizations. For many leaders this both a source of energy  (as a reminder of core values) and a burden (proscribing the 'way we do things round here').

Another 'weight of history' , and a thread that might enliven some of our discussions in October , is the presence of past patterns. I mentioned '1493' in an earlier post which is the shorthand for reminding us that most Western history focuses on the growth of Europe and the New World after Columbus. There are views that before this 500 year period of economic and military dominance earlier (and longer) periods of history show a world centered on the East for reasons of resources, populations and skills, and this may be a pattern that is returning?

Another (and also contested) historical theme is perhaps assisted by a re-reading of Voltaire. In the early 17th century he suggested that there are four dominant issues for countries and their people: the quality of government and role of religion, and climate and demography. Most studies of history have focused on the first two (incorporating economics), yet in the 17th century major upheavals in Europe, Russia, China, Japan, and the Ottoman Empire were heavily influenced by climatic change (there were long periods of extreme weather, cold, drought and floods) and migration (e.g. the Scots to Poland).

One argument (also contested) is that leaders in the current age face a similar set of challenges (step changes) influenced significantly by climatic changes and mass migration (the two are inter-linked: as is health and well being for populations). In such a contested view to focus on economics, politics and to a certain extent religion risks missing fundamental global step changes that are present at both the State level and within communities.

"Exploring frontiers" may therefore be a very telling phrase in a world that does seem to be experiencing more significant climatic events, and is seeing the migration (and resistance to migration) influencing global companies and village communities.

I am not sure what 'help we can offer' but discussing topics that are strongly contested, could require some hard choices, and may make some people uncomfortable in terms of personal values and their own 'weight of history', may  be a useful starting point?



Ned Seabrook said:

As a prompt to prepare the ground for the AMEDconference (8th-9th October 2013) I shall be posting some of the thoughts, questions and ideas that sprang from our face to face meeting after the AMED AGM.  (Rather than attribute, and risk misquoting - I offer my grateful thanks to all those who attended.)

Zone of Uncertainty

The 80 Minute MBA was published just after the world shifted; The 2008 global financial crash is mentioned in the introduction – “Our MBA is one constructed in clear sight of a broken planet and a broken financial system” (p10).  A broken planet might be stretching a point too far. But the current situation puts us all in a zone of uncertainty.

To operate effectively in a zone of uncertainty requires considerable flexibility, or for those acting as agents a high degree of freedom of operation. Something akin to the ‘rules of engagement’ for military operations. But, and there is always a ‘but’, there are difficulties in switching away from where we are right now. Past decisions carry consequences into the present. Similarly things we learned in the past are now part of our thinking, our mind set.

For any organisation it is very difficult to overcome the weight of its history, which has taught it and shaped it in myriad ways . Which constrains it to incremental actions, doing what it can given where it is now. Whereas new approaches may be essential for continued survival. A need to throw away ideas that may seem precious and are currently perceived to retain value, to break the mould and reinvent.

What help can we offer?


 

Here are some more prompts to prepare for the AMEDconference (8th-9th October 2013).

 

Myth of control

How are managers responding to the high levels of ambiguity arising from the unpredictable nature of the environment? It might appear that an holistic, systems thinking approach is essential, but perhaps too big and complex to grasp. We are seeing examples of management generating what can only be described as a ‘myth of control’. (The NHS is the usual example here – just ask nursing staff!). New record keeping initiatives, perhaps seeking to stop errors being repeated, or to provide more data to the top decision makers, can be counter-productive. The introduction of new processes and systems invariably introduce additional administration and unintended consequences. As a consequence, people at the workface then have to cope with more admin and less time to do the real job.

 

Multiple Cultures

On coaching leaders, I’m reminded that a coach always has multiple cultures to work within. There is that which is personal to the individual (coach and coachee), and also the cultures of the host organisation and of the stakeholders. We could continue to consider the various micro-cultures within organisations too. So coaches and OD professionals more generally risk being part of the problem when shaping culture.

The AMEDconference 'Exploring Frontiers 2013' is your chance to explore these themes, or other themes that are important to you. Just a few weeks left - so book now to secure your place.

It has taken me sometime to get stuck in here, but I feel moved to respond to David Macara's point when he said'

Ned launches a huge question about what the future holds and how we should respond.  (A friend of mine thought it was a bit "all over the place".  Might be a fair comment but how should it be?  Targeted?  Focused?  On what?

I'd like to add in another dimension and ask  Who is the future for?

Even in our small country of the UK off the coast of Europe, we do not have a clear answer to this question.

I suspect that may might say that the future is designed for the speculators (and bankers) in that only a small proportion of transactions that take place are to do with trade in real things! It seems that the present is designed for a very few.

I look forward to the Conference and it helpingme to discover who the future should be for?

David

My beginning question in this kind of work is usually one of values.

'What do you care most about ?' - I might ask a group.

It has taken me a long time to realise that not everyone cares about the future.   Indeed a lot of seemingly wise guidance exhorts us to live in the now.

The most serious consequences of our actions in terms of carbon emissions will probably not come to pass in our lifetimes.  That can take conversations to a place that people don't necessarily care about.

This debate is framed by the phrase 'the world is in economic turmoil' - I'd like to push the frontiers and suggest that a society where large numbers of people don't care about social justice and maintaining an environment that can sustain a reasonable quality of life for future generations has got deeper problems than economic turmoil.  I say that because of what I choose to value.

What do you care most about ?

I’ve been pondering your challenge here, Chris.  It was good to meet you in Bournemouth.  I think you may have awakened me to an unseen assumption.  I believe it’s a collective assumption which many of us may be trapped in, that the economy is the driving force of society.  I can see it’s important to escape the trap but I don’t know how.  Perhaps I can paraphrase the opening sentence: “the economy is creating turmoil in the world.” 

I’ve recently been trying to fill the gap in my education where history should be.  I was looking for a ‘systems’ view and I found a couple of excellent online courses from Coursera.org.  I’m still struggling to see a driver strong enough transform the relentless influence of ever-expanding trade.  I imagine evolution will sort it out somehow but I find it difficult to see how we can learn. 

I have some hope in the ‘edge of chaos notion’ where the conditions for a new order to emerge depend on the right mix of diversity, connectedness and signal quality.  The trick, apparently, is to allow us to discover some shared, collective wisdom that is strong enough to overcome the shortcomings of our clumsy, centralised decision making processes and governing organisations.  

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