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Man, and this one is on my reading list. Thanks!


Came back by to really dissect the review. LOTS of great stuff. I love his challenge to those who use complexity in sheep's clothing.

And these favs:

"In other words, in socially complex processes, so-called “facts” are always circumscribed by issues of power, ideology and identity." [exactly the 'lore' I go hunting for]

The nature of business as a game: people “… are pre-occupied by the game rather than [as suggested by the dominant discourse] acting rationally to achieve goals.”

And of course the culminating highlight you offered: “Perhaps we need to accept that management and leadership are not sciences but fundamentally social phenomena"

Thanks for the appetizers which will have to suffice until I can buy a copy : )

Chris Rodgers

Thanks, Paula. I'm pleased that you found it useful.

I agree that there are many 'nuggets' in the book - not leat the three that you have highlighted.

Hopefully the book will also be read by other than those of us who are already 'sold' on this general line of thinking.

Cheers, Chris

Goos Geursen

Im am triggered by your remark in the Stacey book review of 13th March 2010'...I remain to be convinced that there is a need to distinguish between first- and second-order abstractions'. Also to me this disticition is not clear either. What might look like Stacey's description is the left vs. right brain half division made a.o. by Ned Herrmann: first order abstraction by interpreting the whole as a whole (synthesis) and second order abstraction by analysing it into parts, steps, words etc. This would make more sense to me.
Goos Geursen
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Chris Rodgers

Hi Goos,

Thank you for your interesting observation.

I'm familiar with Ned Herrmann's Whole Brain model, the four quadrants of which correspond in essence to those in many other representations of individual and organizational dynamics with which you might be familiar. I'm thinking, for example, of Quinn's Competing Values Framework and Adizes' PAEI Management Roles. The quadrants in my own Performance Management Framework, outlined in the book, similarly align with Hermann's four domains. So I feel that these frameworks have face validity and can lead to useful insights for individuals and groups.

However, it's frameworks/models such as these that Stacey refers to as second-order abstractions. By this he means that they seek to draw generalized conclusions and provide universal guidance for 'dealing with' what he (and I) would see as the unique and particular interactions that comprise everyday organizational life. It's from the dynamic interplay of these local interactions that widespread outcomes emerge.

As you suggest, these second-order abstractions are the result of deliberate analysis. This was at one time thought to be the product of linear 'left brain' thinking; and, although the science suggests that the left-right 'split' is not as clear cut(!) as once thought, it remains a useful metaphor.

As I noted in my review, Stacey contrasts abstraction with what he calls "immersion" in the organizational 'game'. And, although people are often participating habitually in this ongoing process of interaction (or, as I would say, in ways that tend to reflect taken-for-granted 'cultural' assumptions), they inevitably use abstractions as part of this process. Some of these might be in the form of second-order (designed) models and concepts that they are using deliberately to inform their participation. Others will take the form of everyday words, feelings and concepts that infuse and influence their interactions but which nevertheless can be seen as abstractions from the 'essence' of the interactions themselves. It's these that Stacey refers to as first-order abstractions.

The fact that such abstractions are affecting the ways in which people perceive, interpret, evaluate and act upon their everyday experiences is often outside people's immediate awareness. As such these can be equally as powerful as the designed models and frameworks in shaping outcomes - if not more so. Since these abstractions are intimately (and often imperceptibly) interwoven with immersion in the ongoing 'game' of organizational life, I guess you could use the 'right-brain' metaphor to describe the fluidity, spontaneity and 'pattern-seeking' nature of this process.

Stacey's main concern is that excessive use of second-order abstractions risks deflecting attention from the uniquely human and local nature of organizational interaction which is the essence of organizational dynamics. As regards the impact of first-order abstractions, he sees reflection as an important process for people to become engaged in.

As a final point, I think that Stacey would take issue with the idea that there is a "whole" that can be interpreted in any way; if by that you mean something that exists beyond individuals in interaction.

Thanks again for your comments, Chris

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