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Tom Gibbons

Hello Chris,

It’s been interesting to read your posts and follow your ‘journey’. It prompted me to search out an old paper on strategy I wrote about 15 years ago and look at it in a similar way to what you have done.

What I find perhaps most interesting is that over the years, it seems that you have stayed consistent with, and developed ideas from earlier thinking that, to me, are quite subtle in the original work and could have easily been developed into typical and mainstream concepts. For example - Extract #20 – Seeing all organizations as unique – even those that appear to be identical - even though this seems pretty straightforward, the current thinking in organizations would turn this idea into ‘best practices’ and work very hard to perfect implementation tools and techniques to eliminate what “…might be impossible for others.”

I think that extract is a good one to illustrate within this context. I really think many, many people could have written a paper like yours 30 years ago and now be doing very typical, strategic planning work, change management work etc. and have interpreted that paper right into the mainstream way of thinking about organizations today. I believe your own uniqueness shines through…. : )

I think it also illustrates how challenging it can be to really try and ‘live’ differently than the dominant way of thinking about organizations.

Chris Rodgers

Hi Tom,

Many thanks for your comment. I'm pleased that you're finding the series of posts interesting - and that it has stimulated you to dip into your own past writing. I was a bit concerned that it might all seem too self-indulgent. But I'm finding it a useful tool for self-reflection. Can we look forward to some reflections on complex responsive processes based on your strategy paper?

As I think back to 1980, I definitely recall railing against the heavily rational approach to planning that was prevalent at the time - and still is. I think this comes through in the original text, even if subtly. And so, from that point of view at least, I remain comfortable with what I've read so far.

As you say, of course, I'm viewing the text from the point of view of ‘Chris Rodgers, vintage 2010’. If my thinking had not followed the course that it has since 1980, then I might conceivably have read the original text differently, and still been able to construct some threads of continuity with a radically different perspective than that which has found its way into informal coalitions.

I prefer to think that my current line of thinking was indeed seeded in these early challenges to what Ralph Stacey would today call "the dominant management discourse". My recent post on a zero-base budgeting process, also relating a story from the early 1980s, echoes this point:

I had originally suggested to the Plant Manager – only half jokingly – that I would have been happy to have compiled the preliminary [budgetary] listing by drawing the proposals out of a hat! ... But, in an industry based on technical precision and (outwardly) rational decision-making, something was required which at least had face validity with engineers and other professionals."

Your final point, about the difficulties and frustrations of constantly ‘banging your head against the brick wall’ of conventional management wisdom, rings true. In a paper I wrote as part of my MSc on Managing Change in the late 1990s, I drew attention to Wallace and Ridgeway’s point about the importance of “marginality”. In Leadership for Strategic Change (1996), they argue:

"['Marginal men' have] . . . in an ambiguous environment . . . the capability to spot differences, to determine the patterns in unconnected data, and thus to perceive the factors that are relevant. ... They spot ideas that others do not and then they make public the ideas that others might not understand or appreciate…”

As I went on to say, though:

“The trick here is to become a "marginal man" without becoming a ‘nowhere man - sitting in his nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody’ (Lennon-McCartney)!”

This remains a challenge!

Cheers, Chris

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