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Deb Booth

I have finally finished reading your latest blog comparing your 1980 planning paper to Informal Coalitions, at least up to blog 6 - a succinct and interesting way to summarise the key points of the latter. Was there something about the experience of (conversations involved in) being a planner that facilitated your interest in developing a deeper understanding of the processes of organisational dynamics? Or did your interest precede your planning role? Your blog seems to suggest you found a greater openness to interpreting organisations as self-organising networks of conversations in your earlier self than you expected.
I heard Arie de Geuss talk last week and was struck by the coincidence of your planning backgrounds and approach to organisations. Although he is more interested in formal ways to influence decision-making conversations amongst managers, such as dialogue rules, rather than the informal processes described in your own work both of you developed an interest in the way conversations create change and how such conversations can be harnessed to benefit the organisation long before anyone else was thinking about this.
De Geuss was in the oil business, you in the power generating business. I watched a BBC4 prog about the early history of the CEGB last night, did you? Until then I hadn’t realised how important it is to be able to match power generated to demand, minute by minute. While Planning appears to be critical to organisational success in both industries, accurate forecasting is equally difficult. Might this have placed corporate planners, such as yourselves, in the hotseat? Did you respond to line managers’ unrealistic expectations through conversations which re-interpreted ‘planning’ as ‘a process of dialogue’ rather than ‘the creation of a Plan’? Might the successful(‘organisationally beneficial’, personally rewarding) outcome of such conversations about the meaning of planning have led both of you to develop personal frames of reference within which conversational processes became especially highly valued (and interesting) leading both of you to advance our knowledge of organisational dynamics, albeit in different ways?
Or am I putting 2 and 2 together to make 5?

Chris Rodgers

Thanks, Deb.

Apologies for my delay in replying; although we've spoken in the meantime.

I've been reflecting on your question about the origins of my attraction to informal conversation as the main currency of organizational dynamics. And I've found it difficult to 'put my finger on it'. In a post I wrote before this 'mini-series', Managing budgets - It's all talk!, I again stressed the crucial role of conversation in approaching what was positioned by others at the time (c.1983) as a very structured process of technical and financial analysis. So there was definitely something going on then; although it might have had more to do with my general scepticism about the credibility of applying rational, machine-like assumptions to the essentially social processes of organizational dynamics. Certainly, Burns and Stalker's paper contrasting what they called "mechanistic" and "organismic" approaches to organizational leadership made an impression on me in the early 1970s. As did Drucker's thoughts on communication, which I reflected on in an earlier post - imaginatively called Drucker on communication in organizations.

It would be true to say that the dominant perspective within the CEGB at the time of my thesis was that the planner's job was (almost by definition) to "produce plans", whether at the corporate or individual location level. My aim was deliberately to challenge this position. Thankfully, I reported for much of that time to a plant manager who was very enlightened in his approach and willing to put up with my somewhat unconventional approach to the role (I acknowledge his contribution in the book).

Sadly, I didn't see the programme on the CEGB, for which I still have much affection. The privatisation of the industry in 1990 brought many benefits which otherwise would have been unobtainable. But I don't see this as an adverse commentary on the CEGB, which performed it's "keeping the lights on" task very admirably. The system operational challenge of economically matching supply to demand in the moment was at the heart of the CEGB's operations but the planning that I'm referring to in my report is much more to do with the resource and performance management of individual locations. Whilst system operations resided largely in the domain of quantitative management methods, power station management and operation was much more of a socio-political (arational) as well as techno-financial (rational) process.

Cheers, Chris

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