Section X: Reimagining and Reinventing Societies
and Social Thought
Track 6: Management
Mark Dibben and Bruce Hanson, chairs
Contrary to the assumptions of many in the field, leadership in large organizations (business management) does not have to be practiced in an inhuman and destructive manner. “Applied Process Thought, ” inspired by the thought of Alfred North Whitehead, can help the workplace be a much more relational and friendly place in which life can flourish.
The purpose of this track is twofold: 1. To demonstrate how process thinking can be meaningfully applied to understand management and the nature of organisations in a far richer more constructively postmodern way; and 2. To show how management can thereby be re-oriented to help lead us towards an Ecological Civilization.
Friday, 2-3:30 PM:
- Introduction: Whitehead, Management, Organization and the Challenge of an Ecological Civilization – with Mark Dibben
While there has been a great deal of work done applying process ideas from a range of Philosophers, including A.N. Whitehead, the challenge of an impending ecological civilization brings the question of management into sharp focus, for without management – and the proper sort of management – there is little or no possibility of us even achieving the transition from the ending of one Age and the beginning of another. Is Management dead? Do we even have the correct ways of thinking about management and organization that will allow us to cope with the challenges that lie ahead?
Friday, 4-5:30 PM:
- The Internal Relation – with John B Cobb Jr
The then-editor of the academic journal Organization Studies, Hari Tsoukas, invited John B Cobb Jr to write his thoughts on the ways in which process philosopher (and thus naturally, A.N. Whitehead’s process philosophy) could be used to understand and improve our lives in the context of our experience of organizations . In it, Cobb argued that the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead differs from most of those that have been influential in the West in its emphasis on process and on internal relations instead of substances and their external relations. For human beings this supports a model of person-in-community instead of the widely influential and highly individualistic and substantialist model of Homo economicus. Communities are societies that are held together by internal relations. The importance of community is widely recognized in organizational studies, but most business decisions are informed chiefly by the substantialist thinking expressed in Homo economicus. To endure and prosper, communities need institutional structures, but these should serve community’ (OS, 2007 – 28(04): 567–588).
Despite this avowedly process-rich understanding, interestingly the article is rarely if ever cited. This Session sets out to explore why this might be the case. Is it that there is little use for the concept of Persons-in-Community, or little understanding of the Whiteheadian concept of the internal relation? Despite the fact that it remains a central tenet of a thoroughgoing Whitehead process thought? How might the internal relation be understood in terms of, and shed insight upon, the practice of management and the reality of organisation? To what extent has an enthrallment with the Science of passive objectivity made a thoroughgoing Whiteheadian treatment of issues in and for management extremely difficult to achieve, reliant as they would be on the experiencing subject as the locus of analysis?
Saturday, 11 AM to 12:30 PM:
- The External Relation – with Tor Hernes (Introduced by Bruce Hanson, Concordia University Business School)
Tor Hernes’ work, presented most recently in his book ‘A Process Theory of Organization’ (Oxford, 2014), is ‘a novel and comprehensive process theory of organization applicable to ‘a world on the move’, where connectedness prevails over size, flow prevails over stability, and temporality prevails over spatiality… Salient ideas from process philosophy, pragmatism, phenomenology, and science and technology studies are carefully woven into a process theory of organization, [ a framework which] makes the book not only a thought provoking theoretical contribution, but also a much-needed glimpse into the challenges of organizing in a complex and moving world. This approach takes a distinctly temporal view of organizational life and thereby attempts to how actors continually carve out their temporal existence from being in the flow of time. This on-going work, in which technologies, concepts, and social actors take part, is crucial for the making of any type of organizational formation. A key construct of the book is that of events, which provide force, movement, and historicity to organizational life’ (2014). This Session will explore some of the underlying presumptions inherent in the events thesis; can it help us plot a way forwards in understanding the best ways in which process philosophy may be utilized to carve out a manageable Ecological Civilization?
Tor Hernes will Skype in from France to speak about his work
Saturday, 2-3:30 PM:
- Stories of Process Management in Practice – with Paul W. D’Arcy, Ph.D., Senior Vice President, Emeritus, Sanyo North America Corporation, a Member of the Panasonic Group. (Introduced by Mark Dibben, Tasmanian School of Business & Economics)
The enthralment of modernist managerial and organizational thought has made it difficult for leading practitioners to even begin to apply what may be to them ‘hard-core [but at the same time] common-sense understandings of the nature of reality and its consequent impact on ways of managing and organizing. How easy has it been to take Whitehead ‘into the field’, and ‘onto the coalface’? Is it possible, for example, to really engage in leading as process-practice? This Session hears from some that have. This includes Dr Paul D’Arcy, who spent his career at Sanyo-Fisher Corporation, becoming Vice-President of the company. He will speak about how he used process philosophy to guide that career, and how he used it to make important decisions about (e.g.) manufacturing, HRM and strategy. The session will also use vignettes as short case studies to explore key problems and how a process view shaped the decisions that were made in response to them.
Saturday, 4-5:30 PM
- Seeing Process-Relationality in Action – with Andrew Beath, President of SEE (Introduced by Bruce Hanson and with Vijay Sathe of the Drucker School of Management and Urs Jager of INCAE Business School, Costa Rica)
Andrew Beath is the founder of SEE, EarthWays Foundation and other non-profit social justice and environmental organizations. He completed a graduate degree in International Finance from Wharton University, and then began working as a corporate-based real estate developer in Southern California before turning his attention to more philosophical pursuits at age 30 and social justice and environmental restoration work about 25 years ago. Andrew has recently started several centers for conscious activism to teach environmental education and techniques that facilitate social change. He is the author of the book, Consciousness in Action.
Sunday, 11 – 12:30 PM
- Redemption, Hope and Appreciation – with Dwight Collins, Associate Dean at Presidio Business School, San Francisco (Introduced by Bruce Hanson).
Dwight Collins is one of the founding faculty members and Associate Dean of the MBA Program at the Presidio Graduate School (PGS) in San Francisco. PGS was founded in 2003 to change the way business is done on the planet to operate as we need to in an ecological civilization. PGS integrates environmental sustainability and social justice in every MBA course. This integration reflects the PGS perspective that society’s sustainability challenges cannot be solved at scale without the strategic cooperation of governance and business, and that managers and social entrepreneurs must be educated to make this relationship productive. A recent NY Times feature by Duff MacDonald, “M.B.A. Programs That Get You Where You Want to Go,” references PGS as the business school to attend “if you want to change the world.” Dwight will talk to the question of sustainability in the context of his wider work to provide leadership in humanity’s efforts to live sustainably on Earth (see also Collins Educational Foundation).
Sunday, 2 – 3:30 PM
- Conclusion. Mapping A Way Ahead: Managing for an Ecological Civilization? – with Mark Dibben
This Session will not only wrap up the Track, but will attempt to set the foundations for further thinking and practice that may help us not only grapple with the implications of an Ecological Civilization, but also seek to ensure through careful management decision and thoughtful organizational intra- and inter- action a successful transition. As a result of the previous Sessions it is hoped that new insights will have arisen into how it may be that Management can be re-awakened to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Is it too much to integrate theoretical advances into practical solutions?
John B. Cobb, Jr.