Prelude to #Stoos: Looking for the Great Thought

What is the Great Thought that everyone will want to be part of? What is the Big Message that we all can believe in?

This Friday and Saturday some 20+ management thinkers and practitioners will gather in Stoos (Switzerland) and talk about management. In particular, we will discuss why management isn’t changing fast enough.

A New Attractor

The difficulty of changing a system is related to what complexity scientists call an attractor. No matter how you try to push the system away from the attractor (with great new ideas), the attractor (hierarchical bureaucracy) is too strong and always pulls the system back. That's why systems thinkers are often looking for leverage, or the one single change in a system that dissolves the attractor and creates a new one.

I now spend my time and energy wondering if we are able to create a new attractor.

In a practical sense that means (for me) coming up with something that will appeal to almost anyone, but for different reasons. We're dealing with many different kinds of managers, with many different needs. Agile was great for software developers because it gave them higher quality and sustainable pace. But it was also great for management, because it promised accelerated time to market, and ability to respond to change.

Likewise, if a Grand Idea will emerge in Stoos I think it should cater to different people.

A Grand Idea

We must cater to both traditional managers and young MBA students, both conservative and creative industries, both top management and middle management. For example, some values (like transparency) sound attractive for some groups (creative people), but definitely not for others (investment banks). If the gatherers in Stoos come up with a Big Message, it should be something that everyone can believe in. And then different flavors (like Beyond Budgeting, Radical Management, Management 3.0, etc) could all focus on certain groups. Just like Scrum and XP and Kanban target different people with different needs. But they are all part of the same movement.

So the question is…

What is the Great Thought that everyone will want to be part of?

What change will look so interesting that it dissolves the current attractor and creates a new one?

A Stakeholders’ Revolution

I am sometimes reminded that revolutions that toppled totalitarian regimes usually did not start within those regimes. That's why the pessimistic part of me thinks that some groups of managers may have to be written off. They will never want to give up what they have now. Just like very few monarchies were eager to embrace democracy.

The revolution may have to come from other stakeholders (employees, customers & communities). After all, they are the ones suffering most from badly managed organizations.

p.s. If you want to keep yourself up-to-date: follow the #Stoos tag on Twitter.

(picture: Nicolas Desprez)

(Jurgen Appelo is author of Management 3.0, a best-selling management book for Agile developers. It has a picture of a monster in it.)

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  • Anko Tijman

    One of the reasons, I think, why management isn’t changing fast enough is because -in general- middle managers are generalizing followers rather than creative problem solvers. Current managers intrinsicly focus on what they are expected to do, rather than figuring out what the best things are that they should be doing (with their team). It is rewarding for managers to live Up to expectations. Dot.
    In opposite I think that top management is more fertile soil for change. Because they deal with much more pressure from outside the organization. Top managers neef to excel, gain new grounds and earn trust from stakeholders. They have much more to lose – their reputation.

  • Derek Neighbors

    Maybe we need to consider that management is not changing quickly because it realizes that change means elimination of it’s species as it knows itself?

  • Glen B. Alleman

    Just to be formally correct. To create a new “attractor ” you must change the equations of motion for the system that is represented by the paths being following, which in turn result in the “picture” you see is the recorded path. This picture BTW is usually in phase space (, of the solutions to the equations of motion. This phase space is a better representation of the interactions between complex rules – just like the management systems you seek to change.
    I think you have mentioned John Baez in the past for his “complex systems.” Here’s some background on moving from classical (traditional management) to complex adaptive systems (Lagrangian and Hamiltonian) systems
    There is a definite connection between “human based systems” and complex dynamics, so the analogies are useful, just that the attractor is an outcome not a “thing” in the object sense.
    The attractor is not a “thing,” it is a map of the path of the equations of motion for the system. These equations can be multi-dimensional, non-linear, and possible changing in time (erdogic).
    So your quest should be the “change the equations of motion for the management process.”
    These consist of the “space” – the dimensions and the relationships of these dimensions. These don’t have to be symmetric or linear. Spherical coordinates are an example, but actual physical systems have complex dimensional structure.
    The “system” of coordinates and forces that act on the elements of the system also doesn’t have to be traditional – Lagrangian ( Hamiltonian ( are used in everyday solutions to problems – flight controls, voice recognition, image processes, all use “transformed coordinates.”
    None of these are likely useful for your purposes, except it’s not the attractor you should be trying to change, but the dynamics of the systems (dimensions, forces, and interaction rules) that generate the “picture” of the path being followed that is popularly called the “attractor.”

  • VFQDev

    Very insightful blog and an excellent question – What is the Great Thought that everyone will want to be part of?
    This has long been a consideration of mine (Paul Dolman-Darrall – part of the VFQ development team).
    A challenge that we face is vast perceived separation of concerns and the stereotyping of groups. Management and workers does not even come close to good definition of groups. For example, even middle management and executive management leads to interesting changes.
    In the case of Agile, the division into IT and those who receive IT was an ok definition of the groups for agile.
    Though I expect this to gain no traction – I believe the problem is connected not to management and workers (an over cliched symptom). The real issue is connected to ownership, and predominately a lack of it.
    When we look at ownership we do not get neat separation of the groups.
    The vast majority of employees (middle managers, workers) have ownership through pensions.
    Executive managers mainly get ownership through options
    Rich people do own – but not quite as much as you would possibly think
    Communities own, because employees are part of communities
    Customers own, because most customers are us (B2C), or are owned by us (B2B).
    Yet with ownership, it is almost invisible. Instead a vast majority of our companies are hostage to stock markets, accounting standards (which enact the same effects as the stock market), earnings calls, reactive press.
    Ownership is this silent voice. Managed by anonymous fund managers.
    Direct ownership of shares in the states has plummeted from 92% to 26% in just 50 years, whilst indirect ownership has risen from 8 to 74%.
    Whilst I am not expecting this to reverse, ownership is where the battle needs to be fought. Instead we have switched to an agency run society, where we have handed incredible control to financial intermediaries.
    If I find the time, I may post more on this subject. Management is the wrong starting point. Improvement lies in the connected aims of ownership.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks Glen. But when I write my blog in a “scientifically correct” way, fewer people will want to read it. Best to simplify the message without trying to loose coherence. 🙂

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Great insight, Paul. Looking forward to your article!

  • Glen B Alleman

    You are correct in writing in a manner that reaches fewer people.
    My point is you need to change the underlying processes and the “attractor” will appear.
    Changing the attractor does nothing for the underlying problem.
    That should “attract” more people AND it is sustainable because it is techncially correct.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks, I’m aware of that. It’s a semantic discussion.

  • Louis Dietvorst

    Just a crazy thought: if you want to change the “management system” give it a new or other, simple, representative and binding name. That way you bring in a safe discussion context. You could for example change the word “management” by a new or other word that is representative of the change you envision. Practical example: suppose you replace the term management with organization. And then practice what happens: Agile Management becomes Agile organization. Radical Management becomes Radical Organization. Project Management becomes Project Organization. Manager becomes Organizer etc. By giving the envisioned change a new or “safe” other context, people will be easier attracted to help change to that new context. Because is it new, it is safe to transform to. But if you say to a manager that you want to change the current management system or style or whatever, you will definitely get a lot or resistance. It feels like a direct attack. It’s probably better to try to transform the current “system” from Managing Separation to Organizing Integration and from Governance to Guidance. A system that would stimulate self-suffiency to the max. A good new, preferably unique and simple name could really help. The simpler, the more effective. If it can be understood not only by schooled people but also by unschooled people you really will target a very large audience. Good luck @Stoos.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Great idea! I will include it in my collection of input for the gathering.

  • Anko Tijman

    Succes stories, success stories and succes stories… did I say we need succes stories?
    We need them from organizations who beat their competitors, hugely increased their revenue and boosted their employee satisfaction!

  • Jurgen Appelo

    I think there are plenty of success stories. The problem is we keep hearing the same ones. 🙁

  • Helen

    I appreciate your effort to simplify. I am trying to do just that.
    I’d appreciate your comments.

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