As a journal directed at both serious managers and serious scholars, Emergence straddles two worlds. The sometimes painful interaction between these worlds is implicitly the focus of the current issue, whose explicit theme is uncertainty. This fall saw the printing of two books on complexity and management that contain vital advice for the practicing manager. […]
The articles in this issue of Emergence display differing assumptions about organizing—i.e. about how the reproduction and renewal of structure take place. How are lines of demarcation drawn? Organizing’s forms, limits and structures are visible in institutions and organizations. These institutions and organizations are products of regulative processes. But in what sort of space does […]
The role of knowledge workers in our society is an increasing focus of press and academic attention. Letiche suggests that knowledge workers often both work in and create “McDonaldized” simulacra, i.e. spaces for action that are less than real. He argues that the very concept of organizing is challenged by the tensions implicit in the semi-ness of the semi-reality of subspaces. The arena for his argument is that of information technology. The language of his argument is that of identity, self, logic and activity—terms more often found in European academic debate than in American management practice. Forgive Letiche’s use of academic literary forms. This world of emergence and cyborgs and of warfare with cognitivist (social) Darwinism may be a bit alien to some readers, but the argument and message will not be. In the semi-real spaces of managing, creativity is bought only at a large cost to others and managers find themselves needing to determine when that price is worth paying.
Lilley and Lightfoot examine a number of rhetorical accounts of the emergence and virtue of “futures” markets. They attempt to unpack the variety of legitimatory discourses that surround such markets to examine the precarious balance between uncertainty and knowledge that is supposedly managed by the skills of traders. The “reduction” of uncertainty through enhanced knowledge is, somewhat counterfactually, one of the key benefits ascribed to futures markets. These markets are made up of many players, with some seeking to “smooth” business cycles for their employers, while others seek short-term entrepreneurial gains through their “trading skills,” utilizing their second sight to exploit the volatility of the market. What we witness then is an unhappy marriage between brokers of stability and others whose raison d’être is precisely the opposite, the skilled surfing of tides of uncertainty. This has profound implications for the types of activities and rhetoric associated with such markets. Such implications may carry over from the financial world to the practice of management itself.
Drawing on a dialogical approach to skill that highlights the social, contextually situated, creative and responsive nature of skilled activity and narrative and nonnarrative features, this article focuses on the non-narrative or argumentative aspects of skill and skilled activity. In particular, it looks at how the argumentative aspects of skill play a crucial role in a key task in skilled activity. The creation of a visible sense of social and moral order from the ambiguity and vagueness that exist in any one context is a necessary move from uncertainty to certainty. This article provides a detailed examination of a negotiation between two managers. It concludes by drawing out implications for organizational practice.
Dialog is an important and often overlooked managerial tool. While little of the traditional organization science literature as yet delves into dialog, the same cannot be said for the more philosophical literature found in the humanities. This article intends to conduct a preliminary exploration of the constituents of dialog, described as the dialectics of content and process, each of which is constituted by two other, dialectically related elements, direction and space or silence and proximity. De Weerdt uses the notion of dialog to mean a way of interacting that facilitates the construction of meaning. Such construction is a managerial tool that is presently attracting more attention in practice and from academics.
Experimentation in the face of uncertainty is a complex systems answer to the established notions of risk and loss avoidance in the financial arena. Bay and Bäckius are adding to the traditional conceptions of experimentation the notions of mental models and ontology. They argue that experimentation is the creation of something new in the face of uncertainty and risk. The emergent, derived from a set of adjacent possibles, is allowed to redefine both “that which is” and “the yet to be.” Bay and Bäckius illustrate this with examples drawn from the field of financial derivatives and the Swedish region of Gotland.
The future only exists in the now. Such Cooperian metaphors are the foundation of sensemaking in the following article. Molderez’s work represents a unique form of European postmodern metaphorical thought surrounding complexity and sensemaking. Beneath the syllogisms and tropes lies a poetic flow relating uncertainty to the potentiality for action. Two intersecting fences and a forward-moving force create a box, the only escape from which is a perpendicular vector. Pragmatic managerial advice this piece is not, but as a synesis of free-flowing ideas it contains an inspiration for new insight and creative potential.
Traditional managers have insisted on a highly structured way of institutionalizing the mechanistic, functionalized, physical management of people and artifacts. This focus on structure creates a tension between the need for rigid command on the one hand and that for flexible response to threats on the other. The modern worker is thereby confronted with a bewildering multiplicity of partial identities, contradictory viewpoints and corporate strategies that pull in different directions. Wood suggests a contrasting approach, the cyborg self, a hybrid composition of organism and machine that celebrates the very tension that the structural approach abhors. The cyborg gives primacy to relationships as things in their own right ahead of individual terms and expressions. Thus, the cyborg stands in opposition to a focus on structure and is perhaps an introduction to the organization’s postmodern focus on interactions and processes.
Who controls what gets defined as skill or knowledge can be an indeterminate struggle in many organizations. Knights and McCabe attempt to understand conflicting interpretations of skills and knowledge around the introduction of a new automated production line in a manufacturing plant by making use of the concepts of distal and proximal organization. Employees and management often draw on a distal understanding of skill/knowledge, thereby treating it as a result or an outcome, a finished object, which one either possesses or is dispossessed of. By contrast, a proximal understanding would focus on relations, processes and representations that are continuous, unfinished, partial and precarious. Knights and McCabe argue that management adopts a distal perspective because it stresses that employees cannot lose skill/knowledge that they already possess, whereas employees also adopt a distal perspective in believing that they can. They then argue that a proximal understanding is capable of providing greater insight and of opening up new “patterns of possibility.” The distinction between a fixed (distal) ontology and a fluid (proximal) one is thus suggested as having meaning for the potential actions of managers.