Fielding Graduate University News

Putting Complexity to Work in Your Management Consulting Practice: Part II

Posted by Hilary Edwards on Mon, Sep 16, 2013

Fielding Alumni Track 2013 Recap

By Jim Webber, PhD (HOD '03)

describe the imageThis entry adds to the prior blog posted by my esteemed partner, Alice MacGillivray (HOD '09). We learned a lot in co-designing and co-facilitating this workshop and we learned even more from the Fielding practitioners who participated.

1. Linking complexity and management to enrich a consulting practice is fun, especially if workshop leaders use complexity facilitation rules such as giving ambiguous instructions, encouraging spontaneous contributions, using humor as a mode of learning, and losing control of an exuberant class.

2. The field of complexity thinking has become much more accessible to managers in the last decade. A marker of this trend is the recent publication of The Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management. However, the application of complexity in management lags in business schools, major consulting firms, and organizations across the board. This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Fielding HOD consultants and coaches as well as the institution itself.

3. You can enrich your consulting and coaching practice with complexity concepts, frameworks and/or methods. You can think of the field as a smorgasbord of various approaches ripe for picking or as a fixed menu, full-course dinner from a particular chef. Complexity and management chefs of note are Ralph Stacey, David Snowden, Curt Lindberg, Brenda Zimmerman, Bill McKelvey, and Kurt Richardson. Most of these authors have generous websites and intriguing blog conversations (see below).

4. Whatever enrichment you choose, make sure it fits your style of consulting. For instance, if you love matrices, as I do, pick Snowden. If you love stories, pursue Cynthia Kurtz’s work. If you love conversational consulting, choose Stacey. If you love complexity science read, Richardson. If you want examples of imaginative consulting assignments, see Alice McGillivray’s articles. If you are interested in healthcare, Curt Lindberg, founder of the Plexus Institute, is your man.

5. You can position yourself as the expert/originator of ideas, or as a focused value-added provider of other’s ideas, or as a member of a network of those doing similar work. Jason Hwang & Clayton Christenson provide an excellent example for developing a business model of a complexity/management practice. Another great reference is Snowden’s firm “Cognitive Edge,” who combines all three levels of practice and offers training for potential value-added members of his firm’s network.

References for "Putting Complexity to Work in Your Management Consulting Practice" as recommended by Jim Webber:

Allen, Peter, Steve Maguire, & Bill McKelvey, Editors (2011) The Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management, Los Angeles, Sage.

Stacey, Ralph (2001). Complex Responsive Processes in Organizations: Learning and knowledge creation, London, Routledge.

Snowden, David & Boone, Mary E. (2007) “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review November, 2007.

Lindberg, Curt & Schneider, Marguerite (2013) “Combating Infections at Maine Medical Center: Insights from complexity-informed leadership from positive deviance,” Leadership 9(2) 229-253.

Westley, Francis, Zimmerman, Brenda, & Patton, Michael Quinn (2007) Getting to Maybe: How the world is changed, Vintage, Canada.

McKelvey, Bill, (2011) “A Scientific Realist Epistemology for Complexity Science,” in Allen et al, Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management.

Richardson, Kurt (2011) “Complexity and Management: A pluralistic view,” in Allen et al, Sage Handbook of Complexity and Management.

MacGillivray, Alice see:

Kurtz, Cynthia (2013 in progress) Working with Stories in Your Community or Organization: Participatory narrative inquiry.

Hwang, Jason and Christensen, Clayton, (2008) "Disruptive Innovation in Health Care Delivery." Health Affairs. Vol. 27, Number 5.

Snowden, David,

Skarp, Arri-Pecca, Wu Wei Coaching (Social Complexity)

Bernie and JimJim Webber has many years of experience facilitating strategic thinking in groups. He was a colleague of the late Bernie Novokowsky (HOD '99) to whom this workshop was dedicated. He is the ongoing organizer of the Fielding Alumni Cluster of New England and a member of the International Association of Humor Studies. Jim is enamored with the use of complexity in Wu Wei Coaching, an approach created in Finland by Arri-Pecca Skarp. Jim is also is a booster of Cynthia Kurtz’s book-in-progress entitled: Working with Stories in Your Community or Organization: Participatory narrative inquiry. His email is

Tags: management education, higher education