Exploring Frontiers 2013

Making sense out of chaos

Paul Z Jackson

In the swirling gas clouds and chaos of a nebula, new stars are formed. On a much smaller scale, humans are trying to make sense from the chaos of a post-2008 economy.
Organisations need new thinking, new ideas, new stars. They look to professionals such as AMED Members and Networkers for answers.
So here at AMED we are stirring the primordial soup, creating a mass of thoughts, ideas and reflections to see what arises from the mix.
All of this is under the banner ‘Exploring Frontiers 2013’. (EF2013)

Ned Seabrook

Preparing for EF2013

ALL editions of e-O&P are part of a continuing process of reflective writing and critical thought. The Spring edition of e-O&P on ‘Open Source Thinking’ has already become ‘required reading’ in preparation for EF2013. Its related post-publication workshop (2 & 3 August) will add to the mix building toward our forthcoming AMEDconference – EF2013.

The core EF2013 inquiry question was posted on the website early this year. 

The world is in economic and political turmoil.

As professional developers, we need to review critically all that we do and how we do it.

What is our role in these turbulent times, and are we up to it?

Since then, discussions have continued online, and with a face to face meeting after the AGM in April.  

Reaching out to the frontiers

In these discussions, the idea of ‘frontiers’ was teased out. It was proposed that frontiers are not clearly defined lines, but imprecise and contested boundaries on the fringes of unexplored territory with vague, perhaps changing edges.  Loosely, they encompass a zone of uncertainty. In our terms, they suggest uncertainty about the future, what the future holds, how to deal with it, how to prepare for it and what opportunities threats or risks it might present. Within them, there is a place where ideas that were once ignored could be revisited, reviewed or rediscovered.

In our Call for Papers for this edition, we suggested some ideas to stimulate thinking. These were neither prescriptive nor exclusive, and included:

What have been the causes, impacts, reactions and responses to ‘economic and political turmoil’ by the various actors so far?  How effective and appropriate are they?

What is the range and scope of our ‘professional roles’ as developers?  How adequate are they? 

What are our clients’ expectations of us?

How effective are our interventions at present?  Do we need to re-think our roles radically as a community of practice?

What are the implications for developing the developers?

The responses from our authors are indeed thought-provoking.

What do our authors think? 

From the whole-system perspective

Rob Barnard-Weston sets a scene for certain drama:  Will we witness breakdown or breakthrough?  Optimistically, The evolutionary of enterprise paints pictures of a radically transformed economics, a more human scale of business and a set of social relationships that could take us to posterity with prosperity.

Sol Davidson presents and reflects on stages of leadership development, placing leadership as meaning-making. He prompts us to look to our own development and thinking as part of helping our clients to move to higher levels of awareness; to make a journey of our own.

At the personal level

The next three pieces engage at the level of personal interactions, exploring a range of models that all show promise of flourishing at the frontiers.

Paul Z Jackson sets the SIMPLE principles of Solutions Focus to work, to cast fresh light on how we might think about and approach OD.  Perhaps changing organisations one conversation at a time is the most pragmatic possibility.

Tying in nicely with ideas of informal coalitions and exploiting the network-like nature of organisations, Lisa Jacob explains how she has used a solutions-focused framework to help map a new direction for her charity in response to the funding (and consequent staff) challenges.

Raymond van Driel addresses what is needed during episodes of inevitable crises. In times of heightened risk and uncertainty, we still need to navigate purposefully, with our senses at heightened awareness and with adaptability as a priority.  In the rapidly-developing field of Applied Improvisation, we can make experiential sense of uncertainty and hone our skills to fashion the best from whatever may be emerging.  What’s more, we can enjoy a playful approach, rather than succumb to stress or fear.

The “Yes… and” heartbeat of improvisation (and of the theme of Open Source Thinking) echoes the explorations in the Spring 2013 issue of e-O&P, and introduces a refreshing stream of concepts for us to dive into at the AMEDconference. 

The academic point of view

Following this group of contributions from respected practitioners at the coalface, we have contributions from two colleagues from an academic institution.

Fabian Homberg tackles the challenging and potentially controversial issue of gender diversity. In his work, he has looked for evidence to answer important questions, including:  ‘Is there a link between organisational performance and gender diversity on the board?’.

Lois Farquharson explores ethical leadership behaviours in organisations. Her findings, in organisations that have achieved ‘Investors in People’ recognition, suggest that culture change and more sustained efforts at leadership development efforts remain important.  The work to be done is presented as key challenges that organisations should reflect on when seeking to foster and embed these behaviours.

This edition concludes with some unanswered question and reflections from Ned Seabrook, designed to engage you in discussion and prepare for the AMEDconference EF2013 in the autumn. Touching on the trajectory of management development and picking up threads cast by the discussions so far.


AMED is where academics and practitioners meet to explore new thinking about organisation and personal development and all aspects of our whole community are explored here in the Summer 2013 edition of the AMEDjournal, e-Organisations & People. 

So we’d like to thank all the authors who have generously and candidly shared their insights and learning in these pages and who responded with despatch to an 11th hour call. 

About the Editors

Ned is Chair of AMED and the driving force behind the AMEDconference: Exploring Frontiers 2013.  He can be reached by phone on  01202640223 and email nds@insightconsultdevelop.co.uk 

Paul’s passions include improvisation, accelerated learning and the solutions focus approach. Consultant, coach, author, he believes that conversations can help you make the differences that you want.

Contact paul@thesolutionsfocus.co.uk.

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