Category Archives: quantum organisation

Sustaining Requisite Agility requires Platform Architectures

The presentation describing this pathway within the 3rd epoch domain explores how are edge roles to be supported by platform architectures?

For an organisation to be dynamically responsive, it must have the requisite agility to sustain concurrent networked collaborations at its edges. This requires an approach to organisation that can sustain development across the whole range of its activities in a way that is itself aligned to its edges, platform architectures capable of supporting the resultant variety of value-creating responses, and an approach to securing returns on investment that values impact on structural agility per se.

How are we to think about the demands placed on an organisation when the tempo of demand exceeds the tempo of alignment?  There is something to be learnt here from the military having to respond to an accelerating tempo of threat, in which they distinguish between eight different lines of development of an organisation in order to be able to respond effectively.  The result is a diagnostic framework in terms of which the ability of an organisation to be effects-driven in its responses may be evaluated.

In taking power to the edge of an organisation, the effectiveness of an effects-based response is driven by a situational understanding rooted in what is going on (wigo) in the context giving rise to the perceived demand (or threat). Any response will be constrained by the existing capabilities of the organisation, but before any consideration of what might be effective, a fundamental limitation will be created by the ontological scaffolding in terms of which the situation is itself defined and understood. This scaffolding defines a domain of relevance that will both shape and be shaped by a double ‘V’ cycle driven by the desired effects. 

The evaluation of any response will need to consider the cohesion cost of its orchestration and synchronization, the value of the response lying in its cohesion cost being less that the indirect benefits it creates. An evaluation will also need to consider the design assumptions built into any supporting systems, since these too may constrain the responses possible to the extent of rendering effects-based responses impossible other than at very great cost. These evaluations again constitute a double challenge for the organisation as a whole.

Looking closely at what needs supporting, three independent axes emerge along which it must be possible to make structural choices determining functional capabilities, non-functional constraints, and the forms of dynamic alignment necessary to creating cohesion. In effect, each dynamic alignment constitutes a value proposition, so that supporting systems must be able to support multiple propositions concurrently spanning a range of different kinds of response at the edges of the organisation.

Valuing any investment must therefore be against the full variety of client situations in which the organisation wishes to generate effects. The changing probabilities of situations arising across this range make real option methods of valuation necessary. Real option methods in turn mean relating the full variety of client situations to the structural characteristics of the supporting systems and their ontological adequacy. First, this means using a rings and wedges model for describing how the tension between scale/scope and alignment is to be held in relation to any given form of cohesion.  Second, this means placing wedge processes within the context of both clients’ effects ladders and also the underlying ecosystem providing the products and services needing to be aligned. The resultant layering of contexts is referred to as a stratification.

Stratified analyses of the ecosystem supporting a variety of client situations with their effects ladders show us how demand on primary (origination), secondary (derivation) and tertiary (delivery and customization) industry sectors is derived from the knowledge-based sectors aligning or attending to clients’ needs (quaternary) and/or making services cohere around them (quinary).  A number of different examples show how competition within industries push them towards being driven from the knowledge-based sectors.

It remains, then, for an organisation to evaluate the ontological adequacy and stratification of its ability to align itself to an anticipated variety of effects in client situations, defining a requisite agility. Modeling its triple articulation along the three independent axes provides the organisation with a framework within which to identify structural gaps in the stratified layers (i.e. ontological inadequacies) and to perform real option analyses of investment opportunities. These analyses use Monte-Carlo simulations to evaluate the consequences of different probability-weightings across the anticipated variety of client situations. Thinking about the demands placed on an organisation when the tempo of demand exceeds the tempo of alignment therefore means managing multiple entangled dialogues at its edges, in order to define the variety of networked collaborations needing to be supported.  It also means providing supporting systems that are ontologically adequate and capable of the requisite agility for supporting the concurrency of those collaborations.

Leadership Qualities and the North-South bias

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD
A recent examination of the Leadership Qualities Framework, developed by the UK’s National Skills Academy, shows just how difficult it is to counteract the bias of North-South dominant assumptions about governance and leadership[1], even as in this case where there is very clearly a wish to do so.[2]  This bias becomes apparent in the assumptions made about the nature of strategy and its relation to hierarchy.

Policy, Strategy and Tactics
The framework gives a special role to strategic leadership with its own additional qualities: creating the vision and delivering the strategy. In the forward to this framework, Norman Lamb MP points out the following:

Good social care has the potential to transform people’s lives. It can help them realise independence, exercise meaningful choice and control over the care and support they receive, and live with dignity and opportunity. Good social care has the potential to transform people’s lives. It can help them realise independence, exercise meaningful choice and control over the care and support they receive, and live with dignity and opportunity. High quality leadership, embedded throughout the social care workforce, is fundamental to the delivery of high quality care. At the same time, we need to reach beyond the workforce and bring leadership skills and capabilities to service users, their carers and the communities in which they live and work.

For leadership to fulfill this promise, it must at least aspire to responding to people’s lives one-by-one. Put another way, in order to transform a person’s life, a particular combination of services need to be dynamically aligned to that person’s needs over time that remain particular to that person’s situation and context. This alignment of services has to be run East-West to reflect the fact that its design is inevitably entangled with the way they impact on that person’s experience.
This means that leadership has to enable the organisation to hold a dilemma – a tension between securing economies of scale and scope from the way component services are provided, and securing economies of alignment from the way these component services are combined in relation to any one person’s needs. This tension can be represented by the concept of rings and wedges: rings (securing economies of scale and scope) can provide well-defined services that are effectively provided by North-South dominant forms of governance, while wedges (securing economies of alignment) align combinations of services in particular ways that can be effectively provided by East-West dominant forms of governance.
So what is wrong with thinking in terms of strategy-and-tactics? The industrial world names as ‘strategy’ what the military calls ‘operations’, while the industrial world names as ‘policy’ what the military calls ‘strategy’.[3] Relating the industrial names to the NSEW model<sup[4],

  • tactics are about using know-how(W) to make the best possible use of capabilities(S),
  • strategy is about developing the most effective know-how(W) for addressing a particular kind of demand(E), and
  • policy is about determining what variety of demands(E) can be addressed within the context of the organisation as a whole(N).

The point about East-West alignment is therefore that strategy has to be determined at the level of the individual wedge and it is the policy frame that creates the conditions at the level of the organisation as a whole within which the ring-wedge dilemmas can be supported effectively.  Strategy has to be held at the edge of the organisation within a unifying policy frame.

The vertical and the horizontal axes of governance
Which brings us to the relation of strategy and hierarchy. The Leadership Qualities Framework proposes that it be applied at four levels of leadership as follows:

  • Front-line Worker – Care Assistants, Care Workers, Volunteers, Students, Graduates, Temporary Ancillary Staff and Practitioners
  • Front-line Leadership – Supervisors, Team Leaders, Shift Leaders
  • Operational Leadership – Registered Managers, Service Managers
  • Strategic Leadership – Senior leaders, Directors and Managers who are responsible for directing and controlling the organisation

The issue here is that these levels are defined hierarchically (in the sense that each one is accountable to the level above it), as opposed to being defined in terms of the tensions held between them, which look different in terms of rings and wedges:

  • Operational Leadership becomes responsible for supply-side leadership of defined services, accountable for the way these services can deliver outcomes in combination with other services[5];
  • Front-Line Leadership becomes responsible for demand-side leadership at the edge of the organisation, accountable for the dynamic alignment of combinations of services appropriate to the situation and context of a demand[6];
  • Front-line workers become responsible for task leadership, ensuring that a particular alignment of services is delivered effectively; and
  • Strategic leadership becomes responsible for asymmetric leadership – leadership which enables the organisation to hold and sustain a dynamic balance between its supply-side and demand-side.[7]

Asymmetric leadership is about enabling dilemmas to be held effectively E-W
The use of hierarchy has to be placed in the context of networked forms of organisation and distributed or collaborative approaches to leadership.[8] Operating within these turbulent complex ecosystems cannot be managed independently of the dynamics in the environment. In the place of hierarchy with its defined outputs as an overarching organising principle therefore comes the containing of dilemmas and a double challenge.[9]

[1] The difference between North-South and East-West dominant assumptions about governance is introduced here, with comment on the consequences of North-South dominance on the East-West axis here.
[2] A close reading of the detailed content of the framework clearly recognises the issues raised in this blog. The difficulty is that the conceptual scaffolding within which the framework is constructed rests on presumptions of hierarchy. For more on conceptual scaffolding, see Lane, D. A., R. Emilia, et al. (2005). “Ontological uncertainty and innovation.” Journal of Evolutionary Economics 15.
[3] For more on this three-way distinction, see creating value in ecosystems: establishing a 3-level approach to strategy.
[4] Another way of understanding the relations between policy-strategy-tactics is in terms of the dual span of complexity and associated timespan of discretion, complexity and timespan being synchronic and diachronic ways of describing a system. In these terms the actors within a system are subjected to (i.e. constrained in their choices by) structure; and narrative takes place within the context of actors’ lives. Policy is thus structural in its effects, strategy is about asserting and sustaining difference between actors, and tactics are the unfolding of narrative within this context. A forensic process therefore examines the implicit effects of structure on narrative in order to identify how its constraints ‘kill’ certain kinds of narrative i.e. prevent certain kinds of outcome.
Jaques’ insistence on discrete levels of discretion can be understood in these terms as relations of subjection.  The figure above is derived from Figure 5 in Christian Dominique and Stephane Flamant, “Strategic Narrative: around a narrative intervention assisted” French Management Review, 2005/6 No. 159, p. 283-302.
[5] This is referred to as the primary task of the service…
[6] … while this is referred to as the primary risk faced by the particular relation to demand. See quality as the driver at the edge for more about these two axes.
[7] This creates challenges for the organisation, both enabling its client-customers to be related to one-by-one by authorising leadership at the edge, and also by creating appropriately agile supporting platforms and infrastructures that make this sustainable. This kind of complex organisation I refer to as quantum organisation.
[8] For more on the architectural implications of quantum organisation, see architectures that integrate differentiated behaviors
[9] For more on the different nature of complex environments, see the drivers of organisational scope.

Leading organisations without boundaries: quantum organisation and the work of making meaning

by Philip Boxer BSc MBA PhD

The following is the abstract to a paper accepted for presentation at the 13th Annual Meeting of the International Society for the Psychoanalytic Study of Organisations (ISPSO) at Oxford UK, July 2013:

Doing many different things at the same time
What happens when an organisation has to be many different things at the same time in how it relates to its clients? Digitalisation and the internet lead every client to expect more dynamic interaction with their particular situation, context and timing. Familiar examples from the perspective of the client are healthcare, financial services, air travel, mobile apps and the home delivery of food. Organisations that are interacting dynamically in different ways with each of their individual clients are best understood as being without boundaries. This paper uses a ‘quantum’ metaphor to think about this, considering each individual client interaction as a ‘quantum’. Quantum theory argues that the ‘classical’ reality of which we are conscious is quite different to the underlying reality of distributions of quantum states [1, 2]. This quantum metaphor provides a way of thinking about something very similar going on in relation to the underlying reality of organisations. The work of ‘quantum organisation’ by these organisations becomes that of making meaning within the client’s particular situation, context and timing. The paper uses examples from healthcare to elaborate on this use of the quantum metaphor, and draws conclusions about the leadership needed by these organisations without boundaries.

When Jack Welch asked for a ‘boundaryless organization’, General Electric didn’t get rid of its boundaries [3]. It rearranged its vertical, horizontal, industry and geographic boundaries so that it could better thrive, and shifted its focus to creating structured networks [4, 5]. Structured networks are a response to the need to address value creation at the level of the business ecosystem [6, 7]. This shift is apparent in manufacturing [8], and it is even more apparent in healthcare [9]. Organisations that interact dynamically with their clients are presented with demands that are multi-sided, in the sense that the context of the demand becomes at least as important as the demand itself [10, 11]. Thus, it may be clear that you need a heart transplant, but your healthcare has to be at least as concerned with the context of your body and your lifestyle if the transplant is to be effective. To create value for the multi-sided demands of patients within a healthcare ecosystem, a healthcare clinic must align a unique care pathway to manage the chronic symptoms of each of its patients [12]. The organisation of such a clinic is not easily understood as a socio-technical open system with its boundary conditions “directly dependent on its material means and resources for its outputs” [13]. How then is the work of such an organisation to be understood, if not in terms of how it manages its boundaries?

Distinguishing the ‘operative’ from the ‘regulative’
Emery and Trist argued that while open-systems models enabled material exchange processes to be dealt with between the organization and elements in its environment, “they did not deal with those processes in the environment itself which were the determining conditions of the exchanges”. “Those processes were themselves often incommensurate with the organisation’s internal and exchange processes” [14] p30. This led Trist to restrict the term “socio-technical” to ‘operative’ organizations, distinguishing them from ‘regulative’ organizations. Regulative organizations are “concerned directly with the psychosocial ends of their members and with instilling and maintaining or changing cultural values and norms, the power and the position of interest groups, or the social structure itself” [13]. Trist later called these regulative organisations ‘referent’ because they were defined by their relation to the ecosystem as a whole [15], and by their boundary conditions. These regulative or referent organisations were instead focussed on aligning the behaviour of an ecosystem to particular interests, in a way that parallels the work of the healthcare clinic to align care pathways to the interests of its patients. Accepting this difference means losing a direct identification between a physical system and the system of meaning of which it is a realisation. This forces us to abandon the direct identification of boundary with container [16] and re-examine the concept of containing.

In place of this direct identification, the paper argues that the work of regulative or referent organisations has to be understood as one of making meaning rather than managing across a boundary. This work involves a container-contained relation that returns meaning to the other (the patient) with respect to what the other experiences as ‘bizarre’ or anxiety-inducing (the symptoms). Containment involves making sense through a work of transformation within the context of a ‘vertex’, or a way of organising meaning [17]. Two conditions follow from this for the healthcare clinic to be effective in organising the care of its patients:

  1.   The ecosystem must act as a supporting infrastructure that is appropriately ‘agile’. This means that it can simultaneously support a wide variety of alignments of care services[18]. In this sense, the ecosystem must be able to sustain many different states of alignment at the same time, each of which is a ‘quantum’ state. For the patient, this quantum state is the singular behaviour of the ecosystem, while for the ecosystem, it is one of many simultaneous states it must be able to support.
  2. Its leadership must make it in the interests of its clinicians to contain the patient’s particular experience within its local multi-sided context, and must make it possible to form effective workgroup collaborations able to align appropriate care pathways [19, 20]. This process of containing the patient’s experience of his or her symptoms becomes the process by which a singular state of the ecosystem is aligned to the local environment of the patient in the form of a unique care pathway. The paper argues that the regulative or referent role of the clinic makes it an organisation without boundaries; the processes by which it is enabled to create agility and alignment are better described in terms of quantum organisation. The paper explores these two conditions characterising quantum organisation using examples from healthcare. It draws conclusions on the leadership demanded of such an organisation, and on its psychoanalytic implications.


1. Rosenblum, B. and F. Kuttner, Quantum Enigma: physics encounters consciousness. 2006: Oxford University Press.
2. Atmanspacher, H., H. Romer, and H. Walach, Weak Quantum Theory: Complementarity and Entanglement in Physics and Beyond. Foundations of Physics, 2002. 32(3): p. 379-406.
3. Ashkenas, R., et al., The Boundaryless Organization: Breaking the Chains of Organization Structure. 2002: Jossey-Bass.
4. Goold, M. and A. Campbell, Designing Effective Organizations: How to Create Structured Networks. 2002, London: Jossey-Bass.
5. Provan, K.G. and P. Kenis, Modes of Network Governance: Structure, Management, and Effectiveness. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 2007. 18: p. 229-252.
6. Trist, E., A Concept of Organizational Ecology. Australian Journal of Management, 1977. 2(2): p. 161-176.
7. Porter, M.E. and M.R. Kramer, Creating Shared Value: How to reinvent capitalism – and unleash a wave of innovation and growth. Harvard Business Review, 2011(January-February).
8. Iansiti, M. and R. Levien, The Keystone Advantage: What the New Dynamics of Business Ecosystems Mean for Strategy, Innovation, and Sustainability. 2004, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
9. Porter, M.E. and E.O. Teisberg, Redefiining Health Care: Creating Value-based Competition on Results. 2006, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
10. Silverthorne, S., New Research Explores Multi-Sided Markets: an interview with Andrei Hagiu, in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge2006. p.
11. Evans, D.S., Some Empirical Aspects of Multi-Sided Platform Industries. Review of Network Economics, 2003. 2(3).
12. Rouse, W.B., Health Care as a Complex Adaptive System: Implications for Design and Management. The Bridge, 2008. 38(1): p. 17-25.
13. Fichtelberg, J., H. Murray, and B. Trist, Social Engagement of Social Science: A Tavistock Anthology: The Socio-Technical Perspective. 1997: University of Pennsylvania Press.
14. Emery, F.E. and E. Trist, The Causal Texture of Organizational Environments. Human Relations, 1965. 18: p. 21-32.
15. Trist, E., Referent Organizations and the Development of Inter-Organizational Domains. Human Relations, 1983. 36(3): p. 269-284.
16. Palmer, B., The Tavistock paradigm: Inside, outside and beyond, in Organisations, Anxieties and Defences: Towards a Psychoanalytic Social Psychology, R.D. Hinshelwood and M. Chiesa, Editors. 2002, Whurr: London. p. 158-182.
17. Bion, W.R., Learning from Experience. 1962, London: Heinemann.
18. Boxer, P., et al. Systems-of-Systems Engineering and the Pragmatics of Demand. in Second International Systems Conference. 2008. Montreal, Que.: IEEE.
19. Bion, W.R., Attention and Interpretation. 1970, London: Tavistock.
20. French, R.B. and P. Simpson, The ‘work group’: Redressing the balance in Bion’s Experiences in Groups. Human Relations, 2010. 63(12): p. 1859-1878.

The drivers of organisational scope

by Philip Boxer

Crises of delegation confront those at the top of hierarchies when their authority fails to be recognised by their followers i.e. when power-at-the-centre fails to command obedience. How are we to think about these crises? In what follows, it is proposed that crises of delegation arise when the complex overwhelms the complicated.

When power at the centre of an institution is effective, it creates strong vertical linkages of control between the leadership of the institution and its followers (or employees, contractors etc). A crisis of delegation happens when an individual faces strong horizontal cause-and-effect linkages that are in conflict with the vertical linkages: to survive, the individual can no longer afford to be obedient to the institution. Combining these horizontal and vertical linkages gives the following 2×2, derived from the work by Kurtz and Snowden:

  • In the simple system, cause-and-effect relations are repeatable, perceivable and predictable. Everyone knows the right answers that are easily provided by the leadership.
  • In the complicated system of systems, cause-and-effect relations are not so easy to predict because they are spread over time and space. Nevertheless numbers of experts can be expected to provide the right answers in support of the leadership.
  • The complex ecosystem emerges when cause-and-effect relations become apparent only in retrospect, and cannot be assumed to repeat. This happens when the sheer weight and circularity of cause-and-effect relations become overwhelming (corresponding to the turbulent fields of Emery and Trist). In this environment, the particular characteristics of the situation become crucial, and vertical control linkages become weak because right answers can only emerge retrospectively – not a good basis for central authority. This environment is described as an ecosystem because fromm the perspective of the situation, multiple separate institutions become involved, the individual having to work in relation to many different authorities, each spanning different areas of local control.
  • Finally, behavior becomes chaotic when no cause-and-effect relations are perceivable, even in retrospect. In this environment there are no right answers and everyone is in trouble knowing what to do.

While power-at-the-centre describes the exercise of strong vertical control linkages by leadership (North-South dominance as distinct from East-West dominance), power-at-the-edge (i.e. being edge-driven) describes the necessary approach to leadership in a complex ecosystem in which those closest to a situation need to be authorised if they are to be effective.

What, then, are the drivers of organisational scope? Any institution is going to face a gradual increase over time in the complexity of its environment, and therefore a demand for increasingly differentiated behaviors. We may therefore expect a progression in any institution from the simple to the complicated. The crisis of delegation arises when the complex nature of the ecosystem overwhelms the complicated basis of the institution’s existing authority, demanding the removal of its ‘strategy ceiling‘ so that it can make a transition to the relational form of organisation.[1]

The drivers of organisational scope are therefore the capacity of the institution to manage the complicated, set against the complexity of the cause-and-effect relations to which it is having to respond. Looked at like this, any institution is in a governance cycle through which it can learn how to respond to increasingly asymmetric demands. Or not.

[1] The argument I made in The Twitter Revolution: how the internet has changed us is that just as the Printing Revolution precipitated the crisis on delegation associated with the Reformation, so too is the Information Revolution precipitating a crisis of delegation in our own time. The difference, however, is that whereas then the crisis heralded the emergence of the complicated as the dominant form of organisation (giving science its place in the world), the current crisis of delegation is heralding the emergence of the complex as the (coming-to-be) dominant form of organisation. With this emergence, of course, come the challenges of asymmetric leadership and asymmetric design.