I don’t consider myself a complicated person so I usually keep things simple. When things intrigue me I will investigate or ask that awkward, question; “so what?”  I break things down into their basic form to try and understand them, mostly so I can explain to others; be it as a parent, or through my work. If I have to look too far to find a meaning or if I’m given a load of twaddle then I’ll soon switch off. That’s probably the same for most people.


I met some folk in Leeds a while back and was asked “what is it that you do?” I started to explain that I “covered business engagement”. I quickly added “that means I simplify things people make complicated, tell stories, connect people and help make things happen”. The person who’d asked me said “well why didn’t you say that first?”  As a communicator I’d made a basic mistake but no one got hurt; apart from my pride, and we soon laughed it off. But it reminded me how important it is to tell it simply.

I still struggle with the terms ‘non-fiction’ and ‘fiction’. I have to translate to ‘real’ and ‘made up’; that’s often how my mind works. I often use analogies to explain things. I like the old fairytales and fables. One of my favourites is Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’. What fascinates me about that tale is how the young child calls it when others won’t. He uncomplicates it.

What is odd is that I don’t enjoy reading books. That might be a naive, almost irresponsible, admission for someone in my position, but there we are. I think my skills and personality perhaps lend themselves more to other things; I meet people, we talk, get enthused about doing something that matters; perhaps with a twist, find others with a common goal (even if they perhaps don’t yet know it), and some money (but not always), and then do stuff.


So, all that said, imagine my reaction when someone suggested I should get my head round ‘complex adaptive systems theory’. Now this might initially come across as dismissive, even disrespectful; not intended; but my first thoughts were that it was probably a fancy name for something quite simple.

But I’m prepared to look into it, and this is the good part, people on twitter immediately offered to help and loan me books about it. I really appreciate their offers and advice. They see that it might be worthwhile for me and my employer to look at it further. And maybe we already are; maybe I just don’t yet know about it or we are and have called it something else.

I hope that the people who suggested I look at it, also see me as someone who will then need to turn the benefits of whatever it means into a story that makes sense to others, cos as sure as eggs is eggs, ‘complex adaptive systems theory’ as with other recently used terms such as ‘civic enterprise’, ‘restorative practice’ and ‘risk stratification’ don’t. They won’t mean much to most other people, may be counter productive and might even get people annoyed.

The complicated bit

So getting back to fables, I delved a little deeper. During their studies at the University of Marburg, the brothers Grimm, who were academics, linguists and cultural researchers before becoming storytellers, came to see language as closely linked to culture. They saw cultural expression in the grammar of a language. That’s as deep as I’m going to get.

My translation is that an organisation expresses its personality through how it talks. I’m a great believer in values playing a big part in determining how the culture of an organisation is and in personal values shaping the integrity of an individual. In a nutshell, if you keep true to a good set of values and tell it how it is, constructively and sensitively, in language that people understand, you won’t go far wrong. And that is what the Sociable Organisation piece of work I’m working on is about; sharing stories of how people are working in different ways to better connect and so that others may do the same.

The bit that made me smile

I have recently met up with someone who perhaps shares my views on initiatives that don’t make it clear what they are or what they will bring.

Coincidentally, perhaps even fortuitously, we share the same name. So imagine my delight when I found out that ‘Philology’ is [more commonly] defined as the study of literary texts and written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form, and the ‘determination of their meaning’. *Boom*

This has legs!