A Sample of Presentation Topics

All my presentations are based on my new book, The New Ecology of Leadership: Business Mastery in a Chaotic World. As you can see from my blogs, I cover a wide range of topics, bringing a unique perspective to many different kinds of issues.

The book itself is an extraordinary integration of management thought and practice that has profound implications for leadership, strategy and our understanding of change. Throughout it I adopt a systems perspective, using analogies drawn from nature to illustrate the ideas and their practical application.

My objective for both the book and its related presentations is to help readers make meaning from their own management experience and education and thus to improve their practical judgment and wisdom – to ask better questions of reality and tell more compelling stories about it. My approach takes an expansive view of organizations by connecting their development to humankind’s evolutionary heritage and cultural history. I locate the origins of organizations in communities of trust and follow their development through the application of logic and their maturation in power. Crucially, I also track the decline of powerful organizations as they age and show how their strengths become weaknesses in changing circumstances. My core argument is that the human mind is not rational in a logical sense but in an ecological way. In other words, it has evolved to extract cues to action from the specific situations in which it finds itself. Thus contexts matter and I show how passion, reason, and power, deployed as tools and embedded in settings, can be used to change and sustain organizations, both for good and for ill. The result is an inspirational synthesis of management theory and practice that will resonate with everyone’s experience.

The sample topics that follow are the basic presentations that I can customize in myriad ways and mix and match in an infinite range of combinations.

“The New Ecology of Leadership”
(My latest topic)

What if people were like plants and organizations were like gardens? Would managers and leaders then behave like gardeners? Would they realize that they could not grow either people or organizations directly: that they could create only the conditions for growth? Would they begin to cultivate their organizations? Would they select and plant, water and fertilize, train and prune? Would they start thinking more like ecologists and less like engineers? Would their concerns turn from maximizing performance at a moment in time to sustaining performance over time? Surely they would…

This presentation outlines how we can reconfigure the field of management by using an ecological mental model to embrace and contain the current logical, analytical views of business. We will see how enterprises are conceived in passion, born in communities of trust, grow through the application of reason and mature in power. Over time, however, as resources become centralized, members of the organization start to swivel inward to face the management hierarchy. As the care and feeding of the bureaucracy starts to outweigh concerns for the customers, they turn their backs to their clients. What was once a productive bureaucracy can change into a byzantine, self-regarding political structure. The original purposes of the institution now play little role in decision-making; the means have run away with the ends. The stage is set for crisis and destruction, but with the possibility of renewal.

Now the gardeners have to change their roles. It’s time to clear away the tangle, to uproot and transplant and to make a bonfire of the debris. If they don’t do that, then eventually nature (power and change of various kinds) will do it for them, sweeping away old, decadent growth with flood and pestilence, wind and fire. The ash will serve to fertilize new open patches and the ecological cycle of birth, life, death and renewal will be ready to repeat itself. Come to think of it – isn’t that what capitalism and even democracy are all about?

“The Creative Organization”

(This is one of my most requested topics)

Why are so many organizations innovative and creative when they begin their lives but become hidebound and conservative as they age? This presentation uses a novel conception of the creative process derived from looking at organizations as natural systems. In the numerous modules that make up this presentation, the ‘ecodynamics’ of leadership and creativity become clear. It shows clearly how successful firms can become ‘scale-bound’ as they grow – operating at progressively higher levels of abstraction. Their processes can work well for some time, provided the environment does not change! When it does they may find themselves in territories for which they have no strategic maps and facing risks of which they are unaware. Now they have to ‘rescale’ their organizations, getting back to their innovative roots to find the processes of learning and creativity that they can use to renew themselves. Passion, reason and power in the form of tools and settings can restore the creative tension and keep the organization in the “sweet zone”. The objective is to create small communities of interest and practice, so that engaged people can immerse themselves in experimentation at the edges of the organization.

“Crisis & Renewal: Finding Opportunity in Adversity”
(Another, highly popular topic)

No one likes crisis, but despite our wishes to the contrary the course of civilization’s progress is neither smooth nor sure. To a considerable and largely unacknowledged extent society and its component organizations advance strategically by accident, economically by windfall and politically by disaster. Armies are reformed only after defeats; safety regulations are introduced after accidents; and firms only change strategies after significant reversals. On the other side of the balance, blockbuster products seem to emerge from nowhere and companies you have never heard of ride trends to fame and fortune. This isn’t just chance. It seems that human organizations don’t change when they want to; they change when they have to, when they feel compelled to change. At the personal level this thought is captured in the old adage that “People don’t change when they see the light; they change when they feel the heat.” This presentation, which can be customized to fit any organization’s situation, examines why crisis is such a powerful catalyst for change and how you can harness its power in your organization with practical actions. Economic meltdowns create opportunities for change and it helps if you can find the opportunities in adversity.

“The Architecture of Choice” (an increasingly popular topic)

Our minds are not rational in a logical sense, but they are rational in an ecological way, that is they have evolved to extract cues for action in the specific circumstances in which they find themselves. This means that we can act our way into better ways of thinking even more readily than thinking our way into better ways of acting. In this ground-breaking presentation I show how dependent we are on context to function effectively. “Smart” contexts can make the average person clever; “dumb” contexts can make even the cleverest person seem dull. The architecture of choice is about the design of smart contexts that continually invite people to do the “right thing.”

Boxes and Bubbles: the Management of Change (an old favourite)

Based upon my best-selling Harvard Business Review article, this presentation covers the experiences of the management team of a fast growing, acquisition-oriented conglomerate who were themselves taken over in a wildly over-leveraged buyout on the eve of a serious business recession. The presentation deals with management’s reactions to the bewildering world in which they found themselves and how they changed their concepts and their practices to successfully handle the turbulence. The lessons drawn have wide application to all kinds of organizations undergoing rapid, discontinuous change.

Hunters and Herders – The Challenge of Organizational Renewal
(Another favourite)

The nomadic hunting/foraging band, self-organizing and resilient, was mankind’s original learning organization and an understanding of their dynamics is directly relevant to organizational issues today. In this presentation, the hunter’s egalitarian mode of life is contrasted with that of the herders and their hierarchical structure. The social dynamics and physical contexts that compel hunters to become herders are shown to exist within our modern organizations. This leads participants to a new understanding of the requirements for organizational renewal and the difficulties they may encounter on the way.