Uncertainty: Why Both Executives and Creatives Are Managed Through Collegiality

E. Forrest Christian Managing, Theory 2 Comments

In a recent flurry of emails about something else with a variety of folks, Jack Fallow discussed why he thought that the executive levels were called a “collegium” by Elliott Jaques. Fallow, who was CEO of GasWorks in the UK, believes that the nature of the work at level 5+ meant that you couldn’t have the same QQT/R management style that you would at levels 4 and lower.

(If Jack will let me quote from his email, I’ll update this post with it.)

It struck me that the real problem was one of uncertainty. And here I confess that I owe a debt to Michael Raynor’s recentThe Strategy Paradox.

It seemed to me that what Fallow described as the Str5+ management was the same as what is described as the way to manage creatives or innovators. Both seem to have massive levels of uncertainty that cannot be resolved. I’ve run creative groups before and can testify that while you may need to be a stratum higher than they are to manage them, you cannot use what passes as management techniques in even the Jaquesian literature. The uncertainty is part of the work. You never know when an idea is going to stick to the ceiling, or even what will finally be fully baked.


Creatives spend a great deal of time working on one piece, only to bag it. But all of that work isn’t wasted: somehow, all of that work means that another piece, some time later, can happen quickly and “effortlessly”. You cannot have any certainty about when an idea will work out, when something that is bakeable will come out. You nurture an environment that allows them to do what they do. You still have a need for something to come out: you just can’t say what that something will be.

This is hard to describe because there are so many people who work in “creative” professions who really don’t fit this model. What they do is easily managed according to the normal management techniques because their output is known. It is when you do not know the output, do not know the results that you will be expecting, and don’t even know what a result would be, that you manage in this level of uncertainty.

It’s just a thought: I work with young high-mode artists and creators much more than I work with aged high-stratum executives. I’m guessing that the issues surrounding management of the two groups is similar. Where things are stable, such as in heavily capital intensive industries (such as those that Jaques seemed to work with), you may have a much more “management-y” style of bossing at the higher work levels. When you have a low-capital industry (such as software), uncertainty may exist at even lower levels. Things move more quickly, change more often.

Just thinking, of course.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 2

  1. I don’t think that I buy this proposition. I know what QQRT signifies but I’m not sure that I understand what ‘QQRT management’ is meant to signify. Is this code? If so what for?
    Suggesting that, at some point, work gets to be too complex and ambiguous to yield to clear task assignment implies a cut-off at some level. If so where and why?
    The idea of work (i.e. the definition and its further explanation) put forward by Elliott strongly suggest – if not explicitly put – that ‘work’ is meant to include our notions of innovation and creativity. Suggesting the existence of ‘creatives’ as beings somehow seperate/different in terms of work, is both redundant and distracting.
    When I come across discussions like this I begin to suspect 1. Insufficient capability to adequately engage the subject employees (e.g. erstwhile ‘creatives’) 2. Insufficient, hands-on experience in articulating tasks (i.e. CPQQRT) – this is more common than might be expected.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: