Virtuoso: a new logic of leadership to navigate complexity.

We are researching and developing better ways to handle the complex globally-networked, shifting, physical/digital world within which most people now work. To thrive, business  requires new ideas, mental habits and practices, a new logic of practice. Prevailing habits constrain success and generate disturbing disaffection with brands and companies. Leaders find it difficult to achieve the results they wish. On this page we review one of the breakthrough areas, the  "organising field of identity," which is a distinguishing feature of the new logic. The word logic implies something dry. And there is science in this design. But this is science in service of human needs, passion and purpose. A smartphone needs smart science, and today's thinking technology needs to be equally smart.

Clarity and the basic premise

Contemporary enterprise* requires a fresh premise: people in their individuality  want a new relationship to their work, to their managers, and to the people they manage. This new relationship increases their autonomy of action: more  self-direction and self-organising teams, local decision-making, and distribution of action.

Companies also need enthusiasm (aka passion) if they are to thrive. And people need to feel more passion – the dull word is engagement – to enjoy their work, if they are to bring their best to the table. (See our Running on Love project.) This requires that the individual's own goals are serviced by what they do.

Such distribution and amplification of diversity, local autonomy and interests, especially in a changing world, increases risk and the difficulty of governance. Balance comes from coherence, clarity and enthusiasm of alignment, aka shared purpose.

Vague ambitions will not do.

This must be detailed, precise and multi-faceted. Vague ambitions will not do. Nor will single- or limited-dimension thinking: otherwise there will be conflicts, silos and gaps. We constantly hear complaints about these. People say, the leaders claim to know where we are going but we are not clear. They say, different groups make decisions that conflict with each other and make our life unpleasant.

Good details enable local variation with local knowledge and interpretation in ways that fit the goals of each each individual.

Good details take the form of guiding and enthusing ideas, simple (but not simplistic) principles for decision making. They enable local variation with local knowledge and interpretation in ways that fit the goals of each each individual. A tall order. Fortunately, our improved understanding of the functioning of identity in organisations can come to the rescue. Angus Jenkinson has been a leader in the research of these methods for more than two decades and we encourage others interested to join the project. We also run courses sharing what we have learned so far. Here is some information.

Organising identity

The organising identity is the distinct self-organising pattern of any organism or organisation (see Luhmann 2012), which has been called by Jenkinson, propriopoiesis.  Autopoiesis is the self-organising activity of life and what makes a cat a cat and not a dog (Kauffman 2008). Propriopoiesis is what makes this cat, this cat, or this company , this company. Online identity theft does not steal the real biological and mental identity.  Similarly, far from being a superficial set of visuals, organising identity is a profoundly interconnected set of dynamics, a systemic field (Jenkinson 2008).

Our research shows that management recognises identity (via such concepts as vision, values, purpose, culture and brand), but manages it inadequately in both theory and practice . Most management guides use (old) primary school science in their advice. Distortions, ambiguity and conflict result, blocking creativity and coherence, the sine qua non of organisational flow. Enterprises typically become locked into organizational silos that compound the problems.

The first duty of management is to describe "who we are, what we do and how we do it".

 The logic of identity is well recognised by scholars and successful managers.  Drucker stated that the first duty of management is to describe "who we are, what we do and how we do it".  The need to differentiate based on unique capabilities is an important asset of brand.  Change designers and strategists note the significance of situation and context.  Numerous thinkers of talked about the importance of core capabilities, unique business models, specific and inspiring visions, the particular purpose of the business, positioning, and so on.  It is recognised at more classical end of management theory and in the post-modern Batesonian, cybernetic, or participative logics.

Organising propiopoetic identity is functional and always rooted in what is distinctively done. And what organisations do is create distinctive value in sufficient diversity to meet the evolving needs of customer community(s) they service.


Research from a number of quarters (e.g. DeloitteGHC2016) indicates that business and organisation leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to manage their enterprises in today's complex world.   when outcome is the desire to develop capability to organise companies better.  The Deloitte report comments: "After three years [since their last report] of struggling to drive employee engagement and retention, improve leadership, and build a meaningful culture, executives see a need to redesign the organization itself, with 92 percent of survey participants rating this as a critical priority."

We agree with this and make it a central focus of our research.  However, we argue that for design to be successful, it must not only use various techniques and methods discussed on this site – and on which we are working, such as increased autonomy and self organising – they should also be based on a thorough and genuine understanding of what makes the organisation effective and uniquely itself, the basis for any brand. Our own research notes that competent use of Virtuoso greatly simplifies the business of management and leads to more performant enterprise. Significant breakthroughs follow. This is valuable to management.



The core methodology for propiopoiesis is Virtuoso, which provides an integrated, proven and post classical approach. Various  design tools enable end-to-end applications. These include: deciphering an enterprise's organising identity; strategic diagnostics for change and development prioritization; change design; decision support; governance; CX and UX design (internal and external); signal systems and performance dashboards; cascaded self-organising; and more. Virtuoso began in work undertaken by Angus Jenkinson with Ogilvy during the 1990s and was then focused during 2002-2004/5 on the development of Stellar  In conjunction particularly with Richard Leachman (Jenkinson 2008). Stellar as an open source instrument provides a kernel for the Virtuoso approach.  Angus Jenkinson remains the lead researcher on Virtuoso.


* We should not overlook the role of individual initiative in history. Roald Dahl tells the story in his autobiography of being instructed at the outset of the last world war to defend the road from Dar es Salaam to block fleeing German civilians. The British empire required much local initiative in a world where shared ethos (public school), shared ambitions (defend and govern the empire) and shared ways (colonial society) enabled horrendously distributed "management" to tak eplace. While these colonial modes are no longer appropriate, principles of shared ethos, ambition and sociality still matter, in new ways.

Interested research collaborators are invited to contact us.

See interview with IBM's VP for Brand System and Workforce Enablement

Journal paper: The IBM Brand System: An interview with Kevin Bishop

Executive education for consultants and leaders is available. See or visit www.Thinking.Partners

Image: Virtuoso® working with the viable system model (VSM) for governance.

Designing for coherence

Virtuoso uses a circular logic of 12 management perspectives, each offering an aspect of an organization’s patterns of functioning. Together, the circular logic encompasses the wholeness of governance, strategy and functional operations. This differentiates itself from the plethora of management techniques that seek to extol one or a few ways as the answer to problems.  That cannot be right. At the same time it leads to simplification because it creates clarity at the level of a small set of big organizing ideas that increase enterprise-wide coherence.

The 12 aspects should not be reified into things.  They remain patterns of action and thinking that are observed because a particular way of observing is being used.  Indeed, Virtuoso demonstrates the variety of ways to look at what is considered fundamental. At the same time, each is fundamental and none should be ignored. They offer organizing ideas: insights, which leaders – and in today's world everyone must be sometimes a leader – may use to interpret the evolving context and guide action.

The 12 heeded aspects in Virtuoso constitute a closed circle, the Ouroboros as biologist Francisco Varela describes it (Reichel 2011).  This follows from self-organization theory, cybernetic feedback, hermeneutics and other principles and is delightfully illustrated by Escher.

The functional identity of an enterprise is a semi-closed circle, graphically illustrated by Escher's hands drawing each other.

Action patterns create the fields of culture, brand and business model, which in turn influence action patterns.

Each of the 12 Virtuoso fields represents a significant and useful point equally differentiated, as for example in the stations of a clock or a compass (see illustration above).  But between each of the adjacent points lies a host of other possible nuanced aspects.  As a leadership team moves between vision and the character of the culture they might see the enterprise working in many different countries in the future and articulate what that looks like.

None of the 12 is self-sufficient. Patterns interact forming rich consonant harmonics or dissonance.  Activities (like strategy, value propositions, processes, innovation and execution) are the seat of these interactions. All 12 are implicated (in varying degrees) in all actions and outcomes, including customer experience. This holographic insight is strategically informative and empirically observed.

Emphasizing particular combinations can be useful in developing strategy, identifying change requirements, analysing imbalances, recognising strengths or interdependencies. Various combinations have been found particularly helpful.

The names of the 12 matter (because bad names confuse), but they can and are customised to fit the circumstances of an organization.  This may also reflect a slight edging of emphasis of any of the nodal points in the direction of its neighbour. The names are signs to the underlying principles.

Increasing capability

At one level, the tool is simply a neat comprehensive framework that stimulates practical management with some good methods for developing and using it.  Frequently it can be introduced into usage or workshops with barely any explanation at all since all of the elements are typically known to most senior managers.  There are occasionally questions that often highlight fuzziness in the questioner – like the difference between vision and purpose and mission.  It can also be a provocation to thinking about relationships and the real meaning and design coherence behind, for example, offerings (products and services in Goods Dominant logic).

At the other end of the spectrum, it supports new organising ideas for the practice of management.  The cybernetic circular logic and informational interactivity, adaptive organic thinking, evolutionary approach to potential, and so forth work well with holistic complexity and other contemporary discourses in organisation sciences.

We have also found that expert practitioners  in specialised fields are often triggered to evolve their practices and understanding.  For example an expert in governance, dashboards and financial control systems will better understand the pattern of their task.  A lean practitioner will be able to customise the lean processes to better fit the identity.  Marketers will have a broader richer understanding of brand.  HR  executives can have more effective conversations with other functions, nurture talent, especially T-shaped professionals, more effectively, and generate new approaches to organisational transformation and culture change.

That means many kinds of competent people – consultants, agencies, technical experts and specialist managers in many fields – will find that Virtuoso can amplify their work. Similarly, if they take on board the new way of thinking,  their expertise can add much to a Virtuoso implementation.  Other examples include strategy, risk, innovation & design thinking, CX and UX designers, digital business developers, data and system architects, and more. The diagram below illustrates some of the many potential opportunities.

















Jenkinson, A. (2008). Stellar® A research report into an identity and organisation strategy tool that says who we are and what we do . Bedford/Online: The Centre for Integrated Marketing. Papers and Reports of the Centre for Integrated Marketing. Retrieved from

Kauffman, S., Logan, R. K., Este, R., Goebel, R., Hobill, D., & Shmulevich, I. (2008). Propagating organization: An enquiry. Biology & Philosophy, 23(1), 27-45.

Luhmann, N. (2012). Theory of society (Vol. 1). Stanford University Press.

Reichel, A. (2011). Snakes all the way down: Varela's calculus for self-reference and the praxis of paradise. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 28(6), 646-662. Retrieved from Google Scholar.

Vijay, S., Jain, A., Kolhe, R., Kaur, M., & Khandelwal, E. (n.d.). Global human capital trends 2016: The new organization: Different by design. Deloitte University Press.

Stellar is a trademark of Stellar Ltd, which is a non-trading, not-for-profit enterprise that makes the tool, developed by Jenkinson and Leachman, available to all users.

Virtuoso is a trademark of Stepping Stones Consultancy Ltd, which trades as Thinking.

Virtuoso has many appications that improve implementaiton of strategically important enterprise missions.

The Centre is generously  supported by the Partners at Thinking.