The AEM-Cube®: A Management Tool, Based on Ecological Concepts, in Order to Profit From Diversity

Presented at 1999 43rd Annual Conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, Pacific Grove, CA

14 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2018

Date Written: July 1, 1999


The turbulent environment in which companies have to operate today demands flexibility - flexibility to adapt to frequent changes. One of the preconditions for this “changeability” is a team in which diverse people cooperate. The AEM-Cube® is a tool designed to build such teams. It intends to help people understand their roles and competencies and to value the diversity found in teams and organizations. It is an attempt – on the basis of concepts derived from ethology, cybernetics and complexity theory - to build useful applications for management. It is well known that people attach to human beings (Bowlby). On the other hand, ethology has shown that animals may not only attach to other animals but also to matter (Lorenz). We now propose to apply the concept of matter-attachment to humans as well. The first dimension of the AEM-Cube® represents a continuum ranging from ‘people-attached’ to ‘matter-attached’ people. Individuals may be 'scored' through the use of questionnaires, and represented on an attachment axis. Although scientifically still in development, in day-to-day management this concept seems to elucidate issues on motivating, managing and retaining, for example, technical professionals. The sense of security people derive from their attachment plays an important role in determining whether they will look for stability or exploration. Stability orientation may be likened to error-controlled feedback systems; exploration orientation is analogous to information-controlled feedforward systems (Pribram). Someone's position between these two extremes may be plotted on an exploration axis. The third concept, complexity competence or maturity, is derived from complexity theory. The capacity to deal with complexity may be represented on a maturity axis, by a cluster of items, related to leadership characteristics in complex environments. These three concepts are now combined into one model: the AEM-Cube®. The attachment and exploration axes form the Cube’s base, the maturity axis is placed vertically (see figure 1). This combination seems to be the added value of the AEM-Cube®. Although none of the three concepts are derived directly from psychology, combined they offer personality profiles which have proven valuable in our consultancy work with management teams. Teams are profiled by plotting the scores of the individuals making up the team, or the average of these scores, into one AEM-Cube®. Together, team averages and individual scores give insight into the diversity of the team. Once the team's diversity is known the team may be coached. This may involve coaching individual growth, with respect for one’s personality. Figure 1 is an example of a management team profile, plotted as a combination of individual profiles. The information to calculate profiles is obtained by both self-scoring and scoring by others (which seems to be of pivotal importance), using questionnaires containing 48 questions. The data is then normed against a database of about 2.000 profiles and plotted in percentiles. Factor analysis supports the construct validity. The statistics involved and the need for further research in this field will be briefly discussed in the article and during the presentation.

Note: This document is the paper written for the 1999 43rd Annual Conference Of The International Society For The Systems Sciences, Pacific Grove, Ca, USA. It was presented on July 1st, 1999 at the Asilomar Conference Center for the Special Interest Group "Systems Psychology and Psychiatry," chaired by Martin Sundel.

This document has now become of some historical interest. In 1999, it was not possible to predict how the ecological and ethological assessment of human beings and teams would develop. During the last twenty years, however, the result of the research presented at the above mentioned ISSS Conference has now been translated into 13 languages and is used worldwide and published in several books and articles.

After the London Business School and Ashridge published research about this approach in the Harvard Business Review (Reynolds, A., Lewis, D., March 30, 2017: "Teams solve problems faster when they’re more cognitively diverse"), there are on a regular base requests for this original short document. The main reason for these requests is the curiosity for the original first publication (despite the very primitive first PowerPoint graphs) of this now established line of research.

A special acknowledgment to the late Niek Sniekers, General Manager of Novo Nordisk in the Netherlands, who inspired so many doctors, patients, and employees. He contributed with a passion for the approach to the early phases of this research and its practical application.

Keywords: AEM-Cube, Management, Ecology, Ethology, Cybernetics

Suggested Citation

Robertson, Peter Paul, The AEM-Cube®: A Management Tool, Based on Ecological Concepts, in Order to Profit From Diversity (July 1, 1999). Presented at 1999 43rd Annual Conference of the International Society for the Systems Sciences, Pacific Grove, CA, Available at SSRN: or

Peter Paul Robertson (Contact Author)

Nyenrode Business University ( email )

Straatweg 25
P.O. Box 130
Breukelen, 3620 AC

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics