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Archive for February, 2009

Dear all,

 

You will have noticed that some themes recur in these newsletters, and quite deliberately so. ‘Henley’ as a place often features, partly because it lends itself so easily as a magnificent backdrop to your workshops and graduation. ‘Henley’ as a brand is also sometimes a starting point. Yet another is learning, which might be little surprise in an educational setting. But I have to admit that ‘learning’ is creeping more and more into my thoughts as I develop my early PhD research ideas.

 

So what has got me thinking this month (a month of news globally about turmoil in markets) is summed up by this quotation, attributed to H.G. Wells:

 

“You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something.” 

 

I think loss is a rarely explored aspect of learning, which is often presented as a process with only the sunny-side of gain. But personal change is double-edged and a new position cannot, by definition, be the same as the old, yet the old was what defined you, and it was there for a reason. It would be interesting to ask people who are at or are approaching the end of their MBA journey what they feel they have lost along the way, and how they dealt with it. Don’t be surprised to see the question as a future discussion posting on LinkedIn…
 

Henley on Linkedin and Home Straight Community news

 

The Henley group continues to go from strength to strength and there are a number of active discussions currently running among the 3,887 members. If you haven’t signed up yet, don’t forget to up-date your profile with accurate info on your Henley course first.

 

The main Home Straight news this month, aside from the steady progress being made by quite a number of people under the guidance of Mike and Richard, is the launch of a special group on LinkedIn for those who are in the Henley-Based Home Straight group. At the moment, membership is only for those of you working on your dissertations who are studying via the Henley. If you are at Part Three with an Associate or Partner, we are looking at this as an option for development.

 

Research Corner

 

At the risk of sounding like a broken record with the LinkedIn references, I happened to notice an appeal by Michiel Commandeur, who has a posting there looking for volunteers to take his survey.

 

As he writes: “In my research I’m linking internal control frameworks to organisational behaviour. The objective is to identify how governance / internal control frameworks can add more value to an organisation. The link below brings you to a questionnaire that only takes 5 minutes to click through. I can send participants a summary of the research once completed. Thank you for helping me with my research!! [link removed from the blog version]

 

Please note that the dissertation clinic, advertised in last month’s newsletter, due to take place on the 18th May has been brought forward to the 11th May.

 

Face-to-Face Electives

 

I’m pleased to announce that this year for the first time we are opening pre-bookable spaces to Distance Learning programme members on our “taught” elective sessions (which are designed to run as part of the Executive and Full-Time MBA programmes). These electives are offered via two-day residential workshops here at Greenlands and will run on various dates in May 2009. We have secured five places on each, which can be booked on a first-come first-served basis. If more than five people from DL wish to attend, then a waiting list will operate.

 

Details on which electives are being offered and on what dates can be found in the electives portal, or by contacting Marcia Doughty.  Marcia will also be taking the bookings for secured slots.

 

New intakes

 

Today we welcomed our latest intake, HB40, which I’m pleased to announce consists of 61 managers from 19 different countries. The group is one third female, too, which is a sign I hope of a healthy trend in more applications from women in management. 

 

We also welcome this week our first intake to reach the beginning of Stage 3 in the new MBA curriculum, and the first to be introduced to the successor of the Dissertation, the Management Challenge.  The group is from Denmark and numbers 15. We wish them and HB40 well. March will see new starts in New Zealand and South Africa, from where I shall be writing the March newsletter.

 

In all, we now have 33 separate intakes studying at various stages of the new MBA curriculum around the world. In total, this adds up to almost 1,900 of you. In addition, worldwide, there are another 1,400 of you who are currently completing your Part Three and Dissertation.

 

Points of interest and forthcoming events

 

David O’Daly sent me a link to an article that profiles a Henley DBA graduate, Mike Young, which is quite interesting and may be of interest to some of you. Click here for more.

Amanda Proddow of our alumni team reminds me of the following upcoming events:

 

04 March 2009 – “Gaining Competitive Advantage through Collaboration and Partnering” – Dr. Richard Gibbs, Henley MBA alumnus, discusses his research and book “Strategic Alliances and Marketing Partnerships” . He will explain the problems that affect partnering and how to make effective management decisions to improve both the relationship and productivity. Greenlands Campus.

11 March 2009 – Construction & Property Industry Group with Howard Cooke, GVA Grimley Ltd speaking on ‘Strategies for Uncertain Times’ and Fred Ng, Replus Ltd speaking on ‘Tips from a Restructuring Practitioner: some Generic Survival Strategies’ – London

18 March 2009 – Construction & Property Industry Group as above – Greenlands

19 March 2009 – Keynote Lecture series sponsored by Accenture 2009: “Chaos Theory in Practice” David Roberts, Chief Executive Officer, Bawag PSK – Royal Society of Arts, London

24 March 2009 – Pharma Forum alumni event“Creating Market Insight” – Dr Brian Smith (OUBS) and Peter Garnett, Head of CSC’s Procurement & Supply Chain practice – London

 

Other dates for your diaries:

 

April/May 2009 – Henley Golf Challenge, Sunningdale Golf Club

10 June 2009 – Third Sector Network alumni event, Henley Business School, Greenlands Campus

01 June 2009 (date tbc): Pharma Forum Summer Meeting – “The Reality of Emerging Markets for Pharmaceuticals”, Henley Business School, Greenlands Campus

05 July 2009 – Alumni Members’ Day at Greenlands, Henley. Please note that this event is on a Sunday this year. Full details will be available on the web from 1st March 2009.

02 November 2009 – Pharma Forum Winter Meeting – “Customer Marketing Challenges in Pharmaceuticals” – venue to be decided

 

Good luck to anyone sitting for their exams next week, especially those taking the last ever Part Two exam in the previous version of the MBA curriculum.

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I’m re-reading, now for the third time, Gregory Bateson’s “Mind and Nature”, which was one of his last books before his death in 1989. In the periods between reading and re-reading I have been able to go out and follow, albeit somewhat haphazardly, various other threads of thought and research in subjects that slowly revolve like planets around the central question of “what is learning?”

Bateson’s book was intended for the general reader, though I suspect that what constitutes ‘general’ for Bateson might not be quite the same thing as most books aimed at a wider audience. Anyway, on page 29 in my edition, where he is stating a necessary presupposition that science never proves anything, and where he is discussing what we can know, he says “Knowledge at any given moment will be a function of the threshold of our available means of perception.”

This thought is built on the notion that we naturally co-create knowledge by a never-ending process of mutually established and familiar patterns, which retreat to the background in their use.  The limit of this knowledge is set by the limit of our capacity to perceive it.

Thresholds are digital: you will know when they are reached and crossed only when they have been crossed. So it follows that learning, also a process of perceiving, should also be digital. What is not perceived cannot be learnt, or perhaps more accurately cannot lead to learning. In theory, if we widen, or broaden, or sharpen, or whichever analogy is most appropriate to convey the improvement of our capacity to perceive our threshold for perceiving difference, it becomes possible to see new ways of perceiving pattern and eventually ways that pattern that connect.

When we become very used to doing something, we often stop seeing how that behaviour was created, or is created, and may find that it unconsciously becomes a self-fulfilling loop which then actually limits our perception of it.  This is a strong argument for placing a short, sharp exercise in critical self-awareness right at the start of an adult learning process to contract the digital to the analogue.

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Someone posed the question the other day, as people do, as to what my PhD research question is all about. Nudged into action after what I realised was yet another disappointingly long period of inactivity, I sent them a short abstract. Their question, having read it, was something along the lines of:

 

“If the research is on intuition-driven personal development influenced by early socialization, are you going to say that we are passing some kind of programming in our families and that then unconsciously “makes” us be more or less successful in our lives?”

 

That made me think and I’ve had to spend some time formulating a response. The area of exploration in my research is (I hope) at a level of abstraction from either the organizational system (i.e. work and career) or the family system. My curiosity is in ‘throwing some light’ on the philosophical debate about what we mean when we talk about learning.

 

That does presuppose a number of things which are derive from the epistemological position I am adopting. It means, for instance:

 

  • that the world, as far as we can be aware of it, is activated by ‘difference’ (between ‘things as they are’ and ‘things as we can perceive them’)
  • that systems are self-corrective and recursive (i.e. that they contain causal links which are circular and tend toward stability)
  • that ‘information’ is news of a difference that makes a difference,
  • and that learning, like many other things, is recursive and subject to hierarchical typing of logical levels of abstraction

Using the narratives of learners, and asking them as a research project, to explore patterns in particular systems, is a means to an end.  If there is personal benefit to be gained from the exploration, then great, but the goal is another one.

 

As such, I’m not saying that family life makes us more of less successful, though that may form a hypothesis for questioning during the research; ‘success’ is measurable only in relation with ‘not success’, and that is governed by the same epistemology. It’s not defining success that I’m interested in so much as a changed holistic view that might emerge from doing the comparing.

 

If this makes sense to anyone, I’d be very interested to hear from you! 🙂

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The other day an intriguing email was sent round on one of the internal lists here at Greenlands. It was notification that we were in the process of off-loading the now ageing College Jaguar car was to be sold (I use the c-word deliberately since the chauffeur-driven Jag was very much the pride and joy of successive Principals, and when not being used to move the top brass around could be booked by College management to take them to and from meetings and events).

The message said that if anyone was interested in buying it they could contact one of the drivers in the Greenlands garage. I don’t know whether the drivers were overwhelmed, but there’s no getting away from the fact that despite its age and use it is a lovely car, with a full service history. Had I not just gone green with a brand-new and very eco-friendly car myself, I think I’d have been tempted (especially when I found out how much its trade-in value is). Sadly, this offer was withdrawn and the decision was made to do just that; trade the Jag in part exchange for a more sensible alternative.

When I first arrived at Henley in November 2005, it was in the middle of a whole series of office moves. There were pink crates and Portakabins everywhere, and a very detailed version of musical offices carried out with military precision by a project team. It seems that this sort of upheaval happens every few years here, so now we’re in the middle of the latest round, involving roughly 40 memebrs of staff and faculty. Inlcuding me. Next week I will have my life’s work boxed up and trundled from the main Greenlands building (saying a sad farewelll to my view of the visitor car park) across to Engine House, the faculty office building between River House and Paddock. I will revert to the same view of the Hambleden hills and bunny rabbits that I enjoyed in 2005.  A lot has changed since then; I have less hair, and what remains is a lot greyer, the College (a complex organism) has become a unit of something a University (a complicated organism), our curriculum has changed and despite numerous small set-backs and a gruelling daily grind in which we sometimes feel exasperated, it is a real pleasure to be working here on this programme, where (if you want it) personal growth and intellectual development is still the most valued product.

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Leaving New York

amy-new-york-trip-feb-2009-093A third and final New York blog posting, and just some randomly associated thoughts of the kind that tend to occur when you are just visiting a place…

When you stay in a hotel it’s inevitable that you will begin to flick through the channels on the TV. In the US, this is a good task if you want to glimpse the world of the ADD sufferer as there is nothing to keep your attention for longer than about two and three-quarter  minutes.

It’s pointless and misdirected to be too critical of news coverage in the USA, which is such a large place that many ‘local’ news stories would amount to national stories in smaller nations, but the contrast with, for example, the BBC was telling. There seemed to be a rolling and obsession with the weather, and the only international news stories that made it were the new vice-President’s trip to Munich (Germany), which hardly counts, and the awful wild-fires in Australia. Otherwise it was all domestic. Personally, I don’t believe that Americans are hardly interested in the rest of the world, but they surely are hardly informed.

Some of the commercials were fascinating, though. In particular, there are many that are selling prescription medication (in the hope that the patient will ask their doctor to prescribe?). Some of these ads are very long but are roughly 75% full of dire warnings about side effects, risks and a whole catalogue of even remotely possible disasters if you take the drug. One assumes that this is required by state or federal legislation, or perhaps by the terribly litigious nature of American citizenship, but it does seem very strange to the outsider.

Out on the streets I can report that (big city caveats notwithstanding) Manhattan has become a very clean and safe place to walk and be in, even late into the night. It was a different story when I first went there in 1981 as a teenager and found an exciting but much edgier and messier metropolis.  And people still live in neighbourhoods which are in the middle and not the periphery,  they still have an amazingly wide range of excellent and varied amenities within walking distance, though no doubt many of these are facing an uncertain future with rising rents and receding wage packets, and they still operate with a directness that other Americans probably find rude but which anyone who has ridden in a Berlin taxi will believe to be gracious and polite.

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One of these buildings is bent

One of these buildings is bent

In order to extract more than the usual amount of tourist pleasure from my trip to New York, I found via Google an organisation which sets up architectural walking tours of Manhattan.  As luck would have it, there was one being run (well, walked) on the Sunday of my visit and since its starting point was at Columbus Circle, just two blocks from my hotel, I decided to tag along.

The online instructions simply said to meet outside a shop selling shirts in the Time Warner building. When I got there, a small group of rather elderly locals had already arrived. Rather worryingly, the tour leader was nowhere to be seen and turned up 10 minutes late, having got off at the wrong Subway station. He introduced himself, excused not being an architect (so no questions about the buildings, then) and took our $15.

The theme of the tour was ‘Keeping off Manhattan’s streets’ and was supposed to be an introduction to midtown (where most of the tall buildings are) Manhattan’s post-modern era city planning for public spaces in private buildings. These spaces at the sides or within city blocks have been treated in different ways over time. From the benevolent and graceful art deco public concourses of the Rockerfeller Center, through the perfunctory and bleak open alleys of the modernist buildings to the more thoughtful though often characterless public routes through and around the post-modern architecture, we were taken on a brisk exploration of through-routes. Rather too brisk for some of the older folk, who seemed to disappear one-by-one as we went round the route that the tour leader had chosen. In fact, it was a bit like a spooky horror movie where characters disappear when you’re not looking. The first victim was the poor old lady in an electric wheelchair, who didn’t make it down the steps to the Subway station outside the Time Warner building.

Actually, the topic is an interesting one and you could indeed see how different generations, for different reasons, have created or denied through-ways and amenities beyond the regular, zoned sidewalks. However, and sadly, the group’s interest had waned somewhat by the time we made a pit-stop for coffee in the concourse of the Rockefeller Center. It became increasingly clear that our host was not super-confident in his background knowledge (preferring often to defer to the architects in the group, of whom there were several, and personal anecdotes of New York in the 1960s), nor was he over chatty or seeking to engage his audience. This felt very much like the New York attitude, so no-one seemed to take offence (or even offense). But by the time we reached Times Square and had (briskly) walked through the Marriott hotel’s simply horrible mezzanine lobby, I too gave up and became another victim of the phantom person-snatcher who had by that point taken nearly half the original group.

I did learn something, but it rather felt like I was learning it on my own. Thankfully, as director of a programme where, sooner or later, everyone comes to the realisation that all learning emerges from the relationship between you and the thing you are encountering, this felt fine, too.

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Here is the link to today’s article, with quotes from me, in the Times supplement on MBAs and new media. From this page you can also look at the other articles in the feature.

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