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Archive for April, 2011

I just love this sequence of “then and now” photos on the web-site by Irina Werning.

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Coming back to a part-time PhD project after taking time away from it is not easy. The whole project cools down and you just can’t remember what the thread was, where you left off, what you have said, and whether or not the whole thing has any merit. In fact, you can easily convince yourself that it doesn’t.

The trick must be breaking the seal on your own inertia and just pile into to it, by writing. At least, I hope so because that’s going to be my therapy.

I have also started to read one or two texts that I know I have been avoiding. Paul Ricoeur, for one. I thought Gregory Bateson was a tough read, but pick up any book by Ricoeur and one almost immediately finds oneself in an intellectual undergrowth so dense that a predator could be on your shoulder about to devour you and you wouldn’t know. To illustrate, here is the sentence I stopped at yesterday, in the chapter “The Self and Narrative Identity” (in the book “Oneself as Another”), “In what sense, then, is it legitimate to see in the theory of the plot and of character a meaningful transition between the ascription of action to an agent who has the capacity to act and its imputation to an agent who has the obligation to act?”

I’m sure it makes sense. Or will when I work it out. A lot of Ricoeur’s ideas are of great importance to my research (for which, dear reader, I now have a new and very catchy title – “When Stories Meet: using Educational Biographies to explore a model of Reflection for Personal Development in post-experience Management Education.”). As I see it, Ricoeur says the following interesting things:

1. Any idea we have that time “exists” as a separate and knowable entity is mistaken.  Time exists only to the extent that it is experienced. The present is a “between-place”, the middle that separates the beginning that is recollected and the end that is expected.

2. Time does not create Narrative, it is the other way round. We conjure time through the process (emplotment) of the arrangement of facts and events into sequence.  The past and the future are brought into being by the ever-moving “knife’s edge” of the present.

3. Characters do not create a plot, it is the other way round. First, there is the plot, through which characters (and character) emerge. The process of emplotment seems to be at the heart of our sense of time and of personality.

I know this is probably grossly simplified, but it is helpful in framing the idea of reaching into personal development via narratives.

A few additional thoughts about narrative:

1.  A single event, even if temporally experienced, is not a narrative. A narrative must consist of a set or series of events, which brings in Bateson’s idea of logical typing.

2. A narrative, moreover, requires as a concept a narrator and an audience. It is not just a series of events that just happen or are temporally experienced. Narrative is brought into being only in certain circumstances where there is the self and there is another.

3. A beginning, middle and end, is a form of narrative. So, intrinsically and not post-hoc, are “departure and arrival, departure and return, means and end, suspension and resolution, problem and solution” (Carr, 1986) (p 49).

Carr, D (1986) Time, Narrative and History, Indiana books

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The staff food area at Henley Greenlands was once a place to load up your plate with free goodies and then jostle for a seat, often next to someone you wouldn’t normally meet, at lunchtime. For all sorts of reasons, those days are gone and it is much more of a hit-and-miss as to whether the canteen area and adjacent seating will be populated by a great number of people.

Yet it can still be a really diverting and informative time of the day. Our lunchtime conversation today, for instance, allowed for some banter across the tables and covered quite a lot of topics (some internal gossip, some about the weekend’s football). We got round to trying to piece together the extent to which Henley used to have all sorts of (what now seem to us) very odd customs.

Apparently, a while ago the College did not shy away from creating different classes of employee, and had a number of ways of making these differences manifest. Certain rooms were reserved for the “A list”, who enjoyed tea and scones in the Blue room in the afternoon, a glass of sherry with their lunch and, best of all, had silver napkin rings with their names engraved on them. Female members of faculty or staff were not expected to enter the Blue room without reason, and certainly not wearing trousers. Those on the “B list” enjoyed some privileges but these did not extend to preferential treatment at lunch (where, so I’m told, senior staff ate early, even before the clients). Televisions were banned from the accommodation in order to maintain the position that these were study rooms. I could go on…

All of this you might think ended in the 1950s or 1960s, but apparently these things did not change here until the mid 1990s!

The way working practices and social attitudes have changed in Britain is the subject matter of a great series on BBC, with which I’m playing catch-up on iPlayer, called “The British at Work”, presented by Kirsty Young. In the fourth and last episode, I noted that our former Dean, Chris Bones, is interviewed, including in an exchange on the widening gap in multiples of wage level between lowest and highest paid employees in organisation. Whether Chris was arguing for or against this I wasn’t 100% sure.

Kirsty’s programme is pretty good and I am shamelessly taking notes to add to my repertoire of ways of talking about the way in which careers are changing, which is part of the Personal Development agenda at Stage 2 of the Henley MBA.

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It had been my intention to blog every day while in South Africa. I had wanted to capture the ongoing thoughts and impressions of being there and of running the workshop. But the days were just too long, the workshop too tiring and the evenings not necessarily with easy internet access (when will hotels stop milking the access to WiFi for cash?) and I’m rather ashamed to say that I gave up on Day One.

Now back home, here are the highlights (and one low point):

1. One is always mindful that what one is seeing is not the whole picture, not by any means, but what a great place South Africa is! I know that Johannesburg has serious problems to deal with, and that the country has a great deal to work out regarding its political and social problems, but if the diversity and attitude of the MBA programme members is any clue, then the energy to do something about these barriers is not in question. On top of that, I love the light in Johannesburg – it seems to open up the mind to all sorts of thoughts and possibilities.

2. The workshop ran with about 115 participants, the largest group I have ever had to deal with on the MBA. We held Day One more or less in plenary and then split the group in two streams, running repeat parallel sessions. Hard work, and kind of odd creating our own deja vu scenarios (once or twice I really wasn’t sure whether I’d already told the group I was with what I was telling them now), but also really good fun. I arrived still nursing a Spring cold, so my voice was threatening to desert me, but luckily it held in there. We were working at the JCC (Johannesburg Country Club), which is a relaxing and swish conference facility surrounded by a pristine green golf course. Golf does nothing for me, I’m afraid, which is probably for the good as there were therefore no distractions.

3. I think we got our points over. Many of mine were designed to “hole below the waterline”, in  a sense. I had hoped that I could offer some level of frustration, as well as surprise and interest, for the new participants to get them into a reflective mood. We’ll see shortly whether that worked, and frankly I never know until there is some feedback or reaction. Personal Development is a strong idea on the Henley MBA and I really think we’re developing a distinct and effective approach to it which is neither too faddish nor too dogmatic.

4. On day three came the devastating news of the death of a former, much-liked and admired colleague, Emilio Herbolzheimer. Emilio retired last September, having taught international business strategy and macro-economics at Henley for 13 years, but that does not do justice to the experience one got in the broad sweep of his workshops, nor to the lively nature of his discussions one-to-one. Quite simply, in workshops he moved with smooth brilliance through a kind of narrative, littered with humour, aptly chosen anecdotes and occasional political incorrectness (delivered so silkily that you forgave him instantly), across a range of subjects and ideas. I don’t think his was a style that could be easily imitated. He was also a charming colleague, quick to offer support, gracious in giving thanks when he saw the work of others (something not all faculty do) and  He could be cantankerous, too, of course, and no-one could accuse him of being a technofile. He would never shy from saying exactly what he thought. Occasionally, but not often, he would be off the mark. More usually, he was right, so it paid to listen to him. Above all, I’d say he was liked, respected by everyone with whom he interacted. We all have our Emilio stories and memories, and we all wish we could have some new ones.

But, we can’t, and I will really miss him.

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