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Archive for October, 2011

Ray Wild speaking about Emilio, with Henley autumn colours

Today I attended a lovely ceremony to unveil a bench in memory of Emilio Herbolzheimer, who died earlier this year. Emilio, or Emil (as we found out) taught at Henley for a number of years. Of course, anyone who knew him knows that Emilio was much more than that. He could hold a room with his encyclopedic knowledge of international business and macro-economics, and just as easily engage in conversation on just about any subject under the sun (in several languages) in a way that always left you feeling enriched and appreciated.

So, next time you are at Greenlands, and have a few minutes to spare, go and sit on Emilio’s bench (located just by the river down by the tennis court) and tune in to Emilio’s spirit and considerable love of life.

Ian Turner, sitting on Emilio's bench

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It was such a beautiful morning at Henley this morning. When I arrived the last of some early morning mists, early autumnal in the way the light shone in shafts through the leafy branches and onto the lawns. I took one or two pictures on my phone, which I have attached at the end of this post.

Otherwise, I’m in a period of interesting challenges. Plenty of Personal Development workshops to keep me busy (and a few coming up which involve travel), as well as a few newer and therefore somewhat ‘off piste’. I’m preparing a one and half day session on Personal Development (so far so good) for a group of senior HR directors (Ok) from AVIC of China (more intriguing) to be delivered with consecutive translation to and from Chinese (yikes!). That’s at the start of November, and will be delivered over on the Whiteknights campus (a first for me), where everyone looks very young. Well, not the faculty.

Next up will be short presentations to the management teams of two companies in South Africa, which I will do either side of delivering a one-day workshop for one of the MBA intakes. My topic, no surprises, will be “Reflection – seeing the world with fresh eyes”. One of the companies deals with entertainment, TV and all sorts of media, and the other operates a fleet of private ambulances (including air ambulances). Don’t know what they’ll learn, but I’m sure I’ll come out of it wiser.

The Economist rankings for 2011 for the full-time MBA came out yesterday and Henley slipped from 17 to 57, which was a real disappointment. I have no doubt that next year will show a rise, possibly a big one since the Economist allows for more movement year on year than, for example, the FT. The rankings have a weight to them which is actually very unhealthy. Their origins lie in the attempt to gain credibility for the business press so that they could maintain circulation rates. They don’t celebrate diversity and they probably are responsible for some schools taking attention away from innovation on their MBA programmes. That’s not a criticism, either of the newspapers/magazines or of the business schools that want to do well in the rankings, but we should acknowledge things as they are. Most schools will want to play it safe and seek a strong position in a ranking, especially where recruitment of international students is important. But rankings are, ultimately, counter-productive to the occupation of a niche (how can one occupy a niche AND be compared with everyone else?).

In a couple of weeks, our new full-time MBA students start arriving. I’m really looking forward to it, partly as I’ll be trying my hand as Personal Tutor. So far, I have only tutored the Exec MBA group. Not that that’s not great fun…..!

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I think  everyone should watch this presentation, all the way to the poetic ending. It’s beautifully crafted, and craftily beautiful.

“It’s very hard to know, by the way, what it is you take for granted. And the reason is that you take it for granted.”

According to Robinson, what we take for granted in education is linearity and conformity. Linearity in terms of the determinism of reaching, one-step-at-a-time, a pinnacle of academic achievement. People need time to play with and discover their talents, and not everyone should go to university (or not right away). Conformity in education is compared to the fast-food industry, which seeks to standardise every aspect of delivery, and where the only difference between institutions (and MBAs?) is the badging.  Education is not industrial, he says, it is organic.

Here is WB Yeats’ poem, which Robinson quotes:

Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

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Problems. Managers just love problems.  They grow very attached to them, and to the idea that development is all about becoming a better problem-solver. I would challenge this idea.

There’s no doubt in my mind, from experience observing over the years, that the majority of people who enrol on an MBA programme are highly efficient problem-solving machines. By necessity, though, they have become that and no more. And the demands of more senior levels in management (and, let’s face it, of later adulthood) mean that a highly analytical approach ends up doing more harm than good. In short, at some point the game changes from problem solving to problem setting. Or, as Paolo Freire called it, problem posing. It follows that the education of people as managers should prepare them not for a way to find answers to ever more complex problems, but to master the art of framing the context within which those problems may be said to exist. And to do this they need to change their way of thinking about problems.

The accepted way to do this in Management Education is through a rationalised process of reflective problem solving, often described in terms of learning or knowledge acquisition. There are few models of learning which are mainstream that do not stick like glue to a model of  understanding the world in a step-by-step, empirically testable and verifiable way.  Variables need to be identified and isolated, experiments conducted, and conclusions (embedded with myriad implicit assumptions) drawn. And this tends to be the case whether our research methods involve describing things or counting things.

The ‘problem’, so to speak, is that our world appears problematic only via that lens.  In my view the social world is not as neat as the classic scientific method would demand it be. It’s far messier, far more jagged, and far more beautiful. So perhaps instead of seeking to contain, to solve and secure “the” right answer to all the messiness, we should make the posing of the problem the problematic part. By this I mean taking a critical approach to the formation of our questions. Rather than being systematic, start being systemic.

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