Archive for November, 2011

Just found a really useful 2004 article on Action Research by Peter Hawkins which links the ideas of Gregory Bateson to organisational development and, in particular, the study of cultures in organisations. It’s rare to find someone writing about management and business who also employs a Batesonian perspective – and since this is precisely what I want to do with regard to Reflection and Personal Development, it’s a great find.

Already there is an interesting quote, which I want to share here:

“To assist the evolution of organizational culture, one first has to start by attending to these deeper organizing principles, which are not accessible from questionnaires or individual interviews, but can be glimpsed in the oft repeated stories and shared metaphors; the collective ways of tackling issues; the recursive patterns of behaviour, the shared unwritten rules and the collective emotional patterns that rarely can be articulated but which are communicated to the outsider through ‘empathic resonance’.”

There is much to consider in this paper. There is a re-appreciation of Bateson’s seminal idea of logical levels of learning, and how this impacts how we see reflection, as well as a naming of those practitioners and researchers who have, since the publication of Steps to an Ecology of Mind, been influenced by that systemic, recursive and complex vision. The themes which this vision deals in are immense – and they include the mind/body split, the ecological and intellectual crises brought about by the industrial revolution.

Our approach to this is key. Hawkins also says:

“We firstly start focusing on relationships, flows and patterns; and secondly realize that we are part of any field we are studying and to understand the field we must also reflect on ourselves as part of that world. ”


Hawkins, P (2004)’ A centennial tribute to Gregory Bateson 1904–1980 and his influence on the fields of organizational development and action research, Action Research, volume 2(4): 409–423


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Sitting now in a session being run by Dr Caroline Gatrell here in Lancaster, on “Managing PhD study & other work”.

It’s a very useful exercise every now and then to get back in touch with the process of what you are doing when you return to a longer piece of

The big thing – always be reflecting on “what am I doing?” This changes as you go, but you need to know what claim you are making and where you will contribute to the debate (and what debate that is). Need to remember, also, that the examiners will be looking for ‘evidence of the ability to construct and present a coherent, logical argument’. This is not the thesis, but the context of the thesis.

Other lessons to bear in mind include need to be researching something that has a strong interest for you personally, and keep checking in on these.

I recently used, not for the first time, the Ben Zander talk recorded for TED in 2008, where he brilliantly engages his audience in the idea that classical music is for everyone. For the first time I saw a parallel with my PhD subject of reflection. In his talk, Zander analyses a short piece of music by Chopin to illustrate something much bigger. His phrase “now let’s see what’s really going on here” changes the tone, and moves from our unreflective attitude to music to a much more reflective place. He gives the sense that by unlocking the skill of the composer and the way that they wanted to make us feel in order to create the same thought in your mind that they had in theirs (surely this is a good definition of communication) we are then able to understand how to appreciate other pieces of music in the same way.

My data is like the one Chopin piece. It’s enough to examine one group’s interaction over a fairly short period of time in order then to go and see “what’s going on here”.

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It’s always a pleasure to come and run workshops here in South Africa, in Johannesburg. This must be my seventh or eighth time here in about six years and I always marvel at the sense of space and the promise (despite the problems) that the region has. This particular visit is slightly different in that the time of year means coming from dark, autumnal Britain to hot and summer-like climate, where the trees are all in bloom and the skies are big and (for the most part, since Jo’burg has spectacular thunderstorms) blue.

Another difference is that the workshop I’ve been running is not at the start of the MBA (fresh faces, eager and nervous minds) but a group coming to the end of their Stage 1 work. Still a big group, it’s a pleasure to work with people who have stretched themselves and, in many cases, had unexpected results in the first year.

Also different is the fact that, really for the first time, Henley in South Africa is not located in someone else’s building, with shared resources and problems. Newly located next to one of the recently up-graded motorway routes between Jo’Burg and Pretoria, the setting is good for business and the fact that all the classroom space is only for Henley’s use, and is well constructed and full of natural light, makes the whole feeling so much more… well, more Henley, really. Sure, there’s no river, but what a difference it makes to have a place of your own to call home.

Yet another novelty for me this trip was the chance to go and make a short presentation (which I turned into a workshop) for the managers of a company called AVUSA (publishing and media). The “chance” was mediated slightly by the fact that the timing meant getting off an 11 hour overnight flight and driving straight to the company, but luckily everyone was quite understanding. The people there were, in fact, great, and very open to the idea of Reflection (what else would be my topic?). At the end, they presented me with a lovely biography of Mandela. On the way to their company, my driver took me through the district in Jo’Burg where Madiba has his residence – and it is a really lovely area (their version of Hampstead, perhaps?).

I always like to compare progress between visits. A shallow and restricted comparison, I understand, since I do not see much of the country when I’m here, but since I am always able to compare the same thing, I can report that there is continued development here – the infrastructure is more in place, the systems more reliable and the sense of unease (at least in some areas) and fear of crime has improved somewhat. Where people were openly planning to leave SA a few years ago, the debate has become much more of a dilemma and the tide sometimes turns the other way. One thing’s for sure, at some point I will want to explore more of the openness and potential of this country as a visitor.  Some things don’t change, of course. The South Africans are sports crazy, and the performance of the cricket team against Australia was woven into the PD workshop yesterday.

There’s a big topic of debate in education at the moment around the status of the MBA. The education ministry is considering a proposal to rate the MBA down from “level 9” (which would designate the MBA as a master’s degree requiring an honours degree for entry – and an honours degree here in SA means having completed a fourth year of university, which of course many managers won’t have done) to “level 8”. There would be pros and cons for Business Schools of this, mostly to do with programme financing in public universities, but the business schools are lobbying for the current situation to continue. At least, I think that’s what they’re doing – it’s complicated…!

Now I must get back to the PhD…

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I feel the need to sing the praises of Blackwell’s books in Oxford. Not for the first time, it must be admitted, but here’s why now.

First, I should say that the praises are being sung for the main shop in Oxford. That’s not to say that the other shops up and down the country don’t deserve singling out, but I haven’t spent time in them. I have spent time in the Oxford shop. There are several reasons for liking this shop, not least its size and range of books in stock. I love that you can just browse, and that you can take a bundle (or is the collective noun now a kindle?) of books from any of the shelves and go and sit in the cafe and check them out without feeling grubby.

I like that the staff have a slightly disorganised air about them. They’re not pushy, and in fact you sort of get the feeling that they’re a bit surprised that you want to talk to them or buy a book from them, but they exude an air of people who actually read books themselves. I bought two books there today, in two separate transactions, and I don’t think either of the staff involved made eye contact with me…

One of the books was ordered in for me. It had taken a week longer than expected, and had involved one abortive trip in to the shop for me already. In these days of Amazonian swiftness of delivery, this is probably not going to work in Blackwell’s favour, and I will admit that I often compare the prices in both places, but – on the whole – if I can, I will buy there.

Oxford used to be full of independent booksellers. Most, if not all, have disappeared, along with a host of other quirky, family-run businesses, only to be replaced by sandwich shops, cafes or shops selling “memorabilia”.



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