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Archive for March, 2014

Hambleden valley

Hambleden valley

Two-thirds of the way through the MBA starter workshops, and I sometimes wonder how it must look to new programme members to kick-off with such a large dose of introspection and self-awareness (wrapped up in the stress of meeting lots of new people, enfolded in the enormity of a two or three year course of education). There’s so much potential ‘data’ in the room, how much of it is available to them as information? And how much of that information is going to be absorbed? And what do we want them to do with their thoughts (other than i) have them, ii) record them)? Do they see the bigger picture, “connect the dots” as recent one programme member put it, or are things being filed away? These thoughts are prompted by two things.

1. At the end of the packed, hectic starter workshop that has just finished at Henley, attended by 52 managers from four international locations (and, truthfully, from a great many different backgrounds and nationalities), I felt a mix of  fatigue, frustration and anticipation. Fatigue because unlike for some spending the day out “in front” managing a class drains my energy. For some it’s the opposite, but I need to stare at a wall for a while to re-charge. Frustrated because it’s so hard to make the event a proper conversation. We have so much to “get across”, or think we do, that we’re afraid of leaving any gaps, or inviting offers to go off into different directi0ns. PowerPoint doesn’t help, but neither does it excuse. And anticipation because I finally feel like I am working to a Personal Development idea that tells a good story, and that over the life of the MBA is saying something different. The workshop is rewarding partly because I know we don’t have to (in fact, shouldn’t) answer questions. We have time to consider the thing from many angles.

2. On the plane over to Denmark this afternoon I was reading more of Alan Watts “The Book” (Souvenir Press), and I got to the final chapter, which opens with this:

“JUST AS true humor is laughter at oneself, true humanity is knowledge of oneself. Other creatures may love and laugh, talk and think, but it seems to be the special peculiarity of human beings that they reflect: they think about thinking and know that they know. This, like other feedback systems, may lead to vicious circles and confusions if improperly managed, but self-awareness makes human experience resonant. It imparts that simultaneous “echo” to all that we think and feel as the box of a violin reverberates with the sound of the strings. It gives depth and volume to what would otherwise be shallow and flat.

Self-knowledge leads to wonder, and wonder to curiosity and investigation, so that nothing interests people more than people, even if only one’s own person. Every intelligent individual wants to know what makes him tick, and yet is at once fascinated and frustrated by the fact that oneself is the most difficult of all things to know. For the human organism is, apparently, the most complex of all organisms, and while one has the advantage of knowing one’s own organism so intimately— from the inside—there is also the disadvantage of being so close to it that one can never quite get at it. Nothing so eludes conscious inspection as consciousness itself. This is why the root of consciousness has been called, paradoxically, the unconscious. The people we are tempted to call clods and boors are just those who seem to find nothing fascinating in being human; their humanity is incomplete, for it has never astonished them. There is also something incomplete about those who find nothing fascinating in being. You may say that this is a philosopher’s professional prejudice—that people are defective who lack a sense of the metaphysical. But anyone who thinks at all must be a philosopher—a good one or a bad one—because it is impossible to think without premises, without basic (and in this sense, metaphysical) assumptions about what is sensible, what is the good life, what is beauty, and what is pleasure.” (Watts, 1966, pp 139-140)

Curious, but this is pretty much what I had on my mind in the closing session of the workshop on Sunday. Reflection, wonder, curiosity and not knowing.

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I’ve been very remiss in posting to the blog, so hardly practicing what I preach in the MBA classroom when it comes to writing, and in particular when it comes to the idea of keeping a journal.  Some hasty thoughts…

In my (rather feeble) defence, I would say that the current spring season of workshops for Henley (here and abroad) has been time and energy-consuming (and supplemented by the chance to work with non-MBA groups, as well). This non-MBA strand includes the Advanced Management Programme, with whom I will have a second crack tomorrow, at the end of their second intensive week. engaging a bunch of senior execs after lunch on a Friday with the idea of reflection is not easy, but it does force me to try and be innovative.

My latest news is the actual publication (for now, online, but next month on paper, too) of my first peer-reviewed journal article!  Yes, now I can now narcissistically search for my own name in the bibliographic databases at Henley (though I’m not sure we take the Journal of Critical Realism…). I’m going to aim for a second submission to a different type of journal before the end of the year.

Other writing lately has included the chance to let loose with the topic of PD in Marketing Magazine, also out next month. This will be the first of six, short monthly columns. And then there is the book…. which is the mammoth in the room, and which will no doubt occupy every waking moment once the MBA starter workshops are properly out of the way. Following that, there is the need to write material for the final (and all new) part of the PD course materials we use at the end of the MBA.

I’ve really enjoyed the last two starters (the next is this Saturday). Each group has been very different. We saw about 13 members of the new Henley-Based intake (of 58) stay on longer to complete their entire workshop input for the year – this is what we call the International Stream – and so I got to see them twice and work with them on their second PD workshop. It was one of the best workshops I’ve been a part of, I think. Full of insights and kept by them at just the right pace to balance heads full of concepts, models and theories with heads full of ideas and self-awareness. Working with a group that size (had a similarly enjoyable workshop with a Finnish group in Helsinki a few days before) allows a certain freedom to deviate from the script and improvise. This weekend there will be nearly 60 in the room, and in April another 70 or so in Johannesburg, and it will be more like ‘showtime’.  The trick, I guess, is for either end of the scale to feel personal and like an education.

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