Archive for July, 2014


I’m taking a few days, belatedly, in catching up on missing work. One of the things I’ve been putting off is the up-dating and house-keeping necessary for the course materials we use in our MBA Starter workshops.

This three-day event is divided between the PD stuff – which I tend to improvise on as I go – and seven Study Skills sessions. These sessions have been authored, co-authored, delivered and developed by many experienced hands over the last year or two, so we need to learn from the repeated delivery. As luck would have it, I’m the Module Convenor, so it’s my job to tidy things up while still giving colleagues the freedom to deliver the aims of the sessions in their own voice.

I’ve noticed that when you revisit some details they can reveal connections to you that are somehow overlooked the first time round. One such example is the relationship between “concept” (or construct), “framework”, “model” and “theory”. These form an important part of the language of study and assessment at master’s level, so we have always had a session to introduce them.

It occurs to me that there is a sequence in the four:

  • Concept                     Individual items that represent abstract ideas, or mental objects. Our ability to conceptualise is almost limitless. Concepts are sometimes seen as the building blocks of theory.  Concepts are driven by our epistemology (way of knowing).


  • Framework             The arrangement of concepts in a taxonomy or typology (i.e. a classification of parts) where the order does not affect the nature of the taxonomy (PESTLE is a good example). Frameworks have a fairly loose relationship with theory but can be very effective in narrowing down the mass of data and possibilities to manageable chunks. Frameworks are driven by the same epistemology as concepts (after all, a framework is also a concept), but are always at one level of abstraction away from the concepts they contain.


  • Model                        The arrangement of concepts where the order or position does make a difference. Models can show cause and effect, as well as before and after, relationships. The aim of a model is to achieve accurate description of those relationships. Models may be generated by theory, or may be a step on the road (a guess, in other words) to the establishment of theory. MBAs are attracted to models in order to apply other people’s thinking to a given problem in hand (short cuts). Models are driven by expediency.


  • Theory                       The aim of theory is to explain. Theory tries to map data to underlying tautology in such a way that the steps between them could not be in doubt. Most work in science is the search by various means of inference of more complete theory. A better theory is one that explains more than its predecessor. MBAs are not attracted to theory usually until it’s too late! Theory is driven by curiosity.



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Today I handed over the manuscript of my book to the publisher. It now begins its journey through the digestive system of one of the country’s largest business publishing companies, so it’s going to be very exciting to see what happens next.

As with all creative projects, this moment is a bit disconcerting.  For six months I’ve been living with this ‘thing’. Whenever I look at it, I can always see something else that needs adding, subtracting, tweaking, correcting or editing. No sentence ever really feels finished, or ‘finishable’.

But, it won’t get published that way. I trust that what there is meets the purpose, and if not anything close to Hemingway or O’Brian for style, at it will at least be readable.

I had gone over word count. Arthur Quiller-Couch gave writers the advice “murder your darlings”, and I hunted for one or two of my own darlings to eliminate from the text. This is invariably a healthy thing to do.

One of the things I chose was the extract below. By the end of a book, one is susceptible to making grand statements, and this was the grandest on a list of “key lessons” for managers. I rather like it, and I know what I want to say. Probably for that reason alone, it has to go (at least for now).

If you read it and find it eminently sensible and as plain as the nose on your face, then I’m sad to say that the rest of the book may look terribly pedestrian.

If, on the other hand, you read it and find that it self indulgent and oblique, then I’m pleased to say that it’s nothing like the rest of the book. Honest.

“Management is the punctuation of a continuous and complex flow of events

This is not an easy idea to get your head around, but I have found that by the time experienced managers are completing their final capstone project or dissertation in their MBA, this thought suddenly begins to make sense.

We are part of one ecology. Imagine for a moment this whole, inter-connected world happening continuously around you – whether or not you like, and whether or not you know it. At every scale and in every way our living world is getting on with it. Of all those events, we experience only a very tiny fraction – through our senses. We try to study and make sense of this world by looking for patterns. We have created all sorts of ways of categorising, naming, expressing and explaining this complex world. We divide time by days, hours and minutes. We impose beginnings, middles and ends. We divide management into subjects. In every case, our sense making is just a sort of punctuation of the continuous flow of events. The choice of how we do this is always ours.

So the division of business and management into subjects, functions, silos or categories may be necessary, but is arbitrary. There may be better or worse ways of doing it. Our goal as managers should be to find the better ways, but not be trapped by our punctuation.”

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