Archive for June, 2015


the statue in the Peace Park. one hand poioignantly pointing to the sky, the other spread in calming peaceful gesture


a lone visitor in thought


Ground zero, a day after the attack

   We are in Nagasaki. You cannot visit this city and not go to the hypocentre,  the place where  the plutonium weapon dropped by the United States was exploded 500 meters above the ground. The place is roughly 3km north of the city centre and they have built a moving and well thought-through museum nearby. There is also a still, calm and solemn memorial hall with underground vault, and a peace park, both dedicated to the memory of those who died in the first terrible seconds (75,000) or soon after (another 75,000) from fire, injury, radiation and so on. In the hall of remembrance, over 166,000 names are now stored in an elegant glass column.

I suspect there are a number of places in the world synonymous with human tragedy and foolishness. It is part of our being a member of the human race that we make  the effort and take the time, if we can, to visit and understand at close proximity what went on, and why. Yad Vashem, NYC Ground Zero, the WW1 battlefields, Auschwitz, I guess there are are other such names and places around the world. 

What hit home for me here in Nagasaki were two aspects:

  1. The cold, hard timeline of American military planning. They had decided to use the atom bomb on Japan in the summer of 1944, and had drawn up many shortlisted targets, including Kyoto and Tokyo. Nagasaki had made it on to their list because it had been relatively unscathed in bombing raids. This meant that they could gather more data on the effects of an atomic device on a civilian population. That is how brutal the war had become. Nagasaki had not been the primary target of this second device (which indicates that the aim was to use it come what may), but cloud cover meant that Kokura was spared. 
  2. The other thing was personal testimonies of the survivors (Japanese, mainly, but also Koreans and Allied POWs) and the personal possessions of those who persished.  You have to stand right under where the detonation was, and look up, to imagine…

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We passed by this temple while on the Philosophers walk, a tranquil path leading along the foot of the hills on the eastern idea of Kyoto. It leads to the Silver Temple at Ginkakuji, but when we saw the crowds there we turned back to visit this hidden gem instead.

The Honen-in site dates back to the end of the 17th century but commemorates the life and teaching of a priest called Honenko-Genku (1133-1212), who was interested in how the teachings of the Buddha could be applied to everyone, not just the elite. 








Amitha buddha




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bell at the Shoren-in temple, Kyoto, sonorous when struck…

Isn’t it odd that we so rarely examine the background to or assumptions behind our words?  This is at least so in English – I cannot speak (no pun intended) for other languages.  For example, our word ‘orientation’ – crucial for induction at the start of any new process, such as an MBA, is originally been rooted in the act of facing to the East, to the Orient,  or the Holy Land, or Mecca, or perhaps (for the more awake) China, India and Japan…? We seem to rely so much on needing a place to be in line with. Ideologies require an orientation or they remain meaningless.  So where is the orientation for the task of management? Does management struggle for an orientation? Where is its central point, or axis? Following Gregory Bateson, and interpreting Anthony Wilden, I’m going to say that – whatever else it might be – management is an open system with the following characteristics:

  • A question of process and form, not matter substance
  • Holistic, entirely a matter of contexts, and contexts of contexts (hierarchical and context sensitive)
  • The organised and socially mediated use of information (where both-and thinking trumps either-or for productivity)
  • Subject to positive and negative feedback loops (where negative feedback is the constraint)
  • By its nature, open to novelty, surprise and innovation
  • Communicative in its behaviours (as well as its non-behaviours, which can also be communication), and with a capacity for memory
  • Every behaviour is also a question about the appropriate response for management to make

These may be a start in the definition of an orientation beyond “making money”.  ************

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The mystery of why you do not see locals in Kyoto eating food while out in public may have been solved. Today, while half-way through tucking into a delicious artisan doughnut in the gardens of the Imperial Palace, a bird of prey swooped down (from the blind side) and deftly grabbed the uneaten portion in its talons, and… I was robbed. 

The hawk in question was a Tombi (below). 

Tombi, or Black Hawk, or doughnut thief!

Luckily, the park had some beautiful trees to make up for the loss. But from now on I will be eating indoors. It turns out that these birds have form in this regard. 


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In the film Lost in Translation, Scarlett Johansen’s character Charlotte is shown travelling by herself on the Shinkansen from Tokyo for a day exploring the temples and gardens of Kyoto, Japan’s ancient and atmospheric former capital city. I’ve always wanted to make the same journey, and now have the opportunity not for a day trip but six nights, and not in a hotel but in a Machiya (a small dwelling house with tatami mats in a densely built up area of the downtown, and not alone as I’m travelling with my wife, Gina.

So, is Kyoto…. different?  For any non-Japanese person visiting Japan, EVERYTHING is different, so this place is no different in that respect. 

But Kyoto does have a different vibe from the various and varied parts of Tokyo that we saw. For one thing, it’s navigable in a way that Tokyo is not. Kyoto is built on grids, encircled by green hills, and with several landmarks to make it easier to know where you are. Much more significantly, it is laid back and calm in a way that perhaps other parts of the country find more of a struggle. We are in a quiet neighbourhood, true, but nowhere does. the city feel hyper (under the surface, of course, it may be) ,…. The locals seem very respectful of your complete inability to know how to behave in a civilised manner. Live and let live (in ignorance, if so wished) personified. 

The temples are impressive, especially the gardens, but it’s the mundane, the side streets, the small shops and the woodland walks (as in the picture) where anything like zen is manifest most strikingly. There is much art and craft here, and every transaction is a complete and full experience.  Even buying a bottle of water is a ceremony that leaves you feeling you have just been a most honoured guest. 

Yes, I could most definitely write a book on personal development here. There is even a route near our house called the Philosopher’s Path!

My haiku….

Kyoto June walk,

pass through woodland in the rain.

Moths meet on the wing

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The strategy of communication 

While away in Japan, I am reading a book called ‘the Rules are no Game’, by Anthony Wilden. This is a very unusual book, exploring communication, information and  –  luckily for me at the moment given current project – strategy. It’s already throwing up some gems, as the extract below illustrates, and promises much in the way of a Batesonian influence in thinking.

      “Scientia potestas est: ‘knowledge is power’. So said Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), pioneer of modern science. But not all knowledge is equally powerful. Knowledge of codes, knowledge of structure, knowledge of strategy – this is not mere knowledge, but literacy. Literacy is power.” (Wilden, 1987 p. 58)

I like the contrast between knowing something and being literate in it. Another quotable entry in the introductory chapter (an overview of the subject of history in strategy) is this:

        “You cannot beat strategy with tactics.” (p. 48)

Wilden is fond also of Sun Tzu on strategy, something that I perhaps need to revisit.

In other news, the solar-powered plane on its way across the immensely challenging Pacific leg of a round-the-world trip has turned back from launch in Japan. No shortage of sunshine here, but the weather out in the ocean looked threatening. 

Wilden, A. (1987), The Rules Are No Game: the strategy of communication, Routledge. 

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