Archive for the ‘Henley Business School’ Category

Road to Singapore poster

Along with some colleagues from Henley Business School in the UK, I’ve been in Malaysia – just across the water from the island of Singapore – for five days now. The picture above shows us greeting the new Executive MBA students here on the University of Reading’s Malaysia campus. OK, no it doesn’t.

Coming to the end of my first visit to this region, I just wanted to share some photos of the facility here, which is pretty stunning. We’re close to the rapidly growing Malaysian city of Johor, in a district called Iskandar. The campus location is called “Educity” and is a purpose-built collection of buildings and grounds dedicated to various universities. Reading is joined by the universities of Newcastle and Southampton, as well as various Malaysian schools. The territory around Educity is a building zone, with many apartment blocks, and luxury estates going up. “Watch this space” is the sub-text. It’s also a pretty amazing building, with plenty of space and lots of designed-in facilities for study. Eventually it is hoped that 3,000 students will be studying here, with Henley Business School leading the way…

Below is a short gallery showing the huge Learning Resource Centre, the atrium, coffee shop, MBA group and various other aspects.


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Henley winter Jan 2016 1

The photo is Henley in winter, but I’m now down here in Johannesburg for a couple of PD workshops. It’s a pleasure to visit somewhere in the middle of its summer when you’ve escaped somewhere else in the middle of its winter. I missed the local heatwave experienced by Henley South Africa before this trip, and I find the big Jo’burg sky mainly warm – invaded from time to time by giant, warm storm clouds which bring downpours that drench the city. A welcome change to the drought conditions of last year.

Time for a short catch-up, in no order and with no order, here are some recent thoughts:

  • Art             I was recently listening to a programme on Radio 4 in which Phil Jupitus (a well-known comedian and TV personality in the UK), who was revisiting various texts and books that have influenced him during his life. One of the recordings featured (an honorary degree acceptance speech by artist Richard Demarco)  included this line:

“Using the art, the language of your art, each one of you, you can make society… well. You can make the life of every single individual you meet, better. you can give us hope in the future.”

  • “Make society well.”      Demarco was addressing artists, but there is no reason why this sentiment does not apply to management and managers. Very few organisations are concerned first and foremost with this question of societal wellness, except obliquely and usually disastrously in terms of material growth.
  •  Speaking of artists and their art, Bowie has left the building         One of the world’s truly influential creators has died. It turns out, based on reading even a localised view on social media, that everyone has their relationship with the music of Bowie over the years and in what is being presented as a series of reinventions of persona. I admire him because I don’t think these were contrived re-inventions but just new inventions. He used the world around him, behind him, ahead of him, to invent – which is what artists do. We will also be discovering new sides and aspect and meanings in his work for many years to come, which is another sign of a great artist.
  • Are you being served?                   When I come to Johannesburg I usually stay in a decent business hotel in a place called Rosebank. One reason I like it is because it’s just a two-block walk (Jo’burg is not set up for the visitor to explore on foot) from the hotel to a large shopping and eating area, resplendent with several shopping malls, food courts and outdoor cafes and restaurant zones. I happened to have some time so I walked around the large, modern mall and wandered into a pharmacy (drug store, actually) like Boots called Dis-chem. A large, well laid-out shop with many aisles and some pretty interesting products on sale (crutches?). I bought some travel ear-plugs for the air journey home (cost, 24.95 rand, about £1) and took it to the check-out. This is where is gets surreal. The store, not busy with customers, had one of those low corridors that lead to (tempting products on racks all the way along) down to a series of check-out cashiers in a line. A long corridor, and a long line of cashier positions. 24 in fact. But the odd this was that there was no queue, but there were 12 people sitting, waiting to take the non-existent queue.  12 staff doing nothing (except chatting to each other). Cashier numbers 1 or 2 must be the only ones ever to see any action, but whoever is down at position 10, 11 or 12 must have NOTHING to do all day…! What’s more, there was also a supervisor. Supervising the 11 people not having to deal with the customer. What’s even more, the unsmiling assistant to rang up my purchase looked angrily at my 100 rand note. “Haven’t you got something smaller?” “No, sorry.”  Pause. Calls to the supervisor. Some serious talk. Supervisor asks the other 11, in general. Glum looks. One person, reluctantly, offers to break my incredibly large note (it’s about £4). I look around the store to see whether these people couldn’t be gainfully employed elsewhere in the store. But no, almost every aisle has another staff member packing, stacking or walking around. I estimate about 22 staff visible in the store, and about 6 customers.

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Last Friday was MBA graduation day at Henley; the best day of the whole programme for every particpant.  These days it’s also become one of the best days of my Henley year, too, as I now recognise so many of the names and faces of those at the ceremony (my early years at Henley were spent seeing a previous generation get to the end). Plus, there was the bonus of meeting, even if only briefly, their family and friends.

This year’s event even had perfect English autumn sunshine to add to the procession of gowns and mortar boards (gloriously and hat-hazardly thrown in the air afterwards). As in previous years, Frempong Acheampong won the best-dressed academic competition and the Dean deserves praise for having done some sincere and detailed homework on the pronunciation of graduand names. No small feat, given their geographic diversity. 

It was generous of those who, on the day, also took the effort and trouble to come and say hello, and affirm that the Personal Development elements of the programme had made such a difference to what they were getting out of the degree. 🙂

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It is with great sadness that we learnt this week of the death of the wonderful Ken Bull, known to many on the Henley Flexible MBA from his comprehensive and supportive marker feedback in the PD assignments. Ken was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer last year, and died peacefully on February 6th with family around him in Brighton.

Ken was an incredible person – full of optimism, warmth and humour. He had a long association with Henley as a tutor and worked both as an internal and external member of staff. He was latterly also a personal tutor on the Executive MBA also.  His funeral will be on Friday February 20th.

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Inference /ˈɪnf(ə)r(ə)ns/ n.  a conclusion reached on the basis of evidence and reasoning

Blake's engraving of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales - metaphors everywhere!

Blake’s engraving of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales – metaphors everywhere!

A lot of inference goes on in management education, but I wonder how much of it is rigorous or even does any good. Here are a few thoughts on this topic.

1. Inductive reasoning

Imagine that you are given a map of an inland territory, part of a larger land mass (maybe a continent) and asked continue drawing the map. If you only use what is already there, you would have to extend by extrapolation to continue the drawing outward. Each time you drew something, sure, you could go and check, and any new data could become part of the further drawing. This is inductive – your test of accuracy is in the form of further observation (trial and error). If you were incapable of learning from this, you would be restricted to the same simple protocols of feedback (that is, you could make corrections to your map but not to your method of map making). Does this mode of inference equal learning how to learn? Not much. Arguably, only in respect to the meta-level skill of getting better at a process of trial and error (i.e. if placed in a different situation that required blind trial and error, your years of map-making like this might have resulted in an increase in speed of your trial and error method). This is often what happens to managers as they acquire skills during their careers.

2. Deductive reasoning

Given the same starting point of having to draw a map from a fragment, you notice that on the partial map there is a river. If you know that water always flows downhill (knowing this doesn’t restrict you to inductive reasoning for map making, though you might not use this knowledge), you could perhaps predict and then draw the likely course of the river into your new map on the basis of other extrapolations. In other words, you draw through a mental process of “if…, then…”.

The accuracy of your map (your prediction, or “then”) is still subject to verification by observation, but is now based on application of a covering rule – it contains a test of a hypothesis. Similarly, you may apply other rules, such as that rivers flow into other rivers and eventually into the sea, and this thought also becomes part of an imaginary map to be tested against experiment. The application of a premise established earlier in time (a priori) and independently of experience is deductive inference. Of course, there is a possibility (sometimes an aim) that a hypothesis is not matched by data. Assuming you can trust the data (i.e. your senses), you now have a route to amendment of either the hypothesis, or of the covering rule that generated the hypothesis. Is this learning to learn? The same argument could be made as for learning in inductive inference, that a you get better at applying deductive hypotheses in other contexts and this is a sort of learning how to learn. Inductive and deductive practices often go hand in hand with in practice and the boundary between them is actually only arbitrary. In either case, learning is correction of error in terms of a specific response from within a given set of alternatives (context learning), and not a correction of error in terms of change in set of choices.

The problem for deductive reasoning is that the ‘then’ is only as sound as the premises informing the ‘if’ premise itself. The best ‘ifs’ are those that express fundamental principles, but this is far from easy in managerial situations. The device, or reasoning, that can make the leap from date to theory is called abductive (sometimes retroductive).

3. Abductive reasoning

Ok, you are equipped with a keen eye for observation and a decent education and you are given the map-making task. How do you proceed? Yes, you could dive in (as many managers think they ought to) and set about solving the problem you’ve been set (whether by trial and error, or by prediction based on rules you have been taught), but neither of these will lead you to higher level learning. Induction is clear and simple and will suffice for a bit. Deduction is clever and structured, and will work as long as the premise holds up. But neither one produces anything novel. Neither is creative. And neither one leads to deeper understanding of the world as it actually is. For that, you need also abduction.

Abduction is deliberately taking the explanation for one set of phenomena and asserting this also as explanation for the data you have. It’s a more complex and artful form of reasoning as it contains a leap, and crucially demands an understanding of a deeper pattern (i.e. a knowledge of what connects otherwise disparate forms).


This may all sound a bit woolly, but for many great scientists, abduction is how they explore new ground. It is guessing, but educated, informed guessing is a good thing. For example, Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman each used such informed guesswork to bridge gaps from data to theory.

I like to characterise abduction as use of the logic of metaphor, and few things have the ability to drive the imagination, or kick-start the generative process of creation, than the bringing together of two unalike things in order to see how they are alike.


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For various reasons, one of which is a hole in a PD workshop that I’m currently trying to fill, I’ve been puzzling for a few weeks over the difference between creativity and innovation, and whether in fact there is one, and whether that matters.

I have come to the conclusion that there is and it does, at least as far as management practice is concerned.

Despite our modern management mantra of the only constant being change, what actually happens in most organisations is that despite things changing from time to time, on the whole they rather tend to remain unchanged. Radical change is the exception, not the rule. When there is radical change, in healthy environments its function is help to reach an agreed-upon new period of not-change.  It follows from this that periods of stability are necessary for change to mean anything. And vice versa, of course.

Change created internally just for the sake of stirring things up a bit is never a very satisfying experience and leaders who propose this are never very effective leaders. People, even if they don’t see through the leader-babble, will generally be more content in a status quo than in a time of renewal or upheaval (which is not quite the same as a period of growth). So senior management, leaders, must take responsibility for  the results of proliferating a cult of change and the stress it brings to employees and customers etc.

That said, every organisation does need to respond appropriately to what is happening in its internal and external environment. To do this, it must adapt or at least react to changes in either context. This is a slightly different view of managing change because it suggests that trying to do things differently  (or do new things) is necessary at one level in order to retain equilibrium at another.

Let’s stick with that second, healthy sort of change. Managers sometimes talk about “innovation” and “creativity” in the same breath, as if they were the same thing. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much difference between them. Both terms refer to something new, some different result, and something other than what exists now. On closer inspection, I’d now like to suggest a few differences, however.


Innovation is, by definition, purposive. That is, innovation is judged to be innovation by an observer.  Innovation starts with a reason and proceeds to a plan. What counts as innovation may not be a matter of creativity at all. More like an answer to a question set by and within the boundaries of the organisational system. A fairly well-controlled experiment, in fact.  Innovation is all about the product, and the relationship between the new thing and what exists now.

Innovation is undoubtedly very important, but will ultimately be counter-productive if what it generates is more rigid than what it replaces. And downright dangerous in the hands of someone who innovates for the sake of innovation.


Creativity is not really purposive, but you can make the argument that it is purposeful. Purposeful means that it is deliberate but is  concerned (during the process) only with what is happening in the process, not with what it is for (the product). Creativity is chaotic, disruptive and unpredictable. It needs some element of the random invited in, otherwise it is not creative. Creativity doesn’t care too much where it is going while it is going there. It can’t, because caring about the end result would be a kind of mediation that would, by default, negate what was creative about the process in the first place.

Creativity is an attitude. The attitude required is that of complete acceptance of whatever happens, and bringing that into the mix to play with it. Creativity might be fun (but not necessarily so – the creative process is a very painful one for many), but must be playful. Innovation can be fun, but is not playful (too much is at stake to be that carefree).

Above all, creativity requires the accepting thinking of “yes, and…”, and not the diversionary thinking of “yes, but…”.

These are just some initial thoughts. The relevance to the Personal Development agenda is a little clearer, though I still haven’t worked out how to unleash creativity in the classroom on the MBA.

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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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