Archive for the ‘Henley MBA’ 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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the unpunctuated flow of events

How well do you know your own mind as you apply it to the world around you? You might think that would be pretty easy to answer. Knowing what a mindset is, however, is one of those things that you know if no-one asks you, but will struggle to define if you are asked to explain it.

Last week I was lucky enough to be able to close a day-long meeting organised by the Henley Forum (… for Organisational Learning and Knowledge Strategies, to give it its full name). The audience of about 60 was diverse and practical, drawn from member organisations. The theme of the whole day was “Changing mindsets and behaviours” and my segment was the last hour. I had the title “So why would anyone want to change their mindset?”

Good question, but I realised that I wasn’t going to get far in answering it without knowing what a mindset is. Not just ‘my’ mindset, but ‘a’ mindset.

Let’s start with a dictionary definition:

“Mindset, (n)… the ideas and attitudes with which a person approaches a situation, especially when these are seen as being difficult to alter.”

– Collins English dictionary online

This says first that a mindset is personal, and knowingly or unknowingly it affects how you see, notice and react to the events in the world around you. But notice, too, the tantalising confusion in this definition. Is it your ideas and attitudes that are difficult to alter, or the situation you bring these to? Were it the situation that doesn’t easily budge, a change in your approach would indeed be called for. As such, a change in mindset would be no more than a change in tactics, amounting to pragmatism.

Yet I doubt this is what is meant. I suspect they are saying that it is our ideas and attitudes that are immobile. And that the main reason this is so is because we invest a huge amount of our own individual identity in our outlook. A shift in mindset ought to be a big deal, not tailoring.

In the Henley Forum session I wanted to explore this territory. I started by wondering, aloud, whether there aren’t actually three orientations to the whole question of mindset:

1. Your mindset is a question of perception, interpretation and intent.

I think this covers just about everything people write and read on this topic, and is the closest to the dictionary definition above. In fact, it’s a common sense description of how we characterise and categorise. A modern and very popular case in point is Carol Dweck’s ‘fixed’ versus ‘growth’ mindset (the idea being that these are the choices – either you believe your worldview is the result of fixed traits (perhaps ones you are born with, or ones that don’t change because you believe they don’t), or you think that things can and do change through hard work and belief (faith?). Compare this with the famous  saying attributed somewhat erroneously attributed to Henry Ford in 1947 –  “Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t… you’re probably right.” Actually, this sentiment or a variation of it has been in circulation since Virgil’s the Aenid (or even tucked away in Plato’s cave), and has been a resource for poets, scholars and politicians ever since.

So your mindset is part of you and how you meet the world, and you can choose to slice this in any way you please – that part of it is arbitrary. But does this help? Does getting only into detail of the gubbins in your mindset mean much unless you know what sort of a world enables you to have a mindset in the first place?

2. A mindset is possible through aspects of the world that are not dependent (only) on an individual’s perception. A mindset requires time, biology and a system that can form meaning (i.e. a coherent definition of mind). Without the combination of these three elements there would simply be no possibility for a mindset to mean anything. If there can be no differentiation between worldview at point A to worldview at point B, then there is no system of learning. This is a pre-requisite to the imposition of choices as to typology of mindset (the stuff of popular psychology).

As Gregory Bateson (1973) wrote, “The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think”. The wrong mindset could be toxic.

3. Therefore, mindset change must be a matter of a broader and more abstract awareness of the factors that give mindset stability. This third orientation is what draws the first two together. What might such an awareness be of? With awareness at both of the levels mentioned above, and with some input here from Siegel (2007), I think we might find the following useful:

a. Non-reaction to inner thoughts. Entering the world of your thoughts is one thing – standing back and observing one’s own internal language as if hearing them as another person might is another matter

b. Acuity of our observation of sensations available to us, plus the absence of pre-judgement of that experience

c. Aware action, preferably spontaneous action (by spontaneous I mean the paradox of managing to surprise even yourself, as the master archer who releases the arrow without saying ‘now’)

d. Our own eloquence and literacy in both 1 and 2 above.  This is one of the functions, I believe, of personal development and the reason I think it important that it is the job of education to be rigorous and precise rather than clear and simple.

My own starting point for this is a presupposition: that the world/universe/life etc. is going on all around (and consciousness that this is so) of its own accord and in and of itself it contains no punctuation. For humans, this presents a problem – we cannot make sense this way, so we punctuate this flow. More about this in a future post…


Bateson, G., (1972) Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Chicago University Press

Siegel, D., (2007), The Mindful Brain in Human Development: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-being (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology, Norton

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A leader at work? I photographed this dung beetle working hard at recycling on an earlier trip to South Africa

A leader at work? I photographed this dung beetle working hard at recycling on an earlier trip to South Africa

Well, I’ve just returned from delivering two, three-day MBA Starter Workshops in Johannesburg, alongside a couple of Henley colleagues. Exhausting, but also what fun! I am – as always – amazed at the diversity of the group, and the range of reasons for being at Henley. Many have stories of adversity early in life, or in recent generations, and this is even more of a tribute to their belief in themselves and their determination to learn and grow. And the spirit to make a better country and continent.

The Starter workshop kind of divides in four areas, or themes. There is the “getting-to-know-you” element, and the faster this is done, the easier it is to get the intake to tune into how that diversity will be the key to the other three. Second comes the topic of Personal Development – discussed in one way or another elsewhere in this blog. There is always too much to say, too little time to say it and too few opportunities to check what impressions are, but we will return to the topic of awareness and reflection in later PD workshops with both the new Intakes, so I hope to follow this thread with them. Third comes the input on study skills and all the know-how needed actually to complete an MBA. The vehicle, or excuse, for talking about those things is (broadly) the topic of Leadership.  It’s not too much of a stretch to see how a discussion of the models, concepts and theories of leadership make for engaging interaction at the start of an MBA, but I’m keenly aware that I shy away from using the L-word in the Personal Development part of the Starter.

So, do I know what leadership is? Not really. I have an opinion, which is summed up most eloquently for me in the words of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching:

“The great Tao flows everywhere, both to the left and to the right. It loves and nourishes all things, but does not lord it over them. And when good things are accomplished, it lays no claim to them.”

Leadership, if it is anything at all, arises from followership (and vice versa), and ought to be a spontaneous act. Hubris is not real leadership, though nearly all those we hold up as examples will find that this is what the stage they are standing on is constructed of.

(By the way, “Anganomkhankanyo” is Zulu for “I have no idea!”)

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William Blake: Illustrations to Milton's "Paradise Lost"

William Blake: Illustrations to Milton’s “Paradise Lost”


This was the original entry for planet Earth in Douglas Adams’ the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was later expanded by the book’s sub-editors in a subsequent edition to… “Mostly harmless”.

It’s great to revise a definition, and a nice way to begin a meandering blog entry.

Every now and again I like to try to rekindle my thoughts regarding the aim of education. I have rather got into the habit of saying only that ‘the aim of education is emancipation’. I’m not sure this is enough. After all, emancipation implies someone else (or someone else’s ideas) from which one has been given freedom. Though I know in many parts of the world that is a real issue, this wasn’t quite what I meant. I had in mind an internally generated aim, not a “release by” but a “release in”, achieved without external reference to anyone (or any thing) else.

So far, the best I’ve managed to come up with is: ‘the aim of education is freedom from comparison’.

This expresses more what I want for the Henley MBAs; that they should make informed choices not restrained by alignment to the notions defined by past experience or by prediction of future event alone (or, perhaps, at all). For personal development, the aim is freedom from validation, and from uncritical judgement of the opinion of others. It is an act of becoming completely at ease and at one with the world as it actually is. In its unspoken assumption of control over the world, our current pedagogy is very poor at this. For me, “freedom from comparison” is significant because it demands that you know under what system of restraints (i.e. being governed by what you cannot do) your awareness level is being limited. Awareness, actually, is the word I’m looking for.

In fact, I think “awareness” could stand as the real aim of education. Awareness subsumes comparison.

How do you get to awareness? (Easy when you know how, huh?) I think awareness is, in some way, being in tune with all forms of living system that demonstrate mental process in their function (Bateson, 1979), but explaining it is not easy with our current mental maps. The greatest barrier to awareness in education is whether or not we are aware of what a context is. Without context, education has no meaning, but meaning is not a thing, it is a pattern (i.e. it has no physical properties or dimensions, so is not to be quantified, objectified or reified in the manner that modern science has envisaged). Meaning carries weight (metaphorically) when it contains coded forms of information of what we can exclude (not what we must include) as alternative possibilities in each case. A red stop-light “tells us” nothing in and of itself. Its meaning is a very complex systemic property of interconnected levels of information (knowledge and structure of the legal system, social conventions on behaviours that align with the legal system, regulated processes of driver instruction and licensing, moral imperatives on behaviours that do not endanger others, etc.). The more such information it carries, the higher the probability of it not occurring just by chance.

All the possible restraints exist for us in nested levels of categories that each contain redundancies (i.e. information of the whole from a part) that mean we can navigate this complex social world without needing to exhaust ourselves with mental processing of every alternative. Systems of restraints are what keep dynamic systems stable over time. Including ‘you’ (as a circuit).  Your breathing, for example, works in a comparable way because your ability (for short periods only) to make this process a conscious one is merely an illustration of this whole nesting principle.

Managers carry with them maps of how their organisations work, and these maps contain many taken-for-granteds. We don’t understand this ‘gut feeling’ very well, but it is redundancy that allows educated guesswork on the part of the manager. Redundancy gives that person a better than random chance of ‘filling in the gaps’. The freedom inherent in management education is observed in how leaders conduct themselves and their work, and I think uncovering how these systems of restraints are universal could free their thinking and learning potential. To do this, education must seek news of difference (i.e. where are the limits?). The internal territory contains homogeneity or redundancy of information and there is nothing to be learned here. The individual is involved in the task of locating the boundaries where mistakes may be made in order to learn.


Bateson, G (1979), Mind and Nature: a necessary unity, E P Dutton

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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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