Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

I really enjoyed this funny TED talk by New Yorker magazine cartoonist and staffer Bob Mankoff. The point he is making, however, that nothing is funny in and of itself, is precise. And true for all acts that are communicative or informational, including, of course, management.

We are often convinced that a decision is, in and of itself, good or bad, right or wrong, clever or stupid, but these labels only apply to the relationship the decision has with and in context. It is this fundamental and espistemological point where we must begin Personal Development, too.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

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

“Harmless”.

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.

Reference

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

Read Full Post »

IMAG0513

Personal Development workshops on the MBA run throughout the year, and across several locations, but they also tend to cluster; the same title seems to run several times in close succession. We have seasons of Starter Workshops, and one has just finished.  Now it’s all about the second in a sequence of four workshops – Development Plans. I’ve been thinking about values in the past couple of weeks, as this is one of the subjects featured in this workshop.

Trying to move my own thinking on, I’ve been reflecting on how to say something new about this.  When I joined Henley, I think (like most Business Schools) discussion of values was restricted and narrow. The view – albeit the dominant one in management education – defined values as enduring beliefs rooted in reason and represented in lists of nouns. This is, in fact, now the discourse used by corporations as well as individuals, and is what most of us think when we think about what our own values are.

I wanted, when I took over, to expand on this so I first tried to provide an alternative interpretation of values by proposing that you could equally regard them as pre-linguistic and not arrived at through reason (just “there”, which really puts the cat among the pigeons when you realise that on an MBA doing anything without resorting to words is difficult). By asserting that our values are somehow pre-existing, and collectively generated ideas rather than just concepts, it becomes possible to see the limits of a strictly linguistic basis. More recently I’ve been trying to take that one step further.

What are the base assumptions behind our working definition of values?

When asked, most post-experience MBA students will volunteer phrases such as “personal beliefs”, “guides to ethical behaviour”, “collective goals”, “codes of conduct to guide decisions and choices”, and “statements of fundamental purpose”, to describe what they mean. Values are seen as expressions of drive, as motivation and as a sort of enabler of choice (or limiter to choice) – rather like a set of rules. But people are often confused as to whether values are ‘things’ inside individuals, or ‘things’ owned in groups and societies. It feels like both, a bit. Discussion sometimes stretches to whether values change (either for individuals, or in societies) over time.

But my wonder is whether we need to step back and look at the assumptions behind these impressions and beliefs about values. For example, have we always interpreted values in the same way or this is a recent phenomenon? Can our definition of history help explain why we tend to invoke values in the way we do (that is, purposeful, definable, rational and concrete)?

Here are a few assumptions that I think our culture makes:

1. Human society is essentially moving in a direction of ever-increasing sophistication and refinement. Change is directional, and there are desirable ends to which we, as a species, are moving. This view seems to underpin not just the theistic religions of the west but the trajectory of science as well. Business, by extension, is purposeful in its own purpose (i.e. we are in our nature drawn to grow and evolve toward something).

2. Human societies are organised in such a way that purpose is growth. Expansion is progress. More.

3. Such growth, development or purposeful activity is a consequence of the examination with (a comparison of) the past. The past is considered real, reconstructed as history.  Events constitute more than a chronicle, they are concrete in time. Further, they are as concrete in the future as they are in the past. Events exhibit trends.

4. Therefore, our societal goals and the values that explain them are purposeful, time-bound and linear. Our goals are growth oriented and are powered by the scientific understanding of resource usage.

5. Values are seen as being made of the same ‘stuff’ as other forms of knowledge.

What would be an alternative view, one that could help us surface these assumptions and thereby clarify our thinking? It could, presumably, include the following elements (that emerge under the tutelage of my favourite philosopher Alan Watts):

1. Human society is seen as what it is in the present, not the future or the past. There is no temporal progression toward a more complete or sophisticated future.

2. Events are recorded, but as chronicles, not stories. Other than a sort of cyclical and poetic meaning, this narrative has no particular pattern of meaning.

3. Societies are aimed at maintaining a balance with or in nature, not a conquest of it, as the key to sustainable community.

4. Societal goals that are valued are those that celebrate this relational world and our relationship with it.

These are just some thoughts. They do need further development, but I wanted to get them down.

Read Full Post »

clouds

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.”

Read Full Post »

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

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

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: