Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

Model for PD at Henley

Those of you reading this who also maintain a Twitter account probably already know that with a little thought and some clever connecting, you can access a whole range of contacts, ideas, knowledge and links related to your interests or career there. If you have included being active on Twitter in the category of ‘Personal Branding’ and make use of it professionally in conjunction with, for example, LinkedIn, then it probably pays for you to spend some time giving irection to the list of those you are following (whilst keeping track of a whole load of wacky topics, celebs and funny tweeters as well).

Twitter, the micro-blogging website where any post is limited to 140 characters in length (in case you’ve been in the back of beyond for the last 5 years) encourages further exploration in two ways. First by you searching for #hash-tag denoted words, and the second by you searching for and then following “@” named users.

I was thinking about the things that interest me on this blog, and I came up with four categories to make some recommendations to check out and perhaps follow. Any text below that is in quotation marks is just the verbatim description from that Tweeter’s description, other comments are my own.

There are way too many resources on Twitter catering to all aspects of the MBA to cover in four, so this would need further expansion in the future, but here are my ideas:

1. @econwhichMBA
“The official Economist account for news and insights for Which MBA”. The Economist has a sales boost in its MBA ranking system, and business schools do their best to be the best in the list.

2. @TopMBA
A useful source of information from the company that organises many MBA fairs and events around the world. Worth looking at their web site.

3. @businessbecause
A networking account for those at all stages of their MBA. A bit “hit and miss” on the content of its tweets, but often with interesting links to articles etc.

4. @sustainableMBA
Just one example, of many possible choices, of an account run by someone with an MBA. Included here because I think the interest in sustainable businesses is vital for the MBA in the future

B. Personal Development
This is a huge category, and difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff (often bland or folksy quotes or endlessly re-churned lists). Avoiding the mundane PD self-help/self-improvement types, here are four possibilities:

5. @_robin_sharma
Interesting take on PD, Robin is a widely read author (I mean that in both senses)

6. @paulocoelho
Writer. Read on.

7. @alanwattsdaily
Not him, obviously, since sadly Alan died in the 1970s, but a way to see his eloquence, Tweet by Tweet

8. @careerealism
“Because every job is temporary”, Career and Job Search Resource

C. Reflective practice, education and management learning

This is quite wide as well, and actually there aren’t too many people dedicated to reflection in learning on Twitter.

9. @edutopia
“Inspiration and information for what works in education” Covers all types of education, so have to pick and choose from their links

10. @presentationzen
Garr Reynolds, author of a book designed (beautifully) to guide people away from awful powerpoint. Worth combining with Nancy Duarte’s “Resonate” and “Slide:ology” books, which all MBAs should own.

11. @sirkenrobinson
He of the classic TED.com presentations…

12. @hansrosling
He of the legendary TED.com presentations…

D. Systems thinking, Gregory Bateson, constellations and related stuff…

Could go anywhere, and include anything…

13. @whittingtonjohn
John is an amazing constellation therapist and professional developer.

14. @norabateson
Gregory’s youngest daughter, film-maker, thinker… director of the film  www.anecologyofmind.com

15. @eckharttolle

Eckhart is, er, actually, he’s a bit hard to define. Not always my style, but worth looking into, so to speak

16. @carolinelucas

Britain’s first ever Green MP!

Happy hunting. If anyone can recommend any sites in any of the categories above that they think worthy of a mention, then add a comment below.

Read Full Post »

Someone recently asked this question on one of the LinkedIn groups I am a member of and it has prompted some thoughts to post in response. This, it turns out, has been in common with a host of other group members (incredible how some discussion threads quickly generate comments on LinkedIn while others flounder). With a few notable exceptions, however, many of those answers seem to me either fail to clarify or succeed in making matters even more muddled. But then, other people might well say the same of mine.

So, with additional embellishment here is my answer:

“1. Education in the specific sense of organised, social process (as opposed to euphemism for a more folksy ‘lessons learnt from whatever life throws at us’) is a categorical term, and therefore is a collective word to characterise a whole set of activities. As such, there is always a wider societal purpose that first frames the category, such as Dewey’s explicit 20th century notions of democracy or the implicit requirement for standardised knowledge and skills to meet a rapidly growing need for labour force in the 19th Century that preceded that.  In other words, the categorisation of education is itself categorised by historical context and reproduced by those taking part in it. The growth of public education has surely enabled many social and technical innovations, but not all frames have been positive ones and the topic, seen this way, will forever be unfinished and contested because society and science are themselves subject to change over time.

The modern purpose of Education is, or should be, emancipation – measured usually in terms of increased levels of freedom from control, or increased levels of freedom to choose. For many reasons, this is not often achieved but is remarkable for what can be achieved when it works. Ideally, as Sir Ken Robinson reminds us, education ought to be tailored to the potential of each individual, and informed by each person’s innate creativity. My own view is that the ultimate goal of emancipation in education should be to achieve “freedom from comparison”. That last part is not so easy to explain, so it may be a thread I need to develop in future blog postings.

2. Training is the term used for another category of activities, this time those designed to facilitate or demonstrate a given change in behaviour. The change may also be the potential for behaviour.

Training can be highly useful as a means of preparing people to undertake particular tasks and highly destructive if the motives behind the required change in behaviour are hidden or perverse. Training, like education (and coaching, for that matter), needs its own set of contexts to make any sense.

3. Coaching is the term used for a category of overt activities, tools, intentions etc. employed by one person to facilitate another person or group of persons in getting ‘unstuck’ by using certain presuppositions, such as that – aside from the presence of the coach – the coachees already have all the resources they need.

People are welcome to throw in their own ‘2 cents’.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been in Nottingham attending my first academic conference post PhD completion. The conference in question is the annual three-day get-together of Critical Realists, which was a slightly surreal experience (a note on this at the foot of this post).

But the conference itself was preceded by a two-day workshop, a ‘discussion’ on Critical Realism. I put the word discussion in quote marks because there was actually very little discussion and very much note-taking; in short, it was mostly an exercise in listening to the philosopher and founder of Critical Realism (in its current incarnation as a philosophical perspective of research and science), Roy Bhaskar while trying to write down what he was saying. There is something about his presence and delivery that seems to make you do this. Even audience members who had seen and heard him many times reached for their pens whenever he said something like “I’ll just outline for you the four types of laminated system in the dialectic…”

Bhaskar is quite an intellect. Speaking without slides and without many notes, he took the audience step by step through the three main stages of development of his philosophy. You may not need ever to know what these are, but for the record it goes:

1. Original Critical Realism OCR

OCR results from immanent critique of prevalent positivist/empiricist and constructivist/postmodern views of natural and social science. The shortcoming CR addresses in both is their conflation of epistemology (what we can know) with ontology (what there is), and this is known as the epistemic fallacy. Basic CR starts by vindicating ontology. In other words, it is not only acceptable to hold that there must be a world ‘out there’, aspects of which are not necessarily accessible to us in our experience of events, such realism is inescapable. Without it all epistemology would be impossible. To take this one step further, Original Critical Realism presents a stratified (actually, nested) ontology of three levels:

The Empirical, the level of sense data and information, arguably also the level of meaning, which is emergent from….

The Actual, the level of events, which may or may not be experienced by us in the Empirical, emergent from…

The Real, the level of ‘generative mechanisms’ or ‘forces’, ‘fundamental laws’, or tendencies etc. that might, or might not, produce events in the Actual.

You can see that the idea of emergence is quite central to CR and to its aim, which – because the world is an open and not a closed system – is explanatory rather than predictive. OCR chooses to make the inferential jump from the Empirical to the Real. In fact, it insists on this move because the smaller, deductive jump from Empirical to Actual will always falls short of providing fundamental explanatory principles, while the inductive jump from Actual to Empirical is scientifically a very poor way of explaining or predicting.

A couple of other ideas are important here, namely:

a) in CR there are two dimensions of knowledge – transitive and intransitive. The transitive is knowledge that is socially produced, and are all the things that would not exist if we were not here to know them. The intransitive are any entities that exist independently of our knowledge of them. Both types can be causal, but only the intransitive tells us anything about the nature of the Real. You will recall that this is the realm of the fundamental laws of nature, which is what science is trying to reveal (keep up!). Social science is full of heuristics that are transitive (e.g. ‘Ego’, ‘profit’ or ‘leadership’) but these are simply constructions and not explanations (transitive ideas dressed up as intransitive facts).

b) CR is ontologically realist but epistemically relativist. What this means is that we can accept that there can be a variety of views the nature of knowledge, and it also means that knowledge is always fallible.

The above is where a lot of researchers get to and then for various reasons stop. But OCR serves to pave the way to another step in this philosophy that builds on those basic precepts by introducing the dialectic.

2. Dialectical Critical Realism DCR

Having brought a realist ontology (inference about being) back into service to clear the erroneous or rubbish ideas littering science, the second phase of Critical Realism was a connection to epistemology (knowing) that challenges the idea first put forward by the English philosopher David Hume, that science is unable to make the jump from “is” to “ought”.

DCR makes this move by first seeing ontic ‘Being’, established in OCR, as generating a process of epistemic ‘Becoming’. The whole process is dialectic, i.e. it exists only by virtue of inherent contradiction, or difference. Examples of basic dialectic relationships include up/down, beginning/end, on/off, profit/loss etc. (any concept has meaning by virtue of that which it is not…).

The most basic such dialectic is absence. Believe me when I say: this is huge.

DCR continues the philosophic trail by arguing from dialectic parts to the necessity of an emergent whole, or totality, or synthesis (if you prefer), and finally to the idea that human beings can act on the world so as to transform it. Here a whole section of the CR world branches off into the complex relationship between ‘agency’, ‘structure’ and ‘culture’ in social science. Indeed I suspect that is what gets a lot of Critical Realists up in the morning to debate endlessly with each other.

A lot of researchers have followed CR and Bhaskar quite happily to this point, especially if they come to this looking for a framework sympathetic to certain social science traditions and philosophies that also feature the idea of the dialectic.

But Bhaskar wishes, I think, to do two other (related) things with the Philosophy of Science. The first is fostering the whole idea of science as interdisciplinary and integrative. The second is demonstrating that life is intrinsically meaningful. These are themes of the third part, which has been labelled by some as the spiritual turn, though Bhaskar himself sees this as a secular project.

3. The Philosophy of MetaReality

There is as yet, unfortunately, no accompanying text written to offer a layperson’s guide to Bhaskar’s MetaReality, so one is required to refer to the source texts, which are not easy reads, and which have not been picked up or developed by many researchers. But, very crudely, he continues the sequence of developing his ontology by seeing ‘Being’ as:

a) inward, reflexive and natural (or spiritual, if you prefer)
b) re-enchanted (in contrast to the disenchanted view that says Being has no intrinsic value)
c) a matter of awakening

Sounds very hocus-pocus? Don’t worry, a lot of other people think so, too. Bhaskar readily admits that this isn’t easy – we live day to day with our world of dualities, and these undeniably do have a real effect on our lives. MetaReality exposes these, however, as only “demi-reailties”.

Bhaskar’s end point, I would say, is to try and get us to understand something which almost every other ancient (and several modern) philosophy also wants us to see, namely that once we have dealt with and transcended all the dualistic illusions of the self (embodied by us in ideas such as the ego) for what they are, what remains is a non-separation; a nonduality. There are all sorts of ways that this “ground state” presents itself, albeit merely in the briefest of glimpses.

Better that I stop there for if I haven’t already lost you, I am liable to lose myself, since my own reading in this area is still very limited, and in fact Bhaskar is still working on it.

Anyway, the conference is continuing another day, but without me. My own Demi-realities have re-asserted themselves and tomorrow I must return to the office. As far as I could tell, there were three types of person at the conference. The first group, fairly large but the most silent, were people like me – new to academia or new to Critical Realism, probably following only a portion of what was being said by the second group, also quite large, consisting of established academics. But this more experienced and assured group was dominated by people who seemed to me to be going round and round (and then round again) in intellectual circles, making smaller and smaller amounts of common sense. And, to make matters worse, they were doing so to project or protect their egos (ironic, considering CR’s take on that matter). Finally, and thankfully, there was a small group of inspirational and very clever people who had the courage or the vision to move the whole conversation forward. I enjoyed talking and getting to know the first group, found myself with little in common with the second, and learnt some valuable lessons from the last (a section that includes Bhaskar himself).


Read Full Post »

Written by Brecht in the early 1930s, this poem was featured (and beautifully read) recently on Radio 4’s ‘Poetry Please’, which is hosted by Roger McGough. I think it is a really powerful message, even for MBAs.

Its title is:

In Praise of Learning

Study from bottom up,
for you who will take the leadership,
it is not too late!
Study the ABC; it is not enough.
but study it!
Do not become discouraged, begin! You must know everything!
You must prepare to take command,now!
Study, man in exile!
Study. man in the prison!
Study, wife in your kitchen!
Study, old-age pensioner!
You must prepare to take command now!
Locate yourself a school, homeless folk!
Go search some knowledge, you who freeze!
You who starve, reach for a book: it will be a weapon.
You must prepare to take command now.
Don’t be afraid to question, comrades!
Never believe on faith.
see for yourself!
What you yourself don’t learn
you don’t know.
Question the reckoning
you yourself must pay it
Set down your finger on each small item. asking:
where do you get this?
You must prepare to take command now!

Read Full Post »

Handing the PhD in


That’s the instruction I usually have to give to others at the end of their Henley MBA exam, but today it’s something I have to tell myself (at least for a while) as I have just handed in my PhD Thesis to the Registrar at the University of Lancaster. Done. Dusted.

And what an odd feeling it is.

I am proud of the achievement, and thankful that I had time to make the thousands of small edits and still meet my own personal deadline of the end of February. Now I have to focus on being ready to defend my thesis to a panel of examiners in a viva examination in a few months The fact of the viva is both petrifying and  galvanising – something to occupy the mind, certainly. However, not feeling the need to sit in front of a screen for hours and hours a day with notes, papers and books trying to draft and craft a text is, well, weird.

I might even read a book for the fun of it (I brought two with me up to Lancaster – a Penguin paperback of science fiction short stories, and R G Collingwood’s autobiography. The latter title is cheating a bit, of course.)

Oh, but, you know, this feels good!!!

Read Full Post »

The title of this post is explained at the end, so read on to find out – or skip to the bottom.

After a sprint through several Personal Development workshops in January, both at Henley and in several European countries, it’s perhaps time for a breather to see what needs to be noticed. A while ago I might have just said “time to reflect”, as a lot us do, as if the act of reflection was somehow predicated on a deliberate switch from one mode or model of thinking to another. I’m now no longer sure this is a helpful way to look at it. And even less sure that it’s truly accurate. I’m using some of this post as a space for ideas to work themselves around each other, and so want to ask whether there are any things to do with reflection about which one can be sure. The short list below covers some of what has been occurring to me lately:

1. It struck me the other day that the senses are not five in number but actually one, in sum. Our demarcation of one sense from another in perception is artificial. This makes perfect sense to me, though I think the idea would need expansion to convince anyone else. This means that reflection, like all perception, is actually a systemic process, not a systematic one. Unless we understand how systems work, we will never understand the function that reflection has in our learning. I think that the ideas of many of the seminal originators of reflection, in their own ways acknowledge this. But those complex ideas tend to become worn smooth over time by constant reproduction, reinterpretation and simplification by others.

2. What we call reflection is just our punctuation of what is actually a constant flow of experience. We can’t easily prevent ourselves doing this since we hold very dearly to the idea that conscious purpose is, to borrow Sellar and Yeatman’s memorable phrase, “a good thing”. The need to know “to what end?” drives many different varieties of and purposes for reflection, but in every case the process we use is much the same. While helpful in the short-term and therefore essential in formal learning among adults, ultimately our attachment to and affection for conscious purpose in reflection may be counter-productive and in error (right now, this is just a hunch!).

3. Two common denominators seem to anchor everyone’s experience of reflection. The first is that it involves some form of noticing a difference, and the second is that the difference noticed will relate in some way to “unfinished business”. I hope I will be able to expand on this (even explain it…) in future blog postings.

So, that’s my current bedside thinking and my rehearsal of big ideas. The workshops this month have been really fantastic to run. They have, I think, really hit the spot with their place in the curriculum, and are in tune with the collective experience of the intakes at that point. I think this makes all the difference. There are just some things that would be pointless to say at the start (unless one was planning to dump an “I told you so” on people later) but which are liberating to play with later on. For example, I’m glad we don’t start the MBA with lots of goal setting, but with a challenge to how people behave, think and see themselves. If you don’t get that bit right, then the planning would probably resemble the shape of the past, not the future. Also, talking about what “career” means doesn’t make much sense too early in the MBA. Generally, people who are in mid-career don’t need to make any decisions about career steps and goals until they have a certain vocabulary, fluency and confidence which is attained through hard work by about the mid-point. That is actually when career things tend to happen anyway. So I’m glad that the thoughtful approach seems to be paying off. Still, there are always ways in which this could be better, and I’m aware that there is more that is needed in order for the MBA experience to be something remarkable.

This month I was also able to start playing with application of ideas and thinking from the PhD for the first time. This is to a group which was less restricted than in the context of the MBA, and therefore a good challenge because that particular audience was not a captive one (the venue, Gam3 in Copenhagen was unusual too, and it’s worth checking out their web site to see why).

It went pretty much as I had hoped, though I talked more than I let them talk. I was left also wondering whether I could do such a thing without having PowerPoint blazing away in the background. I do try to use it as a graphic guide or creative prompt, and not as just a horribly magnified set of speaker notes, but even so. The best speakers on TED seem to be the ones who just, well, speak, and who hold the audience with the power of imagination and the eloquence of their choice of words. Have I become so entrenched in believing that “it is done this way” (and the PD workshops are no different – the tyranny of the slide pack is also part of the expectation of the group) that I may be missing something here…?

So, the title of this blog is my understanding of the Laws of Jante (10 rules set out originally in the 1930s in a novel by Aksel Sandemose), which amount to a cultural explanation of the collective attitude in Danish society toward the delicate relationship between the individual success and the group identity. “You’re not to think you are anything special” is the first of these, and they are deliberately written in a rather negative overtone. I don’t think this is the same as the English sentiment of not “acting above your station” because that’s an affirmation of a society with rigid class divides and appropriate behaviours at each level. The Danes are very protective, it seems, of everyone’s right to object to the idea of anyone else telling them what to think or behaving as if they were better than anyone else. I’m not sure if this means they like to “cut people down to size” who are “too big for their boots” (see how metaphor gets us from one idea to another without Passing Go…).

Anyway, I quite liked the atmosphere in Copenhagen, so they must be doing something right.

Read Full Post »

Edinburgh 20062005-02-07


I wish I knew! But…

I’ve been contributing to a discussion thread in a LinkedIn group. For a change, it’s NOT a Henley group, but one of those with a lot of members, where it seems no-one can start a discussion thread if it doesn’t have a number in the title, such as “7 Horrific Mistakes in Your Job Application Cover Letter”, “Overcome the Top 10 Causes of Workplace Stress”, or “21 tips for email etiquette”, you get the banal idea… 

The topic there was a thread begun in someone’s posting of their own list of “tips for Networking”. Nothing wrong with that, you might think, and I might agree with you. Except that they had labelled this as ‘the most basic missing MBA skill’. I had to question this, and so I asked what assumptions lay behind the assertion. This prompted the original poster to concede that networking was just a skill among many, but in the course of the reply he asked me what I thought the most basic missing MBA skill was. That didn’t take too much thought, if I’m honest. This was my reply:

“It’s true that it is often said that “it’s not what you know, it’s who”, but i think this becomes a game when reduced to equating the quality of an MBA graduate with their gregarious credentials.

I would say that as a manger(or a leader) the key person to know is yourself, and therefore the most basic MBA skill is Self-awareness.”

Well, as usual, I was off, and then got into a lengthy discussion with others on what the hell I meant by that. But, why self-awareness? I know I go on about this ad nauseam in the Personal Development workshops at Henley, but my correspondent in the Linkedin discussion thread was of the view that Self-Awareness is pretty much sorted by the time you finish your first degreee. I couldn’t disagree more. In my experience, self-awareness is often the thing that has been shelved, put away, ignored or assumed to be finished with by people starting the Henley MBA (though paradoxically it is the thing that makes most sense about why they are choosing to return to school). Self-awareness is something that matures with you through life, and actually becomes more, not less, important the more you go through life. What other question is there?

I was reminded of this the other day listening to another Alan Watts audio recording on YouTube, this time part of a tribute to Carl Jung, who at the time of the recording had been dead for just a few weeks. Watts speaks in his usual eloquent way about what he thought was remarkable about Jung, and in so doing quotes verbatim the following passage about self-awareness and about the illusion of the idea that there is an absolute good and an absolute evil that is separate from us (which is not to say that one cannot take sides). Jung wrote (and don’t be fooled into thinking that Jung is arguing for a religious belief here, he is master of metaphor):

“The truly religious person . . . knows that God has brought all sorts of strange and inconceivable things to pass and seeks in the most curious ways to enter a [person’s] heart. He therefore senses in everything the unseen presence of the divine will. This is what I mean by “unprejudiced objectivity.” It is a oral achievement on the part of the doctor who ought not to let himself be repelled by sickness and corruption. We cannot change anything unless we accept it. Condemnation does not  liberate; it oppresses. I am the oppressor of the person I condemn, not his friend and fellow sufferer. I do not mean in the least to say that we must never pass judgment when we desire to help and improve. But if the doctor wishes to help a human being, he must be able to accept him as he is. And he can do this in reality only when he has already seen and accepted himself as he  is.

Perhaps this sounds very simple, but simple things are always the  most difficult. In actual life it requires the greatest art to be simple, and so acceptance of oneself is the essence of the moral problem and the acid test of one’s whole outlook on life. That I feed the beggar, that I forgive an insult, that I love my enemy in the name of Christ – all these are undoubtedly great virtues. What I do unto the least of my brethren, that I do unto Christ. But what if I should discover that the least among them all, the poorest of all beggars, the most impudent of all offenders, yea the very fiend himself – that these are within me, and that I myself stand in need of my own kindness, that I
myself am the enemy who must be loved – what then? Then, as a rule, the whole truth of Christianity is reversed: there is no more talk of love and long-suffering; we say to the brother within us, “Raca,” and condemn and rage against ourselves. We hide him from the world; we deny ever having met this least among the lowly in ourselves, and had it been God himself who drew near to us in this despicable form, we should have denied him a thousand times before a single cock had crowed.”

(C.G. Jung, CW 11, Psychology and Religion: West and East, Chapter V, “Psychotherapy or the Clergy,” § 519-520)

What I took from this is a lesson in what an enormous task it is to find “acceptance of oneself”, which is the aim of self-awareness.

Read Full Post »

Here’s a challenge. Isn’t “sustainable growth”, one of those ideas that gets bandied about by economic specialists as well as by mission statement writers, an oxymoron? In a finite world where ever-increasing growth consumes ever-decreasing non-renewable resources how can growth be a sustainable concept? It makes no sense on a global scale, and little sense (other than in the very short and greedy term) at the level of the firm. And yet the government would have Higher Education adopt this sort of thinking in its own thinking.

I do wonder what definition of sustainable, for example, the UK government has in mind when it comes out with policies that are meant to influence what goes on in Higher Education. One example comes via the Dept for Business and Innovation & Skills (see, here for an example connected with Higher Education, but there are others). I’m guessing that they mean sustainable simply as a qualifier for “growth”.  This must seem logical to the legislators, but it also means that their policy is – logically – doomed. Or am I missing something?

Perhaps the problem lies with our way of thinking.

When people are figuring things out in a learning space, it has become generally accepted over the last 100 years that there are three methods that may be used, whether the learners know it or not, to reach explanation. The three methods are induction, deduction and abduction (retroduction).

Learning without knowledge of the form of inference that is being presupposed (and one must assume that this may be very commonly the case, even among humans) is probably only possible with either induction and abduction. But even if the learners are made aware of the logic of their thinking mechanisms, is there any guarantee that it would change the outcome?

It’s an interesting side question as to whether we can learn something without being aware that we are learning it but without much doubt I’d say that when we are aware that we are learning, it is in the deductive form of thinking where we spend most of our time. This shouldn’t be a surprise. Deductive thinking has been at the heart of the scientific method for two hundred years, and has served as a useful short-cut in the natural sciences to a system of the ‘eternal verities’ or laws of physics, mathematics etc. and it is therefore deduction that we now consider to be the higher form of sense-making. A deduction is a logical prediction or inference, based on the necessary truth of a general covering rule, about a specific case in point.   It relies, usually, for its utility on there being enough general agreement about the covering rule for us to take its premises for granted (otherwise it would be a rather tedious process of inductive trial and error every time to establish each time the general rule – which, in any case, we could never do since induction proves nothing about future cases).

Deduction rules the roost, and has been adopted just as rigorously (unless you subscribe to an extreme form of inductive method, such as Grounded Theory) in Social Science. But…. deduction begins to come apart as a useful way of explaining things  if either the grounds for the covering rule or the case in question have not been established in accordance with reality. The logic of deduction will operate and compute in either case –  we’re just no better off than we were before. In fact, we may be much worse off since it may hurt…

The other day I was in a medium-size Tesco, located near a ring-road of a medium-size English city. I know that the company has invested a lot in its image as an environmentally concerned business, eager to cut its impact in terms of how it carries out its ever-increasing) business activities. Their web site has several clearly worded statements about this sort of thing and I must leave aside for a moment whether the drive for perpetual growth is must eventually end up destroy the environment since, for all I know, they may well be genuine in this desire to be able to compete in the “green business” space. That green space has a whole set of rules of its own, and none of the players in that space are either completely independent or completely aware of what those rules are.

However, what struck me walking around the store, was the emphasis Tesco had placed in just about all their choices on offers for consumer products that either encouraged waste (i.e. buying more than you would need because, well, you’d be stupid not to at those prices) or targeted foodstuffs that represented comparatively poor nutrition  choices, the effects of which our health service will eventually end up paying for years down the line. It seems to me that the logic of “All tactics that encourage profit-making and growth are positive and ethical”, followed by “All other things being equal, consumers will tend to buy more foodstuffs that are convenient to consume, high in sugar, or high in salt.

Well, I’m not sure how I got from one topic to another in this posting, but sometimes it’s healthy to rant. Somewhere in here is a suspicion of whatever logic it is we are using to justify the unquestioning approach to size in business. If you can find it.

Read Full Post »

About a year ago I wrote what I worried would come across as an overly indignant blog posting lambasting a conference on coaching organised and marketed by the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Professional Development). My beef back then was the conference had twisted the word coaching to re-spell the word “fad” in order to apply it to a never-changing and never-fulfilled underlying quest for a load of other fads such as “organisational performance”, “value” and the Holy Grail of “ROI”.

One year on and they haven’t removed me from their database so I am sent the blurb and invitation to spend up to £600 + VAT for a day listening to people talk (to slides, I suspect) all about “Proving Coaching’s value and its role in growing business performance”.

Should I give up in despair? Am I alone in finding sentences such as “Workplace coaching is proven to increase productivity, so in a time of cost cutting how do you ensure that it remains within your organisation’s budget?” not just glib but actually quite dangerous. Proven? There is no reference made to what proof there is of the Midas touch of organisational coaching, even though the next breath says “Demonstrating coaching’s ROI is key to embedding it into your organisation.”

I love coaching, I think it is a very valuable thing for people to be engaged in. I think the principles that lie behind the best coaching techniques are intentions toward a person that are honourable and beneficial. But at an individual level. When coaching is dangled in front of an organisation as the be-all-and-manipulate-all to “drive business success”, I get worried. This is made worse by the promise of this conference to offer “practical advice on utilising coaching methods to improve the performance of your organisation.”

My attitude to what goes on in a coaching session is that it cannot be dictated by the requirements of the senior management of a company to produce better profits, even if better profits is a legitimate aim of senior management. The temptation to interfere with or seek access to the topics between coach and coachee would, in that case, be justified because of their possible impact to ROI (however you would show that – which, of course, you can’t).

Oh well, this sounds a lot like last year’s rant, so one of us (CIPD or me) has not learnt a lesson, or is being naive. Plenty of people think you can measure ROI on learning and development projects, so I’m aware that my position is not unchallengeable. However, I can’t see how they can be viewed as realistic since they are measuring quantitatively and retrospectively something which exists qualitatively and as an emergent phenomenon.

Read Full Post »

Here we are at the final post in this series and the last of my grand list of six principles, and thus we are also at the concluding thought on the topic.

The question is, “what’s a metaphor?”

A metaphor is most commonly defined in terms of a literary device, a figure of speech whereby one thing stands in for another. The connection between those two things is deliberately not literal, as meaning is drawn by a comparison and by an underlying truth usefully is conveyed in the juxtaposition. Metaphors are also often thought of as optional, a way of adding colour to conversation. They are a routine device (part and parcel, in fact) in poetry, literature and instances where rhetoric is used to evoke emotion or call to action.  It doesn’t take too much effort to realise that we use analogy, simile and metaphor very frequently (just listen to any news broadcast, for example, and begin counting). In their book “Metaphors we live by” Lakoff and Johnson investigate the ways in which metaphor plays a very large part in our everyday language. Metaphors dominate and shape our discourse on business and management.

One could stop there, at words, but Lakoff and Johnson go on to note that “metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” Bateson would perhaps agree to a point, but Metaphor is a paradoxical form of communication found not just in human communication. For example, any instance of “play”, whether among  humans or animals, relies on an intricate, convoluted (to describe) relational series of messages and meta-messages (messages about messages), signals as signals. It would not be play if it only had literal meaning. This is so embedded in communication that we have to tend to miss that para-language, the non-verbal elements of communication such as body language, timing and intonation, is at a higher level to the words we use. The facial expression and intonation of one person as they say the words “I’m going to kill you” to their best mate is what lets the other know whether to laugh or run, and is no different a pattern to the meta-message of the wagging tail on a dog as it bites another and says (so to speak) “let’s play”. Behaviorists have a problem here, as metaphors are not acts or actions. “management”, therefore, is not an action or a behaviour. it is the meaning ascribed to a set of actions and we commit a fallacy if we equate the name with the thing it names. “This is management” (or, if you prefer, “this is leadership”) and  also “this is reflection” are both names for sets of actions, not actions themselves.  “This is reflection” is a mental frame and it is one with almost infinite meta-levels of regress, endless loops of (mostly unconscious!) context-markers. This is brilliantly demonstrated in Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, in which Shakespeare’s play-within-the-play is carried at least two further levels down, causing both humour and existential distress for the main characters, for whom reality is a shaky concept.

Framing and reframing might be another way of describing this, and these are now familiar concepts used – often in a flattened, simplified way – in cognitive  and spoken therapy, counselling (NLP being one well-known example) and coaching.   Metaphor is easy to spot and impossible to define, except perhaps in contrast with what it stands against; the literal and the prosaic

The principle in the title is not “use metaphor” but “use the logic of metaphor, so we need to establish what is meant here by the ‘logic’ of metaphor. Bateson used  the term “abduction” to explain this, a form of reasoning originally coined by the American Pragmatist philosopher C. S. Peirce at the turn of the last century. Peirce used abduction as a sort of reasonable inference of predicates in reaching a practical conclusion, which may then be further explored via another form of reasoning. In Bateson’s writings, abductive logic was contrasted with inductive and deductive forms using the three syllogisms below.

"Men are Grass"

Induction, deduction and abduction

The syllogism on the left represents induction – a weak prediction based on regularity of past and present observation, true only until contrary case is found. The centre syllogism is a deduction – the formal, logical necessity of “if X, and if Y, then Z must be so. This form of logic encourages linear hypothesis building and testing and has been very successful in the natural sciences, and occasionally useful in the social ones. The third syllogism is Bateson’s “Men are Grass” and is an abduction, where the agreement is of the predicates (in this case “die”). As with induction, abduction is meant to explore using prediction, but in a non-linear, poetic way. The more predicates one can find (analogies or cases that look similar) the better the pattern and the closer one is to an insight into the pattern of patterns.

This whole question could usefully and playfully be re-phrased (as Gregory Bateson suggested) “what’s a meta for?” If the essence of a metaphor is the playing around with messages from different domains and different levels, is this of any importance or use in management practice? I think it is. Gregory Bateson’s daughter, Mary, in Angels Fear provides one clue how when she writes “one can use an imagined identification with another person to enhance one’s own understanding of an idea or event by asking, how would so-and-so see this?” This is the essence of using dialogue as a way of seeing, as a kind of logic of metaphor in order to gain better self-awareness. In some way, reflection must be about this – a bewildering and dazzling set of possbilites between the internal and the external.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: