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Posts Tagged ‘Henley’

The boathouse

The boathouse

photo 4

photo 6

photo 2

Here are a few photos taken today at Greenlands. With the water still to peak here, those downstream toward London are yet to see the worst of their floods.

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At Henley, especially during Spring and Autumn, some mornings are more glorious than others, and the light and air combine to leave you feeling thoughtful and uplifted. Below are a few pictures taken on the campus this morning.

Thames 1

Thames 2

Thames 3

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And then I wandered a bit further along the bank of the river and found Jack – a fugitive on the run – sitting placidly under a tree, enjoying the morning sun.

I have since found out that Jack, a capybara, escaped first in 2010 from a wildlife park. He has been captured several times and always gets out again. In fact, he is a bit of a celebrity and the subject of local publicity (this report was evidently premature in its news of Jack’s final capture) a familiar visitor to Greenlands.

Jack the escaped capybara, October 30th

Jack the escaped capybara, October 30th

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Henley, on a cold and frosty morning

Henley, on a cold and frosty morning

I warn you now, I’m not sure this posting will be of any use to you.

I can’t help but notice that many who come to spend time at Henley arrive with a particular outlook on action, and a particular attitude toward thinking. I’m going to label that outlook “pragmatist”, though in truth this is just a piece of second-guessing on my part. That I venture an opinion on this at all is merely and partly from crude, subjective observation, and only with some hesitation.  I shall try to defend this by defining how I think a pragmatist thinks, and then counter that view by suggesting a shortcoming or two, as well as (not surprisingly) a hint at a different outlook.

The term ‘pragmatist’ has a reassuring allure to most managers (arguably, less lustre for those identifying themselves as leaders) because it holds the promise of getting things done, and done in a way that is neat, doable and matter-of-fact. It is almost shorthand for no-nonsense, if not quite common-sense. A pragmatist is a realist, conscious that the world is complex, yes, but equally aware that too much contemplation can get in the way of getting to the next thing. And there is always a next thing to be got to. The pragmatist will tolerate intellectual dilly-dallying only for so long, and will press sooner or later (sooner, actually) for reason to prevail and action to follow.

But the word has a long and fine history in thought, and a deserved place in the story of the philosophy of science. It has in its time been the informed view of many management thinkers and educators, especially in the US, where the term was coined in the late 1800s.

I take the four basic premises of pragmatism to be:

1. A focus on human action in any given situation

2. A view that knowledge is learned, remembered or acquired only according to its utility (or usefulness to action).

3. Humans respond to their environment indirectly, and through a process of interpretation (a big one, this, because it follows that descriptions are abstractions of experience, not experience itself).

4. in any given situation, the usefulness of objects influences what humans select to notice.

Pragmatism is important because it  wants to show that knowledge (which is the focus for action) is open to a scientific method of enquiry. The route for this is inference from empirical sense-data. This is clearly an attractive idea in the world of management – which wants to exert control over a world understood to be concrete and measurable. Enquiry, thought leading to action, becomes the process of better getting to grips with (and better getting control over) one’s environment. Whether or not what one believes to be true is in fact, or in someone else’s opinion, ‘the truth’ matters only so far as it affects that goal. Pragmatism is realist, but only as far as is minimally necessary in that particular ecology of inquiry to inform an action. In the last 100 years, and just as forcefully today as in the periods of social upheaval before and after the Second World War, pragmatists have influenced the formation of policy in science, education, democracy and public policy (including the formation of laws and norms that dominate the context of nearly all global trade, commerce and business). At an individual level, our identification with material gain, consumption, our views of what constitutes ethical practice in business, our tolerance of work practices and acceptance of the functional superiority of a ‘belief’ over a ‘truth’ all owe something to the legacy of the pragmatist tradition. We all go along with the prevailing view because we believe that, all things considered, it works. Whether it is in some sort of abstract or meta-level way true is less important.

In terms of drawbacks, I would like to suggest three.

First, a pragmatist has nowhere to go in terms of explanation other than to the linking sense-data and experience. In other words, they are limited to the forms of inference that rely only on the links between empirical data and events.  By this (and as mentioned in several previous musings on the blog) I mean induction and deduction. What is absent here is abduction. It is worth stating that the early proponents of pragmatism coined and were very interested in abduction, but something seems to have been lost along the way.

Second, this brings me back to whether or not a Business School has any business to disavow someone of the view that it doesn’t really matter how the world really is as long as how YOU believe the world is seems to produce results. I suspect not, but doubt that others do.

Third, and the original point of departure for this whole rant, the usual mantra of “the purpose of contemplation is action” ought to be turned round.  Reframed “the purpose of action is contemplation”, it changes everything.

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I was contacted by a journalist who is writing a piece for a national newspaper on the use of social media by business and management students in their job search. It’s an interesting and very current topic, I guess, but is it true that managers have moved online in their career development?

My answer(s):

moved online? Yes.

Online to sell themsleves overtly? Only partly, and then mostly only because that appears to be what everyone else is doing, or what everyone else says everyone else is doing; following the crowd (not necessarily a bad thing). In summary here is how I see it:

1.       To an extent, there is still a digital divide according to age in the use of social media by Business and management students.

2.       Younger users of Social Media can navigate the myriad emergent means of communication with ease, and may use these as their primary way of keeping in touch with others, finding information or just “getting things done”. Any boundaries between these different platforms are what these users are looking to break down, and the fluid nature of the virtual self and identity is embraced.

3.       Older users (which covers most of those who are undertaking an MBA, particularly in Europe) are still predominantly and primarily using email to communicate the important stuff. They like LinkedIn because they are reasonably comfortable with the idea of transferring their (probably over-long) paper chronological resumes onto the site. Although many managers are fascinated by what technology can do for their productivity, with regard to protecting their self-identities, boundaries between different platforms are what they are seeking to put up, not dissolve.

4.       LinkedIn itself is seen by most mid-career MBAs as a way of building potentially useful networks of people they already know or already have common ground with (this is reinforced by the sense of community that Business Schools try to create). These contacts are often seen as being part of establishing credibility in their identity in their current job environment. They may appreciate that LinkedIn is also a shop-window, and that the hype says that many companies now recruit there, but this is not usually the main reason they are there. A benefit of social media has they appreciate rather more is the way in which interesting content can be shared and made accessible (e.g. links to magazine articles, papers etc.).

5.       The types of jobs Henley MBAs are moving into are often not those recruited by answering job ads, online or not. However, the ability to connect with head-hunters in a more direct route is interesting and it’s possible that they will use Social Media for this more in the future. LinkedIn has emerged as the place to do this, I would say (much more so than Facebook).

6.       A lot of older people feel that Twitter is a great answer to a question no-one has asked. This may be changing slowly, but see points 2 and 3 above.

7.       My advice for anyone looking to use social media to boost their career prospects?

a.       Golden rule: always give something before you expect to get something back.

b.      Be consistent and ethical in your online presence – there is no doubt that others that don’t know you will be able to join the dots fairly easily, and the resulting picture is what your “brand”looks like to them. You can be one thing on Facebook, another on your blog and a third on LinkedIn, but you will not be using the interconnectivity of the web these days to your advantage.

c.       Be open to new ideas. Try Twitter, start a blog. Don’t be discouraged. Follow others that you admire and learn from them.

Someone finding a job (other than as a blogger) on the strength of their blog is, I’d say, possible but very rare. It’s more likely, in situations where there is some competitive for a position, that a person can demonstrate enough “savvy” via their various online activities to avoid being eliminated in an early round.


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Worth coming to work for on mornings such as these

Mist on the river Thames

Henley early on a forsty December morning

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It’s always a pleasure to come and run workshops here in South Africa, in Johannesburg. This must be my seventh or eighth time here in about six years and I always marvel at the sense of space and the promise (despite the problems) that the region has. This particular visit is slightly different in that the time of year means coming from dark, autumnal Britain to hot and summer-like climate, where the trees are all in bloom and the skies are big and (for the most part, since Jo’burg has spectacular thunderstorms) blue.

Another difference is that the workshop I’ve been running is not at the start of the MBA (fresh faces, eager and nervous minds) but a group coming to the end of their Stage 1 work. Still a big group, it’s a pleasure to work with people who have stretched themselves and, in many cases, had unexpected results in the first year.

Also different is the fact that, really for the first time, Henley in South Africa is not located in someone else’s building, with shared resources and problems. Newly located next to one of the recently up-graded motorway routes between Jo’Burg and Pretoria, the setting is good for business and the fact that all the classroom space is only for Henley’s use, and is well constructed and full of natural light, makes the whole feeling so much more… well, more Henley, really. Sure, there’s no river, but what a difference it makes to have a place of your own to call home.

Yet another novelty for me this trip was the chance to go and make a short presentation (which I turned into a workshop) for the managers of a company called AVUSA (publishing and media). The “chance” was mediated slightly by the fact that the timing meant getting off an 11 hour overnight flight and driving straight to the company, but luckily everyone was quite understanding. The people there were, in fact, great, and very open to the idea of Reflection (what else would be my topic?). At the end, they presented me with a lovely biography of Mandela. On the way to their company, my driver took me through the district in Jo’Burg where Madiba has his residence – and it is a really lovely area (their version of Hampstead, perhaps?).

I always like to compare progress between visits. A shallow and restricted comparison, I understand, since I do not see much of the country when I’m here, but since I am always able to compare the same thing, I can report that there is continued development here – the infrastructure is more in place, the systems more reliable and the sense of unease (at least in some areas) and fear of crime has improved somewhat. Where people were openly planning to leave SA a few years ago, the debate has become much more of a dilemma and the tide sometimes turns the other way. One thing’s for sure, at some point I will want to explore more of the openness and potential of this country as a visitor.  Some things don’t change, of course. The South Africans are sports crazy, and the performance of the cricket team against Australia was woven into the PD workshop yesterday.

There’s a big topic of debate in education at the moment around the status of the MBA. The education ministry is considering a proposal to rate the MBA down from “level 9” (which would designate the MBA as a master’s degree requiring an honours degree for entry – and an honours degree here in SA means having completed a fourth year of university, which of course many managers won’t have done) to “level 8”. There would be pros and cons for Business Schools of this, mostly to do with programme financing in public universities, but the business schools are lobbying for the current situation to continue. At least, I think that’s what they’re doing – it’s complicated…!

Now I must get back to the PhD…

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It was such a beautiful morning at Henley this morning. When I arrived the last of some early morning mists, early autumnal in the way the light shone in shafts through the leafy branches and onto the lawns. I took one or two pictures on my phone, which I have attached at the end of this post.

Otherwise, I’m in a period of interesting challenges. Plenty of Personal Development workshops to keep me busy (and a few coming up which involve travel), as well as a few newer and therefore somewhat ‘off piste’. I’m preparing a one and half day session on Personal Development (so far so good) for a group of senior HR directors (Ok) from AVIC of China (more intriguing) to be delivered with consecutive translation to and from Chinese (yikes!). That’s at the start of November, and will be delivered over on the Whiteknights campus (a first for me), where everyone looks very young. Well, not the faculty.

Next up will be short presentations to the management teams of two companies in South Africa, which I will do either side of delivering a one-day workshop for one of the MBA intakes. My topic, no surprises, will be “Reflection – seeing the world with fresh eyes”. One of the companies deals with entertainment, TV and all sorts of media, and the other operates a fleet of private ambulances (including air ambulances). Don’t know what they’ll learn, but I’m sure I’ll come out of it wiser.

The Economist rankings for 2011 for the full-time MBA came out yesterday and Henley slipped from 17 to 57, which was a real disappointment. I have no doubt that next year will show a rise, possibly a big one since the Economist allows for more movement year on year than, for example, the FT. The rankings have a weight to them which is actually very unhealthy. Their origins lie in the attempt to gain credibility for the business press so that they could maintain circulation rates. They don’t celebrate diversity and they probably are responsible for some schools taking attention away from innovation on their MBA programmes. That’s not a criticism, either of the newspapers/magazines or of the business schools that want to do well in the rankings, but we should acknowledge things as they are. Most schools will want to play it safe and seek a strong position in a ranking, especially where recruitment of international students is important. But rankings are, ultimately, counter-productive to the occupation of a niche (how can one occupy a niche AND be compared with everyone else?).

In a couple of weeks, our new full-time MBA students start arriving. I’m really looking forward to it, partly as I’ll be trying my hand as Personal Tutor. So far, I have only tutored the Exec MBA group. Not that that’s not great fun…..!

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