Posts Tagged ‘MBA’

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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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.

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Flower in Oxford Botanic 2013

A couple of thoughts to end the week with:

Thought 1: Bateson’s challenge to management thinking

I’ve been listening, and not for the first time since it is multi-layered, to an audio recording of Gregory Bateson speaking, I think, to an audience of anthropology students in the 1970s about epistemology. He says the following:

“Epistemology is A, a branch of philosophy concerned the question of how it is possible to know anything, and what is truth, and questions like that. B, epistemology is a study of natural history; two studies of natural history. B1, it is the study of how people think they know things. B2 it is the study of how people know things. Which is not necessarily the same thing at all. It has to do with the word “how” and with the business of knowing. And everybody obviously has an epistemology, otherwise they couldn’t know anything, and those who say they don’t  have an epistemology have a lousy one.”

This contains some challenging ideas, and is already further along than most explanations of knowing that have been applicable in management learning. Later in that recorded session, and after illustrating the same point using Balinese puppets and the notion of symmetry in bird feathers, he asks whether the problem in knowing isn’t just a matter of error between the ‘how we know’ and the ‘how we think we know’. Confusion here results in a distorted epistemology – when descriptions of the way the world works (and it is inevitable that some sort of description will be necessary) are not in the same ‘language’ as the way the world works. Most social scientists and management academics act as though the social and the psychological worlds are governed by a set of fundamental laws with properties that are unique to human systems. So far, this view has led to all sorts of diverse (though hardly disparate, see below) conclusions and never-ending, small-scale internecine wars. No-one can agree with anyone on fundamental principles because everyone’s own fundamental principles are founded on the negation of the fundamental principles of others. Stalemate.

If, as a manager, you try to look at your organisation no longer in terms of numbers of parts to make up a whole but rather, as Bateson calls it, “a nest of relations”, you are closer to how nature puts things together. You begin to achieve an aesthetic understanding which is more harmonious with the fluid complexity of the way that messages and information that Organisation Theory has been attempting dismally to capture in explanation for at least 60 years. This is what an abductive mode of inference offers.

Thought 2: diversity is not the same as disparity

An often observed and pleasant feature of Day 1 on the Henley MBA is the diversity of background, industry and functional expertise that seems to be presented in each new group. This tends to be reinforced throughout the first days as people get to know each other. Correctly, in my view, this diversity is interpreted as a plus, and is real in the sense that our experience of identity is becoming more, not less, fragmented over time, and is likely to continue in that direction as knowledge-based and service sectors grow and emerging economies move in the same direction as the established ones.  However, I have never really thought much about what we mean when we talk about diversity in this way.

I have been reading a short book about Stephen Jay Gould’s approach to evolutionary theory and note an interesting contrast between the concept of:

       diversity – the numbers of variations within a set of basic types or forms (e.g. lots of species with much homology, or many aspects of personality characteristics formed from a few basic archetypes, or myriad job titles for the same basic sets of job functions etc.) –  and

      disparity – the numbers of different basic sets of types or forms.

Whilst not doubting that evolution offers good explanatory theory, Gould held that there were also still problems with it, as found, for example, in the idea that adaptation is progressive and, some would argue, teleological. In fact, he said, although we now see an amazing amount of rich diversity in our bio-sphere (probably uncountable numbers of variations of and within species of plant and animal), these are all variations from a surprisingly small number of forms. We have not seen, he says, an increase in disparity of basic forms since the explosion in diversity of species, 520 million years ago. On the contrary, there has been a steady reduction of variety.

So, I note that we may have diversity in our MBA, but there is very little disparity. In other words, and in a gross simplification of Gould, we have variation in but not of form. Lots of sorts of companies and businesses, but all with the same basic pattern or form. A variation of form for a Business School would be to reach out to include people/cultures  that have not been inter-twined in their development with our own. The global mono-culture seems to be the right condition for almost limitless response within cultural types, but very limited possibility to break out of that type itself.

I’m not sure what this really means, other than perhaps a sense that we may be vulnerable, at some higher level, to a kind of collective ‘groupthink’ in management education.

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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.

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What makes an MBA an MBA?

There is widespread usage of the term “MBA” as shorthand for the validation, if not exactly the legitimacy, of the title ‘manager’, so this a logical question to ask. When one then considers that worldwide only a small percentage of those who work as managers will ever enrol on one, then not just the phenomenon but also the idea and nature of the MBA becomes very important to understand (or becomes a huge red herring).

There are whole communities of academics who are ready to invest entire careers in supplying “content” for use on MBA curricula. But then browse any good bookstore and it’s obvious that this is matched by equal numbers of pundits ready to extrapolate, summarise or regurgitate all that peer-reviewed content into snappily-dressed bite-sized nuggets of know-how, or alternatively undermine and debunk all that bunkum and over-priced smoke and mirrors in the MBA. It is likely that the fact of the university business school permits a shadow punditry offering alternative recipes and remedies directed at those who might otherwise be foolish enough to want to part with their hard-earned cash for cachet.

But this led me to wonder, can one really capture the experience of the MBA, or even substitute it, in print? Hence the title of the post. Actually, I think this is an intriguing question. Of what does the MBA consist? Does it make any sense to claim that you can replicate what an MBA does or is without attending a Business School? I would propose starting with management at its most basic.

In 1968 the theatre director Peter Brook wrote a classic short book about acting. It was called “The Empty Space”. Here is an extract:

“I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged. Yet when we talk about theatre this is not quite what we mean. Red curtains, spotlights, blank verse, laughter, darkness, these are all confusedly superimposed in a messy image covered by one all-purpose word.” (Brook, 1990, p. 11)

Brook’s intention was to strip the concept of ‘theatre’ to its essential, minimum components of:

i) empty space, ii) actor and iii) audience.

According to Brook, nothing should be added to these unless it improves it. This last points seems fairly crucial, since the temptation to keep adding ornament to management is what drives the peer-reviewed journal and airport business book alike.

My question:

“Stripped to its basics, what are the absolute minimum requirements necessary for management?”

Using Brook’s logic, I wonder whether it is these three elements:

1. The “empty space” for the business (i.e. a space that must be both conceivable and socially/morally acceptable)

2. The act of deliberate management of that space (i.e. creation of organisation, and by implication an organisation)

3. The experience of that (managed) space by a consumer of the business

(As an aside, simultaneously, the school logically occupies an “empty space” too, and the three levels which form the focus of study are also embodied in the fact of the school.)

What makes an MBA an MBA is the possibility to stand back from those three levels and examine them rigorously. It would be great if this could be achieved in print as well.

(As another aside, crucially if there were no mechanism by which these three levels could be differentiated, then the MBA would be completely redundant, as would all speculation about management or leadership. Such a mechanism is what conveys the meta-message “this is the business”, or “this is the management of the business”).

This may be a rather too complicated way to answer the question, of course.

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Henley building in Jo'burgIt’s now  the end of a very busy Henley MBA “Starter Season”, a hectic period of a couple of months repeated twice a year, where the school inducts new members to the programme in their respective intakes around the world. Starters are different to other workshops because people come with all their hopes and uncertainties about what to expect and a certain kind of ignorance not just of whether they have chosen the right school, or will like and respect their classmates, but also whether they are “up to the task”. The organisation has to be slick, the sessions have to be the right mix of challenge and adventure mixed with support and reassurance. These are not green-behind-the-ears whippersnappers, either; most have had considerable management experience and have attended as many training and development events as they have had hot, expense-account dinners.

Many of these events are in the UK because with Henley a sense of place is part of the sense of purpose and it is good to inculcate and communicate the “Henley Experience” (how tricky it is to define that!), but we also like to bottle that experience for parts of the world that make coming to the UK too impractical. That’s what brings me, willingly, back to South Africa.

Over the last three weeks or so, the admin teams in Johannesburg and at Henley, alongside myself and Marc Day as tutors, have successfully (we trust!) inducted 200 new managers onto the Henley MBA in two intakes (with a third due to start here in late June, which really says something about being in the right place at the right time with the right product and the right “shout” in marketing and PR). Marc and I divided each group of 100 in two smaller groups and worked in parallel over the three days of each Starter. It’s a very efficient way of working from the point of view of the participants as it provides more time for getting to know each other and is easier to facilitate discussions, but it doesn’t half take it out of the tutor and their voice! For that reason, I think both Marc and I were more than happy to accept an unsolicited invitation from our hotel to attend a Macallan whisky tasting session in the bar one evening (see pic).

Arms twisted, Marc and I agree to taste some single malts...

Arms twisted, Marc and I agree to taste some single malts…

Marc is a real expert in Scotch whiskies, and so was able to verify afterwards that the (rather attractive) Macallan brand ambassador really knew her stuff during her information-packed presentation of the three products we got to try.

Back to the main point, which is, I suppose, an expression of amazement that we pulled it off! Since the beginning of the year, nearly 350 people have started with the MBA and there is another starter season in September/October that will probably take that number to nearly 600. The trick, though, is not to worry that this is too many or too few, but to see how each individual can feel personally engaged and enthused about putting the time and effort into themselves over the coming years, as well as setting up an emotional bond with their School that will result in them feeling they owe something to the world around them to give back later on.

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I did not think there would be a part three to this series of postings. I thought the strange case of the “MBA Winner” web site was more or less closed last year with the second instalment. And yet…. it lives on with the posting yesterday of a rather intriguing comment from someone called “Matt”, which I reproduce below (first verbatim, then with some notes and responses).

***Note: Since first posting this Part Three, I have heard from Matt, and he makes the fair point that I replied online here before he had replied to me. In his message Matt confirms that he was a student at Henley, and that he experienced poor tutor support, poor enough for him to seek additional support with MBA Winner. Matt says, however, that he received tutoring only and his work was his own. Matt goes on politely to take me to task with my comments on his comment, so to speak, which I have to take on the chin. I think it fair, therefore, to amend them below in line with what I know. I have asked Matt if he will share more of what happened, and what he believes went wrong, as I genuinely believe that the Business School should (where appropriate and within reasonable limits) make help available on the MBA.

But first, a recap.

A year ago I received an unsolicited email from a company selling “advice” to MBA students. Most of what they were selling was getting someone to write assignments on your behalf. I responded and entered into a short and not altogether un-bizarre correspondence with the company concerned. The exchange fuelled two blog posts, which you can see by clicking:

here (for part 1)


here (for part 2)

And I figured that was that. Now the Part 2 posting has attracted the comment below:

    “I have used MBA Winner myself as an MBA Student and I can tell you that I really got great help when I needed them.

     Chris Dalton does not like the idea of students experiencing frustration and having to meet tutors who are not really bothered to help. Business Schools like Henley charge an awful lot of money for the services they provide. Is the cost representative of the service that you offer Mr Dalton? From my experience with Henley Business School this is so far from the truth! The institution is the big cheater and you try to protect it. Who is cheating whom?

     I was going through severe illness and I was not getting any understanding from my institution. The tutors from MBA Winner really assisted me and helped me and I am grateful for this. I would advice that you consider the unethical side of your own educational business practices where money means more than the student. You are ready to point out how plagiarism is when someone writes someone else’s assignment. However when it comes to your failure to provide a good service as a business school your argument shifts to how there is staff that could help….. !! Yeah…. OK.


(This was what I wrote first:) Naturally, I was a bit concerned at first. Was Matt a Henley MBA student? Had we treated him poorly? Had his assignments been written for him?!?!  I wrote to Matt via the email address that comes attached when someone comments on the blog.  No reply, yet. (Reply now received, hence these parenthetical amendments)

And then I looked more closely at the comment. Here’s my annotated version:

 “I have used MBA Winner myself as an MBA Student and I can tell you that I really got great help when I needed them.

(OK, what could one object to here? It doesn’t say what “help” meant. Paid tutor support, presumably. It sounds like the other teasing testimonials on the MBA Winner web site. Everything, and nothing.)(with the added info, there does appear to be a back-story)

Chris Dalton does not like the idea of students experiencing frustration and having to meet tutors who are not really bothered to help.

(I call upon the readers of this blog to adjudicate on this one. Where did I say that? And, does Matt mean I don’t like the idea of tutors not bothering? Surely I’d be nuts to like the idea of tutors not bothering. And, there are frustrations that students on a good MBA should feel, as well as others that they shouldn’t. Which sort Matt means comes out later…)(think I still stand by much of this. I am very concerned if a tutor will not help. That should not happen. But, give me details…!)

Business Schools like Henley charge an awful lot of money for the services they provide. Is the cost representative of the service that you offer Mr Dalton? From my experience with Henley Business School this is so far from the truth! The institution is the big cheater and you try to protect it. Who is cheating whom?

(Matt, what experience with HBS are you referring to? You don’t appear on our database. Now, I don’t know if the cost of the Henley MBA is representative of the service that we offer, but I do think our students will not be shy in letting us know when this is the case. In my experience with Henley, when this happens – and it sometimes does – I hope that we take them seriously and act to correct the situation. The basic accusation here is that Business Schools are there to take your money and not provide you with a service. This theme repeats itself numerous times on http://www.mbawinner.com , where the payment is for a service that is delivered. The only slight problem with this is that the service in question is you submitting work that is not your own for a university degree. That is the herd of elephants sitting somewhat impatiently on the other side of the room.)  (notwithstanding Matt’s statement that he did not get tutors to write for him, I am happy to hold to my position on this, at least regarding the school where I work. I’m sure there are sausage-factory MBAs with anonymous interaction and arrogant, stand-offish faculty… I just don’t think MBA Winner represents the answer. Still, it’s healthy to air the debate, I think)

I was going through severe illness and I was not getting any understanding from my institution. The tutors from MBA Winner really assisted me and helped me and I am grateful for this. I would advice that you consider the unethical side of your own educational business practices where money means more than the student. You are ready to point out how plagiarism is when someone writes someone else’s assignment. However when it comes to your failure to provide a good service as a business school your argument shifts to how there is staff that could help….. !! Yeah…. OK.

(I’m very sorry to hear that you were not well, Matt. At Henley, when a student doing the MBA encounters a serious illness, problem or reason that they can’t study, they receive advice and assistance and may suspend their studies until they are better or the issue is resolved. I suspect that you may have chosen the wrong institution in the first place. The answer is not to aim low and cheapen yourself by paying someone to write your MBA for you, it is to aim higher and find one that expects more. Or, if the Higher Education sector leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, focus on gaining experience as a manager in the real world instead. No-one can fake that for you.) (given the institution in question is apparently Henley, then I would want to know more details…)


(Dear Matt, you may, for all I know, be a real person, and your comment may be heartfelt, your experience bitter. But I’m not convinced. Sorry.)(dear Matt, you are a real person, so apologies for the snooty tone of this. As a serious educator and, I hope, a professional, I believe that if there is a problem, then the Business School needs to put its house in order)

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For three reasons, it feels as though this particular point has a bit of a minefield to cross to reach you.

First, whenever we ask “what is the purpose of business?” (which by the way on most MBA courses is seldom), there is a temptation to throw back an answer that leaves us none the wiser. If the answer is “to make a profit”, or “grow”, or “create shareholder value”‘ then it would surely be a fairly easy task to continue the interrogation beyond this illusory end-game of naming  abstractions by asking “and what is the purpose of… (e.g. profit, etc.)”. If such a ‘thing’ as money were really the purpose of business, it would surely be, ultimately, a hollow one. Of course, a danger here is that the question may be mis-heard as “what’s the purpose of your business?”, thus restricting the response to one element of the system only and isolating the business or organisation from its environment. In ecology, the unit of survival is not the individual (or even the population) it is the organism and its environment. You can’t consider one without the other.

It has to be considered that there’s another possibility; that the purpose of business may be such a given, a taken-for-granted, or so lost in history that we are just unable to see it.

Secondly,  when we come to pose the question “what is Personal purpose?”, we are in danger of straying into areas of philosophy that have remained contentious for as long as this enormous question has been around. If this has eluded great thinkers, academics and learned scholars for millenia,  what chance have we got?

Thirdly, what do we mean when we say that two things should align? The dictionary offers three meanings for this word, “to arrange in a line or to be parallel”, “to move or adjust to be in proper relationship or orientation with”, and “to ally with a cause”. Which one is it?

So one element of the equation appears too concrete, another too abstract, and their constellation ambiguously either one of linear or relational arrangement (systemic or political). Yet if we are to take this whole Personal Development thing seriously in a management context, we have to find a way of making sense of it. Naturally, I think the preceding four principles of PD help frame an answer in the following ways:

1. Business, commerce, trade and the like are ideas that only exist in context of other things. The purpose of business is therefore a social matter, and its purpose cannot be decided at the level of the firm, by management or shareholders alone, nor in splendid isolation at the level of politicians and legislators. I would suggest that the purpose of business is not any end point or a thing at all but rather it is a process. What’s more, given that we’re all in this together (in a finitely-sized and resourced world), a sustainable process that concerns itself with social good. Anything else is just selfish and short-sighted. Of course, at the level of the organisation, the other answers (making money, creating wealth etc.) are important things but they only make sense when placed in service to this greater purpose.

2. Personal purpose is certainly experienced at the psychological level, emergent from (and part of) the social, and which I would suggest is the highest level of knowing available to us. We would need transcend the self in order to do away with the need to ask the question, so in the main we probably need to keep and open mind and keen eye on our beliefs about our purpose and see where we get. If the individual (psychologically, not biologically) is explained by values at the level of the social, then there must be a close relationship between our core values as experienced by us individually and the purpose of business (as outlined above).

3. Alignment is to be understood in terms of constellation, a matter of dynamic, relational positioning and repositioning of elements in a system.

In conclusion, then, this 5th principle, “Align your Personal purpose with the purpose of Business”, is not a call to toe the corporate line or slavishly put aside personal values in the pursuit of the company’s vision. It’s actually a challenge to think at another, higher, level, to begin to see the pattern of relationship that must necessarily be how these things are connected.

        “Warriors are not what you think of as warriors.  The warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life.  The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices himself for the good of others.  His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.”  ~ attributed to Sitting Bull (with thanks to Finn Jackson for drawing my attention to this quote)

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Responding to an internal prompt here at Henley to provide a Steering Committee charged with moving from one Virtual Learning Environment to another with a rationale for the importance of Learning Journals, I have made a few notes about why I think the Journal is (or should be!) an important part of the MBA. I would be interested to know what others think.

Simply put, the Learning Journals are intended as a mechanism for Programme Members (PMs) to do three important things:

Record – in the act of transferring their introspection from experience or thought to the written word, PMs are in fact processing those “raw” data and transforming them to learning that might otherwise remain elusive or unexamined. As a business school we place great emphasis on the importance of critical thinking skills for management decision-making, and this is another instance of this in practice. In addition, the recorded nature of that written archive then forms a basis for retrospection and comparison – a way for an individual to see how far they have come in their thinking.

Reflect – the iterative nature of keeping a written diary, blog or journal of the impacts, confusions, and insights from the rest of the MBA programme (as well as the Personal Development module) is in fact a modelling of what most authors on the subject agree must be the reflective learning process. When a PM finds their “voice” on the page, the results can be quite emancipatory.

Share – the line taken by Henley in PD is that introspection is necessary but not sufficient for reflection. We need to encourage a dialogue or conversation where members enrich each other’s development. Many members find that their own thinking is made clearer to them when they read (and comment on) others’.

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I have, in common with many others, been inculcated to accept an assumption that education is the process of preparation for being something else, that it is a means to the arrival at a desirable destination. The problem, however, is that you never quite get there. When you get through one round of education you discover that somehow the target has moved and in fact you have only got through to another level of preparation for another ‘something’ or another ‘somewhere else’.

This assumption is necessarily built on another – i.e. that you are not “fully cooked”. Education, it turns out, is a sort of perpetual game of “jam tomorrow”, an insoluble problem of identity formation. What if we have this idea about our education system back to front? What if we assumed instead that everyone who came to education was already “there”? In other words, and to paraphrase (crudely) Alan Watts, how would things change if we were to assume that education is not so much about being on probation for when you ‘really’ start being a proper person, in a future that is separate and remote from now? What if its function were to wake you up to the idea that all those distinctions between past, present and future identities are false? Here, the assumption becomes “It only ever happens in the now”.

I suspect that very few managers who come back to school for their MBA would be happy with the idea that they were already there, even though that’s one of the things they might accept when, on reflection (you might say), it’s all over.

Just a thought while I reflect on the past few days here in Trinidad and wait for the car to the airport.

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