Space to Think

So thinking can develop

Importance of fantasy and inadequacy of experts

Reading Alan Bennett’s annual ‘diary’ in the London Review of Books (vol.30, No.1); his entry for 15 October reflects on a conversation with Peter Gill who was bringing out a book on acting, Actors Speaking. Bennett writes:

He thinks that what has been a shortcoming of American actors, namely, that while superb at naturalism they find artificiality difficult, is now the case here [UK] …

Bennett goes on to comment, with Gill, “today’s generation of actors are better at imitation … but what they lack is fantasy…” Bennett gives examples of actors from lowly backgrounds who have been very successful both generally and at portraying a range of characters.

… all of them had some sense of their proper position in life, a fantasy of what they wanted to be which these days would probably be disapproved of or discouraged, fantasy frowned on as some sort of escape.

This all got me thinking. Perhaps we have so exalted the expert and technical knowledge that we fail to value the contribution that imagination and fantasy can make to our lives, personal and corporate. If the only standard against which we measure ourselves and others is established expert knowledge, or orthodoxy then there can be no real innovation, only adaptation; no entrepreneurship or leadership, only management. If we are measured against some agreed sense of ‘reality’ then what we must do is imitation rather than creativity.

Continue reading


January 30, 2008 Posted by | Cognitive Edge, complexity, Education, imagination, leadership, management | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sir Ed – One of us

Today we farewelled Sir Edmund Hillary. I have been surprised by just how significant his death and the trubutes to him have been for me. Elsewhere I have offered some more theological thoughts, and have said there:

Someone has written in to Radio New Zealand National saying of Ed Hillary, “No one like him will pass this way again.” I think that this is understandable sentiment on the day of his funeral, but actually undermining what Ed stood for. He challenges all of us to live life as well and as full as he has. Of course he was unique, but only in the same sense as each of us.


Dean Peter Beck emphasised (in the funeral eulogy) the phrase, he was an ordinary New Zealander. Elsewhere in the tributes what was emphasised was Ed as an exemplar human being. It seems to me that we are helping define the concept of “ordinary” when we use a person of Ed Hillary’s accomplishments and call him ordinary. In other words, Ed embodies what we can be. This is much healthier than the kind of accolades that make a hero into something quite unattainably different than the rest of us. We claim Ed Hillary. We are not prepared for him to be so different that he is not one of us. He redefines in many positive ways what it means to be human and to be a New Zealander. That is why he is important to us. That is why we have and needed to pause to honour the man. He is us, and so we can be more than we would otherwise consider being.

Perhaps this is part of what we mean by leadership.

Powered by ScribeFire.

January 22, 2008 Posted by | leadership | , , , | Leave a comment

Purpose, profit and ownership

Some of the more challenging thinking by Charles Handy (see previous post) is on the nature, purpose and ownership of business. As one who has worked for many years with the so-called non-profit sector, I particularly appreciated both Handy’s use of the far preferable term, social enterprises, and his suggestion that “conventional businesses” might learn from that sector.

Social enterprises put their purpose before their profit while recognising that profit is essential to their survival and growth; it is, as they see it, a tax on the present to pay for their future. More conventional businesses may one day begin to see things the same way.

It is surprisingly rare, in my experience, for business and management leaders to look to the not-for-profit sector for insight and best practice. I recall telling some learning and development colleagues once that I was on a course on aspects of “not-for-profit” management; they retorted with amusement and the question, how hard can it be to not make a profit?

Continue reading

January 16, 2008 Posted by | Charles Handy | , , , , | 2 Comments

Charles Handy’s Learnings in Life

Handy’s memoir has so many pithy insights from a life lived reflectively (see last posting). He is also a very good writer. He dislikes the term “management guru” and styles himself either as a “word-smith” or as a “social philosopher”.
On learning, Handy offers:

Warehoused learning does not stick.

In other words, learning that is simply tucked away for future use is rather unreliable. We need to connect learning with experience.

But Handy adds that experience without reflection is also inadequate. He uses the example from the world of counseling of reviewing casework with colleagues. Handy’s book is a fine example of the fruit of a life lived with disciplined reflection on experience. This is close to the insights of Donald Schon on education for professions. His work in Reflective Practitioner and Educating the Reflective Practitioner are still worth grappling with.

Significantly, Handy was honest and reflective enough to build these insights into the management programmes he taught. He recognised that the programme itself was of very limited value as a learning opportunity unless it helped students understand experiences they had had in the past.

I will add some further thoughts from Handy here, but recommend the postings of Terry Seamon on Charles Handy.

Terry also links to a forthcoming America Management Association webcast of an interview with Handy.

Powered by ScribeFire.

January 9, 2008 Posted by | Charles Handy, Education, Handy, learning, management | 1 Comment

Knowledge vs Sense

I have been reading the excellent personal memoir of Charles Handy, Myself and Other Important Matters. He is true to his title and both reveals a lot of himself, particularly his dilemmas and ambivalences, and offers many astute reflections on life. One recurring theme in the book is that of education and learning. Often Handy simply expresses so well what, once it has been expressed well, is obvious or self evident.

Most education is a systematic way of passing on the knowledge possessed by one generation to the next. In that way it acts as a means of socialisation, of accustoming the young to the ways of their elders. Be like us, is the implicit message of our schools and colleges, and you will be all right. It makes for a comfortable world and to some extent it worked when life didn’t change that much from one generation to the next. The predictable world is changing, even within one generation. Relying only on what worked yesterday will not help you today; it may even hinder you.

Handy goes on to write of his time at Oxford University and his discovery,

The book answer doesn’t matter if yours is better.

Handy is, of course, merely stating in other ways what is implicit in Bloom’s taxonomy of learning; but the phrase that stood out most for me was that relykng on what worked yesterday “may even hinder you.” One thing to accept that knowledge moves on, but what if we really took seriously that education based on the transfer of yesterday’s knowledge may actually hinder the student? The challenge is, as the Hippocratic Oath has it, to keep those we serve from harm and injustice.
How can we ensure that those we resource for their learning are not deprived of Handy’s insight?

Powered by ScribeFire.

January 9, 2008 Posted by | Education | | Leave a comment