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.

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

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.

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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?

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

Education Leaders Forum (part 2)

As I reflect on the Education Leaders’ Forum (ELF) I think that two ways that would enhance the value for the future would be to have more participants from the work-place learning and development sector, and some smarter ways of gathering threads from the structured and unstructured conversations and identifying emergent themes and patterns.

I would love to have tried aspects of the Cognitive Edge approach to sense making. I think it would have served the gathering well, but would have needed to be a design feature from the beginning. Cognitive Edge is a way of working with messy data from narrative and dialogue and working collaboratively to discern patterns and sense.

As for participants from the work-place, we had valuable insights from Ian Olliver from Fulton Hogan and from Pam Blacktopp from AMI, but they were clearly feeling rather swamped by the weight of school focus. However, the value for L & D people from industry would be in hearing the changing approaches and educational methods being used in schools and tertiary institutions, and in having the chance to give feedback about industry needs for and experience of employees they take on as products of the education system. The value to school educators and policy people from greater industry involvement would be in the feedback about how well the education sector is equipping students for employment, and in developing a greater partnership with industry as co-educators. Certainly the point was strongly and well made by Ian and Pam that their firms were seriously in the education field; picking up employees who may lack foundational skills of literacy, numeracy and commitment to learning, and equipping them for particular work.

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Education, ELF | | Leave a comment

Education Leaders’ Forum

The Education Leaders’ Forum was held last week at Terrace Downs in Canterbury. I attended both as one involved and interested in the learning and development field and as part of the support and facilitation team from SmartNet. Over 90 people participated over the two days, and one of the real strengths of the occasion, in my opinion, was the particular mix of participants.

The mix was one of three distinctive features of this forum. It was rather an ecclectic bunch, and covered most sectors of education: early childhood, primary, secondary, university, polytechnic, workplace, policy.

It was a space for conversations that would not necessarily happen in the normal course of events. And this was also one of the learnings about the organisation of the event. We probably needed to balance the programme a little more toward the conversation space rather than the prepared input. That said, the input we got served to raise a number of key issues that are already, or need to be, claiming attention among education leaders in this country. I will try to list key themes that I discerned in a later entry.

The second distinctive feature of the forum was the commitment from the outset to see the event as simply a launch-pad for on-going conversation and sharing of ideas and resources via an on-line community. I know this is not unique as an aim for a gathering, but it is still unusual. It remains to be seen if this feature actually works. Suffice it to say the infrastructure is in place and a beginning has been made.

The third feature that I think is worth mentioning is that ELF was not organised by an ‘official’ body or government. It was initiated by Lyall Lukey of SmartNet who worked with a steering team in partnership with a range of bodies. It was therefore not constrained by an institutional agenda or history, and provided the opportunity for engagement between parties as true peers on-site rather than as guests of a significant stakeholder.

October 23, 2007 Posted by | Education, ELF | | Leave a comment