31 October 2008

Web Therapy

"I'm Dr. Fiona Wallace, and this is Web Therapy." So begins each episode of a hilarious and very clever web comedy series, starring Lisa Kudrow. The premise is that most psychoanalytic work occurs in only three minutes ("once you get past all the talk, and the dreams, and the emotions and stuff"), and hence can be offered via webcam in only three minutes. Kudrow as Dr. Wallace is brilliantly dysfunctional, and the comedy sneaks up on you in her portrayal played against various patients. So far there are seven episodes posted - each is a gem, and together, I think, they herald a long-needed fork in the genre of episodic comedy. Well worth three minutes a week!

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An Inquiry into ba, BAH, and UCaPP Through the Ritual of Lunch

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to catch up with a friend I had not seen for at least five years. I met Ariel Garten during my years at the McLuhan Program, when we were collaborating with Steve Mann for the Deconferences, and in particular, our Brainwave Music happenings. She’s a neuroscientist by training, a psychotherapist by vocation, and a wonderful artist/designer and performer by spirit, soul and practice. As I was describing my Valence Theory research and the idea of creating ba as a distinguishing factor between BAH and UCaPP organizations, she asked an intriguing question: Does creating the space from which the common values, intentionality, and mutual understanding emerge also involve enacting ritual? (I’m paraphrasing here.)

A fascinating question. I would answer with a qualified yes, at least from the little I’m beginning to understand of Nishida Kitaro’s writing on basho – the place of engagement in which self recognizes and engages other, and both paradoxically cease to be and come into existence simultaneously (as in, what do you get when you cross Western existentialism with Zen?). Ritual in the sense of Nishida’s “pure experience,” may indeed create basho out of what he terms “absolute nothingness.” In the Introduction to the translated version of Nishida’s, An Inquiry into the Good, Masao Abe writes, “in pure experience, knowledge, feeling and volition are undifferentiated. Ultimate reality is not merely known cognitively but also felt or realized emotionally and volitionally. The unity of intellectual knowledge and practical emotion-volition is the deepest demand of human beings , and it indicates the living ultimate reality” (p. xviii).

I reflect on four examples of ba, characterized in organizational practice by a common and tacit “knowing what to do,” without necessarily requiring responsibility, accountability or project management typical of getting things done in organizations. There is the example of Inter Pares that has a lot of what I might call ritual around their hiring, welcoming, and initiating processes for new members. Unit 7 has its game metaphor, with an owner, customer, and co-collaborators for each initiatives, and both required and forbidden moves. (Both Inter Pares and Unit 7 are participant organizations in my research who have given me permission to reveal their identities, so there’s much more to come on them and their unique practices.) Yesterday, I heard about Campbell’s personal values exercise. And, my own department used World Café to create an experience of ba that led to all sorts of completed projects and initiatives after everyone unanimously said that they would take neither responsibility nor accountability for undertaking any project or initiative.

In each case, the embodied experience of the particular enacted ritual had to do with explicitly articulating personal values and aspirations in a collaborative environment, and using those to provide guidance to the organization as a whole. Contemporary “fast capitalist” discourse, however, goes the other way: In general, fast capitalist texts co-opt “high-moral-value” words, such as “liberation,” “empowerment,” “trust,” “vision,” “collaboration,” “teams,” and the like as mind-numbing clichés that allow workers to serve corporate ends without critique. Visionary leadership attempts to appropriate the definition of “core values” and moral agenda from their traditional institutional homes in society – church, school, university, government. Fast capitalism represents, in this way, an imperialist agenda, attempting to impose its own vision of a new world, based on its own closed rationale (Gee, Hull & Lankshear, 1996).

Is the direction of values alignment perhaps another differentiating characteristic between the contemporary BAH and UCaPP organizations? Do BAH organizations tend to align employees’ and customers’ values with corporate (so-called) values, while UCaPP organizations tend to align organizational values with those of its members, the latter made explicit and articulated through more-or-less authentic, embodied ritual? Neat questions to contemplate.

Man, was it worthwhile to hook up with Ariel again!

  • Gee, J. P., Hull, G., & Lankshear, C. (1996). The New Work Order: Behind the language of the new capitalism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

  • Nishida, K. (1990). An inquiry into the good (M. Abe & C. Ives, Trans.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

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30 October 2008

From BAH to ba at Toronto OD Network

This morning I attended a workshop hosted by the Toronto Organization Development Network, a group of both internal and external consultants and practitioners involved in OD, organizational change, learning, culture, and similar endeavours. Among the presenters were two that, for me, captured practices of two extremes represented by my research – the BAH organization and the UCaPP organization.

Eric Cousineau described his thirty years of experience enables him to create a strong, instrumental focus on outcomes, responsibilities, accountabilities, and especially quantitative metrics to essentially ram through change. (“You have to amalgamate 5 different and distinct bureaucracies into one, eliminating redundancies and accomplish it all within six months. Go!”) He described how every significant organizational change can be framed within a project management construct, and how 99.9% of everything that is important to know about the success of the organizational change can, and should, be measured. I’m not engaging in satirical hyperbole here – that’s essentially what he said. Of particular interest to me was his description of how he handled the organizational change aspects of a large employee restructuring project in a Fortune 50 company in a way that created trust among the staff, through the visibility of helping dislocated employees find jobs elsewhere in the company. It all sounded wonderful, save for the inconvenient truth that I happened to be talking to employees of that company at the same time, who were unanimously telling me about the environment of fear, paranoia, extreme lack of trust, and the undermining of business productivity that Cousineau’s project was creating. I guess fear, paranoia, trust and motivation fall into the 0.1% of what’s important.

Cousineau’s anecdotes and extreme focus on individual accountability, instrumental project management approaches to human systems, and the supremacy of measurable outcomes represent a classic BAH – Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, and Hierarchical – approach to OD. It’s not at all surprising that Cousineau appealed to credentialism – his accountancy and industrial engineering backgrounds – as “proof statements” to support the validity of his approach. And, from a BAH outcomes perspective, it all makes perfect sense: people are largely interchangeable and therefore, largely irrelevant, so long as the instrumental purpose is served.

In contrast, we also heard from Nick Evans, a leadership coach, facilitator, and organizational effectiveness consultant for Campbell’s Soup Canada. Evans described the remarkable transformation of Campbell Canada that took the company from a relatively successful, but very stable (read: boring results) company, into a positive-growth, increasingly profitable organization whose model of transformation is now being adopted globally. Evans described a process that began with people (actually, the leaders within the company) understanding and articulating their personal values, that enabled the collective values and vision for the organization to emerge. They then engaged among themselves, and with the rest of the company to probe how they were “living the vision,” critically challenging in-use theories that deviated from the espoused. One poignant example focused on nourishing and wellness as an espoused value being in conflict with the relatively high sodium levels in their products. Providing authentic leadership (another value), Campbell’s quietly began to reduce the sodium in their soups over a period of several years in order to “retrain” the palate of Canadians. Now, after they have successfully aligned values without compromising economic considerations, they are trumpeting their success in a series of advertisements.

The values exercise helped enable ba – an emergent space of engagement and relationship collectively occupied by all whom the organization touches – which is a key aspect of my Valence Theory, and seemingly (from how I'm reading my research results) characteristic of UCaPP organizations. Organization conceived according to this new philosophical and theoretical foundation, provides its members a wider range of questions that can reasonably be asked of practical situations. Perhaps more important, Valence Theory with a balance among the valences, and a ba orientation provide a substantial, humanistic range of options for decision making that are not readily available to BAH managers.

By the way, if anyone has the lyrics, or even better, a link to a video, of the old Campbell’s Soup commercial – the one that starts, “if every you have wondered what / to serve for lunch that’s piping hot. Campbell’s got an awful lot / there’s thirty soups and more, they’ve got…” –I’d love to see it again!

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21 October 2008

Good News and Depressing News

Now that I'm on the job market for an academic position for the 2009/2010 academic year today's PhD Comics resonates.

The good news is that I can anticipate earning something closer to the salary for untenured professor, rather than less than the average for grad students (and we just received a personalized letter from OISE, informing us that our stipend was being increased this year so that it would achieve the lofty earnings level of less than the average). The depressing news? Why, oh why, didn't I go for football coaching? That way I could give 110% without worrying about the mathematical hyperbole of it all!

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20 October 2008

Workplace Learning and Social Change: What's the Link?

This year, I am doing a Graduate Assistanceship in the brand new Collaborative Program in Workplace Learning and Social Change. It is a joint program between the Departments of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology, and Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, here at OISE. The program
caters to students interested in developing their understanding of work and learning trends in Canada and internationally with a focus on social change.
Essentially, this program enables its participants to
situate workplace learning within broader social trends such as globalization, neo-liberalism and organizational restructuring [while] exploring connections between learning as an individual and social phenomena, [and] identifying learning strategies that foster social change through greater equality of power, inclusion, participatory decision-making and economic democracy.

If you, or someone you know, might be considering a graduate degree - M.Ed., M.A., or Ph.D. - with a dual research focus in in workplace or organization, and social change or activism, this might well be the program for you. You can find out more by joining us next Wednesday, October 29, 2008, from 17:00 to 19:00 for our opening reception: Workplace Learning and Social Change: What's the Link? It's being held at OISE, 252 Bloor Street West, Toronto in room 5-250. You'll have the opportunity to meet some of the professors and students involved, munch some nibblies, peruse some of the ongoing research, and participate in a small adult ed-y sort of happening.

And if you do attend, make sure you come by and introduce yourself! Hope to see you there.

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18 October 2008

Political Creativity

One thing to be said about the US Presidential race is how much ordinary people have become engaged in such a variety of creative participation in the conversation that is democracy. Here's a video by an improv group that illustrates the point.

Thanks, Christine!

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15 October 2008

Goodbye Stéphane, We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, I have to admit, Stephen Harper was right about one thing: Stéphane Dion is not a leader. He could not rally Liberal support in yesterday's election, could not see his way to bring the vast Liberal political machinery into play. Consequently, he suffered the worst defeat of any Liberal leader in the country's history: the lowest plurality since Confederation, and a seat count even lower than that of John Turner's disastrous performance. With that, Mr. Dion joins the Kim Campbell Hall of Shame for implosion of a political party.

True leadership, particularly now in our massively interconnected world, must primarily be referent leadership. Legitimate leaders - those who have been appointed or elected to a recognized hierarchical position - are all well and good. They have the right to exercise coercive power (that being, reward and punishment) within the bounds of their respective ground rules, be they corporate or political. But if they attempt to lead without being willingly recognized by those whom they would lead as worthy of leadership - by demonstrating values, vision, tactility, and instilling inspiration and energy among their membership - well, reward and punishment only go so far.

Stephen Harper is a legitimate leader - he won the most seats in our otherwise waste-of-time election. He has gained 18 months of clear sailing for his agenda, since forcing an election before 18 months to two years from now would be political suicide. Besides, the Liberal Party needs to find a new leader and regroup, and it will take all three parties working in concert to bring the House down. But for all the legitmation that Mr. Harper enjoyed last night, the question remains: is he a referent leader?

Clearly, the answer is a resounding NO!

He gained only a point in popular vote. Given that the turnout was a dismal 59% of those eligible - the lowest turnout for a federal election in history - Mr. Harper was endorsed by an equally resounding 22% of the electorate. More than three-quarters of those eligible to cast a ballot rejected Stephen Harper's policies, agenda and record by voting either with their pencil or their feet. All the fuzzy pullovers in the country weren't enough to warm the Canadian public to cold, Conservative divisiveness.

Is Stephen Harper truly a man of his word? To listen to his supporters - indeed, to listen to the man himself - he does what he says he will do. So here's what he said last evening during his very gracious victory speech:
This is a time for us all to put aside political differences and partisan considerations and to work cooperatively for the benefit of Canada. We have shown that minority government can work, and at this time of global economic instability we owe it to Canadians to demonstrate this once again.
To be true to his word, that he will work for the benefit of all Canadians, here's what I would suggest:
  • Work with Jack Layton on the issue of lost employment, and ensuring Canada's strong social infrastructure;
  • Work with Elizabeth May on the issue of climate change and the environment;
  • Work with Gilles Duceppe on the issue of preservation and encouragement of Canadian culture (including bringing Michael Geist in on the copyright reform file;
  • Work with Stéphane Dion on the issue of Canadian unity, and the problem of fractured regionality and disparity throughout this land; and finally,
  • Work with the new Liberal leader, whoever s/he may be, on an overarching economic policy and approach to globalization, both in trade and foreign policies
Sadly (and I'm willing to be proven wrong here), I don't think Stephen Harper has the courage to admit that in order to be true to his word, he needs to include the perspectives of those whose political and economic ideologies are different from his, but nonetheless represent the collective opinions of more than three-quarters of this country. If he can muster that inclusiveness and set aside his personal grievances with this country, he has the opportunity to become a real leader in a UCaPP world.

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08 October 2008

Bad Karma on the Kippur

So it's a mixed metaphor.

Gamar v'chatima tovah! May you be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life.

Thanks Roberta!

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05 October 2008

Nuit Blanche Hangover

I'm sort of brain-dead today, nursing my post-Nuit Blanche hangover. Just not used to getting in at 6 a.m. anymore. At a meta-level, the performance art qua happening aspect of the annual event that brings nearly a million Torontonians out into the city in pursuit of art, culture and engagement is a magnificent success. (Politically, it sends a strong message to Stephen Harper - not that he's interested in strong messages from, you know, ordinary Canadians - that far-out, non-traditional interpretations of art are actually appreciated by ordinary people.)

Actually, I preferred my experience at last year's event more than this year's. There seemed to be more interesting things in Zone A, more closely clustered together than there were this year. And a couple of the installations and performance pieces didn't quite come off as advertised: The choral voices among the trees in Queen's Park turned out to be a drum circle around the central statue. Drum circles are nice and all, but not the same. And the artist building the book structure at McDonald Block was given only two days to complete a five-day installation project, so it was not as built as the artist had planned. Interestingly, an early visitor had collapsed part of the structure, so there was a pile of books beneath the "damaged" art - itself, a strong political statement according to my eye. And Blinkenlights, which transformed the office windows at City Hall into screen pixels (a marvel of techno-art logistics) was more or less wasted on a Pong game for the half-hour or so I was within viewing range of the venue. On the other hand, the plastic bottle waterfall at the OPG building was beautiful. Apparently, some of the best stuff was located in the least accessible part of the city, at Liberty Village.

So here are my suggestions for next year: First, the curators should try to increase the density of installations and performances in Zone A, like they had last year. Second, it would be nice if more advance publicity for "unofficial" participation could be encouraged, so that more individual performers of non-sanctioned artistic participation are motivated to get into the act. Third - and this is a big one - Mayor Miller should use the weight of his office to get the TTC more on board with this event. That the Bloor subway only ran between Christie and Broadview is awful, making it very difficult for people who live in the east and west ends to participate, and then get home reasonably afterwards. That the subway didn't go at least to Dufferin, with increased service southbound to the Liberty Village venues is remarkable for its short-sightedness. Additionally, there could have been express shuttles from, say, Union out to Liberty Village to help link up Zones B and C. Using the influence of the Mayor's Office to encourage a little more proactive participation from "The Better Way" would sure help a lot.

And to those who might ask the this is art? question, and want the $0.02 of their tax bill refunded because Nuit Blanche isn't your pretty-picture-on-the-wall, commercially-viable, sort of experience, here's what Marshall McLuhan would have to say about it. From a 1965 essay, “The Future of Man in the Electric Age”:
If we have used the arts at their very best as a means of heightening our awareness of the otherwise unconscious environment, then turning a whole skill to the making of the environment itself into a work of art, namely, of transcendent awareness, would seem to be the logic of this form. … The possibility of using the total environment as a work of art, as an artifact, is a quite startling and perhaps exhilarating image but it seems to be forced upon us. The need to become completely autonomous and aware of all the consequence of everything we’re doing before the consequences occur is where we’re heading.

I'm already looking forward to next year's incarnation!

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01 October 2008

Which Brings Us to Today's Word: Defies Credulity

As we all now know, Stephen Harper read a speech in the House of Commons in 2003 giving his hawkish position on Canada's active participation in the Iraq war. And, as we all now know, Harper's speech was, in part, a copy of a speech given by Australia's then right-wing, George Bush-disciple Prime Minister, John Howard. And, as we further know, the blame was laid on... err... the responsibility was assumed by one "Owen Lippert, a campaign worker at Tory party headquarters," who, as it turns out is "an experienced foreign policy researcher with a PhD and expertise in intellectual property."

Which brings us to today's word: Defies Credulity.

It defies credulity that a person who has earned a PhD would indulge in plagiarism to this extent.

It defies credulity that a person with expertise in intellectual property would copy such a public speech verbatim.

It defies credulity that a man - Mr. Harper - "whose meticulous attention to and re-writing of his speeches is a point of pride for him" would have such a speech just handed to him to read without any verification, especially when he would likely have been quite in tune with what Mr. Howard had said on the issue only a few days prior.

So what is actually going on?

Here's one possible scenario: Mr. Harper, like Mr. Howard, were given prepared texts that originated in the White House to sell the invasion of Iraq, and what we now know to have been a disastrous and tragic strategic and tactical military mistake. Mr. Harper, whose affection and admiration for right-wing, George W Bush-style, political, social, and economic agendas is well-known, happily repeated the tripe that was handed to him. Simply put, he wanted George to like him. He wanted - and still wants - to mold Canada into a right-wing, socially conservative, Republican-flavoured country. That's his explicit agenda.

Well, to borrow from US Presidential candidate, Barack Obama, Mr. Harper, you were wrong. And if the question is, who is best equipped to be the next Prime Minister of Canada, to make good decisions, not only about our military, but about our economy, the environment, and social policy, I think we can take a look at Mr. Harper's judgement, not only in strongly supporting the propaganda about the Iraq war, but in strongly supporting what we know to be failed U.S. economic, environmental, and social policies.

Consider what has happened in other countries. In countries in the world where they have experienced such right-wing governments (except perhaps in Italy, where Berlusconi enjoys his own, unique, populist hold over the electorate), the voters have overwhelmingly thrown them out. Tremendously unpopular after the electorate experienced the damage caused by such ideologues. Look at Australia. Look at the ruin in which GWB has left the United States. Tony Blair's United Kingdom has become Orwell's vision of 1984. And let's not forget our domestic experience with the Mike Harris Tories here in Ontario!

And to think that so many Canadians seem to favour Stephen Harper to trust him with a possible majority, so that he can ride roughshod over Canadian values, the Canadian environment, the Canadian economy, let alone those who are marginalized in out society?

Defies Credulity!

And that's The Word!
(With an obvious "Tip of the Hat" to that other Stephen - the insightful one - Stephen Colbert.)

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