Henry Mintzberg revisits some of his research and conclusions about the methods used to teach MBAs at Harvard, and his conclusions point to the near complete saturation of analysis and control that now drowns the business, government and non-profit world:
When I studied management across the river in the 1960s, at the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Harvard Business School was just as renowned as it is today. But it was weak in research—in fact some of its prominent faculty derided research. The turnaround since then has been quite remarkable. In the areas I know, Harvard’s faculty is fantastic, especially in the ability of many to relate concrete issues to conceptual understanding. Too bad that they have to devote so much of their teaching efforts to a method—and its view of management, like that of other business schools so concentrated on analysis–that is doing such great harm to our organizations and the societies in which they function (see mintzberg.org/enterprise).
We are mired in a heroic view of management (now called leadership)–centralized, numeric, individualistic and often narcissistic–that is too often detached from what is supposed to be managed. People who believe they can manage everything often prove themselves capable of managing nothing. We don’t need generic managers; we need engaged ones. The problem has been bad enough in the private sector; its infiltration into other sectors of society is far worse. Do NGOs need “CEOs”, business models, strategic plans, measures galore, and all the rest? Harvard and most other business schools have to be doing better than that.
What happens at places like Harvard matters, because it sets the standard for what passes as responsible management in organizations. And there are many fatal flaws with the way Harvard teaches business, and those are magnified and distorted in the hands of the amateur quant jockeys that reduce everything to numeric analysis. This is the finest and most concise articulation of this problem I have read in a while and it matters that it is Henry Mintzberg who is saying it.
Have a listen to this piece from a recent segment on CBC’s current affairs show “The Current.” It is a discussion about Canada’s commitment (or lack of it) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In it you will hear Keith Stewart from Greenpeace (Disclaimer: an old friend, by the way) arguing for a policy and fiscal framework that helps Canada make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables. You will hear him discussing the issue with Ron Liepert, who comes from the petroleum sector in Alberta and was the former Alberta Energy Minister. And who is running for the Conservatives in the next federal election, after defeating the Conservative Party’s most loony MP in recent years, Rob Anders.
The conversation is, in the parlance of my teenage kids, a shitshow. The first sentence out of Liepert’s mouth is full of accusations, unsubstantiated claims and he uses the word “extremist” to characterize Keith’s points and his character. Keith is one of the smartest energy policy minds I know and I daresay he has been at this work longer than Liepert has and for more honest reasons. What was going to be an interesting conversation quickly becomes sidelined by Annamaria Tremonti’s inquiry about Liepert’s terms. Liepert is campaigning for election. Keith is trying to get a conversation going.
That sideline was not helpful to my understanding of how we are going to need to use fossil fuels to create the new renewable energy system for the planet. There is a very important conversation here about policy, economic incentives and transformation and there are people in the fossil fuel industry who are capable of having that conversation. Liepert was a ridiculous and buffoonish choice to represent the status quo. He clearly doesn’t take the challenge seriously. I’m much more interested to see petroleum producers who do, and I know they exist because over the years I have encountered them. They work in the long term strategic planning units in the oil companies, and they are realistic about how to position their companies as energy companies who need to develop and active interest in creating and owning significant stakes in renewable energy if they are to survive and service the debt they will have incurred for a century or more of development of a resource that runs out, or becomes too pricey to use.
This is a conversation we need to have. Keith is inviting a 100 year view of how we are going to do this. There is no oil company out there that is not thinking about this issue too, and although they are also happy to have shills like Liepert doing their dirty work, they KNOW that we need to come off fossil fuels in this century. Scarcity, pricing and climate change will ensure this. Whether we can make this transition well will be the determinant of the quality of life humans will have on this planet when my kids are old people. Avoiding the conversation by these silly short term election tactics costs us all.
We are about to begin three days of learning together, Ashley Cooper, Dana Pearlman and me. And 27 other folks who are coming to something we called “the Art of Learning Together.”
One of the core inquiries of the Art of Hosting, since it’s beginning has been “what if learning together was the form of leadership we needed now?” It’s not that other forms of leadership AREN’T important, but that ihis particular form is not well supported. We think of learning as something you are doing before you become a leader. Something to do before you ramp up to the next level of leadership.
But of course there are situations in the world – complexity, confusion, innovation, disruption – that require us to learn, sometimes almost too fast, usually only until we can make the next move “well enough.” We need tools, heuristics (my new favourite word, meaning experience based guidelines or basic principles based on previous experience) and ways of quickly understanding our experience so we can be open to possibilities that are invisible when we take a narrow view of change.
Over this three days we will teach and learn about frameworks for personal and collective leadership, including Cynefin, The Lotus, and principles of improvisiation. We will use dialogue methods of World Cafe, Pro-Action Cafe, Open Space, Circle practice and other things. We will use movement, improvisation, music and art. And we will employ walks in the neighbourhood, silence, reflection and raid prototyping. We are alos going to be diving into the art of working with core teams and understanding the dynamics of power, identity and relationships as they unfold in a context that is disruptive, changing and complex.
And we are doing it in a sweet space called The Hub in Asheville, which, if you don’t know it, is the most amazing, creative, and moldable space in an amazing, creative and moldable city. You can follow along online if you like at our weebly.
Our work and the work of every person who loves this world—this one—is to make one small deflection in complacency, a small obstruction to profits, a blockage to business-as-usual, then another, and another, to change the energy of the flood. As it swirls around these snags and subversions, the current will slow, lose power, eddy in new directions, and create new systems and structures that change its course forever. On these small islands, new ideas will grow, creating thickets of living things and life-ways we haven’t yet imagined.
This is the work of disruption. This is the work of radical imagination. This is the work of witness. This is the steadfast, conscientious refusal to let a hell-bent economy force us to row its boat. This is much better than stewing in the night.
Once you start to awaken, no one can ever claim you again for the old patterns. Now you realise how precious your time here is. You are no longer willing to squander your essence on undertakings that do not nourish your true self; your patience grows thin with tired talk and dead language. You see through the rosters of expectation which promise you safety and the confirmation of your outer identity. Now you are impatient for growth, willing to put yourself in the way of change. You want your work to become an expression of your gift. You want your relationship to voyage beyond the pallid frontiers to where the danger of transformation dwells
But it’s so important. Â When you are engaged in work with teams of people and you are doing things none of you have done before, there are going to be mistakes made and people are going to be offended. Â Learning how to apologize is important for a couple of reasons.
A sincere apology builds trust and strengthens a group. There is nothing better than a group of people in which people take on responsibility for their actions. Â True leadership arises when folks step up, show their self-awareness and understand how their actions have impacted the group. Â You build tons of social capital within a group by acting this way and it makes you resilient and more grace filled and more forgiving.
Secondly, a sincere personal apology is an incredible liberation for both you and the person you have offended. Â If you have even an iota of moral clarity, something in you will be triggered when you have offended another person. Â You KNOW you were wrong. Â Stepping up is a cleansing feeling. Â And to have an apology like that accepted and to be forgiven is beautiful.
This is fierce practice. Â It requires us to be vulnerable and honest and to be carefully self-aware. Â And done sincerely it builds capacity, grace and humility.
Back in November Janaia Donaldson from Peak Moment TV interviewed Dave Pollard and I about the Art of Hosting, especially as it applies to transition towns, resilience and community leadership. Â That video was released today along with a lovely 10 minute edit in which Dave maps out some of the essential Art of Hosting elements using the GroupWorks Pattern Language card deck. Â Enjoy.
Innovation does not come without discarding ideas, trying and failing. Â In complex systems with complex challenges, failure is inevitable and desired. Â If we need to prototype to sense our way forward we have to have a mindset that can handle failure.
On Saturday at the Art of Participatory Leadership in Petaluma my new friend Shawn Berry convened a session on failure and through listening to stories ranging from small prototoyping failures to business breakdowns and even deaths, I noted a few patterns that are helpful for groups and people to address failure positively nd resourcefully
Frame it up. In North America and Europe we have a cultural aversion to failure. Â Failure is equated with inadequacy. Â Our self-esteem is tied to our success. Â Our compensation and status is affected by failure. Â Fear of failure is prevalent in the culture. Â In order to combat this tendency, it is helpful to work with a group to get them acquainted to failing. Â For more playful groups improv exercises can be an excellent way to drop inhibitions to try something and fail. Â More rational groups might benefit from a little appreciative inquiry where participants recall positive failing experiences. Â Reflecting and sharing on times of failure and survival reminds us that it is part of the process.
Support the experience. While groups are experimenting and learning, succeeding and failing it helps to have support and coaching present in the process. Â Depending on the kind of work being done you can offer support to keep a group resilient and unattached.Â I have used several different kinds of processes here including the following:
Simply pausing for reflection periodically in the process to notice what is going on. Â Slowing the process down helps to gain valuable perspective on what is happening and helps a group move on quickly from failure.
allowing failure to occur and then taking the subsequent stressful thoughts to an inquiry process using The Work of Byron Katie. Â We do this often when working with groups in the non-profit sector for example, where the pressure to succeed is accompanied by feelings of fear of the results of failing.
In indigenous and other colonized cultural settings I have often had Elders and healers present who can care for the more invisible dynamics in the field, especially when our work is going to carry us into some of the sources of trauma. Â When you are working in a place where people are operating out of deep historical trauma, the fear of failure can be laden with many many deep seated implications. Â Having people in the process who understand these dynamics is essential.
Peer-coaching is a common way to build resilience in groups where trying and failing is important. Â When a team is trying to learn something new it helps to also build the capacity for them to be able to rely on each other. Â This is why so many teams value “cross-training.” Â When athletes train, they often work out in ways that are not related to their sport _ a skier training by rowing for example. Â Doing this helps them to learn to use their body differently and builds strength that supports their core work. Â Similarly, work teams can learn a lot about themselves by creating situations of safe failure such as through improvisational exercises, outdoor experiences, games and other non-work focuses. Â The skills learned there can help support the team when they knuckle down to focus on key tasks and can support constructive failure within the work domain. Â Ultimately these skills will build capacity if they increase the ability of the group to support itself through stressful times.
Developing a practice of greeting failure with joy. Â My friend Khelsilem Rivers taught me this one. Â He is – among other things – an indigenous language teacher and using the tool kit “Where Are Your Keys” Khelsilem helps people become fluent in their indigenous languages. Â One of the barriers to rapid fluency is a fear of “not doing it right.” Â Khelsilem completely transforms the experience of failure by introducing the technique called “How Fascinating!” When a person (including the facilitator) makes a mistake, the whole group celebrates by throwing their hands in the air, leaning back and declaring “How Fascinating!” Â While it might seem contrived at first, the technique opens up the body, and greets the failure with a collective celebration. Â Blame and judgement is avoided, collective support is activated and learning is grounded.
Practices like these are essential to build into the architecture of processes where failure is inevitable if innovation is to occur.
Process the grief. When catastrophic failure occurs it can leave people grieving, frightened and cynical. Â If there is no way to process the grief then individuals often build their next prototype out of fear. Â If you feel you have been burned before, you might develop your next idea by building in protection against failing again. Â While that can seem prudent and safe, in reality, building structures out of fear is a much riskier proposition than building structures out of possibility. Â Without processing grief, a group or a person can be susceptible to being “defended.” Â I learned much about this state from Dr. Gordon Neufeld who is a child psychologist who has described this phenomenon in children. Â Taking a group or a person through the grief cycle using empathy, story telling and compassion can help free the emotions that are triggered in future learning experiences.
Building a mindset to embrace failure and support the transformation of the energy of failure is critical to groups developing the capacity to lead in complexity.