Sunday, June 01, 2008


I have been sitting, sifting and sorting ideas and academic papers in self-imposed PhD isolation for nearly three days now. Studying this way is both exhilarating and frustrating.

I have been struggling to develop the thread for my PhD - the story that will connect the parts. There are plenty of ideas but unless I can find a way of organising them I may disappear (intellectually) under the sheer weight and varied merit of all possible input.

After a length of time spent in concentrated contemplation, the brain just does not switch off, even if you think it has. Last night, for example, after I thought I was done and was winding down the day with a glass of single malt, a thought appeared from nowhere. The trigger for the thought was a memory mined from my late teens. Up popped an image of me, aged 16, sitting in a pub in Walmer (the sleepier neighbour of the sleepy Kent seaside town of Deal) attending a branch monthly meeting of the Ecology Party. I hadn't thought of this short-lived political membership for many years, and its significance is not to reveal or revitalise a party political agenda. The eureka moment last night, and the significance of the recollection of this and other memories of my teenage activities centred around 'eco' and anti-nuclear causes, was a reconnection with a strong yet indistinct (and inarticulate) sense that all parts of the world were, are, inextricably inter-connected. So now I find myself returning to an interest in systems and wholes, not parts and pieces. From this a thread for my PhD is emerging (or, more exactly, it is re-emerging).

I already had a sense that if you are going to approach something from the point of view of a whole, you cannot easily do so by breaking it up. What has been added by my reading and thinking so far is a reductionist and overly analytical mindset cannot lead to a change in the way we think about how we think. I think we are seeing in our reactions to the very complex phenomena of global warming and our endless (sic) consumption of finite resources.

We are part of the ecology, not apart from it and despite all the progress that has been made in the scientific age of the last 200 years, we have yet to reach an understanding of management which values the aesthetic as well as rational and which acknowledges the invisible as well as the visible patterns. Few would argue that we are further away from a sustainable way of life now than we were 20 or 30 years ago, or that we have an even greater disconnect from each other, too.

My thread is one that will lend itself more easily to description than analysis. It will need to weave together a critical view of the history and current state of management education, a review of the literature from key domains, such as social & developmental psychology, learning theory, systems thinking and second order cybernetics, identity and self, complexity theory, and systemic family therapy. Should be fun!

On a simplified level, the thread that runs through is about grounding ourselves in the world.

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