The Language of Change : Who Is It For?

Sometimes we overcomplicate things, and that’s not OK. One way of helping to mitigate that, is to pay attention to the language of change, to make it clear, inclusive, and when possible, uncomplicated.

A lot of my work is about change, being comfortable with not knowing. Change often creates uncertainty – an unnerving feeling which stifles thinking, feeling, and doing. One way of helping to mitigate that is to pay attention to the language of change, to make it clear, inclusive, and when possible, uncomplicated. Some of the most interesting and useful inquiries I’ve been involved with have started with the simplest of questions.

Someone I follow on Twitter recently shared a few ‘good practice-based questions’ relating to transformation, from a business school event they were attending.

Principles of Action Research for Transformation (ART)

How does/could your purpose help support our collective thinking?

How does/could your knowledge creation include and transcend rationalist empiricism to acknowledge your whole self as relational beings?

How does/could your knowledge creation expand to include stakeholders – and with it a willingness to develop toward mutually transforming power?

How does/could your knowledge creation include multiple ways of knowing-for-action?

How does/could your knowledge creation integrate personal/reflexive with interpersonal/relational and impersonal knowledge

I spent time reading and re-reading these questions, several of which leave me cold. They seem foggy – lacking clarity and accessibility. Are these questions designed to exclude people? I would hope not – but that is how they feel to me. I grumbled for a while about becoming lost in the business school fog, then got on with something more useful, expecting to quickly forget about this little episode. Only I didn’t forget, I kept coming back to the question of why – why would someone who seeks to inquire about change, pose questions which seem to reinforce the stifling unnerving uncertainty I mentioned earlier?

The Times Higher Education website has recently published a piece titled, ‘Do business schools still have brand value?’ The article opens suggesting five golden rules for academic writing in management studies. These include:

‘…never use a short word where a long one will do; this prevents anyone understanding what you mean, further insuring you against criticism.’

‘…bamboozle people with jargon, and plenty of well-known names. This further paralyzes their critical senses: if Bourdieu or Heidegger said it, then it must be right. Right?’

One of the contributors to the article, Dennis Tourish, goes on to say:

“Those who write like this have one primary goal: building their careers, via publishing papers. They are not interested – at least, not primarily – in shaping public discourse, and helping to change the world. But they should be.

We in business and management studies need to put theory development back in its rightful place. Good theory is certainly important, but the insistence that every paper must do it – rather than, say, develop insights for practice or discuss a genuinely important issue – is rendering us irrelevant to any serious discussion of the multiple problems affecting our world.”

Once I finished reading the piece, I got involved in an exchange with a couple of folk on Twitter who are involved in higher education and research, and when I shared the questions I quoted earlier, freely admitting I am struggling to make sense of them, I received this as a reply:

“Often ‘the club’ uses its jargon to give sense of belonging to those in it and keep outsiders at arm’s length by creating mystery. Good business educators speak plainly and demystify the technically academic stuff.”

I agree, and it’s not just business schools where this obfuscation (see what I did there?) emanates from.

This classic piece of consultancy bamboozlement from Deloitte frequently gets highlighted as a piece of intentional complexity. The ‘You couldn’t possibly navigate this without us’ approach.

Change can be hard, and the process of exploring how we do things differently needs to acknowledge this, seeking clarity and inclusion as ways of engaging people in the process. Questions like ‘How does/could your knowledge creation include and transcend rationalist empiricism to acknowledge your whole self as relational beings?’ are not designed to be clear or inclusive. We need to do better.

Remembrance : Ghost Squadron

In recent years I’ve acknowledged remembrance day through the free art project, using various poppy motifs as my designs.

This year I wanted to try something different, but I didn’t know where to start. I then received an unexpected commission, to make a multi layered stencil art work of a Supermarine Spitfire, and I set to work. This was a fiddly process trying to ensure that each stencil layer lined up and matched, but after a few attempts, I got there.

During a conversation with the recipient of the art, I began to find out more about this place called Kenley Airfield. The airfield was of vital significance during WWII and it is now the most intact airfield of its time. As I learned more about the place and its history – we began to discuss remembrance. I suggested that we could reprise the spitfire design as a new way for me to acknowledge remembrance.

Remembrance Day approaches, a day I have mixed feelings about. I’m anti war – too old now but I always said if I was conscripted as a younger man, I’d refuse. I do however think it is important to remember the horrors we have inflicted on one another, the wasted lives and shattered families, even though we don’t seem to be very good at learning from history. 

Ghost Squadron

This year’s remembrance free art drop is titled ‘Ghost Squadron’. It’s a limited edition of four spitfire silhouettes in traditional airforce green, set against a grey sky lit with a thousand silver stars. Each piece will be signed and numbered, before being hidden for people to find in the usual way. Clues to the whereabouts of the art works will be posted on my Facebook page.

I Had A Hand In This

Art is community : Community is art

In the Autumn of 2018, Jo Slater, who owns The Sun pub in Carshalton, approached me after I donated an art work to a charity raffle in the pub, and kindly offered some space for us to make art. Art In The Sun duly began in January of this year. A weekly gathering of curious adventurers, an experiment in experimental art.

Each session features an idea, maybe a theme, an offer of new tools, materials, techniques – just enough structure, and no more. People get to work, talking, sharing ideas, experimenting. I’m on hand if needed, but the process is largely about discovery.

Some weeks a hush falls over the group as the concentration levels rise, some weeks there’s loads of chat and laughter. We’ve been fortunate to have ELTEL perform with us a few times, and we’ve tried numerous techniques out since we started. Mark making, printing, stencil cutting, masking and layering, brushless work, tile painting, collaborative and solo works. The group takes it all on – confident in the emerging process. Plenty of our work ends up in the bin, and that’s OK.

A while back I suggested the idea of an exhibition – a chance to show our work to a wider audience. I recall the idea being received a little hesitantly, so we left it to percolate. Time passes, experiments continue, the idea is remembered again, and here we are, it’s exhibition day.

I’m off to The Sun. My role today is that of curator, and general setter upper. I’m proud of this lovely group of people and everything they have achieved so far, and I hope that today, I do their work justice for them. I have much to do, so I’ll wish you well and leave you with a hint of what is yet to come.

‘I Had A Hand In This’. Mixed media co-created collage, on A1 foam board