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Neil Peart : Rest In Peace

Waiting For The Band : R40 : Columbus Ohio

Rush. I have so many memories associated with this band. As I emerged from my fascination with punk and new wave, they offered something completely different, Rush became and stayed a guilty pleasure through the 1980s. Going to see them at the old Wembley Arena became a habit, and though I became less interested in their music in the 90s, I returned with renewed excitement in the 00s and beyond. The last three tours, Time Machine, Clockwork Angels, and R40 were all very, very special.

My excellent friend Curly and I went to the O2 for the Time Machine and it was pure joy – slightly helped by the fact that I managed to sneak a really nice bottle of wine into the venue up my coat sleeve.

I took the equally excellent Ade, and Curly to Clockwork Angels as a thank you for their support in the aftermath of the death of my Dad. We popped a bottle of champagne over the Thames on the riverbus, and though for me there was a tinge of sadness around the gig (2 reasons – thinking of Dad and I spilled a whole pint of overpriced beer!) the music was perfect and we got to see Rush perform The Garden – it only happened on this tour. For me, The Garden is the ultimate song about death, about passing, about what if anything remains. Beautiful and fitting.

When Rush announced the R40 tour there was no European leg. I was 50 when they toured, and I had some work planned in the USA (thank you Laurie I’ll never forget your kindness). The very lovely Carole suggested I try to link the work with the tour – and so I bought myself a ticket to see Rush live in Columbus Ohio. I travelled via Summer Brandcamp where I got to hang out with Dwane, Jason, Laurie, Michael, Jonathan, Amanda and many others, at an outstanding event which changed me for the better. I went on through Cleveland, spending excellent time with friends Tammy and Frank, before driving down to Columbus which included a brief stop to meet Jackie and some of her colleagues. The Columbus gig was excellent. This was the first and only time I saw Rush perform live without a friend to accompany me, and I watched them bring the curtain down in spectacular fashion.

I love how music and other art forms are able to get under the skin – connect you with others, move you, raise you, and drop you too. I never got to meet Neil Peart – but I couldn’t be happier that Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson did. Neil Peart. 12/09/1952 : 07/01/2020 <3

What Would Joe Do?

A short letter on the occasion of Keira’s 17th birthday.

Dear Keira

When I was a teenager, like you, I was fortunate to have many friends who were and in some cases still are, very important people. But when I was confused, angry, curious, the two people who I paid attention to, who guided me, were my Mum, and through his music, the late, great, Joe Strummer.

Mum taught me the power of curiosity, she encouraged me to be myself, and to question authority. The music of The Clash had that same questioning attitude. After Mum died back in 1984 I was left without her advice, so when I needed help I would often ask myself, ’What would Joe do?’ I’ve always enjoyed listening to his music and the messages and attitude of his songs. Whether they were performed with The Clash, The Mescaleros, as a solo artist or one of his other projects, Joe Strummer always had something to say.  

“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom.”

“We’re anti-fascist, we’re anti-violence, we’re anti-racist, and we’re pro-creative. We’re against ignorance.”

When you were born, Mum kindly agreed to let you take the middle name of Joe, and you’ve worn it very well ever since. I’m pleased that among your hugely varied musical tastes, you have found room for him and his work. To your credit, you’ve always been friendly and kind, and you show a wisdom beyond your years. In the absence of Joe Strummer, there’s now another Joe to provide some inspiration to the question, ‘What would Joe do?’

Remember, the future is unwritten, so make it for yourself. Best wishes and lots of love for a very happy birthday, and an excellent year of being 17.

With love : Dad and Mum

Our letter to Keira is enclosed in this card. I spent ages drawing it and the harder I tried, the less like Joe Strummer it looked. Drawing is hard, and in this case the effort was appreciated. Do the work.

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.