Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-02-25 - 8:05 a.m.
I am listening to Glass’s 600 Lines – unjustly neglected.
Laurence and I have been reflecting on the egg-head producer and his influence. L and I first met just over 10 years ago when I was at the College. He was working for an incredible person called Peter Tebby, now retired , who has an extraordinary sense of humour. Peter asked me to help promote the Strategic Leadership product that Laurence was developing – this may have been one of his jokes. Another pretty unusual individual – Pat – had developed the product initially but she had moved onto other work and L had picked it up.
Laurence had come up with a very very innovative approach – working together with Chris – someone whose history is so preposterous I can’t even mention in it in these pages without sounding – unbelievable. Well one thing I could say is that Chris had spent a lot of time in the Paras and spent his boyhood just outside Guildford on the greensand south of the Pilgrims Way.
The product was both right for its time and ahead of its time. One can see now that the early 1990s were a relatively humanistic phase of organisational development. There were a number of very visionary experiments going – for example in Austin Rover. Barry who was a pioneer in that experiment is now advising the United Nations on developing leaders in the 3rd world and has been made a Visiting Professor somewhere. Pat went off and advised the BBC on leadership development.
Peter Senge at Harvard had just published the Fifth Discipline which had helped poularise the idea of the Learning Organisation. As global competition increased in the 1990s, the climate became much harsher, workplace stress reached epidemic proportions in the UK and the work-life balance became a big issue. There are some signs that maybe this trend has started to change – that people realise to get the LO benefits there are a lot of things they need to stop doing..
Chris and Laurence would take groups of customers away to a place in Wales. The process would involve silence and some good walks. One walk went up to a hill overlooking the Cotswolds and the Lower Severn Valley. Another went up a strange hill a bit further west. The silence was the bit that was most challenging – a lot of people sitting in a room being silent waiting for something to happen.
Of course after all this time its much easier to put some theory round the process – silence is obviously an artistic resource – its related to Rauschenberg’s blank canvas.
The Cambridge Manufacturing Leaders product which we are developing for the Automotive Academy involves people looking at their own motivation and values.
The Wales process accelerated that. It was pretty much like taking drugs to be honest – except legal – and rather more expensive. Or like Zen (I suppose).
Obviously some of the customers reacted in quite an extreme way – and Chris and Laurence had various ways of handing this. I can remember on one very difficult job which I wont go into, L got out a Matthew Arnold poem – Dover Beach – and read it to the assembly. The one where ignorant armies clash by night.
Laurence’s theory of it all involved deep engagement. His idea was that whatever the issues – collective deep engagement was beneficial. There were various standard tools – like the Henry V bit on the eve of Agincourt. You could formalise the theory – and I think that would have helped in some respects – but there was a tendency to keep the black box closed. To find out what was in the box you had to pay the money and get inside.
On one occasion we were promoting the product to quite a sophisticated audience. Chris and Lawrence finished up with a video clip – F Astaire and G Rogers dancing cheek to cheek – she has a feathery dress on and if you look carefully you can see bits of feather floating off. That was one of the high points for me.
Lawrence was very into the Metaphysics of Morals by Iris Murdoch. It was just at the time when news was leaking out that IM was getting ill. I still think that book is too dense – that as she wrestles with the material the incipient disease is evident in her not quite imposing enough pattern on it. I could be wrong. Kenneth was also very into and they made him a Bishop and stuck him in the House of Lords.