Archive for the ‘21st CENTURY LEADERSHIP’ Category

Chomsky’s Hamster-Work

April 20, 2010

A friend sent me this article on Noam Chomsky.

The author, Chris Hedges,  is notably uncritical of the great man, and I myself would not normally criticise Chomsky.  He does his thing brilliantly  and is rightly revered for that.  But as it came from a friend who knows my work and what I am trying to do, I thought I’d respond to him with a few comments.  And then the comments seemed worth making into a post.

The article states

“he ( Chomsky) steps outside of every group and eschews all ideologies.”

But this  is not strictly true. Chomsky says he is an  anarcho-syndicalist.  And that makes him highly ideological.

As an  anarcho-syndicalist, he vigorously analyses and attacks the evils of existing systems of politics and government but, like all anarchists,  he declines to offer an alternative system of government that could be  viable, just and sustainable AND worth voting for. That for me is his great weakness, and what turns his writings and speeches into an – admittedly exalted – form of what I call “Hamster-Work”. Like a hamster on its wheel, he goes on and on and round and round, and in the end – nothing

It was Marx who said

The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.

As a post-grad student, Chomsky offered an alternative, and still in some ways controversial, new paradigm to that which was dominant in linguistics at that time. Inevitably, fellow-linguists have challenged and modified  Chomsky’s alternative model, and he himself has substantially updated it,  but for over fifty  years it has provided an invaluable and still valid basis for research and inquiry.  Thus,  did he change the world of linguistics by heroically leading his colleagues into territory which until that time had not been identified still less explored.

That’s the kind of leadership I’d like to have seen in his political writings. But he never allows himself to take the lead, never offers an alternative model that would be open to rigorous analysis, criticism, development and  debate. Instead, although he

curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.”

that’s as far as he goes. And today that is old news for many millions of people.  That quote from Chomsky sums up my view of local and national pseudo-democraticgovernment and politics back in the mid-1990s.  In “Gaian Democracies: Redefining Globalisaiton and People-Power” 2002/3) we discussed the complex, component and disastrous consequences of this system and offered a alternative model of democracy from which citizens could co-create just and sustainable societies.

Now, the Chomsky quote is a barely contested truism, representing something near the majority view in the USA and far beyond. . In constantly rehearsing and re-stating these and related arguments, Chomsky is never “wrong”, of course. His always safely cocooned within the outrage that a mere recital of the facts can generate.  However,when Chomsky asserts

that power, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate. The burden of proof is on those in authority to demonstrate why their elevated position is justified. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled.

he raises profound questions that his  anarchist ideology allows him to ignore. Questions such as:

“If we dismantle illegitimate  forms of authority, then what?  What forms of power and authority would be legitmate in the face of the challenges we face in the 21st Century?”

These were the question that “Gaian Democracies” tried to tackle.  Yet Chomsky shirks them and even seems to think them not worth discussing. I wish that he would address those  and related questions, but it seems that his anarchist ideology prevents him from doing so.  Consequently  it condemns him and millions of his admirers to the ultimate futility of “Hamster-Work”.



April 14, 2010

What Business Are We In?

Thinking, acting and learning together.

Let’s just re-cap a bit. So far we’ve touched on Gaia Theory, Systems thinking, Argyris and Schön’s concepts of Espoused Theories and Theories in Use, Lincoln’s vs Schumpeter’s Theories of Democracy, Cybernetics and Viable Systems, Liberating Leadership, Paulo Freire, Problem-posing dialogues and processes such as Charettes and O.R.A.K.E.L,

We’ve skimmed over a lot of ground . And this is just the start. We will never be able to co-create Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies without all of these ideas and many more.

But, we are not alone. We are a network of networks of groups of people. We have every chance to think, act and learn together to liberate our individual and collective competence, confidence and creativity.

It will take a lot of work and thousands of hours of your time over the coming decades, Studies show that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to produce a virtuoso pianist or tennis player or chess master, Those who practice less become less proficient than those who practice more. And similarly, if you spend four or eight hours a week thinking, acting and learning together, the results will come more quickly than if you do one or two hours a month.

All the topics that I’ve raised added together are just a few examples of the new ways of thinking that we will need to apply to make our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies into Viable, Innovative and Gaian systems .

For practical examples of how to transform every kind of system you will need to see how people with very clear pro-human values like Peter Checkland, Dee Hock, W. Edwards Deming, John Seddon, Jim Lancaster have applied systems thinking in the real world.

How do we do this?  By mutual support, encouragement and improvement.

The Mutual Improvement Model

The model we try to emulate in our groups is the one that the British working classes developed to think, act and learn together for nearly 400 years, from about the end of the 16th Century to the middle of the 20th century.

Thanks to King Henry v111th’s over-active sex-drive, England had shaken off dead-hand of the Roman Catholic in the mid-16th Century and soon, labourers and artisans started to form mutual improvement groups. Some were illiterate but they didn’t just want to learn to read and write. They met semi-secretly at first to discuss the Bible in English and the torrent of new books that were challenging traditional interpretations of the scriptures. Soon, they were widening their range to include books of science, mathematics, exploration, philosophy, and then novels, biographies, classical texts in Greek and Latin and much much more besides,

The whole story is told in a wonderful book by Jonathan Rose, with the defiant title, “The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes”. Until the end of the 19th Century, it usually cost a penny a week to join a mutual improvement group. For a couple of centuries, they had no professional teachers. Each week a member of the group would lead the others in a discussion on something that he – and very occasionally she – had studied.

Over time, the groups became more formalised, created ever-larger libraries, built thousands of halls for their “Mechanics Institutes”and “Literary and Philosophical Societies’, codified rules of procedure, created colleges for the working classes, and Amateur Operatic Societies, sports clubs, and leagues, linked to Trade Unions, supported radical politicians , and were a major force for positive change in Britain.

A penny a week would be equivalent to how much in today’s money? You’ll need to work that out when you start your group. But certainly, it should not be a derisory amount. A penny was between 1% and 2% of an average weekly wage in the 17 to 19th Centuries.  So, what’s 1 – 2 % of the average weekly wage hereabouts?

At one level that penny a week is a statement of your seriousness in wanting to think, act and learn together to co-create Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies.

Then, your group will need those subscriptions to  fund the activities that sustain and expand the business that you and the rest of the VIGDEOCS network is in.

What Business Are We In?

The people who have created the Global Monetocracies that got the human family into the mess we are in, know very well that their business is to get their President in the White House, their Prime Minister in Number 10, their majority in both houses of Congress and the House of Commons, their nominees on the Supreme Court, their protégé(e)s in the Cabinet, their technocrats at the head of major national and international businesses and agencies, their Mayors and Governors running key cities and states, their allies in key positions on radio, TV and the print media, their theorists in key university posts, their publications given prominent exposure in their mass-media.

To change the disastrous and dysfunctional system that they have created, we have to be in the business of putting our President in the White House, our Prime Minister in Number 10, our majority in both houses of Congress and the House of Commons, our protégé(e)s in the Cabinet, our technocrats at the head of major national and international businesses and agencies, our Mayors and Governors running key cities and states, our allies in key positions on radio, TV and the print media, our theorists in key university posts, our views and analysis given prominent exposure in the mass-media.

It won’t happen this year, but the sooner we start to think, act and learn together to co-create Viable Innovative Gaian, Enterprises, Organisations and Communities, the sooner our people will be in the positions they need to be in to lead the co-creation of Viable, Innovative and Gaian Democracies and Societies.

However, as the British working classes insisted on all those years ago, the VIGDEOCS networks must not get stuck in any kind of an ideological or intellectual rut. We must not be boringly intellectual, like  Marxists and neo-liberals.

In order to be seriously effective, we must  enjoy asking difficult questions and having fun,  Boring and solemn we must not be.

The only entrance qualification is a willingness to pay a weekly subscription and want to think, act and learn with you and co-create  VIGDEOCS.

At the same time, although the range of concepts and methodologies offered by  the thinkers I’ve suggested are anything but narrow, they have not written great poetry or novels or music.  Do not under any circumstances neglect the lessons that you can learn from great literature and art and history, even though it comes from a tradition that may seem obsolete.  There can be no fundamentalists or ideological commissars amongst us.  If you think that it would be valuable to spend an occasional evening reflecting on “The Wire” or “The Office” or “Hamlet” or “Carmen” or “The Prince” or “Persuasion” that isn’t some kind of backsliding or apostacy. Its broadening your minds.  Equally, linking up with a sports clubs, forming choirs and holding 1970s discoes,  must be a good thing.

Now, lets break for five minutes and then get down to the business of organising your next meeting.


April 13, 2010

Liberating Leadership Teams

Leadership is one of the most misunderstood terms in any language. So much so that some very well-known anti-globalisation campaigners espouse the theory that

  • A truly democratic government is not supposed to lead. It is supposed to respond to the leadership of “We the people.”
  • The most accurate answer to the question, “Who is the leader of global civil society?” is, “Every person.”

In other words, if everyone, in that amorphous fantasy, “global civil society”, regardless of their values, their capabilities, their aims, is ‘ the leader’ , then no-one really leads, and the word has no meaning any more.

If I say that everyone can be a composer or a novelist or an architect, you would want me to explain exactly what I meant by such a statement. Without such explanations, these ex-cathedra statements about leadership, are immensely dis-empowering and confusing.

Moreover they are made by people who themselves have undoubtedly claimed and performed leadership roles in many different arenas. How else can we interpret their campaigns, their access to funding from governments, corporations and major foundations, hence their institutes, and their constant presence on the platforms of international conferences, their books, their newspaper articles and interviews,?

Certainly, when we talk about the role of leaders and leadership in Viable Innovative Gaian Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies, we do not mean a single leader or leadership group; a dictator, a messiah, a charismatic spell-binder and his/her disciples.

But, the reality is that we will never have the kinds of INNOVATIVE Democracies,  INNOVATIVE Enterprises,  INNOVATIVE Organisations, INNOVATIVE Communities and  INNOVATIVE Societies we need to become viable and Gaian, without thousands of teams of “Liberating Leaders”

Liberating leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They have many different job-titles: mayor, politician, governor, president, executive, director, professor, manager, consultant, editor, teacher, organiser, even, whisper it not, “leader”.

They will be liberating leaders because they transform their Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies by liberating the untapped potential for innovation and creativity in the people that they lead, individually and collectively. They will liberate that untapped potential through the routine use of “problem-posing dialogues” .

Problem-posing dialogues

Problem-posing dialogues can take many forms, depending on the numbers of people involved and the nature and scale of the problems being addressed.

Paulo Freire used them as a vehicle through which he could liberate groups of Brazilian peasants from the oppression and hopelessness caused by their illiteracy and powerlessness. Freire described the “monologues” in which teachers attempt to transfer the knowledge that is stored in their heads into the heads of their students as a form of oppression.

By using Problem-posing Dialogues we can think, act and learn together to initiate and sustain the processes by which our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies can become ever-more Viable Innovative and Gaian.

To be effective, Liberating Leaders have to work as part of a leadership team whose members have shared values, theories in use, vocabulary and purposes for their Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities or Societies.

Liberating Leaders Teams nurture other teams of Liberating Leaders in every sector and every level of the systems for which they are responsible.

In small-ish groups, meeting regularly with a shared understanding of their purposes and principles, the Liberating Leadership roles can be rotated or allocated by lot. When the Problem-posing dialogues involve groups of relative strangers,  small or large or enormous, without a shared understanding of their purposes and principles, the likelihood of successful outcomes will be small unless legitimated, resourced, designed and facilitated by teams of Liberating Leaders.

If we are to produce the vast range of innovations we will need to make our Democracies, Enterprises, Organisations, Communities and Societies Viable and Gaian, we must learn how to use Problem-posing dialogues and nurture the multitude of Liberating Leaders that will be needed.

It is also important to understand that,through Problem-posing dialogues, Liberating Leadership Teams liberate their own creativity, energy, confidence, capabilities as well as those of  the people they lead.

Among many thousands of possibilities, specific examples of Problem-posing dialogues include:

The O.R.A.K.E.L. Project:

Designed by the Systems Research Study Group at Heidelberg University in collaboration with the Second West German TV channel (ZDF) in 1970. The ZDF cleared their TV schedules for two evenings and transmitted an ORAKEL programme that was designed to enable the viewers to co-create and agree upon a national policy on “Pollution” .

Holistic Management vs Desertification

Holistic Management to date is really the story of Alan Savory’s revolutionary proposal that desertification is being caused by the way that bad decisions being made about land-management. These decision stemmed from dividing the problem into “manageable parts” rather than dealing with the complexity of ‘the whole’. Savory also noted that this type of decision-making was characterised by a lack of listening, respect, and trust.

Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects. ( Wikipedia)

The Charrette Process

Many municipalities around the world develop long term city plans or visions through multiple charrettes – both communal and professional. Notable successes include the city of Vancouver, British Columbia. (from Wikipedia)

The British Columbia Citizens Assembly

The Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform is a group created by the government of British Columbia, Canada to investigate and recommend changes to the provincial electoral system. It was composed 160 members, one man and one woman from each of BC’s 79 electoral districts, plus two Aboriginal members. Assembly members were selected by a civic lottery that ensured a gender balance and a fair representation of the population’s age and geographical distribution. (from Wikipedia)

Paulo Freire on Leadership

The “liberating” part of Liberating Leadership comes from Paulo Freire’s insistence that “Dialogue is Liberating and Monologue is Oppressing”.

In the 1950s, Freire was one of many young Brazilian professionals who were searching for ways to transform the desperate circumstances that had to be endured by the oppressed majority of Brazilians. As he saw it, the main purpose of leadership was

  • To free the oppressed from twin thraldom of silence and monologue.
  • To prepare the ground for democracy and radical social transformation.
  • To recover people’s stolen humanity.
  • To increase men’s (sic) ability to perceive the challenges of their time
  • To predispose men (sic) to re-evaluate constantly, to analyse “findings”, to adopt scientific methods and processes.
  • To help men (sic) to assume an increasingly critical attitude towards the world and so to transform it.
  • To enable men (sic) to discuss courageously the problems of their context – and to intervene in that context (by) offering them the confidence and strength to confront those dangers instead of surrendering to the decisions of others.

Freire specifically rejected, for instance;

  • Forcing men to behave as machines

  • Prefabricated, technocratic approaches. Narrowly-defined, prescriptive, formulaic, once-for-all solutions to complex problems that reinforce the oppressive status quo.
  • Ideology and Sectarianism of either the left or the right
  • Monologue in all its forms: slogans: communiqués, strongly emotional communications: polemics vs dialogue. Manoevering people via propaganda to win them over to “our side” and support our goals without question.
  • The idea that ‘the leaders are the thinkers, the people are the doers’.
  • The oversimplification of problems.
  • A naïve nostalgia for the past : a taste for fanciful – magical , illogical, irrational explanations:
  • Underestimating the people:
  • Despotism via huge imbalances of power
  • Educational practices that failed to offer opportunities for the analysis and debate of problems or for genuine participation.
  • Populist manifestations (demos, marches. riots etc.) that exemplify a naïve. illogical, irrational type of behaviour by the oppressed.

Let’s take another five minute break before we end the first half of the evening.