There are a fair few tropes that remain perpetual battlegrounds in the world of L&D, HR and OD: profits vs people as an over-riding focus and talent’s opposing ‘nature’ vs. ‘nurture’ battalions spring immediately to mind. One of the more abstract of these perennial topics is the divide between process and creativity – or perhaps we should say the perceived divide. We’re not the only people to have trotted round the block a few times on this one: indeed, we’ve written about it before here in several contexts – including HR’s impact on innovation, Google’s Innovation Time Off policy and the story of MIT’s Building 20, and jazz (not once but twice).
That this is an issue that will probably never leave us is well-illustrated by a blog post by Todd Williams, although the apparently inflammatory title – Process Stifles Creativity – was perhaps a rather knowing case of squirting lighter fluid onto the bonfire. Todd’s themes are more balanced than his title suggests, but one sentence very much stood out for me:
People are not rewarded for being creative with the process; in fact, the reaction is quite the opposite.”
It’s 4.30am in Apprenticeland and the phone is ringing. We are treated to the vision of Jason in his stripy jim-jams, being far more polite into a receiver than I might be that early in the day: ah, the transformational power of knowing you’re being watched. If only it lasted …
The ‘everyone hurtling around getting ready’ sequence is its usual regrettable self. Knowing that they’re going to Dubai, Fran (I think) is wondering which of her bikinis to take. Not a garment the locals are big on in the UAE, my dear, but why did you bring a selection of bikinis to The Apprentice in the first place. And in a transparent set-up, we are presented with this week’s evictee from the outset. Zee – who I didn’t feel I needed to know wears a nipple ring – is already crowing about his local knowledge. There’s a watery trap in this series called “This Task Has Got My Name On It”, and Zee’s designer socks are already soaking wet, I fear. More perplexingly, Myles – fully dressed, unusually – is quoting the Bible at Fran in the back of a cab. I’d expect such a metropolitan man of the world to try a smoother line of chat, but life is full of surprises. Even if The Apprentice doesn’t always follow suit. (The relationship between the programme and ‘real life’ is a very odd one on many levels.)
The title, given that this post is written in response to an external blog post (Ian Gee’s very thought-provoking “Sentiment isn’t just for Sympathy Cards!”), is somewhat cheeky, but I hope that I can go on to demonstrate that an IT-based response to the ‘softness’ of HR issues can – and perhaps inevitably will – trigger an HR-related reaction that can’t help but wonder about the ‘hardness’ of IT solutions.
Ian, on the basis of his profile, has a long and successful track record in the corporate sphere, focusing largely on OD: he knows, we can safely assume, whereof he speaks. As he acknowledges, there are really two issues at play in the area he is currently addressing. The superficial problem – to use the wrong adjective, I admit, but to call it ‘the presenting problem’ would be to potentially confuse management speak with psychologists’ jargon – is how to gauge opinion, feeling and atmosphere amongst the human resources (or ‘people’, as we refer to them outside the office). But there is an underlying problem: the opinions and thoughts that most need to be swayed are those of the occupants of the C Suite, for whom measurement is a matter of firmness, definitiveness and bottom lines. They are not a group of individuals much moved by ‘data’ such as “We have had some informal feedback to the effect that …”
In the “You’ve Been Fired” follow-on programme for Episode 2, Dara O’Briain demonstrated how a change of background music can alter our perception of a piece of footage. The winning team strolling around a Belgian square could be either edgy or comic, depending on the accompanying score. (Left as just a dialogue track, of course, it remained tragic, but music’s awesome power can’t change everything.)
Throughout Episodes 1 & 2 of Series 9 – and two episodes on consecutive nights really was in danger of being too much of a good thing – I often had an imaginary alternative soundtrack. “Don’t put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Worthington.” And if Mrs Ampaw-Farr was watching, you might want to pay more attention to Noel Coward than Lord Sugar next time opportunity knocks. Yes, here we are again with The Apprentice. 16 fresh hopefuls, spouting like a school of whales and as estranged from modesty as they are from understatement.
At our recent Ideas Exchange event at The Gallery Soho, we invited those attending to write their questions on a giant blackboard as triggers for discussion. We’ve taken a few moments since then to offer suggested brief answers to three of these questions, and you’ll find our ‘starters for ten’ below – but we’d very much welcome the contributions, thoughts and suggestions of others: simply use the Leave a Reply box at the bottom of this posting to share your thoughts with us.
We’ll be posting ‘answers’ to other questions raised on the day shortly – follow us on Twitter for announcements, or subscribe to our blog to be notified of new posts by email. (And if you’d like to be notified of future events, please contact us.)
It’s not often that a music review raises a laugh, let alone a complicated one. The first example I remember was of Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, which she reviewed with a single word. The word was ‘Yes’. (If memory is functioning, the critic was Julie Birchill.) More recently, a Kate Mossman review of a Bon Jovi album in New Statesman also raised a smile, mostly for its opening paragraph:
Here’s a bit of fun: which of the following are US presidential campaign slogans and which are songs by Bon Jovi? Something to Believe in. Believe in America. Made in America. Another Reason to Believe. A Stronger America. Forward. Undivided. The Distance. Change. Taking it Back. Bring it On. We Can Do Better. Yes We Can. Because We Can. What About Now.”
(In case you’re wondering, songs/slogans 1,3, 4, 7, 8, 12 and 13 were Bon Jovi; 2 was Mitt Romney; 5 and 11 were John Kerry; 6, 9 and 13 were Barack Obama; and 12 was JF Kennedy. Perhaps Kerry and Obama have missed vocations as stadium rockers?)
Ms Mossman’s point was that ‘stadium rock employs the same nebulous, inspirational vocab as politics’, although she might well have substituted other nouns for ‘politics’. But my reaction was not, like her, to give recognition to Bon Jovi for ‘infusing John Doe with inspirational sentiment’ but to reflect more on that nagging similarity of vocabulary. And on the way that so many popular songs that, lyrically, expressed one sentiment have been appropriated by causes with different agendas. Although she mentions Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA (a war veteran’s angry rant) being hijacked by Reagan for its air-punching chorus, the phenomenon is not uniquely American. As a BBC news item shows, popular songs have been hijacked – almost invariably without consent – in many countries.
“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.”
- Gunter Grass
As a non-academic, there are times when I encounter the outpourings of the higher education community and catch myself thinking “Yes, I knew that, actually. I wouldn’t have explained at such great length, or with so many historic references or such recourse to technical language. But I still feel like I knew that already.” I had that feeling recently, when I researched the idea of Organisational Citizenship.
It turned out that the phrase that I’d be tempted to use in Plain English already has a particular meaning in the literature of Business Schools. I would use the words in the sense that, in the way that organisations nowadays are large, complex bodies with potentially significant populations and uncountably diverse functions and relationships, a person can be a ‘citizen’ of an organisation in the same way that they can be a citizen of a country. Unlike the academics of Business Schools – who use the phrase to (and I paraphrase) describe behaviours linked to discretionary effort – I intended something that we might think of as ‘seen through the other end of the telescope’. Something that perhaps equates to what we might call, in everyday language, a sense of belonging.
In a recent Forbes blog, 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders, Susan Tardanico suggests ten actions leaders can take that will – she argues – have positive benefits for them and for those they lead.
- Confront reality head-on.
- Seek feedback and listen.
- Say what needs to be said.
- Encourage push-back.
- Take action on performance issues.
- Communicate openly and frequently.
- Lead change.
- Make decisions and move forward.
- Give credit to others.
- Hold people (and yourself) accountable.
While Tardanico’s original blog offers explanations and contextualisation for each of these items, her preceding paragraphs offered a broader context of period of a tenuous economy and an environment of workplace stress and anxiety during which many – including leaders – may be strongly tempted to keep their heads down and avoid risk. The remarks and comments it’s invoked, however, cover rather greater ground – and in some cases beg larger questions.
Back in December, I wrote a piece here called Point of View. It was about stories and how the uncritical reader is often too busy being receptive to the plot or the narrative to ask questions about the storyteller and their technique. ‘Point of view’ is both a phrase meaning an opinion and a literary technique meaning the perspective of the narrating voice. Literature – and Dickens, someone’s latest TED Talk or a manager’s speech are all storytelling in their own ways – is a trade, and it has as many tricks as any other.
If you read fiction, you’ll be familiar – whether you realise it or not – with the idea of point-of-view. (And if you watch TV, films or theatre, you might not: the concept doesn’t work the same way.) You can describe it as being something like ‘the angle from which the story is told’ (although Wikipedia does a pretty good job of explaining it if you want to spend a few minutes reading more).
In a first-person narrative, we see the plot, the action and the other characters as the narrator does: essentially the reader must interpret the narrator’s reliability as a raconteur and try to be aware of what they don’t see or hear – of what they can’t know. And there is no guarantee that a third-person narrator (He said, she did, they heard and so on) is necessarily any more reliable. So far, so much like real life – to a degree. But our human love of stories should not blind us to one frequent element of fiction – the omniscient narrator who can relay the thoughts and feelings of every character, seemingly at will and certainly when it’s convenient. Ah, if only reality were as plausible.