Obvious, it’s obvious really

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A few ago Douglas Board, a friend and writing partner or mine, and I ran a Zoom workshop for organisation development professionals. The topic being:

Working with changes in the obvious: why do meritocracies produce glass ceilings

The aim of our session was to ask the question, why is the obvious not obvious to us and what might the consequences be – in this case unintentional effects of creating better and fairer places that sadly can result in the opposite. At least they can do without careful attention to the unintended, and how difficult this can be. For an exploration of some of the ideas we explored at the workshop click here.

However, in this blog posting I want to make some broader observations notably that the obvious is anything but! In a reflective conversation with Douglas after the session we focus on this and the experience of running a workshop for thirty people on Zoom, click here.

At the University of Chichester, I run an MBA for experienced managers as well as an MA in Leadership and Management. I know lots of things about the subject. There was a striking moment in my early thirties when I was presenting a strategy to a group of directors.  In an hour my paradigm that management was all about rational clear-headed argument and evidence was turned on its head. I had realised the importance of power, anxiety, conflict, influence and politics during the course of a very mundane side conversation about catering arrangements for the meeting – what were they doing and why? I can look back to see that this helped spark my long-held interest in management and leadership.

When I work with participants on our programmes a part of my work is knowledge sharing, but this is second order, it is not where I believe that I add the most amount of value. After all, when it comes to knowledge in management there are no ‘proofs’ like you will find in mathematics but ideas, fads and rules of thumbs that tend to work backed up with empirical studies, philosophy, sociology or psychology.

Instead I shake people up so they perceive their ‘obvious’ in new ways: they see it, feel it, hear it etc in a way that they can make sense of and act. And from that action further noticing of the obvious occurs and the ripples continue. I could be running a workshop on decision making and strategy, facilitating an action learning set or having a one-to one coaching conversation – they all shake up the obvious, albeit in different ways.

Perhaps those conversations with Douglas, writing this blog, reflecting on my own work has made obvious to me that little bit more is obvious. And so our work goes on.

Picture credit: Multi Color Abstract 2, 2018 (photo) / © Susan Vizvary / Bridgeman Images

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