…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

The thesis has been submitted…Leadership Literacies for Professional Staff in Universities

Typeface: Thesis from Lucas de Groot

Lucas de Groot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I’m very happy to report that I submitted my thesis ‘Leadership Literacies for Professional Staff in Universities’ last week. Here is a snippet about the findings and also my acknowledgements page.

Leadership Literacies for Professional Staff in Universities

The first discovery of my thesis was the naming of the Worldly, Sustaining, Leadingful, Relational and Learningful Leadership Literacies that I proposed were appropriate for leadership for professional staff in 21st century universities.  These indicate that the focus of leadership studies has moved from all about the leader (as it was in the 20th century) to the work of leadership that everyone does in knowledge-intensive enterprises (and into what is termed in the literature, a post-heroic leadership space). The next two discoveries found that these LL’s were evident in i) theorisations of higher education leadership research projects (The Scott report Learning Leaders In Times of Change and the Jones & Ryland report that synthesised 4 ALTC research projects about distributed learning prospects for Australian universities); and ii) in the data elicited from the lived experiences of work and leadership given by 226 ATEM professional staff members.  In naming one of the LL’s ‘Sustaining’ I was able to test for human sustainability indicators and these results are less rosy than the rest, and this is reflected in my final reflections. These discoveries led to my finding that the Worldly, Sustaining, Leadingful, Relational and Learningful Leadership Literacies were appropriate and indeed indicated as congruent with leadership for professional staff working in universities.

7.3 Final Reflections

My final reflections I turn to three ideas emerging in unison as I contemplate putting the final full stop in this thesis. These are about amplification, the idea of ‘leadership as the business of energy management’ and how these relate to the people I have featured in this thesis, professional staff in Australian universities.

I have spoken several times already about amplifying the considerable body of literature that is now encapsulated within the Worldly, Sustaining, Leadingful, Relational and Learningful Leadership Literacies. This thesis has also amplified the voices of professional staff working in universities, who as Szekeres (2004) reasoned in her search for them in higher education discourse, were ‘invisible workers’. I captured as many of these voices that wanted to be heard and they had much to say about work and leadership in universities in this early part of the 21st century. One of the key messages I discerned from their accounts was about energy management, having positioned this as a leadership concern within my Sustaining Leadership Literacy. Given the recollections in Martin’s (1999) research that I shared in this thesis, about the effects of change and turbulence on academic staff, there are similarities in the responses given by professional staff, some ten years later. I gave two accounts of academics voicing their frustration and sense of despair from Martin’s research*. These sentiments have been shared by my participants, and one quote, from Martha, eloquently encapsulates similar frustrations (and risks):

We seem to be working longer and longer hours—I regularly work a 50+ week and also work on the weekend. Most of my colleagues are in similar positions, this situation will increasingly take a toll on our health, work productivity and organizational sustainability. However, what can we do about it? Martha (Generation Jones (Late Boomer), Go8 Manager)

I regard this as a key leadership challenge in universities at this time. I am also struck, yet again, by the prescience of Mary Parker Follett, and her grasp of these concerns so long ago. She was a person ahead of her time. This leads me to ponder whether she may also be ahead of ours in light of her messages about making the connection between leadership and energy management stronger.

Whoever connects me with the hidden springs of all life, whoever increases the sense of life in me is my leader (Follett 1928, p. 294).

*This from earlier in the thesis in the chapter on Australian HE leadership…

Another notable work is Elaine Martin’s Changing Academic Work: Developing the Learning University (1999). Connecting student learning theory with then nascent ‘learning organisation’ literature to frame her study, Martin captured the effects of change in academic work through the lived experience of academics. In this snapshot of change in the UK and Australia, Martin reflected that it did “not make happy reading. They paint a picture of despondence and frustration, with the occasional pocket of optimism” (p. 13). The research revealed 60% of leaders, as well as 80% of academics (in non-leadership positions), complained that accountability was excessive (p. 17). Their concern was “not with accountability itself, but with the battery of accountability mechanisms which they saw as getting in the way of real work” (p. 17). In addition, Martin captured the effects of change on people, something that I emulate in the next chapter, albeit with a different cohort of university staff. She found that while 77% of leaders felt ‘undervalued’, so did 88% of academics (in non-leadership positions) [p. 21]. Two statements from contributors to Martin’s study are especially poignant, and support my argument that energy management is a key leadership responsibility in the 21st century:

The first, airs frustration: “I feel like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin. Each day I do the impossible, I perform the miracle—but there is only greed for more, never gratitude for what I am doing” [Senior Lecturer, Social Science] (p. 21).

The next is simply heartbreaking: “I gave to my work what I should have given to my family, I now have no family … and soon may have no job” [Lecturer, Economics] (p. 22).


I gratefully acknowledge my supervisor Sandra Jones for her encouragement, single-mindedness and considerable understanding of what it takes to stay on course as I traversed a lot of territory; and for knowing when to let me explore and when to rein me in. As a practice-led researcher I came with ideas and a passion for this topic which, under Sandra’s counsel, were galvanised into a plan of inquiry. I sincerely thank her for her encouragement, good humour, intellect and staying power. Special mention and thanks, Sandra, for your ability to finally move my resistant focus stemming from these ideas and passion for my profession to what is expected to be in (and out) of a thesis in the discipline of management.

Peter Macauley, my second supervisor, is acknowledged for his encouragement and the collegial working relationship we have shared for thirty years. Having someone who knew me well was invaluable for my own personal journey especially since my identity has shifted, was unmade and remade in the process of this experience. Thanks Pete for your practical and strategic advice, gleaned from your own doctoral education research focus, it was invaluable.

I also acknowledge the support and assistance of RMIT for their research training program, their RMIT/APA full-time Scholarship, as well as the opportunities afforded by presenting at international conferences in Rome and London.

I have many people to thank for their support during this time. Of special mention are my fellow doctoral students Deb Nanschild, Anne Hiha, David Holzmer, Ailsa Haxell and Robyn Ward for the many conversations shared which led me to deeper understandings of my inquiry (and theirs). Thanks to Chris Bigum for the generous chats about all things philosophical. Thanks also to Terry Evans for his initial encouragement to begin the journey and for wisdom shared during many coffees since.

Special thanks to the 226 Association for Tertiary Education Management (ATEM) colleagues who took the time to participate in this research project. This would not have been possible without the support of Maree Conway and Giles Pickford (ATEM Secretariat) who agreed to act as the conduit between myself, as researcher, and the potential participants for this study. Thank you, Linda McKellar, ATEM Vice President, for your wisdom and as conference travelling companion for several overseas conferences; Stephen Weller, President of ATEM, for your commendations of support and encouragement. Thanks also goes to my focus group of experts who tested the survey for relevance and ease of use.

Last but no means least are my family. I would not have been able to take time out to undertake this inquiry as a full-time student without the support of my partner, Philip. His encouragement, support and culinary skills sustained me during this time. I dedicate this thesis to my children Ashleah and Rohan who have been as supportive of my studies as I have been of theirs. They have been the inspiration to look afresh at leadership and hopefully they (and their generation) will benefit from, and indeed champion, the kinds of 21st leadership literacies I have introduced in this thesis.


Many agents acting in parallel

In celebration of this year’s World Day of Interconnectness (WDI), I have contributed a chapter to an e-book published to mark the occasion. The e-book can be downloaded from here. Please share the e-book and think about what ‘interconnectness’ means to you.

Other events scheduled for the WDI on 10.10.10 include a free leadership webinar 24 hour marathon and lots more at the WDI website.


Davis, H. 2010. Many agents acting in parallel: recognising patterns of interconnectness in leadership, learning and life, in, M. Carlton (ed). Exploring our world of interconnectness: in celebration of World Interconnectness Day 2010, Hamilton, NZ: Maruki Books, pp. 22-26.


This chapter discusses the significance of interconnectness to leadership, learning and life in times signified by the convergence of the natural, social and economic worlds and where the principal means of production is knowledge.

Where a common metaphor for the industrial era was the machine, a recurring metaphor for the knowledge era is an ecological one. Metaphors emanate from mindsets appropriate for the times within which they were set. However, the speed of change experienced in the last 50 years has added to the complexity already associated with paradigmatic change leaving us with little space to process it. Within the contexts of globalization and sustainability, as with everyday life, this has allowed archaic patterns of thought, values and culture to linger and intermingle with those appropriate for the world we are now experiencing. The challenge for leadership, learning and life in the 21st century has never been greater.


It’s time to stake a claim that relationship-based intangible attributes like interconnectedness are indeed central to leadership, learning and living harmoniously in the knowledge era. We urgently need to fix problems emanating from using 19th century thinking for 21st century issues. A worldview based on mechanistic, linear and rationalist thinking was fine for a 19th century industrial era but no longer serves the needs of a world where volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity mark the terrain. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) is a consequence of applying old world thinking to 21st century problems. One simple way of shifting this balance is to speak up, speak out and join together. The annual World Day of Interconnectness is a vehicle to do just that.

Personally and collectively we can no longer condone a thinking that sees the world and world events as disparate, unrelated or ‘none of our concern’. We need look no further than the crumbling worldview of the economic rationalist to see that a rational, arms length, profits before all else approach is folly. It’s not working, it’s not healthy, it’s not fair and it’s costing us our planet.

Truth does not cease to exist just because it is being ignored. – John St. Augustine

We have an opportunity, post-GFC, to do things differently. The World Day of Interconnectness reminds us that we can all make a difference, that we all can and should take responsibility for our own actions and to join with others who seek sustainable and humane futures. It’s a reminder that we are of the world as well as in the world and that responsibility rests with all of us to improve the human and environmental condition.

Relationship-based attributes such as interconnectness are vital. Actually, relationships and intangible soft skills have always been important but they haven’t necessarily been privileged in the discourse of leadership or through the lens of globalisation based on neo-liberal/economic rationalist principles that has, up until recently, been the dominant paradigm.

As people become more mindful of their own actions and interactions, an expanded—and in some cases new—sense of interconnectness surfaces as we recognise and take up responsibility for how our actions impact on our lifeworlds. Paradoxically, the seemingly selfish act of spending time and energy reflectively seeking to know who we are often leads to growth—not contraction—of our sense of responsibility to others and the environment, allowing us to see the world as the interconnected whole that it has always been.

A knowledge-intensive era is very different from the industrial era where much of the current globalization, economic and leadership hegemony is drawn. Our world is now a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous place and it is far more fitting to think about harnessing the strength of this ‘messy’ world than to spend our energy trying to tame or order it. This calls for mindsets amenable to working with the ‘mess’ based on, for example, ecology, complex adaptive systems theory or quantum theory, rather than a Newtonian mechanistic and linear mindset grounded in stability that worked for the industrial era.

We are now witnessing a shift towards a third wave of globalisation that can be tracked directly to concerns for the world running deeper than economics, and the realisation that we actually live in a society not an economy. This new wave of globalisation is premised on the joining together of the sustainability (human and ecological) and economic discourses. Previous to this sustainability and the economy were at odds with each other and often in conflict.

The ecological metaphor is also an excellent guide for how we might expand our thinking to lead, learn and live productively in the knowledge era. This metaphor privileges the interconnected nature of our world as well as the deep interdependence between ourselves, the environment and the economy. An ecological model illustrates that there are no ‘externalities’ and that everything—including ecological and humane considerations—is in play and needs to be taken into account when determining economic value, costs, benefits and policies.

In a knowledge-intensive economy leaders have a particular set of literacies to absorb and these are very different to those needed in the command and control doctrine of the industrial era. Leadership literacies for the knowledge era focus on people-centred attributes and encourage leaders to see themselves as teachers, enablers and stewards who encourage commitment and responsibility in themselves and their followers. They also need to tap into intangible qualities like trust, values and commitment. In order to be leadership literate for the knowledge era leaders must develop a deep understanding of themselves and their world. Leaders will have an awareness of and responsibility for the interconnected world of the enterprise to its stakeholders and the environment. Leaders also need to be able to surface underlying values, assumptions and ideologies that are in play in order to understand how leadership practices effect production in a knowledge-intensive economy.

Importantly, an ecological model can also encourage us to think about working with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, rather than against it. Indeed there is a growing interest in combining design science and humane leadership principles based on knowing ourselves well, which in turn expands our notion of interconnectness. An example can be seen in the work of Johansen[1]:

Leaders must learn how to make the future in the midst of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. We need not passively accept the future. Leaders can and must make a better future.

Leaders in the future will need to have vision, understanding, clarity and agility. The negative aspects of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) can be turned around by following these principles:

  • Volatility yields to vision
  • Uncertainty yields to understanding
  • Complexity yields to clarity
  • Ambiguity yields to agility.

As we become more mindful of and take responsibility for our own actions and interactions, an expanded—and in some cases new—sense of interconnectness surfaces. This paradox helps to explain the notion of interrelatedness, this intangible leadership attribute so important for the knowledge era. To comprehend the paradox is to recognize that before we can truly understand our interdependence with others—people and the environment—we must first know ourselves in a way that transcends our own ego and in a way that is not fearful of difference and diversity of viewpoints, as Gandhi reminds us:

You and I are the same thing. I cannot hurt you without harming myself – Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Another connection between a strengthened sense of interconnectness and the benefit of knowing ourselves more clearly is a deeper understanding of our own values. This knowledge helps us in our day to day interactions with our colleagues and our wider communities where virtual and real communities of practice may emerge based on comparable interests and values sets. In addition, our values are a mediator of the messy and unknowable world we experience every day.A


This chapter discussed the significance of interconnectness to leadership, learning and life in an environment signified by the convergence of the natural, social and economic worlds and where the principal means of production is knowledge. It outlined the paradigmatic shifts occurring in society framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability.

It called for recognition of the interdependence and interconnectedness of leadership, learning, and life by seeing the world as the interconnected whole that it has always been. Interconnectness and other relationship- based attributes were discussed and positioned as appropriate leadership literacies for times epitomized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Borrowing from Complex Adaptive Systems theory this chapter also reminds us that there are always many agents acting in parallel—whether we realise this or not—and confirmed the significance of action and activities like the annual World Day of Interconnectness, to our unfolding understanding of our world.

[1] Johansen, R. 2009. Leaders make the future: ten new leadership skills for an uncertain world. San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Heather Davis

Heather is in the final stages of a PhD study identifying appropriate leadership literacies for the knowledge era and testing them in the higher education sector in Australia. The theme of interconnectness resonates very well with her studies and outlook on life. Heather makes good use of Web 2.0 technologies to share her research experiences, including a blog at https://leadershipliteracies.wordpress.com.

This is the second year that Heather has contributed to World Day of Interconnectness activities. Last year she hosted a webinar “Small ‘l’ leadership: taking leadership personally” as part of the Leaders Café Foundation’s contribution of free leadership webinars.

Heather lives in Torquay, Australia, with her partner Philip and has two adult children, Ashleah and Rohan, who live nearby.

Social media and my PhD

Britain Going Blog Crazy - Metro Article

Image by Annie Mole via Flickr

This post was first published as a guest post on thethesiswhisperer, on 31-Aug-10 and was mentioned in this article in The Age on 9-Aug-11.

In this post I want to reflect on the value of using social media and what it might have to offer research students. As a full time PhD student investigating a messy phenomenon in real time–leadership literacies for the knowledge era–I made a conscious decision to be an active learner, to learn by doing and learn by connecting with people as well as through the literature.  I had always been a reflexive practitioner and wanted to also be a reflexive researcher.

The ‘learning by doing’ part began by mapping out conferences where I could present drafts of my work. I wrote abstracts about what I needed to develop arguments for.  I thought that there would be no better way to focus the mind than presenting on that topic in 3 or 6 months time!  Yes, it might be the ‘extreme sport’ end of PhD comportment, but it did work for me.

The risks associated with presenting work that is not ‘perfect’ and still in development have to be considered, but the benefits of receiving timely and valuable feedback really helped me with my work.  The ‘connecting with people’ part occurred at these conferences, where I met theorists in the field (yes they are human beings!) and people with aligned interests.

The ‘connecting with people’ part was also met by the interactions with the social networks I’ve built up using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and to a lesser extent Academia.net.  The sharing of ideas and resources has been a two way thing and even though most of what I’ve learned through these networks will not go into the thesis, they have been invaluable as an action learning tool to pick up on trends, test ideas and to get a feel for what is emerging or fading.  This has helped strengthen the research instrument that is ‘me’.

The reflexive researcher part was taken up with the blog where I have written a lot about my struggles with ‘text work as identity work’ (For more see Kamler and Thomson’s book “Helping Doctoral Students to Write). I started my blog in November 2008, inspired by a  Professor at RMIT,  Brian Corbitt, telling a story about Germaine Greer writing “The Female Eunuch” from her collection of vignettes.

A vignette is a small piece of writing which tries to encapsulate a story or a moment of insight in a stand- alone piece. The beauty of a vignette is you don’t have to try to connect with other ideas.  This is opposite to how one might normally think about a thesis, which is meant to be a long, densely inter-related document. The vignette approach seemed a compelling idea, and one that I reflected on for a few months as I pondered just how I was going to become a writer, specifically how I was going to write A LOT.

I thought that blogging might be the modern day equivalent of Greer’s vignette approach. Brian was quite pleased that he had inspired such endeavours and, in typical professorial fashion, suggested that there could be a paper on ‘blogging as a research method’ in it! I have yet to write that paper, mainly because I don’t feel like I am leading that charge, unlike Lila Efimova whose blog and PhD studies are well documented at Mathemagenic and widely cited.

My blogs were written when I needed to think and reflect and this seemed to be in the period leading up to the confirmation and when designing the research.  I am currently using these blogs–these placeholders of my thoughts–as I draft my thesis chapters.

I remember commenting to my supervisor at one low point that I couldn’t write anything, not even a blog posting.  I was expecting a blast for being a terrible PhD student but reassuringly Sandra mused that perhaps I didn’t have anything to write because the issues, for now, were sorted.  Instead, perhaps, this marked the shift to a new stage of the PhD–a ‘doing the research’ stage, rather than ‘thinking about the research’ stage.  That was indeed an ‘aha’ moment for me and it is true that I didn’t feel the need to write many postings while I was ‘doing the research’ but now that I am back into writing and analysing I think that the need to blog will be more frequent.

A blog can be an archive of reflections about what it means to do a PhD. It can be a placeholder for the vignettes that build to become arguments in the thesis and, unlike a personal journal, the thoughts and arguments are open for scrutiny and feedback.

Blogs about the PhD journey–like thethesiswhisperer and by individuals–remove the veils of mystique that mask the hard work.  It shows us the ‘invisible work’ which never makes it into ink in the final thesis document.  A blog does not a PhD make, but a blog can help develop the necessary confidence to become ‘writerly’ which is necessary to tackle the thesis itself.

On writing…or trying to…

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writin...

St. Augustine writing, revising, and re-writing. Image via Wikipedia

I’ve had another period of writer’s block, and,  as before it has preceded yet another aha moment.  This time to do with the design of my study.  No matter what the reason, or when it occurs within any writing project, it’s a difficult time.  I was prompted to write this post as a response to Ailsa’s lament on the very subject “Some writing got wrought, and I’m now right on track“.  In many ways though, it is a note to self…

>>Lovely post Ailsa. You’re not alone in this wrestling match with self to transfer the thinking we do in our heads into a written text that may or may not ever be read!!

It’s easy to become defensive in the face of expectations of others, like the examiners and those within the discourses we are writing to, as these invisible voices do take on mythic proportions at times. But I think it’s our own expectations that are at the heart of this struggle.

The struggle to write is understandable when we remind ourselves that we’re not simply transcribing, the very act of writing is an act of thinking out loud. For me, it is the ultimate sense making activity.  Because of this, the struggle for me is not reserved for the final writing stage of the thesis (where you are just now) but has been with me since the beginning. I wrote a blog post about this upon reflection of my confirmation.

One thing that helps me when I get too close to it all, is to remember the wise words from a Winter School some time ago. It was either Brian or Andy who reminded us that “It’s not about being interesting, it’s all about being interested!!”

Put another way (thanks Viv) sometimes in order to write we just need to “put down our clever and pick up our ordinary”.

As well as writing I’m also thinking about analysing my data so I’m looking at lots of ways to represent data visually at the moment.  Here is a word cloud about this blog, via Manyeyes.

word cloud

Other-Centredness and kindred mindful approaches to leadership in an emerging world

Pedagogical Creed

Image by technovore via Flickr

Please forgive me, it has been several months since my last confession–oh…I mean posting!!  There are quite a few reasons for this ranging from writer’s block, to shifting into the ‘doing’ part of my research, and as my supervisor pointed out to me–that I am moving from one stage of my research to another and perhaps I don’t have such a need for the writing-as-thinking outlet.

The blog has been instrumental to the conceptual stage of my research, both as the writing-as-thinking platform and a way to share my learnings and in many cases un-learnings with my peers.  As a practictioner-researcher, this sharing of information and the opportunity to receive feedback has been an important part of my personal research journey.

As I enter into the data collection stage this blog might be rather quiet, but no doubt when I get into the analysis stage it will re-emerge as I wrestle with and make sense of my thoughts and the data.

Today then is quite an important marker in my PhD journey as my data collection has officially begun, and I’ve just received notification that an abstract has been accepted for a conference next February, see the following abstract.

Until next time….


Connecting via the blogosphere…

This post is a reflection on two of views from cyberspace that have have resonated with me over the last week …

1. Public Displays of Humanity (PDH)

I’ve recently connected with the work of LeadCap who are striving to develop 1 million leaders in India.  LeadCap’s founder is Sangeeth Varghese who is a regular blogger with Forbes Magazine.  In his most recent blog he talks about “the magic potion of hard power mixed with soft emotion” and gives examples of what perhaps can best be described as PDHs (public displays of humanity) by American presidents…He received mix reactions to this post but it resonated very much with my own work.

Here is my comment to Sangeeth’s blog:

I really like this post and it resonates so well with my own work and research too. It seems on balance that people who appreciate that other-centredness, relationships and ‘soft’ skills are so important now are the same people who have a worldview that is relevant for the knowledge era. Those who do not are generally deriving their values and worldview from the archaic industrial era.

One of the reasons I’m calling my work and research ‘leadership literacies’ is because I’ve come to realize that language (and in particular metaphors) is an important way to surface people’s underlying (and often unexamined) values. I also think that some translation is needed between the two worldviews, just as much as translation between foreign languages. Your example is a great case in point in that the gestures you have described by these two Presidents could be construed as ‘weak’ or ‘strong’ depending on the underlying worldview.

Perhaps this is our role–that of translators between the two worldviews. I am not in favor of oppositional language because I don’t think the planet has the luxury of waiting, we need to be bringing together these worldviews and all working together on the bigger issues.

I’ve written about oppositional language etc in a paper I’m giving at the Thinking Conference in Malaysia in May. The last para of the conclusion is relevant to your post?

It was also argued that oppositional language and the pitting of one deeply held worldview against another will not lead to resolving the underlying problems of the world or the workplace. Rather, space for conversations to surface underlying assumptions is required in order to find ways of integrating our economic and social systems in every layer of society, including the workplace. Perkins’s language of peace metaphor confirms that that there are always other lenses to view the world through, not just the one that hegemony prefers and privileges.

I’ve also talked more about this particular paper for the Thinking Conference on this recent post.

2.  The Art of Elegant Writing

Becoming a writer is an ongoing struggle for me and so blogging has become a visible and public action learning strategy to help me work through both the the craft of writing and the “text work is identity work” consequences of the PhD process.   Blogging helps me to think out loud and to archive the many threads that I’ll be calling on in the formal writing of my PhD.  

I’ve got such a long way to go to my goal of writing an ‘elegant’ thesis because I can’t even write an elegant blog post yet!!  Leo Babauta’s recent post on “the elegant art of writing less” was very much appreciated even though I’ll never become a ‘blogging ninja’!

Ask Seth Godin, the master of the short post. His ideas spread widely and rapidly, because he makes a point, and then gets out. He’s a blogging ninja.

Thanks Leo for your short and elegant post recommending that we:

1. Know your core message. State it in 4-5 words before writing. It’s probably your headline.

2. Write with the reader in mind. You can be extremely minimalist by writing something with just one or two words. But how useful is that to the reader? Be sure you’re meeting the reader’s needs, not just being brief.

3. Get to the point. Don’t waste time with a lengthy introduction — readers will skip it anyway. Get to the core message, right in the first sentence. Stay on that point, and finish it.

4. Edit ruthlessly. Go back over your writing, edit out needless ideas, sentences, words. Make sentences more compact. Then do it again, until you’re sure every word counts.

“Five languages of peace” in the workplace

Troubling invisible barriers to better futures:  surfacing the “five languages of war” in the workplace (a paper for the 14th International Conference on Thinking, Malaysia, June 2009)

I have just finished writing a paper for the ICOT-09, based on Prof David Perkins “Five Languages of War”, a presentation he gave at the 13th International Conference on Thinking in Sweden in 2007.  My paper uses the languages of war metaphor to trouble the hegemony of industrial era thinking and economic rationalism in play in the workplace today.

However, it is actually Perkin’s “five languages of peace” framework that is more appropriate for the contemporary times we are witnessing. Perkins (2007) too prefers his five languages of peace framework which is based on an inclusive meaning system:
1. The language of mutual benefits and respect
(rather than the language of gain and God)
2. The language of checks and balances
(rather than the language of dominance and resistance)
3. The language of equitable justice
(rather than the language of good and evil)
4. The language of human rights
(rather than the language of regrettable necessity)
5. The language of multiple identities
(rather than the language of zealous allegiance)

Perkins (2003) describes the benefits of a more inclusive and leaderful space befitting a knowledge-intensive era:

How smart an organization or community is reflects the kinds of conversations that people have with one another, taking conversations in a broad sense to include all sorts of interactions. Without these conversations, you just have a bunch of people doing things in parallel (Perkins, 2003 p. 14).

The five languages of peace framework fits very well within a knowledge era worldview because a dominant metaphor used to describe the knowledge-era is an ecological one which closely aligns with this peace metaphor (see for example Jaworski, 1998; Senge & Carstedt, 2001; Snowden, 2002; Staron, et al., 2006; Hames, 2007; Turnbull, 2009).  The ecology metaphor has deep resonance with the complexities, ambiguities and speed of change today and encapsulates both the familiar and the complex. It evokes both the familiar, i.e. organic, sustainable, holistic, interconnected, diverse, adaptive and living, and the complex, i.e. self-organising, emergent, variant, chaotic, unpredictable, interrelated and resilient.

Hames (2007) asserts that the knowledge era calls for a different worldview than the ones that served us in the past. In a knowledge-intensive economy leaders have a different set of literacies to absorb and develop which are very different to the command and control doctrine of the machine-age industrial era:

Cartesian approaches to organisational development and the leadership of change were predicated on the assumption that it was possible to predict, design and control reality. Network science unlocks us from such deceits, letting us see the world as a living system of dynamic flows and interconnections rather than a banal clockwork mechanism…The incessant, chaotic, essentially unknowable, interaction of all individual components ensures that living systems are in a constant process of renewal—and emergence (Hames, 2007 p. 55).

The languages of peace and ecological metaphors are devices that can trouble hegemonic practice because they encourage conversations that are not narrowly defined by the worldview of economic rationalism. These metaphors accept that concerns for the world run deeper than economic ones, that we in fact “live in a society not an economy*” and that oppositional language will not solve the problems of an uncertain world already dealing with flux and complexity.

Perhaps it is the growing interest in the intersections between sustainability and the economy that will prove to be THE indicator that a shift to a post-capitalist paradigm has occurred? These topics in combination are emerging in the literature (Senge & Carstedt, 2001; Bragdon, 2006; Davis, 2008; Mirchandani & Ikerd, 2008; Senge, 2008).

Oppositional language and pitting one deeply held worldview against another will not solve the underlying problems of the world or the workplace. Space for conversations between factions to find ways of integrating our economic and social systems in every layer of society, including the workplace, is urgently required. The issues of accountability, for example, can no longer be conscripted to be read within the narrow bounds of performativity because “generally accepted accounting principles that favour nonliving assets over living assets are blind to the bottlenecks forming within the global economy and mislead corporations into self destructive behaviour” (Bragdon, 2006 p. 149). Rather, good governance relates to financial, social and environmental concerns as Edwards makes stridently clear (2002):

There can be conflict between our national culture and our economic system. We can be confronted with two conflicting ideas of how the world is, how we should relate to people and what we should be trying to achieve. In fact, we should see the economic and social as two intertwined parts of a single cultural system. If the two are in conflict, the system is not coherent and the community is thrown into a state of distress…Governments, employers and family don’t make the choices we think they should. It breeds distrust, disillusionment, insecurity and fear…
It is a manifestation of this much larger task of reuniting our economic and social systems…The reasons for arguing with economic rationalists goes well beyond taking them down a peg. The first step in reintegrating our economic and social systems is to have a way of talking about them. We have to have a single framework that encompasses both sets of issues (Edwards, 2002 pp 152-53).

It is clear that the discourse of economic rationalism is still the dominant discourse in the workplace and that leaders and workers have been conscripted to perform within the tight bounds of this hegemony. This is despite the paradigmatic shifts occurring in society framed by the interrelationships between knowledge production as the main driver of growth and wealth creation, globalisation and deepening concerns about our world’s environmental sustainability.

I argue that oppositional language and the pitting of one deeply held worldview against another will not lead to resolving the underlying problems of the world or the workplace.  Rather, space for conversations to surface underlying assumptions is required in order to find ways of integrating our economic and social systems in every layer of society, including the workplace.  Perkins’s language of peace metaphor confirms that that there are always other lenses to view the world through, not just the one that hegemony prefers and privileges.  It also provides the framework to begin this important work.

*Eva Cox

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Davis, H. (2008). Golden capital, Living Asset Stewardship and kindred intangible assets: Can we measure up? International Journal of Knowledge, Culture and Change Management, 8(1), pp. 137 – 146.
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Senge, P. M., & Carstedt, G. (2001). Innovating Our Way to the Next Industrial Revolution. MIT Sloan Management Review, 42(2), pp. 24 – 38.
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