BAFTA entrance It was Norma Desmond who uttered the immortal line “I’m ready for my close-up”, in the timeless classic Sunset Boulevard. With two days to go, we’re mightily glad – and not a little relieved – that our own close-up role at BAFTA this Friday (30 September) will take place in altogether brighter circumstances – and that we are not just ready but brimming with positive anticipation.

A jointly hosted event with MDA Consulting (with whom we recently announced our strategic alliance), we will be greeting 140 guests from some of the world’s leading blue-chip organisations at our Talent Management Breakfast Briefing. The morning’s programme includes presentations on the success of ASK talent management and OD projects by representatives from Invesco and the National Audit Office, as well as break-out sessions on a range of key organisation and personal development topics:

  • Talent Management
  • Executive Coaching
  • tASK (ASK’s unique business simulation methodology)
  • Learning Transfer and Application
  • Executive Assessment
  • Change.

The event is already fully subscribed (so much so that we are operating a waiting list), but please contact us if you would like to know more about our work in any of these areas or to attend any of our future events. We’ll also be publishing a report on the event next week: why not subscribe to our blog by email (see the link in the right-hand column) to be among the first to read more?

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There’s been quite a lively debate at Business Week, where two contributors – and a long list of commenters – indulged in some weighty mutual executive briefcasing (handbagging just didn’t sound right) in response to the question: “Multi-dimensional organisational design (Matrix) is the best way to restructure a business. Pro or con?”

In the Pro corner, Jay Galbraith argues for the value, inherent merit and – in today’s trading environment – the inevitability of the victory of a collaborative approach over a command and control variety. In the Con corner, Guido Quelle sees matrix organisations as painfully slow, lacking clarity and clear lines of responsibility. Verbal bruisings have been administered and received on both sides but there’s been no knock-out punch: anyone hoping to see the late, grand old man, Peter Drucker holding the limp wrist of one argument aloft and counting to ten would be disappointed.

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A while ago, on a bulletin board that can remain nameless (to protect posters’ identities, and as its actual digital whereabouts is irrelevant to my point), someone started a thread that commented on their rootless, international upbringing and asked the simple question “Where do you call home?”

The answers were intriguing. Although some were geographic or family based (ie home is where yougrew up or where your parents live, if they still do), many were not and explored what we mean by ‘home’ – not the same word, or the same associations, as ‘heritage’. Some responses mixed the two, for example:

Aberystwyth, on the Welsh coast, where I lived for five years as a student and lecturer and whose faded Victorian beauty, rugged surroundings and adorable people make me feel instantly secure and integrated the second I go back, which I do at least four or five times a year.”

Others were far more concerned with what ‘feeling at home’ actually feels like and the different ways we can experience it:

  • Wherever i feel safe and comfortable.
  • Anywhere that contains George, some plants I have grown and a pile of books could be home.
  • There used to be an old Goth/Alternative club […] where I worshipped weekly back from the early till the mid-nineties. Until now I’d forgotten just how safe and happy I felt there with all the sights, sounds and of course the lovely people within. It’s a place that helped shape my formative character just as I was part of what shaped its. It was home and I miss it.
  • […] Which, presumably, is why we refer to favourite bars, clubs, cafes and the like as ‘homely’ – we don’t really mean ‘domestic’, we mean ‘comfortable’ in the truest sense: places we feel like we belong. It can even be somewhere you’d never been before – I’m thinking of a tapas bar in Perpignan and a now long gone art gallery in Leicester. Home is a connection we feel through more than just our feet.

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I’ve always had a soft spot for the work of Adam Curtis, historian and film-maker. His BAFTA for The Power of Nightmares seemed richly deserved – it was a compelling piece of film-making arguing that Islamism and Neoconservatism not only needed each other – ie having a bogeyman to contest is a short route to credibility – but had more in common than they’d care to admit: both at least partially achieved power by promising to protect us from the spectres they promoted. His work is characterised by rich webs of connection and lateral leaps: it always reminds me, rightly or wrongly, of the conception sequence in Amelie, although the plot is invariably a little darker.

But this time around, with his three-part film All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (the third is shown next Monday), his penchant for yoking together Big Themes seems to have got a little tangled somewhere in the Big Sewing Machine of Metaphor. Watchable, as ever, but in a more baffling way than usual, he sought to demonstrate links between the Objectivism of Ayn Rand, the cybernetic thinking of Jay Forrester, and the influence of these trains of thought to explain the financial crash and the oligarchy nature of Western democracies. These trains of thought made many an intervening stop too: Buckminster Fuller, the Californian communes of the 1960s and 70s, and the initial ecological concept of eco-systems as naturally self-balancing. (If you’ve not watched episodes 1 or 2 yet, be warned this synopsis leaves out an awful lot more.)

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Sorry for the rather un-festive title, but it’s triggered by reading a fascinating article at Harvard Business Review’s blog – Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines. It seems our sense of mortality is built on three pillars – consistency, standards of justice and culture – that the authors (James R Bailey and Jonathan Raelin) describe as existential buffers. The authors cite examples of actions that can undermine each of these, but the essential message – change knocks away one or more of those pillars and reminds us that all things (including, most importantly, our self and our sense of self) are transitory. Change is therefore perceived as threatening, and it is understandable that we therefore respond with ‘fight or flight’.

It’s a story of investment, in an emotional and psychological sense. Aware of our own mortality, we play down our own fears by using culture (in the broadest sense) to give us a sense of meaning, organisation and continuity, and to create feelings of belonging, security and self-esteem. Provided, of course, that we engage with and buy into the cultural values and standards in question. (And even those who see themselves as ‘outsiders’ have a perceived sense of something that they are outside: you can’t be outside something you don’t see as being there.)

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I emailed my real friends, but they were busy or washing their hair, so my partner and I queued behind a thousand teens blackberrying intently while they waited to buy tickets for Vampires Suck and Paranormal Activity 2. Despite having gone to the cinema with people, everyone around us was talking to someone who wasn’t there. Eventually, and appropriately, we waded through the fast food wrappers to see The Social Network, the story of Facebook. Or more accurately, mostly the story of the lawsuits that later erupted around those at Harvard during the time that ‘thefacebook.com’ first debuted and the rather messy years that followed.

Much has been made in comments on the film of the irony of a social network whose driving force is a man portrayed as so lacking in the social graces that lubricate and enable friendship. As much as been made of the film’s suggestion that Facebook was a response to getting dumped in a bar by an erstwhile girlfriend. (She gets the film’s best line in the process), with Mark Zuckerberg, the central figure, denying it while other websites dig a little deeper into what may or may not be the truth behind what actually happened. So this posting is a reaction to watching a film that may or may not be exactly what happened in Harvard and in California in 2004 – 6: that the film itself suggests that truth is a highly interpretable abstract concept is a comment worth slipping in at this point.

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Change is, at the clichés of the zeitgeist run, now a constant of organisational and individual working life. On top of market globalisation, technological advance, downsizing, rationalisation, business re-engineering, merger and acquisition, the public sector in the UK is now to face the kind of cuts that, for once, deserve the use of capital letters on the words Very Significant. Arguing about the requirement for them, or attempting to discern the assumptions and reasons for the choices that the Government will make will not change their impact: the motivations of the axe-wielder make little difference to the results of the blade’s impact.

There will, undoubtedly, be pain. Many of the howls of anguish will be real, rather than mere disagreement from those who are less directly affected. But managers and HR functions in the public sector (and in private sector companies dependant on income from public sector contracts) need to focus not on the vocal symptoms, but on repairing the damage and remodelling the future. This week will mark the change from a situation on not knowing what’s coming and asking ‘what are we going to do?’ to a situation of knowing what’s coming and doing it.

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