Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Enterprise, Pam Seanor recently hosted a workshop for NMI, a payment solution company, in Lego ® Serious Play®. Read her account below:
Written by Pam Seanor
Between practice and theorising
Serious-playing with Jayne Purcell, Service designer, we facilitated a day workshop with NMI – “You’ve probably used NMI’s software when booking a train ticket, paying for parking, ordering a burger or most recently making a contactless charity donation, without realising it! NMI develops the most trusted payment software for mobile, online, and in-store payments that is relied on and used by millions of people worldwide, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year” ( https://bristolcalling.com/company/nmi/ ).
As such, the organisation has explicit creative processes and outputs that come together worked on by differing teams. Further, NMI have recently been engaged in a merger and are now part of global organisation with offices in Chicago, IL, New York, NY and Salt Lake City, UT. The Bristol office wanted to try out LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® with the intention to come together over their working within a changing work culture, how they work and how they are going forward as the organisation grows.
We created a space to exchange ideas and develop awareness of differing perspectives and complex themes that encompass social aspects of group practices and activities aiming to reach out to the members of the organisation (Nicolini & Monteiro 2017). Based this encounter, we address the following applying a practice-based approach to entrepreneurship (Nicolini 2012) in part using Lego bricks to play seriously and in part to reveal collective critical reflection.
LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) is a process underpinned by theorizing and
there is increased interest of how academics are using it and more widely
serious play with a purpose (Statler et al. 2011). For instance, Gauntlett
(2015) stated “it is a playful method of differing applications to help
gain insights in to personal and collective understanding of a problem as well
as imagine possible futures”. The process has common ground rules/ etiquette: posing
the question – the purpose of the workshop; constructing models; sharing and
listening to others; reflecting (White paper on LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® 2013). Both Jayne and I are trained LEGO® SERIOUS
PLAY® facilitators. Where Jayne has been a Certified facilitator for a decade, I became an LSP facilitator in January. We have been
collaborating to devise skills workshops and structured tasks and prompts for
learning ePortfolios in my enterprise & entrepreneurship modules with
undergraduates – so I had been practicing playing with Lego with large numbers
of students. Even so,
it was a little daunting taking a low-tech tool like Lego to a creative/high
tech organization, including members of the Chicago office who travelled over.
And, as a critical researcher I want to
speak to how challenge is a central part an LSP workshop. Statler et al. (2011)
noted the paradox of serious play as a process of working through paradoxes
rather than removing all tensions and contradictions that arise in everyday
work practices. On the one hand, I am really interested in working with
organization to create “other” spaces for play (Hjorth 2004), on the other hand
I am hesitant to promote play as an outcome similar to how organizations like
Google seem to be using it managerially to keep people at work to be more
productive (Ashton & Giddings 2018). However, as a facilitator, my role is
not to intervene, nor to promise participants specific organizational outcomes
from the workshop.
It was not possible for all members of NMI to take part; the workshop was 5 groups of 10 participants at each table. These groups were arranged by a member of the NMI team as they often work together on projects in the organisation.
The workshop offered an opportunity to engage in play activities that they would not normally do in work and differing types of social encounters (e.g. to the worst holiday model build we had one participant share a poem of this family holiday – An ode to a dead cat).
We had initially intended to move members of teams around during the day; however, we felt some flexibility was needed and discussed this with the organiser and chose to keep within teams to better draw people out. After the morning practising how to play the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® way, the afternoon was focused on play and “the spirit in which we do what we do, the feel of the team”.
Taking care not to include any people in these images, photographs were taken of models metaphorically representing some of the real-world concerns about working at NMI. The focus is the model. Each post-it note is a few words to describe the key point of their model. Prior to the photos being taken by one of the members of the NMI team, permission was asked to use them in this blog.
Anyone not wishing to be included was asked to speak with one of us as facilitators. And, the draft of this blog was sent for approval prior to circulating. In the spirit of participants telling their own stories, rather than me as a researcher crafting the narrative, the following are examples of differing metaphors to represent their ideas.
Before, I want to highlight that we offered a day for the workshop 9.30AM – 4PM to give participants the opportunity to get used to playing and to play. Even with this time, we could not cover all that we hoped, and we agreed with the organiser that this was a useful starting point from which he could take forward ideas emerging.
WELCOME – A model of feeling welcomed – a few participants newly joined the team – of the team engaged in their open plan office and sitting with their computer screens in front of them and of taking the time to be welcoming.
BRISTOL FOOD & DRINK – This model depicts the area near the office. The location is in the harbourside reflected with the bridge and one of the harbourside cranes created to show the value of being able to go out for coffee/lunch in these areas and of the value of regularly seeing sea birds (and of socialising after work).
COMPASSION – this model holds 2 key metaphors, the rainbow towers and the ladder above as bridging together the organisation. This also reflected other models that were of diversity and balance and valuing members of the team – here represented by many mini figures.
KNOWLEDGE & WISDOM – A concern of change for one was nurturing and maintaining the knowledge and wisdom shared by people who have long worked in the organisation represented by this tower/library build.
At the end of the afternoon, every shared model was placed and presented first one, then the next, and then next, on an empty table and briefly explained by a member of the team creating it. All participants were asked to gather round the table, to listen and once every model had been presented to have a look round. This process was to allow space for all ideas to be heard. These models can be seen in the link, motion image of the shared models created by all of the teams.
Learning -awareness- collective reflecting
and Tuckermann (2019) noted “Although scholars have begun theorising the social
notion of collective reflection in organisations, empirical studies
illustrating these often-neat theoretical conceptualisations are still rare”. Through
the use of Lego, as above, a few common themes were raised and heard – one of
the members of the Chicago office commented that she had no idea people felt
these ways. Feedback after the workshop was generally positive (NMI created a
quick and dirty survey to capture participant views).
did not assume that collective reflecting would only occur on the day. Instead,
that it would be ongoing to improve organizing at NMI. Rather than my words, I
offer an email from one of the management team who organized the day of
listening to the messages from the day and reflecting afterwards –
As such, NMI are not only seeking new location and also creating “other spaces” for play. Too, we are discussing the possibility of further serious play sessions for other members of the organisation. One aspect that somehow escaped mention in planning conversations and a meeting before the workshop was of the intended move of the office location. In hindsight we might have built more in to the intention of the day in this seemingly contradictory objective of a move and of the challenge of creating an “other” space.
This blog has been written to grapple with the paradox that Matt Statler and his colleagues speak of in serious play that might bridge between theory and practice and to provide a point of contact for future research of how we might make the challenges in theorising of serious play and collective reflection more useful for practitioners, and what we as academics might learn from practitioners. If you are interested in discussing these ideas of how serious play might contribute to critical approaches to organisation studies and/or creativity throughout the organisation to address challenges as part of the stream of entrepreneurship as practice, please contact Pam Seanor – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Nigel and Emily for the use
of his photographs and for inviting us to work with you and members of the team
at NMI Bristol.
Senior Lecturer in Organisation Studies, Dr Jenna Pandeli was invited to take part in a panel discussion on the BBC world service podcast ‘In The Balance’.
Alongside Nila Bala and Chandra Bozelko, both prison reform advocates from the US, they discuss global prison labour and its exploitative potential as well as offering potential solutions to develop prison labour into something that is rehabilitative and better for society.
On Tuesday 25 June Bristol Business School hosted the ‘Unlocking Performance through Employee Engagement Conference’ in collaboration with Engage for Success, CITB and ILM. This was the first Engage for Success conference hosted outside of London, and it was fantastic to hold it here at UWE Bristol welcoming over 170 external delegates to the Business School.
The main theme of the event was around harnessing the skills of people and resources to reach new levels of engagement to boost productivity and save costs. There was also a focus on creating and sustaining employee engagement during challenging times, and with limited budgets, as often experienced by SMEs.
The event was chaired by Dr. Gareth Edwards, Associate Professor of Leadership Development at UWE Bristol, whilst Noordin Shehabuddeen, Director of Bristol Business Engagement Centre at UWE Bristol, welcomed the delegates, who came from a variety of professions from within the South West including the construction industry, accounting and finance, and local government.
The conference was treated to some excellent keynote speakers focusing on the necessity for employee engagement now more than ever, to case studies from baby food manufacturer Ella’s Kitchen to Wilmott Dixon, a local construction company, who were recently ranked the 4th Best Company to work for by the Sunday Times.
There then followed a series of interactive workshops led by invited guests who are also ambassadors for Engage for Success, and a rather intriguing energiser event led by the Creator of Joy at Inspire me, who was able to create a credible rock choral version of ‘Aint No Mountain High Enough’ in just 20 mins – definitely an occasion which you had to be part of to actually believe.
The event concluded with a keynote address from Andrew Sandiford, Managing Partner of local accountancy firm Bishop Fleming, followed by a panel discussion to answer questions submitted by the delegates throughout the day. It was evident that employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility, and many of the questions centered on how to do this if given little or no budget, as well as strategies as to how to gain support from the cynics and buy-in from senior management. Support was certainly gained by everyone present, and we were delighted to have hosted such a fantastic event.
We are delighted to announce that we will be hosting a Research Symposium event on Thursday 6 June 2019. This afternoon research event will take place before our evening Professorial Lecture with Steve Kempster.
Thursday 6 June 2019, 14:00-17:00 Bristol Business School, UWE Bristol
In the face of environmental, social,
political and economic change organisations are coming under increasing
pressure to demonstrate responsible and inclusive leadership that makes a
lasting, positive impact to the lives of the communities they engage with.
Whilst such principles are now well accepted in both policy and practice the
continuing prevalence of discrimination, inequality and unethical practice,
combined with a loss of trust and a growing sense of disengagement and
disillusionment across significant parts of the population, suggest that
implementing such an approach is not so straightforward.
This event, organised by Bristol Leadership and Change Centre in collaboration with the Centre for Responsible Management at the University of Winchester, opens
up a space for discussion and reflection around the paradoxes and possibilities
of responsible and inclusive leadership, drawing on the latest theory and
research in this field. The event is designed for academics, students,
consultants and practitioners interested in and/or responsible for the
management of people and organisations. It may be particularly beneficial for
those working with or towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and/or with
the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME), as well as those
with a responsibility for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (ED&I) and mobilising
will be hosted at Bristol Business School, UWE, Bristol and will be followed by
a Distinguished Professorial Lecture by Professor Steve Kempster. Both events are free to attend
although registration is required in order to reserve a place.
The Responsible Management and Leadership Paradox: An interactive
Dr Simon M Smith Department of Responsible Management and Leadership, University of Winchester
This interactive session is designed
to explore and discuss the day-to-day realities faced with delivering
responsible management and leadership. This will be presented as a number of
paradoxical situations that we address within the world of business and will
lead into a rich and diverse set of discussions around responsible management
There will be a short introduction to
outline the conceptual paradox theory of ‘Organizational Ambidexterity’ applied
to the responsible management and leadership context. No experience with this academic
construct is needed. A number of situations are then provided to all
participants to instigate a discussion of how these situations are dealt with
on the frontline. As well as increasing our understanding of these paradoxical
realities, it is hoped that we will inspire how to tackle such situations
through shared practice.
Learning from Lived
Experience: Opportunities and Challenges for mobilising lasting change on
leadership and inclusion in the NHS
Recent years have seen increasing emphasis on
the need for collective, compassionate and inclusive leadership in UK public
services. The National Health Service (NHS) constitution in particular places a
legal and moral requirement to address inequality in all that it does. Despite an espoused commitment to equality,
diversity and inclusion, however, and a series of associated policy and
practice initiatives, inequality gaps continue to increase, compounded by
successive neo-liberal policy agendas that have contributed to a growing
financial deficit, constant political and systemic interventions, increasing
fragmentation and conflicting accountabilities.
A recent initiative from the NHS Leadership
Academy – Building Leadership for Inclusion – intervenes at both an individual
and systems level. Engaging meaningfully with ‘lived experience’, it aims to
foster inclusive leadership and hasten the speed of change, a commitment
reiterated in the NHS Long-Term Plan
to “do more to develop
and embed cultures of compassion, inclusion, and collaboration across the NHS” (NHS England, 2019: 89). Whilst a more
abstract concept than ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’, ‘inclusion’, with its
emphasis on perceptions and experience (rather than objectively measurable
criteria) highlights the cultural-cognitive
dimensions of change. In so doing, we suggest, it offers the potential to
address systemic causes, rather than surface-level symptoms, and to support the
complex, messy, emotional and politicised work of mobilising large-scale
In this session, we will share findings from
our action research and evaluation on this initiative, including enablers and
barriers to change. We will also invite
participants to reflect on their own lived experience of inclusive and
non-inclusive leadership and the challenges of mobilising lasting change on
How to attend
If you would like to attend this research symposium please register your details online: Click here to register
If you would also like to attend the evening Professorial address with Steve Kempster (please see below for details) you will need to register separately for this event.
Professorial Lecture Series: Professor Steve Kempster
What are the Responsibilities of Business Leadership: Generating good dividends?
The talk will focus on Steve’s new book (with Thomas Maak and
Ken Parry) out in February 2019 that explores the role of leadership in making
manifest societal purpose to everyday business activity – how business value
and social impact can be aligned and realised. Too little attention in
leadership is focused on the responsibilities and activities of those who lead.
Steve will seek to answer the question ‘leadership for what?’ He will outline an answer through focusing on responsible leadership of purpose through an interdisciplinary perspective. Responsible leadership moves the axis of leadership from leader – followers to leader – stakeholders; away from looking at leadership as person-centric – the qualities, abilities, and effectiveness of the leader – to a focus on the purposes, responsibilities, and activities of leadership. For further details and to register please visit our event page.
“Economic Clusters and Globalization: Diversity and Resilience“, edited by our Dr Berrbizne Urzelai and Francisco Puig, shows that in today’s globalized world, clusters are an important factor in explaining the different growth rates of firms, cities and regions. Drawing on the expertise of an international contributor team, it covers topics such as clusters and small and medium-sized enterprise competitiveness, innovation and science parks, clusters and multinationals, and information and communication technology clusters. It reveals great diversity in terms of the origin of clusters, the organizational relationships at play, and the characteristics of the firms involved. Taking lessons from a rich variety of literature and empirical cases, the book provides valuable insights for regional development and industrial policy.
We are delighted to share with you the Bristol
Leadership and Change Centre Annual Review 2018-19.
This annual review has been compiled to give
an insight into some of the key projects we have been involved in over the past
12 months, as well as new and emerging initiatives. Find out more about
the events we run here at UWE Bristol Business School, some exciting
conferences taking place later this year and our latest publications.
As ever, there is always much more that could be said but hopefully this will encourage you to find out more.
Applied research and external engagement
Leadership and followership in a complex and changing world
Building Leadership for Inclusion
The Transforming Construction Working Group (TCWG)
Cultures of leading and organising
Assembling life in the Borderlands
Post Occupancy Evaluation of the Bristol Business School Building
Behaviour change and social influence
‘Revaluating’ Physical Activity in Schools
Taking forward Wheels, Skills and Thrills
End of life care and advanced care planning
Leadership and organisational learning and development
Empowering entrepreneurship of prisoners
Organization Development for Malaria Elimination
The Bristol Leadership Challenge
Leadership for Improving Frontline Talent
Teaching and Learning
Leadership and management courses
Leadership and Management Degree Apprenticeships
Seminars and events
Developing Leadership Capacity Conference
Becoming enterprising: a collaborative workshop
Coming up in June 2019- Unlocking Performance through Employee Engagement
The 18th International Studying Leadership Conference- December 2019
Studying Leadership -Traditional and Critical Approaches (Second edition)
In contemporary tumultuous societal landscapes, some commentators claim that answers for problems are located in heroic individuals, whereas others take a more holistic approach and call for an understanding of context, culture and place in leadership practice. Only through understanding the relationship between leadership and the environment, they argue, will we be able to develop more effective and sustainable forms in the future; forms that are responsive, flexible and sensitive to change. We will define the concept of place in due course, but before note that researchers and scholars interested in studying place and leadership share some common similarities.
Most significantly, they challenge the notion that leadership is the sole responsibility of one individual who acts as if in a context-free vacuum. That is, mainstream approaches to leadership tend to valorise the quest for locating a ‘magic recipe’ of leadership attributes that can be farmed out to any individual to allow them to become effective in any situation. Very little attention is paid to other factors outside of the individual that may impact on success, largely because the ideal-type leader is seen to be so omniscient and omnipresent that place is deemed irrelevant. Despite the continued popularity of this simplistic approach (as evidenced in contemporary airport texts and ‘how-to’ guides), scholars from a diverse range of backgrounds take issue with the a-contextual nature, claiming it to be overly prescriptive (Graeff, 1983), to represent a North American bias (House, 1995) and to fail in capturing the nuanced and fundamentally idiosyncratic character of day-to-day leadership practice (Sutherland et al, 2014). They fail to ask questions such as: Why does leadership style vary from place-to-place? Why do certain leaders work well in some contexts and not in others? Why has the magic recipe of leadership not yet been found, in almost 100 years of formal leadership research?
We propose that focussing efforts primarily on individual leaders is problematic and reductionist. Instead, concentrating on the relationship between leadership and place can offer a deeper and more representative account of how leadership activity occurs. In some cases this may involve investigating how place influences leadership (e.g. how leaders have to conform to particular societal codes) and in others it may note how leadership influences place (e.g. the part that leaders play in shaping organisations and subordinates). Whilst we are reluctant to concretely define what we consider the concept of ‘place’ to encompass, there are some broad strokes we can draw at this stage, and would encourage those interested to submit work centered around the following questions: What is place? What aspects of it are important to consider for leadership practice?
What is place? What aspects of it are important to consider for leadership practice?
Geographical place. Scholars interested in ‘Worldly Leadership’ have long spoken about the importance of considering national culture and context on leadership practice, noting that for too long leadership studies has assumed a predominantly Western slant. Rather, geographical place bears influence over possibilities and constraints for doing leadership, and gives rise to a variety of different forms.
Societal values & beliefs. Leading on from the former point, within issues of geographical location come the associated values, beliefs and ethical assumptions. Indeed, if we view these as inherently socially constructed, it seems clear that there can be no overarching way of defining what ‘good’ leadership is constituted by. Rather, we must develop approaches that acknowledge the importance of local constructs.
Organisational culture and space. Moving beyond the macro level, consideration must also be paid to the organisational environments in which leadership happens. In what ways do leaders influence culture? In what ways are they influenced by existing cultures? What influence does the layout of space have on the day-to-day experience of doing leadership?
Structure, power & politics. The imagined structure of organisations and enmeshed power relations also constitute a part of place. Attention must therefore be paid to existing social relationships, roles and responsibilities, hierarchical assumptions and reporting relationships. Indeed, all of these aspects influence how effective certain styles of leadership may be. Do more autocratic styles of leadership work better in highly centralised organisations, compared with more fluid approaches in flatter groups? Does the structure of an organisation change with different forms of leadership, or vice versa?
Historical developments. Leadership styles, types and leader-follower relationships are also determined by history. Human beings cannot separate themselves from the ‘baggage’ of experience, and from this perspective we might note that deeply enmeshed relationships have positive or adverse effects on future leadership possibilities. Here then, we may focus on issues of time, not just considering what we wish future leadership to look like, but how we may learn from present and past practices.
How might we go about researching place and leadership practice?
With this in mind, attention must also be paid to the methodologies employed for investigating leadership. Indeed, if we are to welcome the notion of place, then we must (re-) consider how leadership is studied. To date the most common method continues to the questionnaire and survey (Bryman, 2005), and whilst interviews are increasingly in popularity we argue that further steps can be taken to understand the complexity of the task, including but not limited to: Ethnography; Collaborative inquiry / action research; Historiography; Narrative inquiry; Sensory methods. Headway is being made with this recently, with Sutherland (2016) arguing for deep participant observation as a way of understanding organisational discourses and leadership work, and Shortt (2014) promoting creative and visual methods to capture the day-to-day experiences of organisational actors. Whilst these approaches vary considerably in philosophy, style and outcome, all allow for a deeper appreciation of the interrelationship between myriad concepts of place and leadership. This stands in stark contrast with a more traditional approach of simply examining one piece of the puzzle: an individual leader and their personality.
What are the benefits of including place on the leadership research agenda?
In addition to reflecting on the place of place in leadership research, and the ways in which it may be studied, we also encourage thoughts on the various opportunities and potentialities that a place-based approach to leadership can bring. For example:
That it allows us to move away from the wild goose chase of mainstream approaches, and rather than seeking to find a ‘one best way’ of doing leadership that works in any situation, understand the leadership is an inherently context dependent act that requires a deep knowledge of individual situations.
This may in turn lend to a greater appreciation for ‘alternative’ styles of leadership. Indeed, in casting our gaze beyond the conventional singular heroic individual, we may observe that this dominant narrative may become challenged by currently marginalised alternatives. That is, more distributed or hybrid configurations of leadership may receive more attention and gain traction as actionable and practical alternatives to the ideal-type individual leader.
A place-based approach can also promote a general appreciation of continual reflection and organisational learning. In situating place as central on the research agenda, we acknowledge that flux is inevitable and situations are in constant transformation. Therefore, a significant part of leadership effectiveness is being able to keep up and respond positively to change. Through accepting reflection and being open to learning, leadership may become a more socially sustainable act.
Finally, this place-based approach could be central in fostering connections between communities. Rather than seeing organisations as separate from their environment, Hambleton remarks that this perspective can allow leadership to “play a significant role In advancing social justice, promoting care for the environment and bolstering community empowerment” (2015).
Ospina, Professor of Public Management and Policy at the NYU Wagner Graduate School
of Public Service, USA
Professor Peter Case,
Professor of Organisation Studies, Bristol Business School, UWE, UK and Professor
of Management and Organisation Studies, James Cook University, Australia
will be a conference dinner in central Bristol on the night of 16th
December to which all delegates are invited.
the conference delegates will be invited to submit their work for a special
issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Leadership on the conference theme of ‘Putting leadership in its place’.
Additional activities and opportunities will be
confirmed nearer the time
Whilst we encourage submissions linked to the
conference theme we will also welcome abstracts on any theme linked to research
on leadership and allied fields.
Submissions to the conference should be in the
form of a 750-word (excluding references) abstract and should be forwarded to
the conference organisers from1st June to 1st
September 2019 at email@example.com. The conference committee will consider
abstracts as and when they are submitted and a decision communicated to authors
soon after submission.
All submissions should include on the cover page:
Name of author(s)
Topic Area and Stream
The submissions should be:
A word or PDF file
Written in English
Indicating word count clearly on cover page
Early bird rate (inc. conference dinner) by 30th September 2019 – £295 per person
Standard registration (inc. conference dinner) from 1st October 2019 – £345 per person
Student fee (subject to availability) – £245 per person
Please note: conference fees do not include accommodation which should be arranged separately by conference attendees.
Delegates can book accommodation at the
Holiday Inn Filton for the below reduced rates by quoting the reference “UWF”:
Bryman, A. (2004) Qualitative research on leadership: a critical but appreciative review, The Leadership Quarterly, 15, 729-769.
Carroll, B., Firth, J. and Wilson, S. (eds) (2018) After Leadership. Abingdon: Routledge.
Denis, J.L., Langley, A. and Sergi, V. (2012) Leadership in the plural, The Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 211-283.
Fairhurst, G. T. (2009) Considering context in discursive leadership research, Human Relations, 62(11), 1607-1633.
Graeff, C. L. (1983) The Situational Leadership Theory: A critical view, Academy of Management Review, 8, 285-291.
Hambleton, R. (2014) Leading the Inclusive City: Place-based innovation for a bounded planet. Bristol: The Policy Press.
Hartley, J. (2011) ‘Political leadership’, in A. Bryman, D. Collinson, K. Grint, B. Jackson, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), The Sage Handbook of Leadership. London: Sage, pp. 203-214.
Ospina, S. and Foldy, E. (2009) A critical review of race and ethnicity in the leadership literature: Surfacing context, power and the collective dimensions of leadership, The Leadership Quarterly, 20, 876–896.
Ropo, A. and Salovaara, P. (2018) Spacing leadership as an embodied and performative process, Leadership, Online First: April 16, 2018.
Rost, J. (1991) Leadership for the Twenty-First Century. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Schedlitzki, D., Case, P. and Knights, D. (2017) Ways of leading in non-Anglophone contexts: Representing, expressing and enacting authority beyond the English-speaking world, Leadership, 13(2), 127–132.
Schein, E. H. (1992) Organizational Culture and Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Shortt, H. and Warren, S. (2019) Grounded visual pattern analysis photographs in organizational field studies. Organizational Research Methods, 22 (2), 539-563.
Sutherland, N. (2018) Investigating leadership ethnographically: Opportunities and potentialities. Leadership, 14 (3), 263-290.
Turnbull, S. Case, P., Edwards, G., Schedlitzki, D. and Simpson, P. (eds) (2011) Worldly Leadership: Alternative wisdoms for a complex world, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Western, S. and Garcia, E.J. (eds.) (2018) Global Leadership Perspectives: Insights and Analysis, London: Sage Publications.
On Monday 28 January 2019, we welcomed colleagues from Sheffield Hallam University Business School to a half-day workshop on innovative work-based pedagogy in Higher and Degree Apprenticeships. The workshop was organised by Doris Schedlitzki and both UWE Bristol’s Faculty of Business and Law (FBL) and Sheffield Hallam’s Colleagues enjoyed an afternoon of exchanging examples of best practice in work-based learning and discuss challenges in the delivery of apprenticeships. This workshop was the start of a continuing exchange and we look forward to UWE Bristol’s FBL colleagues visiting Sheffield Hallam Business School in due course.
If you would like to get involved in work-based learning conversations and these type of events, please email Dr Doris Schedlitzki.
Dr Guru Prabhakar’s co-authored paper has been published in the International Journal of Information Management (Impact Factor: 4.5).
Facebook Usage and Mental Health: An empirical study of role of non-directional social comparisons in the UK.
This paper explores the relationship between the nature of Facebook usage, non-directional comparisons and depressive syndromes. The extant research on linkage between social media usage and mental health is inconclusive. There is small but significant causal linkage between increased non-directional social comparisons and depressive symptoms among the users.
This study hypothesizes that one of the mediating factors could be the social comparisons that Facebook users conduct whilst on the site. Dr Prabhakar’s paper therefore explores the link between non-directional social comparisons on Facebook, with increased depressive symptoms in 20-29 year olds. In brief, a positive correlation was found between passive Facebook use and non-directional social comparisons.
The findings of the research have implications at three levels: individuals, firms and medical practitioners. The individuals shall benefit from the finding that passive Facebook usage would lead to increase in social comparison which in turn results in depressive symptoms. The passive usage behaviour includes logging into the sites and monitoring others’ profiles without any interaction. Over a period of time, this might result in depression.
The issues surrounding social media usage and mental health in the UK have also been highlighted recently in the media. For example, only a few days ago the BBC published the following article:
What if Universities were seen as institutions with responsibilities to the societies they inhabit? What hope for a citizen-led, participatory curriculum to equip us with the knowledge to build a more human, caring and sustainable economy? This Bristol Leadership and Change Centre (BLCC) research symposium was held at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, in October 2018. Its purpose, as described by event organisers, was to bring together leadership and management scholars to reflect on the nature, purpose, and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment.
Higher Education, as a social process of facilitating learning and change, has a critical challenge. Many academics are aware, sometimes intuitively, of the limitations of the liberal institution of education, characterised by the detached observations of objective, scientific discourses that form the supposed neutrality of knowledge. Many still adhere to the dispiriting task of preparing debt-laden students for the mercies or exclusions of work, markets, and consumption that follow, often due to a lack of any tangible sense of an alternative.
More recently, learning in an era of globalization is understood as dispersed, taking place outside the bounds of traditional education and within a high velocity exchange of people and places, finance, technologies, cultures, settings, and spaces. Despite talk of helping individuals adapt to complexity, diversity and change, the priorities of the Business School can still seem dominated by the narrow, quantitative models valued by economists and market-fearing policymakers, alongside a distinctly neoliberal narrative of entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’.
Creativity is the buzzword, but in an increasingly disturbed world. At the same time, individuals have become ever more isolated from each other amid spiralling mental ill-health and shrinking space to imagine alternatives. Technological advances are reducing family, peer and social relations to cyber-relations – only exacerbating feelings of loneliness – while automation and marketisation reduce much subsequent employment to precarity or meaningless grind. Political apathy, social inequality and welfare state dismantling seem the accepted costs of ever-expanding markets and ‘continuous improvement’. Higher education can, for all its virtues, end up merely helping individuals adapt to the deep pathologies of neoliberal market society.
At the heart of this, I think, is the spectre of homo economicus. This is the assumed ‘rational’ economic agent inculcated with the knowledge and the skills to play the occupational roles demanded by the over-capitalised and financialised global economy. Yet we apparently still need the local, the situational and the social value found in non-market participation: the human touch, the sense of presence and care increasingly found absent in our turbo-charged market society. Recent research has demonstrated that social connection, empathy, and cooperation are at the foundation of personal, social and community change. Do academics or leaders in academia have the courage to move the discussion beyond the shadow of the selfish gene?
In Critical Condition
The value of critical pedagogy lies in its capacity to equip us with the knowledge to expose and challenge often hidden injustice. It also lies in a sense of hope that grows with connecting and working together to co-create practical and political alternatives to some of the major challenges of our time. This is important because how we frame contemporary social or environmental problems depends on our values and principles, which can in turn open up a broader spectrum of solutions than our modern polity or market governance may view as plausible.
So how did this event contribute to our sense of individual and collective empowerment in this sense? What exactly is the nature, purpose and challenges of being ‘critical’ in the contemporary Business School environment?
There were some bright minds, interesting discussion and excellent presentations. Keynote speaker Professor Martin Parker from the University of Bristol exposed the ‘hidden curriculum’, explaining how contemporary business schools teach a narrow form of capitalism where ‘the market’ is the underlying driver and determinant of the education they provide. He pointed out how literally hundreds of alternative forms of organising social and economic life are excluded in the Business School curriculum, demonstrating this through his ‘organising dictionary’. In this dictionary were many alternatives, including some of the more well-known such as worker-owned cooperatives and the commons.
Importantly, Parker invited us to think about patterns, and urged us to start re-building higher education from the bottom-up experiences and strengths of citizens and communities. To facilitate a more accurate conception of the rich tapestry of human organising, he moved us away from ‘management’ and towards the margins of what contemporary capitalism would consider value-able. He proposed an alternative institution: The School for Organising. This institution will develop and teach the multitude of different forms of organising, “enabling individuals to discover alternative responses to the issues of inequality and sustainability faced by all of us today”.
Dr Sarah Robinson of the University of Glasgow delivered some penetrating insights (and warnings) for the aspiring early career academic. Of particular interest for me was the disjuncture between the intrinsic motivation of critically-minded scholars who go into academia (considerations of social justice, democracy, intellectual autonomy and independence) and the post-PhD reality (Key Performance Indicators, stress, insecurity, audit culture, managerialism, publishing restrictions and conditionality).
Dr Neil Sutherland from UWE delivered a convincing presentation on the drawbacks of ‘teaching’ under the rubric of the critical banner. A short paragraph alone would not hope to capture the clarity of his thinking on this topic. Yet in essence, he asked, does this impose ‘our’ way of thinking on free-thinking students? Does this create an unhelpful binary of us and them?
Dr Pam Seanor and Dr Doris Schedlitzki, also from UWE, invited participants to weave together the value of their experience with the entrepreneurship, leadership and ‘being enterprising’ agenda. What might critical entrepreneurship look like instead? How can we move the conversation beyond the ‘heroic’ individual entrepreneur and towards a recognition of the social nature of learning and change? Doris and Pam made clear they intend to take an ‘affirmative critical approach’ in their pedagogy to help students question dominant cultural narratives so that they themselves can feel empowered to identify the alternative practices that they seek.
Professor Sandra Jones from RMIT University, Melbourne, was engaging in her provocation, inviting us to reject the dominant vision for humanity of competition and profit maximisation. Two aspects of her talk chimed most with me. One was her admission that, as well as the more common complaint about skewed resource distribution, many millenials had been left scant opportunity by their baby boomer predecessors to challenge the damaging conceptual myth of homoeconomicus, free markets and market growth. The second was a darkly humorous ‘quote’ from George Orwell in reference to his dystopian novel 1984: “I wrote it as a warning, not a fucking instruction manual”.
Despite my enthusiasm, the event felt quite overwhelming at times. It was free and inclusive. It was friendly. There were refreshments and breaks. People were free to talk, listen, ask questions, and participate as they wished. There was an invitation to continue conversations and networking at the end of the symposium. Yet I sensed a similar uncertainty in other participants as the event drew to a close, almost like a sense of unfinished business; something that didn’t escape the attention of event organiser Professor Richard Bolden.
As I waited in the cool, darkening autumn evening for my return train at Bristol Parkway station – listening to the occasional clanking of machinery or watching the faceless faces whizz past – I thought it was worth reflecting more on why this might have been.
Perhaps, as one participant pointed out towards the end, it was life and living conditions. To a large extent, people still need to submit to the anonymous power of the market for their livelihoods, their homes and their well being. People are worried about their loved ones and their futures; faced with new and shifting threats to their welfare each day. There is a tangible sense of atomisation and psychological strain. Economic life can feel like an uncertainty that follows you. This doesn’t look likely to improve, either:
“Whether through the enclosures brought on by neoliberalism or the increasingly authoritarian and exclusionary politics of the further right, the expected normality (job security, pensions, unemployment supports, fair working hours and conditions) that citizens experience or aspire to will likely continue to erode.” Bauwens et al. (2017)
In this world of ‘post-truth’ and fast-paced change, we hardly have time to navigate one personal trauma or social transformation before we are bludgeoned onto the next. Where neoliberal restructuring and toxic stress are still the norm, it is hard to know what is reality anymore let alone how we come to know it, or the right methodology for teaching it.
Critical questions: How can we carve out shared spaces for transitioning to something more time-rich, caring and human? How do we find ways to connect with one another in solidarity and on a deeper, more intuitive level? There was, at least, a sense that this symposium offered a valuable and important space to engage with others in precarious times; as well as something that people indicated a desire to continue engaging with.
To me, critical pedagogy feels honest and authentic. We can be guided by the values of autonomy, responsibility and solidarity, and we are part of a larger interdependent whole rather than the struggling atoms of liberal-individualist and neoliberal market culture.
Yet it is also about having the courage to voice social silences and inject some authenticity beyond the sometimes gilded halls of academia and the career-building activity of contemporary neoliberal subjects. It might ask the following challenging questions:
What moved people to attend this event in the first place?
Did people feel moved to share their experiences, fears and truths?
What bridges of trust and solidarity are being built with people worst-affected by the marketisation and austerity policies of the state?
What examples of academics themselves organising alternatively outside of the University?
In this sense, I reflected, perhaps this is as much about courageous leadership and creating safe spaces and conviviality as it is about creativity or reformulating the curriculum. Creativity is, after all, not something that is the product of extraordinary individual minds but “originates from a culturally-shaped cooperation they also serve” (Gronemeyer 2014).
The ability to think critically and reflexively is indeed a fundamental priority if we are not perpetuating the mistakes and injustices of past and present. There is great social value in such approaches to education. Dialogic, participatory and action-orientated models of education and research, for example, go far further than formal, liberal interpretations of fairness and equality that stop at equal opportunities for individuals.
Yet whether scholars who identify themselves as catalysts for social change can carve out the common ground they seek solely ‘inside’ the university alone I’m not so sure. I sense that the radical spirit that drives this pedagogy will only find what it seeks once we have stopped striving as competing individuals. Conviviality is, after all, “a constant reminder that the community is never closed” (Illich 2005, cited in Gronemeyer, 2014). Perhaps only then will we be at the critical moment.
With this in mind, it was encouraging to note that both Martin Parker and Sandra Jones encouraged critical academics to organise in different ways beyond the academy in order to mobilise social change.
Knowledge as a Commons
Academics might reasonably point out it is not solely up to them to solve all society’s problems. Moreover, giving up stable employment to start a research cooperative in today’s economic climate and political culture might be considered at best a very risky undertaking. Yet if we really want to see ourselves as catalysts for social, democratic or environmental renewal, then we must begin to find ways to step out of the private sphere and begin listening to citizen’s voices and experiences. We need to work together to reclaim and create the public spaces for us to manage matters which concern us all.
One thing critically-minded scholars can do is to begin to raise awareness of the emerging commons movement, and situate research and learning within the context of the Commons Transition (Bauwens et al., 2017).
“In the past thirty years, contemporary scholarship has rediscovered commons, illuminating their cooperative management principles as a counterpoint to conventional economics and particularly its growth imperatives, artificially created scarcities, and fealty to consumption as a preeminent goal.” Bollier & Weston (2014)
But what are commons? According to Innovator Michel Bauwens et al. (2017), commons are:
A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity;
A self-organised system by which communities manage resources with minimal or no reliance on the market or state;
A sector of the economy and life that generates value in ways that are taken for granted and often jeopardised by the market and state;
The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children. Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge Bauwens et al. (2017)
Much research into commons was initially focused on natural resources. Dispelling the myth of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ (Hardin 1968), Elinor Ostrom (1990) considered subsistence commons such as meadows, water, forests, or fisheries (the resource alone minus the self-determined norms, practices, and traditions of communities is referred to by Economists as a common-pool resource). More recently, commons scholar Silke Helfrich (cited in Bauwens et al., 2017) points out how every commons, even those that revolve around land and water, are knowledge commons, “because the commoners must learn to apply knowledge in managing them”.
A commons, therefore, is distinct from a common-pool resource, and constitutes a self-management regime and dynamic social process called commoning. It can include digital commons such as free, open-source platforms such as Wikipedia and social, cultural and civic commons such as community support schemes, social care coops, playgrounds, public spaces, knowledge and ideas, public schools, libraries, and parks. In fact, a commons can arise whenever a community decides to pool its resources and defend or take control of its collective wealth, enlivened by this social process of commoning.
Where might academics fit within the Commons Transition Plan, a name coined by the P2P Foundation to “describe a process of facilitating open, participatory input across society, prioritising the needs of people and environments affected by policy decisions over market or bureaucratic needs”? (Bauwens et al. 2017)
1. Tell the story of the commons and its enclosures, the private appropriation of our common wealth.
2. Recognise that knowledge, information, and culture are part of the public sphere, and gain value though open access, sharing, and collaboration. Academics can help by facilitating open-source rather than proprietary knowledge.
3. Practice conviviality, involving, in the words of Marianne Gronemeyer (2014): “…a language that is both objectionable and triggers ideas to enable understanding rather than consensus which is often achieved by manipulation; research that speaks a personal language full of experience; practice that does not compete, but cooperates and shares; technology that helps to make the best out of the power, and the imagination that everyone has.”
4. Learn about the power of Vernacular Law: “Vernacular law originates in the informal, unofficial zones of society and is a source of moral legitimacy and power in its own right…places and spaces where people are struggling to achieve regeneration and social restoration against the forces of economic globalization” Bollier & Weston (2014)
5. Teaching, organizing or resourcing through Commons-based Peer Production: “Through imagining and constructing independent governance that supports the infrastructure of cooperation…can help us to protect the best qualities of the welfare state model, and transcend it with a radically re imagined politics that would facilitate social value creation and community organized practices.” Bauwens et al. (2017)
6. Recognise the need for a Partner State to fund and support this process of social value creation and community organized practices (e.g. the needs of civil society and its living, caring and learning environments) rather than the current state/market tendency to genuflect to corporate or financial interests: “The Partner State is the concept whereby public authorities play a sustaining role in the ‘direct creation of value by civil society’, i.e. sustains and promotes commons-based Peer Production.” Bauwens (2012)
7. Supporting the work of the School of Commoning, a worldwide community of people supporting the developing commons movement.
8. Supporting the work of the Centre for Welfare Reform (CFWR). Working on such projects as Sustainability and Social Justice, Constitutional Reform, Basic Income and other Commonfare practices to navigate the socioeconomic risks of life, CfWR is something akin to an open-access knowledge commons and a community of independent citizens committed to equality and diversity.
9. Join, support or contribute to the Citizen’s Network, a global non-profit cooperative movement, formed to create a world where everyone matters – where everyone can be an equal citizen.
10. Finally, if nothing else, add the missing social context. We should be wary of simple solutions to complex problems, but much social suffering and environmental damage could be avoided or reversed if the political will, citizen understanding, and the right public institutions of support and cultural learning existed to do so. This starts, as some speakers at this symposium correctly alluded to, with the rejection of the myth of homoeconomicus.
In brief conclusion, challenging the sanctity of ‘the state/market’ duopoly as the sole determinant of human nature, worth, and value creation is the priority. However, there’s much critical work to be done.
Bauwens, M 2012 Blueprint for P2P Society: The Partner State and Ethical Economy. Shareable Magazine 7th April 2012
Bauwens, M et al. 2017. Commons Transition: a primer. Transnational Institute. https://www.tni.org/en/publication/commons-transition-and-p2p
Bollier, D. & Weston, B. 2014. Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons. Cambridge University Press.
Gronemeyer, M. 2014. ‘Conviviality’: Patterns of Commoning. The Commons Strategy Group. Amherst, MA.
Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the Commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge University Press.
Hardin, G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science (December 13th 1968).