BSN Graduation Day 2017

This Day (7th October)

It’s a delight to be invited to address graduates and to welcome your guests, friends and families here today…

Richard Hale, Action Learning SpecialisgApart from this wonderful venue hosting kings and queens and dignitaries over the years one of its more notorious claims to fame is that – The Rolling Stones played their first concert outside the UK here in 1964. The concert lasted 20 minutes due to something like a riot in the crowd as the authorities tried to exert their control over the young audience. So by comparison we have done quite well here today… so far…

And today graduates you are making history as this marks a wonderful achievement and stage in your learning and research journey. As you make history it is perhaps worth recognising the history of which you are part.

Professor Reg Revans was the founding father of the method of developing organisations and people called action learning. He was working as a young research physicist in the Cambridge Cavendish Laboratories under the famous Sir Ernest Rutherford alongside a group of Nobel prize winners in the 1930s. They were tackling problems of the future in the field of atomic physics. Revans observed that the significant breakthroughs occurred not when these scientists scored points against each other by showing off about their considerable knowledge but when they ‘left their ego at the door’ and asked each other penetrating insightful questions about what they didn’t know. They ‘traded in their ignorance’.

This was a powerful learning experience for Revans and helped him to eventually form his theory of Action learning which he took around the world with the intention of helping organisations across many business and government sectors to tackle their biggest challenges.

There are just two examples of his projects I want to mention today:

1 – He worked with the Nigerian palm oil plantations – introducing action learning based working methods that were to save the industry from extinction – (also in 1964)

2 – Belgian Inter University Industry management programme- followed soon after the Nigerian project – connecting 5 universities with 21 major business.
It should be noted that this was a key part of his self-imposed academic exile from the University of Manchester where he surrendered his professorship – due to a clash between his belief that business schools should work closely and respectfully with business – and what he foresaw as a different strategic direction that the business schools were taking.
Interesting that his thinking and work was welcomed in Belgium where his collaborative approaches succeeded in raising Belgium’s industrial productivity growth rate above that of the USA, Germany and Japan.

As the value of the Action learning approach gained recognition around the world institutions such as this business school – Business School Netherlands – adopted his thinking and, with Revans’ support, integrated it into their qualification programmes.

You are all recognised today as Action learners – you have learnt about how to improve organisations, have investigated real ‘here and now’ problems and sought to tackle them by learning ‘with and from others’ in Action learning groups or ‘sets’. As well as the specific knowledge you have gained through your studies or research you have developed an invaluable skill which you will carry with you throughout the rest of your life and career – the ability to tackle problems – whatever they might be – as an Action learner.

So what sort of organisational world are you now going forth into in order to ply your trade of management, leadership, professional interest or research? Well for sure it’s fast changing, its unpredictable and it can be confusing and ambiguous. Your challenge will be how to maintain integrity and uphold core values (yours and your organisation’s values) against the backdrop of Our Organisational Addictions:

We are addicted to (but need) structure in developing organisations – but constantly changing structure without addressing culture is impotent.

We are addicted to (but need) technology: digitisation, the cloud, internet of things, cybernetics, robotics, the gig economy – but technology without care for the humans is dangerous. We may think the idea of robots controlling the humans is the stuff of science fiction – but managing the relationship between humans and robots will soon present real challenges. This was brought home to me only this week when my son – also recently graduated – was attending an interview for a job – I asked where it was and who was it with – he responded that is was being conducted from his desk at home and was with a robot.

We are addicted to (but need) profits measured by quarterly reports to shareholders – but the relentless pursuit of profit brings with it human costs. And of course a key factor is what happens to the wealth created by industry. Interestingly on this day 7th October 11 years ago in Nigeria Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda met the President of Nigeria to agree the manufacture of economic software in Nigeria to support the fight against HIV/AIDS and to alleviate poverty.

The great visionary writer on management Professor Henry Mintzberg implores us to Rebalance society between three sectors he describes as
a public sector – of respected governments, for purposes of protection (such as policing and regulating);
a private sector of responsible businesses, for purposes of consumption;
a plural sector of robust communities, for purposes of social movements and social initiatives that challenge destructive practices and replace them with constructive ones.

We are addicted to (but need) metrics and data – employee satisfaction surveys, dashboards, nine box grids for talent categorisation, immediate customer satisfaction feedback, targets and objectives – we are often so obsessed with the target we miss the point.

We are addicted to speed – quick fix, answers, short cuts without knowing the reason why something works or understanding the substance beyond the superficial. But you have learnt through your studies to challenge, question and seek an understanding at a deeper level.

The great news in all this is there are many exciting opportunities for you to make a difference. You may work in varied sectors, new professions, creating and innovating, researching and leading change.

In a world and organisational environment experiencing an accelerating rate of change we are less able to rely on previously published research and prescriptions of how to do things – so our ability to ask insightful questions and to solve problems together as Action learners becomes increasingly important. Knowledge in itself has a short half life these days. The ability to learn is what provides our competitive edge.

Your opportunity is to make a difference:

I encourage you to find an opportunity to work the big issues – not just to do a job – but do something you passionately believe in and can contribute to – you might work in the commercial sector, government or public sector or the charitable or community sector. Tackle the intractable problems such as:
• Alleviating poverty
• improving health care for people
• Protecting human rights
• Caring for people within organisations
• Sustainability and the environment
• Creating meaningful jobs for people
• Feeding a growing population
• Creating new and exciting organisations.

To be able to pursue your passion is a privilege – if you can communicate your passion your impact, influence and ultimately your pleasure will be amplified.

The Rolling Stones lasted 20 minutes here in 1964 but in truth they are still going strong after 55 years – and why is that? – it’s because of their passion and their ability to communicate it to their audience.

So graduates – now armed with your degree – pursue your passion – and communicate it –

Note also …on this day – 7th October …

In the Netherlands in 1840
William II was proclaimed King – During his reign, the Netherlands became a parliamentary democracy

And today marks the final day of the ‘Golden Week’ in China

But

7th October 2017 is your day

Celebrate with passion and with your families and friends who are supporting you here today – and who I am sure have been an integral part of your learning journey.

and remember the words of Albert Einstein to Reg Revans when he said –

“If you think you understand a problem, make sure you are not deceiving yourself.”

For more information on our Action Learning MBA and Management Programmes, send an email to international@bsn.eu.

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