Vogel Wakefield blog

Vogel Wakefield blog

February
10
2016

What has trauma to do with work?

stress

 

Book review: The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein

I read The Trauma of Everyday Life to inform my thinking for an event I am helping to organise on trauma in coaching. I hadn’t appreciated before I read the book just how much of a Buddhist take on the subject it would represent. It turns out Mark Epstein, a New York-based psychiatrist, is an established writer on Buddhism and its intersection with psychotherapy. He provides here a psychotherapeutic biography of the Buddha: how the Buddha’s own traumas informed his enlightenment and how this, in turn, shines a light on how best we can cope with difficulty in our lives. This is perhaps more interesting to me than a straight psychotherapeutic discussion. Though no Buddhist, I practice mindfulness. As a matter of philosophical disposition, I find the possibilities it holds out for caring for oneself more appealing than the path that working with an expert therapist offers.

Epstein adopts a broader and looser interpretation of trauma than one normally encounters in psychotherapeutic discussion. He distinguishes between the conventional view of trauma, as confronting a death or serious injury, and developmental trauma, when emotional pain cannot be held. Sometimes, these might converge – for example, Epstein refers to the Buddha’s own developmental emotional pain resulting from the death in his infancy of his mother. But Epstein also views the common difficulties of life through the lens of trauma and refers to the pre-traumatic stress with which we experience the inevitability of death.

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May
15
2015

After the General Election, the forthcoming politics of organisation

It doesn’t have to be like this: the politics of organisation, circa 1984.

 

Earlier this year, I attended a talk at the RSA by Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organizations. Laloux was every bit as inspiring as I had hoped after reading his book. But what has stayed with me also was a throwaway comment by Matthew Taylor, chairman of the RSA and former advisor to Tony Blair when he was Prime Minister. Reflecting on the paucity of organisational life, Matthew observed that we need a politics of organisation. Yes, I thought, this is exactly what we need and, at last, people are beginning to get it.

The politics of organisation was, of course, one of many absences in the General Election campaign. One of the successes of three decades of neo-liberalism is that what happens inside organisations has been ruled out of court for politicians. But at the same time, organisations – particularly private corporations – have become increasingly central to how our society is, well, organised. Most of us work in large organisations to earn our living and, with the hollowing out of the state, depend on them for the delivery of our public services. And what is left of life is increasingly mediated by the likes of banks that are too big to fail, food retailers whose chains extend from the convenience shop to the out-of-town megastore, and global internet businesses such as Google, Amazon and Facebook. How we experience them as employees and consumers and how they impact on society in general are among the most significant influences on our lives.

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October
24
2014

How all organisations tend to the dysfunctional in their own way

Taylorism: not without its ethical claims.

Taylorism: not without its ethical claims.

 

Book review: A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations by Chris Grey.

A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying Organizations by Chris Grey took me back to my roots in sociology. It was a welcome, if disconcerting, journey which made me question whether, even from my critical perspective, I’m too complicit with the orthodoxy of our age.

The book deconstructs the managerialist consensus that construes organisations as being somehow apart from society, and amenable to direction in whatever way managers consider to be “efficient”. Efficiency, in this worldview, turns out to be the right of senior managers/shareholders to optimise the running of the organisation in their own interest. It does not lack an ethical claim. Taylorism, for example, freed factory workers from the tyranny of the gang leader and offered a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. But it led to a perverted extreme by which, to quote one of Grey’s contemporary examples, it can seem rational and legitimate to require machine operators to urinate on the spot in their clothes on the grounds that allowing lavatory breaks is too costly.

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October
01
2014

Coaching in a messed-up world

The Universe: its future may depend on you

The Universe: its future may depend on you

 

Last night, I attended a stirring call on the coaching profession to wake up and recast its responsibilities in relation to a world that is messed up and in crisis. The call was made by Aboodi Shabi, who one might reasonably describe as a leader of the coaching profession in the UK. Courtesy of a platform with the London Coaching Group, he extemporised on themes I have advocated myself, most recently in my presentation to APECS. But Aboodi made the case with a passion and bluntness that challenged me to stand up for this agenda with much greater clarity. A theme of the evening was how coaching could “come out” as a profession that engages with society’s problems. Aboodi’s message resonated with a good proportion of his audience, although it also provoked fear and dismissal among a vociferous minority.

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June
10
2014

The hard path of the whistleblower: apropos An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris

Whistelblowers past and present: George Picquart, French Army, and Julie Bailey, Cure the NHS

Whistelblowers past and present: George Picquart, French Army, and Julie Bailey, Cure the NHS

 

Robert Harris’s novel An Officer and a Spy is not only a cracking read but a psychological study in the gathering courage of a whistleblower in an organisation gone to bad.

It tells the story of the Dreyfus affair – the wrongful conviction and incarceration for spying of a Jewish officer in the French army at the end of the 19th Century. It is told through the eyes of Georges Picquart, a spy chief who is both a party to the downfall of Dreyfus and a prime mover in the uncovering of Dreyfus’s framing by the military establishment.

Much of the power of the narrative derives from the fact that Picquart is a reluctant whistleblower. The youngest colonel in the army, he has a great career ahead of him. Moreover, he shares the casual anti-semitism of his age and has no great sympathy for Dreyfus. Nonetheless, when he discovers evidence that implicates a different officer, Esterhazy, in the spying for which Dreyfus was blamed, he cannot ignore the injustice and assumes his senior officers will think likewise.

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March
18
2014

From Valoro to Vogel Wakefield

Vogel and Wakefield

Vogel and Wakefield, looking up

 

From today, Valoro becomes Vogel Wakefield, the counter-consultancy. We see this as more than a change of name. We’ve been in business for nearly three years now and we have a much better appreciation than when we started of how we add value for our clients.

When we founded the business, we were spent some considerable time defining our company and our distinctive approach. In retrospect, this was more useful to us as partners than it was to customers. It helped us clarify the common ground that enabled us to work together. But all our clients wanted to know was who we were.

In fact, one executive, demonstrating refreshing plain-speaking, told us the Valoro thing wasn’t making much sense. “You’re Mark and Martin, aren’t you?” he said.

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November
01
2010

The consolations of manual work



Book review: The Case for Working with Your Hands, by Matthew Crawford

There’s an old joke about a banker whose plumber charged him £250 for a two-minute job to fix a leaking tap.  “I don’t earn that kind of money in the City!” the banker told the plumber.  “Yeah!” replied the plumber, “I didn’t either.  That’s why I switched to plumbing.”

The joke spoke to a pervading anxiety that the financial rewards of white collar work may be meagre compensation for the costs it exacts.  Now, along comes Matthew Crawford to rub salt in the wound with his thesis that the manual trades may also be more intrinsically rewarding.

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June
18
2010

Mind the gap: how to focus on your purpose in the arts

Empty gallery

 

I’m writing a series of pieces for ArtsProfessional on how arts organisations can focus on delivering their mission. Part 1, on the gap between the organisation’s purpose and its actions, appears today and is reproduced below.

***

A theatre won funding to improve its engagement with disadvantaged groups. It approached the challenge as the chance to spread the word about its work. But it discovered that to get the target groups through the doors, the work would need to change. What the theatre was doing from day to day turned out to be irrelevant to a section of the community it was meant to serve. This is an example of the gap that can occur between the way an organisation behaves compared to its avowed mission, one that provides the sense of purpose from a shared understanding among everyone who works in a company.

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July
20
2009

The science of valuing chaos in organisations

A fractal

 

Book review: Leadership and the New Science by Margaret Wheatley

Between the mysterious, almost inconceivable science of quantum physics and the mundane experience of working in a large organisation it would be hard to think of realms that are further apart. So Leadership and the New Science, by Margaret Wheatley, which seeks to apply insights derived from contemporary science to organisational life, is a book I approached with some scepticism. What possible relevance to the world of work could be found in the fundamental science of how matter functions below the level of the atom or how everything in the universe is inter-connected? These seem such big and incomprehensible questions that daily life is able to get along just fine without reference to them.

Reading the book, though, I soon realised that it was precisely because my thinking was shaped by the insights of traditional science that I couldn’t see the relevance of looking at quantum mechanics. If the world is more complex and mysterious than traditional science described, why is management still drawing on analogies informed by eighteenth and nineteenth century concepts. Might not organisations be more complex and mysterious than traditional management theory describes? By the time I’d finished the book, I had the impression that it had come about half a century too late.

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February
14
2009

Meeting behaviour in a recession

difficult meeting

A difficult meeting

 

As a practitioner in medialand, I learned the value of creative behaviours – ways to open up thinking and new ideas in order to develop better products.  I particularly admired a book called Sticky Wisdom by ?What If!, a group of consultants who – while challenged with punctuation – cut through the fog regarding innovation.  Sticky Wisdom demonstrates that creativity needn’t be the preserve of a particularly talented cadre of employees.  It can be cultivated through techniques and exercises to encourage freshness of thinking, open mindedness, and a determination to incubate abstract proposals to tangible reality.

The book seems to point to a more attractive way of being in organisations.  It provides ways to challenge the bureaucratic reflex which closes down ideas with criticism before they have even had a chance to develop, and it shows how to facilitate behaviours which display respect to one another.  So it is perhaps not surprising that organisations have drawn on creative behaviours and tried to apply them more widely.  As a freelance consultant, I have been struck to find the ?What If! model and others like it being adopted as templates for meeting behaviours in general.

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