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Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

Strategic leadership and aesthetics

In Uncategorized on January 31, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Where are we?: Digging away at the ‘coal face’ means the ‘whole’ is lost and we can only imagine the network or system of events beneath our feet. Story telling remains the only means of giving the parts their ligaments.

“We can easily identify the several organs, including blood vessels… but their mutual relation inside the body can be grasped only by a sustained effort of the imagination,” offered Michael Polanyi. Polanyi was a polymath who moved between hard science and the mysteries of knowing. Some forms of knowledge are only revealed aesthetically, through sustained use of the imagination.

He gave the example of the subtle depressions left by the presence of former building or village foundations as not ‘knowable’ from up-close when stood in the field above. We’re too close to the parts and the parts obscure the whole. It requires a helicopter trip to see the archaeological remains etched by the sun’s shadows. Too near and the ‘truth’ is lost in disconnected parts. Fly too high and the parts and the connections are lost from view.

I suspect Polanyi would be happy with the suggestion that human beings may only be ‘known’ aesthetically, through their long-structures of life and as a collection of messy parts. You cannot read the story in one go but must connect the chapters through imagination and then form your own whole, as it were. This means a coherent whole is illusory, fleeting and lost without sustained effort.

“…the average lifetime of the largest industrial enterprises is less than forty years, roughly half the lifetime of a human being!… In most companies that fail, there is abundant evidence in advance that the firm is in trouble. This evidence goes unheeded, however, even when individual managers are aware of it,” suggests the ubiquitous Peter Senge. Seeing the parts that are flashing amber and connecting those signs together for the strategic leader appears critical.

Frequently the language of science that Western educated leaders borrow ‘sees’ the world as literal and denotative. It becomes a series of disconnected parts that will require someone with imagination to knit together from the right heights of language. “If every event which occurred could be given a name, there would be no need for stories,” says John Berger. The strategic leader experiences multiple events every minute so the sustained deployment of story and imagination are not just essential but frankly the only way to view a world whizzing past that has no shape. That’s no excuse to buy a company chopper; certainly not this year!

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