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When hiring the wrong consultant is the right idea

Ever wondered why hiring the wrong consultant is very often the right decision for organisations? There may come a point when you know that the task you’ve been hired to do or facilitate simply isn’t the task that needs to be done – what on earth are you going to do? How are you going to manage the mounting pressure to deliver when all around you the signs are telling you that failure is on the horizon?
Change processes evoke anxiety – whether it’s at a personal or professional level – that’s one reason why the change industry is outsourced to consultants. Anxiety is difficult to talk about or deal with at a conscious level but its presence is felt everywhere in what may look like irrational behaviour and illogical decision making.
You’d imagine that choosing a consultant to manage the change process and deliver on the strategic goals would be important? After all, this is an important stage in the organisation’s development isn’t it? All well and good with our rational hats on. Unconsciously it may be more important to choose a consultant who can’t deliver, thereby protecting ourselves from the anxiety of change by blaming the consultant for not being good enough.
Consultants can be “not good enough” in various ways. They may not have the right people skills to work with the emotional issues that change presents. The IT system will be up and running in no time but people won’t have a clue what’s happening and where they may end up next week. A consultant may simply not have the professional experience to engage with the task at a strategic enough level. The project will be micro managed, take enormous amounts of time and may be discontinued due to excessive costs. The consultant may not have the authority in the system to roll out the changes that have been agreed – s/he may be de-authorised by the board from actually delivering on the task.
In all of these scenarios the consultant will absorb the organisation’s anxiety by feeling unwelcome, not good enough, set up to fail, disappointed, confused and angry etc. Very often, the consultant will be scapegoated for failing to deliver while not knowing that they were hand picked to fail.
When the wrong consultant is picked it may be the right decision for an organisation not ready to deal with change. A ritual sacrifice is often required and on many occasions the consultant is that offering. In this instance failure isn’t failure it’s a strong signal that there is other work to be accomplished before change is actioned. Very often that other work is finding a safe way to address the underlying anxiety that all change evokes. If a company is brave enough it may look to its “failures” as rich learning about the need to connect with the very real and very human fear of change.

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You can’t look round your emotions, you have to look through them

‎Your emotions are the lens through which we look at the world. You can’t look round your emotions, you have to look through them.

This interview with Turner award winner Grayson Perry makes for interesting reading.  I’ve been impressed with his channel 4 series In the Best Possible Taste in which he interrogates the relationship between class and taste (the programs are available to view on Channel 4 OD here).  In particular, I’ve admired his capacity to move fluidly between thinking, feeling and making.  It’s great to see  a practitioner at the top of their game talking about the importance of emotion (their own and others’) as a core component of the creative process.  Perry has been awarded a two year contract from Channel 4 to make more work – I’m looking forward to seeing how he approaches the documentary medium as another art space.

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Benjamin Zander on passion, purpose and strategy

I keep returning to this Benjamin Zander TED talk in which he uses Chopin to demonstrate the essential characteristics of leadership.  Apart from being passionate about your subject or area of work, you also need to believe that you can inspire others to tap into their own passions too.  It’s this unfailing sense of possibility that distinguishes good leaders from not-so-good leaders.  Zander uses the music of Chopin to demonstrate….Classical music is perpetually associated with the middle-class and is perceived to be an ‘elite’ art form  so it’s apt that Zander should take his passion and try to persuade his audience that Chopin is worth listening to.  And he succeeds beautifully.  Not by lecturing or hectoring or providing a powerpoint presentation on the merits and de-merits.  But by meeting people on an emotional level.  Zander allows us to meet him and his passion in a deeply human way.  He also meets his audience (some of whom will be interested in classical music, most of whom won’t) and fails to patronize or persuade.  He then invites them to think of a loved one no longer here … and then he allows the music to do the rest.  I imagine that for each audience member Chopin’s music provides a very different emotional experience.  In this sense each individual creates and curates their own experience from their own life story using Chopin as a tool.  As a result I imagine many of those ‘unpersuaded’ by the merits of Chopin will take a risk to listen once again.

Zander’s strategy is so powerful in its simplicity.

Meet people where they are

Allow others to see your passion

Connect with others around their passions and interests

Extend an invitation to join

Get out of the way

It’s a talk I come back to again and again to remind me that sometimes, getting out of the way and allowing people to do their own work is the best type of consultancy around.  Enjoy.


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radio silence

Apologies for the radio silence the past few months.  I put blogging on hold while I completed my doctoral thesis.  My PhD was awarded  at the end of May after a really engaging and interesting viva voce (defense).  The title of my thesis was ‘the organization of disappointment’ and my research concerned the creative potential of disappointment in organisations.  So often, disappointment is lumped under the heading of ‘negative emotion’; relegated to the sidelines as unhelpful or destructive and located within ‘troublesome’ or ‘under-performing’ individuals.  I suggest that this is only part of the story and disappointment can be understood as a useful and productive insight into how fantasy is sustained and managed in organisations.  Re-imagining disappointment as loss (of expectations fantasy and what we thought the world ‘should’ be, allows for a more realistic view of the future:  one that is different and potentially  realizable.  Over the coming months I will begin to post some of the findings from my research with a view to developing workshops for organisations and leaders about how this sadly neglected emotion can be uncovered for the gem it really is.

Posted in Creativity, disappointment, Emotion, Research | 2 Comments

Half a million secrets

Secrets can remind us of the countless human dramas, of frailty and heroism playing out silently in the lives of people all around us.


Frank Warren from Post Secret tells the story of over 500,000 secrets submitted….and he reminds us of the value of secrets, of keeping them, of sharing them and of the truths they contain.


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On art, psychoanalysis and insanity

This South Bank Show on art and insanity is really interesting and includes some fascinating insights from psychoanalyst Adam Phillips about the relationship between creativity and madness.  Each part is less than 10 minutes in length.

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When what you are doing isn’t working…

I’ve been interested in Professor Michael Wesch’s teaching methods for some time and have followed his use of social media in the classroom (via social media naturally).  So I was fascinated to read this Chronicle of Higher Education piece on Wesch’s decision to ‘reboot’ on hearing that his ideas aren’t working as well for others as they are for him.

The professor’s popular talks have detailed his experiments teaching with Twitter, YouTube videos, collaborative Google Docs—and they present a general critique of the chalk-and-talk lecture as outmoded. To get a sense of his teaching style, check out a video he made about one of his anthropology courses. In it, some 200 students designed their own imaginary cultures and ran a world-history simulation by sending updates via Twitter and a voice-to-text application called Jott.

Wesch has spent some time in the classrooms of other teachers observing how they make connections with students.

As Mr. Wesch began to rethink his teaching, he visited Mr. Sorensen’s class and was impressed by how the low-tech professor connected with students: “He’s a lecturer. He’s not breaking them up into small groups or having them make videos. That’s my thing, right? But he’s totally in tune with where they are and the struggle it takes to understand physics concepts. He is right there by their side, walking them through the forest of physics.”

I believe this to be true of any work relationship – the human connection between people – whether that is teacher/student, manager/worker etc and the quality of that relationship is what create the conditions for learning.  If the respect and interest (and wonder as detailed in this article) doesn’t exist then the conditions for learning cannot exist either.  All this is a way of reinforcing my view that we spend too little time attending to the human elements of organising and too much trying to get technology to do the job for us.  It’s heartening to see someone like Wesch re-evaluate his teaching stance while not abandoning his interest in technology all together.

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Sixty museums in search of a purpose

András Szántó’s analysis of the mission statements of 60 museums makes for interesting reading.  The accompanying Wordle is a graphic account of the most commonly used words in mission statements (which is also interesting for what is omitted).

Composing a mission statement isn’t as easy as it sounds. Should a mission describe what a museum is doing, or what it should be doing? Is it about tangible goals to which institutions are held accountable, or Platonic ideals to which they merely aspire? Should a museum’s mission offer an inventory of assets and activities, or will it work best as a crystallisation of core principles? How will it reflect a museum’s take on cultural progress, audience demographics, funding sources and technological opportunity?

Short or long, however, what lurks behind the carefully scripted sentences is a swirling cauldron of organisational politics.

All that aside there are other issues pertaining to mission statements.  My research into disappointment has generated some interesting insights into the relationship between disappointment and idealisation.  The more we create ideals, missions, visions and values that are aspirational rather than attainable the more we guarantee disappointment.  I’m all for ‘blue sky’ thinking but I’m also all for realistic and achievable plans that can be delivered and realised.  That’s not to say that all mission statements are guaranteed to generate disappointment it simply means that any strategic planning process must build in a ‘reality testing’ phase.  Keeping it real can’t eliminate disappointment but it can help us examine the relationship between fantasy and reality and in turn, create plans that can be realised and delivered.

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Emotion in organizations – references

A number of people at the ICP Conference today and yesterday asked for some references on emotion in organizations so here are a number of books I have found useful – enjoy!


CAMPBELL, D. 2000. The Socially Constructed Organization, London, Karnac Books.

FINEMAN, S. 2000. Emotion in Organizations, London, Sage Publications.

FINEMAN, S. 2003. Understanding Emotion at Work, London, Sage Publications.

GABRIEL, Y. 1999. Organizations in Depth, London, Sage Publications.

HOCHSCHILD, A. R. 1983. The Managed Heart, Berkley, University of California Press.

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What’s the point of direct funding to artists?

Diane Ragsdale has a fascinating article about the value of direct subsidies to artists.  Although it’s about the American context, the points she makes are equally relevant in Europe.  She references Hans Abbing’s book Why Are Artists Poor? The Exceptional Economy of the Arts in which he makes these points about why the poverty of artists is structural


  1. The social construction of ‘art’as something holy, a notion which is contradictory to the notion of commerce and monetary exchange. He writes: “Although the arts earn approximately half of their income in the market, the arts can only maintain their sacred status when people associate the arts with the values of the gift sphere rather than the market sphere.”
  2. While artists do care about money, they tend to care more (than other professionals) about rewards such as personal satisfaction, recognition, and status. He says that most artists have been socialized to this preference and that it is ‘hardly a virtue’. As a manifestation of these preferences, he says that (for example) most artists will work their day jobs only long enough to earn sufficient income to go back to creating artistic work.
  3. Given that artists tend to exchange money for rewards such as personal satisfaction, direct subsidies do not lead to higher incomes for artists. Instead, they may simply provide incentives to more people to become artists, thereby increasing competition, and making it more difficult for any to make a living. As Abbing writes, “Subsidization increases the number of poor artists per hundred thousand inhabitants and thus increases poverty.”
Diane finishes this really interesting post by concluding
And it perhaps goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) subsidies (grants, gifts, or other forms of support) may not only lead to an  increase in the number of people who want to be artists but also the number people who want to form arts organizations.
There’s so much that’s interesting here in terms of arts and cultural policy and many questions to be asked (and answered).  I may take up some of these issues with cultural policy students in UCD next week when I meet them to discuss ‘unmentionables’ in the arts.
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