Wednesday, 19 May 2010

What's Going On


Today I was in a school where I saw about 50 12 year old pupils baying at a teacher like a pack of hungry hunting dogs smelling blood. A scary sight. Apparently the teacher had dared to insist on pupils behaving in class, he had been very polite and reasonable about it but had given detentions to pupils who refused to comply. And this was enough to bring about a near mass riot.

What’s going on in our schools?

This evening’s Newsnight, England’s most intelligent daily news t.v. programme, had an article about the Euro currency’s desperate scramble to survive what could be a shattering total collapse of its value and its feasibility as a currency. The reporter spoke about ‘underlying imbalances’ which continue to undermine all efforts to salvage the Euro and which ultimately threaten the cohesion of all European societies.

What’s going on in our economies?

What are these ‘underlying imbalances’? (Anyone seen ‘Koyanisqatsi’? This Hopi Indian term for ‘a world out of balance’ is also the title of a great movie – a Native American spirit vision of the modern world.) The reporter did not specify. I will.

Three examples of the underlying imbalances which threaten to destroy social cohesion include:

· Global and national social economic polarity
· Reliance on unsustainable energy resources
· The tyranny of mediocrity in government, media and education

Such underlying imbalances are the source of all our insolubly wicked problems, e.g.:

· Terrorism
· Global warming
· Government and corporate corruption
· Anti-social youth cultures inside and outside of school
· Organised drugs and vice rackets

The list goes on … and on … and on … and …

What’s going on in our societies?

The problems cannot be solved at surface level any more than a tree can be uprooted by pulling its fruit. You have to dig deeper, down to the ‘underlying imbalances’, and put your energy into changing conditions there, at base level. And you have to look long and hard at the knotty roots exposed, and you have to really think, not just out of the box, but out of the whole woods that the boxes are made of.

The task of finding the problems and fixing them with workable changes starts with us asking the right question. Next we must discover the elements of the problem and what we could do about it. Then, out of that, we must develop what we should do, before deciding what we will do, and, ultimately, deploying what we have agreed to do. (Thanks to John Caswell for this formula.) And the success of this whole process rests on asking the right question to begin with. Frame the question wrongly and all your efforts to solve a problem are an expensive and demoralising waste of time.

The question needs to be about means and meaning. It’s not what you do but the way that you do it (the means by which …) that determines results. And the way we do things gives our actions meaning. Means beget meaning.

So, asking ‘how do we do things and what does that mean in terms of affecting outcomes?’ is always going to be a big part of our identifying and fixing deep rooted complex problems.

And this means looking at our theories of knowledge and our scientific and technological paradigms – what are the trends of change here? In a nutshell: we are seeing a move away from separated fields and silos towards linkages and holism.

So for the Euro to survive, and with it our European societies, and our schools, we will have to follow that trend of change. We will have to practice joined up thinking, bomb the silos, break the chains of separation, make new links to a shared future.

Luckily, some of us are ahead of the curve and have been working on strategic and operational architectures for some time now (such matters are too important to be left solely in the hands of governments compromised by political agendas). Our voices should be heard before our economies finally collapse, before schools become completely unmanageable and before our unbalanced societies reach tipping point.

Our voices can talk new meaning into being - and new being into meaning-. Our voices can tell a new story. Our voices are growing stronger, more connected and more harmonious. Lovely. The increasing momentum towards dystopia is matched by an increasing momentum towards utopia; it is a race between competing forces. But this race is not for the swift, but for those who can endure.

Which seems more durable to you: The dull grey mediocrities clinging to power by their fingernails, determined to resist change till the last, or the creative dynamic stepping razors devoted to sustainable change, devoted to survival?

Are you with me?


  1. Completely brilliant. Why aren't Cameron and Clegg talking to YOU!

  2. Apparently they are aware, or their people are - but maybe they don't have the power to ring the changes as much as we do!