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Thought Thursdays

 Empires of the mind

2013-02-11 00:00
Frik Landman, CEO: USB-ED

The last time we communicated (The Last Word) I posed a question: How do you make sense of the future in the fog of this present reality? Apart from confessing that I have no complete answer, I made an effort by saying: “Consider never to stop developing and shaping your minds, your leadership minds”. This is where I would like to continue the reflective conversation with you.

The title of this piece is borrowed from an expression credited to Winston Churchill:  “The empires of the future will be empires of the mind”. Just by observing the rise of the knowledge worker and the battle for talent we intuitively sense the resonance with Churchill’s comment. For the moment, then, I won’t focus on this amorphous and cross-boundary entity, the mind, or on the brain (which is composed of 100 billion cells and these are all connected via synapses, which in turn are electrical linkages between these cells, etc. etc.) and also not on the intriguing question of how the brain makes a mind. I rather wish to consider a layman’s understanding of the mind, i.e. the way we think, a form of thought, the way we organise our thoughts, and arrange or stagger our assumptions and beliefs, to form and execute on our worldview.
My point of entry is the development of leadership minds in Africa. Consider for a moment that we have 60% and more of the world’s arable land, we have almost 42% of the world’s natural resources, we have a massive young population, etc. Now contrast all these wonderful assets with the sorry state of our socio-political arena, the lack of success in turning our resources into wealth for all, the unfortunate quality of our institutional life, the poor quality of governance, etc. This picture ought to let us at least agree that the minds and the mind-sets that engineered some of these unattractive results are not the minds nor the mind-sets that will design and sculpt the solutions.
Also consider the role of the ‘empires of the mind’ when Peter Drucker states: “No century in recorded history has experienced so many social transformations and such radical ones as the twentieth century. They, I submit, may turn out to be the most significant events of this, our century, and its lasting legacy”. With the world therefore becoming all the more complex, the leader-managers in our organisations and institutions are under relentless pressure to keep shaping their minds, to keep their paradigms porous in order to navigate this manifold realm and the tests it presents them. How can we assist these leaders so that they can discharge their leadership duties in the most responsible and sustainable way?
Henry Mintzberg, management development guru, acknowledges this challenge and suggests a way forward when he describes management as “a complex and challenging practice where art, science and craft meet”. In response to this insight and in an effort to influence and shape the ‘empire of the mind’ he developed an international programme focusing on five different managerial mind-sets, i.e. the Reflective mind-set, the Analytical mind-set, the Worldly mind-set, the Collaborative mind-set, and the Action mind-set.
So, taking a page from Mintzberg, let’s also light a candle from some substantive research done by Howard Gardner captured in his book Five Minds for the Future and appreciate what practical value it has for those who take the development of their minds seriously. Well, first of all the development of the managerial mind is going nowhere in the absence of the first form of thought, namely discipline. It is an imperative as a manager to be able to think in a distinctive managerial way, which in turn is a result of proper dedicated development and experience, and the mastering of the things that make up the central theme of your profession as leader-manager. This surpasses having theoretical knowledge of management and leadership or even knowing a few “…seven steps to…”. Allow me to give an example: you may be able to play me a tune on a guitar, but this does not constitute your being a guitarist. If you can only communicate your being a guitarist to me in one way, playing one tune, very little of the discipline under discussion is at work. The moment you have mastered the guitar, you can play any tune, you can communicate the essence of your guitarist profession in different ways and in different modes. You are able to create novel sounds, techniques, tell stories with it, play with the audience, etc. So it is with the disciplined managerial mind.
If our world is so complex, we need more than that which Mintzberg offers regarding the Analytical mind. We need a complementary form of thought that Gardner names the Synthesising mind. Analysis has been a dominant form of thought in the Western world for centuries, where thinking that if we take anything apart and understand its parts, we understand the whole. ‘Ain’t gonna work’ in the new world, which demands a systemic view of things – that is, if you want to know not only how a system works but why it works and why it produces the results which it does. The relationships among the parts demands understanding. As Russell Ackoff pronounces: “The performance of the whole is never the performance of the parts taken separately, but is the product of the interactions, and therefore the main managerial idea introduced by systems thinking is that to manage a system successfully you must focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behaviour taken separately.” Many times we observe effective leaders telling stories, of all kinds. Story-telling is a great way of synthesising, as it makes use of metaphors. As with anything in the world there are limits! You ought to be careful that you don’t synthesise to the point where you are so universal, so brief, that you become obscure!

A third form of thought has already been alluded to in the section on discipline, i.e. the ability to express your discipline in more than one way. The next form of thought is Howard’s Creative mind. The nature of the challenges our leaders face can never be tackled by the stock or standard thinking and methodologies of the past. As my colleague, Dr Elisabeth Dostal says: “The logic of the problem is not the logic of the solution”. I think this is the form of thought where what Mintzberg asserts (“where art, science and craft meet”) happens. In this part of the ‘empire’ there is dissatisfaction with how things are, and the creative mind artfully captures the same scene with a different medium and presents it in a new form in the hope for progress, from where the process starts again. Disciplined and dedicated as a master artist.
Riding a bicycle is a continuous process of falling and staying upright. I sometimes think that in relationships there is as a continuous battle between cathexis (the letting down of the walls of your identity and flowing into that of another almost to the point of losing your identity) and xenophobia (where the walls of your identity are so strong and impenetrable that they allow you to think and act as if others don’t have the right to exist: only you and your own have that right). This, to me, is where Gardner’s fourth form of thought resonates: the Respectful mind. There is a case for us to discipline our minds to accept that, although something naturally resonates with mine and my own, with my group versus other not-of-my-group, that the others in their ‘otherness’, in their differentness, are not less than me and my own. To develop the ‘empire’ of our mind we seriously have to consider exposing our minds to experiencing different forms of diversity in order to embrace the fact that being different is not equal to being flawed. This cuts far deeper than race and gender. It is also more than just acceptance. As Gardner states: “Education in the broadest sense should help more human beings realize the most impressive features of the most remarkable representatives of our species.”

You would remember from previous conversations that Peter Koestenbaum described ethics as “being of service to others”. For this to happen, Gardner formulates the fifth form of thought needed for the future, the Ethical mind. The manager with an ethically cultivated mind accepts excellence in work as a logical consequence of being of service to others. There is a deep realisation that almost all of what I enjoy (food, movies, sport, etc.) and what I own (clothes, cars, property, etc.) are in some way the output, the produce of someone else’s creativity, labour. This ties the loop with the first form of thought, being almost the motivation behind it.
For 2013 then, I wish you much success in the development of this, your Empire.
Dear Frik

Interesting, and very helpful conception of how to think about further development of the mind.  Thanks for sharing! 

Speaking about emperors, I have a question.  Why does the emperor not realise that he does not have clothes on?    The simple answer, of course is that in accordance with the paradigm he adheres to,  the emperor is well dressed and nothing, after all, is amiss.   Does it matter that for the sober observer the emperor is naked?   It matters, of course, because as you described, we have a dysfunctional governance system.    But still not so for the emperor, because his world view, and that of everyone around him suggest that all is in order.

How does one cross the chasm, what neutral semantic will help to make widely divergent and fiercely clashing paradigms talking to each other?   What is the potential role of transition studies, of structured insights into the mind set of transition leadership, to help opposing paradigms talking to each other?   How will should strategies for further development of the mind deal with the kind of transitions which we face, with the complexities, the haphazard manifestations, the unstructured nature of realities and the dwindling resources to resurrect a sustainable future for all, emperor and coterie included?

If transitions do not appear to become easier in spite of all the carefully thought-out and structured interventions, is it helpful to continue promote the linear model of input, process and output, and together with this the efficiency  imperative – I ask even if I am a committed follower of this model myself.  How can mind set development assist in understanding transitions, and how can we convince adherents of opposing paradigms to cross to each other’s side in cooperation, peace and prosperity for everyone?

With sincere appreciation for your kind consideration.
Posted by Ferdie Lochner on 22-02-2013 10:01 AM
I find this article to be quite profound in putting across the different levels at which we need to explore the required forms of thinking for us to be successful as leaders. It can only be through such thought provoking communication which delineates the different aspects of our abilities which require honing. Contributions such as this one from Dr. Landman and people of his calibre are an indication of the importance aspiration towards higher levels of knowledge.
Posted by Ntsikana Tuntulwana on 22-02-2013 10:02 AM
"relentless pressure to keep shaping their minds, to keep their paradigms porous in order to navigate this manifold realm and the tests it presents them" makes this article, and the rigorous and disciplined pursuit of it's content a must for all of us who take the role of leadership seriously. Thanks Prof, for such a valuable kick-start to 2013, and GPS for the future. Perhaps USB will consider a focussed exploratory engagement on the material you so briefly mention.
Posted by Raymond Africa on 22-02-2013 10:02 AM
Thought provoking and interesting script!!!!
Posted by dhivan on 22-02-2013 10:02 AM
I really like reading what you write. Thank you.
Posted by Loraine Ginns on 22-02-2013 10:05 AM
Enjoyed reading this and thank you for re-emphasizing the need to continually strive to grow and gain greater levels of knowledge
Posted by Andre Mouton on 29-04-2013 12:13 PM
What a brilliant piece of reading matter.  I resonate with the content and strive daily to grow and transform my leadership qualities and what better insight than this article.  Thanks for touching my life today
Posted by Adriaana Scholtz on 29-04-2013 12:59 PM


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