On Thursday 16 February, Prof David Collins, Head of the Suffolk Business School, presented some research on Make America Great…Again: The Excellence Project in Retrospect. A version of this paper, translated into Spanish, will appear in the journal ‘Debats’ in late 2017. In the meantime, a downloadable version is available here:
On the evening of Thursday 16 February I will offer what my children term ‘a quote-unquote master-class’. This event is one of a series of lectures designed to show-case Suffolk Business School’s unique three location, triple internationally accredited EMBA that is offered in partnership with the University of Maastricht. Since my parenting skills are, patently, nothing to blog about and because you are probably becoming just a little bored of my childhood reminiscences it might be useful to offer a little taste of what I will speak about on Thursday.
In my (ahem) master-class I will talk about Donald Trump. I will use words to talk about Donald Trump. It will be great. I have great words. You will be so proud of my words. My words are great (that’s enough now – editor). In my talk I will discuss Trump’s election; his promises and, more generally, our prospects. And I do mean all of our prospects!
But my presentation is not really about Trump. In truth – if we are still allowed to call upon such quaint things as truth – my talk is really a vehicle prepared to allow me to offer reflections on managerial storytelling. Why do I keep coming back to this? I always find myself back at storytelling because managerial work is essentially about talk. That’s why, as Head of Suffolk Business School, I now spend so much time in meetings!
Why must I spend so much time in meetings? Trust me, I do often ask myself this question! Yet while I grumble about the quantity of meetings I must attend (my calendar has just pinged to remind me to attend another in 15 minutes) the plain truth is that managers need to spend a lot of time talking to colleagues because work requires social co-operation within and across the boundaries that define our organizational arrangements. Talk – orders, commands, requests and exhortations – shape and define the activities that constitute managerial work. But if you really want to do something useful you will need to find a form of talk that goes beyond simply telling people what to do.
If you really want people to change; to commit; to do something extraordinary you will need a special form of purposeful talk that a) frames the activities that need to be undertaken and b) explains why these actions are actually useful and commendable. I call this special form of talk, ‘storytelling’.
Keen to learn more about the nature and – crucially- the limits of storytelling within a managerial context? Interested in a postgraduate degree that will prepare you for future leadership and executive roles?
Come along to the University of Suffolk Atrium on Thursday 16 February at 5:30pm and participate in my quote-unquote masterclass.
By Dr Atul K. Shah:
Someone, somehow, discovered that the new British five pound note, made of plastic, used ink which had beef tallow/animal fat. They were animal welfare activists, and caused a storm gathering over 100000 signatures and eventually, the Bank of England had to apologise, and guaranteed that future notes will not have any animal ingredients.
I was interviewed on this theme by both BBC radio and television, as they were keen to get a Jain perspective. Being media, all they were looking for was a soundbite, though for me there was a much deeper story here. It also happens that I am an active writer and researcher on Ethical Finance, partly inspired by my first meeting with the eminent writer, scientist and film-maker Dr. Michael Tobias 25 years ago. He has always been most respectful and encouraging of Jain culture and science. In our rush to modernise, we have lost so much wisdom and science from our past, and replaced it with fraudulent and violent theories and practices. And those with the inherited wisdom need to be supported and encouraged to speak up and not get drowned out by the noise of modern intellectuals and academic scholarship which often is in denial of ancient cultures and their scientific discoveries.
The global finance system is an important player in social and environmental destruction, and also actively involved in the perpetuation of animal cruelty. The £5 note crisis for me was a symbol of this wider malaise – one which the powers that be would not wish us to challenge or question very hard. If I look at finance scholarship and books used at University level globally, both college and post-graduate, there is no discussion about the impact of finance on animals whatsoever. None – as if they simply do not exist. For corporate finance theory, it is regretful that there is such a thing as society, animals and the environment. In a perfect free markets world, financial transactions would help promote a competitive world where everyone can trade efficiently. The question of purpose or ecological impact does not even arise. The human being is assumed to be virtually irrelevant to finance theory. The famous sociologist Bruno Latour recently said that even if the world were to die, capitalist theory assumes that economic reality must survive and be bailed out. It is beyond nature, and yet very dominating and controlling of nature. Finance today has become a curse on society.
The theory and mechanics of finance are deliberately clouded in mystique to confuse and exploit. Experts want to guard their territory and profits, and hide their true values, greed and violence. Social media is a great tool for helping ordinary people to unravel such fraudulent thinking and theorising, and I use both my University teaching and my writings to inform the world that there can be a different, kinder, gentler, caring finance. Dr. Aidan Rankin and I have just completed a book entitled ‘Jainism and Ethical Finance’ which shows in a practical way how such thinking and practice can be achieved. Our research exposes the corruption of modern finance teaching, which completely excludes culture and ethics. The Jains have a profound philosophy of unconditional compassion for all living beings – ahimsa – and they have also successfully applied it in business for thousands of years. Of course not all Jains are perfect, but that does not mean that we ignore the faith and its science in encouraging ethical finance.
Money today has become deeply enmeshed with politics, and instead of becoming a servant of humanity, it has become our master and curse. We must revisit its fundamentals, and take away the expertise and control of finance from those who are unethical, uncaring, and professionally ignorant of the ecosystem and everyday cruelty of human thought and action. Nothing less will do.