Monday, 13 February 2012

A change of perspective

There is a new book about to be published called The Present by Paul Graham, who is a New York-based photographer.  His photographs are of ordinary street scenes, presented in pairs and triptychs, taken a few seconds apart.  This creates subtle shifts in perspective giving an impression of the continuum of life: before/after, coming/going, either/or. The effect is to slow the viewer down and to pay attention to the flow of time.

What is striking to me about all this is the attention that it gives to the everyday, always happening nature of life.  Few of us other than, say, professional ethnographers or anthropologists give any attention to the myriad small details of the way life comes at us; and even if you did take a look at the fine-grained details of everyday interaction what you would see, barring occasional extraordinary incidents and dramas, is a flow of seemingly mundane events.

Grand narratives and diverse practices

Leadership development is popular but it is a field that is awash with ideas and generalisations, rather than a solid core of theories, which produce a narrative of an idealised world.  And the practices that support it are incredibly diverse.

John Burgoyne, Professor of Management Learning, Lancaster University, UK puts is like this:

It may not be far from the truth to argue that any new activity, whether it is the latest 'adrenalin' hobby like bungee jumping or the most recent advance in chaos theory, is likely to be tried out as a contribution to management development.  This suggests a field that is so uncertain about its solutions that anything is worth a try.
Seen but unnoticed

What Paul Graham has done with his photographs is to encourage us to see things differently; to get down to street level, slow down the action of everyday life and to look at what's going on.

This seems relevant to me when I think about my practice in management learning.  There is a lot going on minute-by-minute that we usually gloss over in favour of a set of abstracted ideas that may or may not be relevant to the working context.

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