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Learning Organisations News – August 1998


Text of newsletter published by
Graham Guest

Can Work be Fun?

I had some interesting responses to the references to souls and stories in the June issue of my newsletter and have had a lot of discussions about attitudes to work. We spend most of our waking lives in work mode and yet many of us see work as a necessary evil: something we have to do so we can get the bills paid and then turn to what we really want to do. Strangely though many of us don’t actually know what we really want to do and always seem to be searching. I am reminded of a sketch by Alan Bennett, in which he plays a vicar who refers to the fact that so many of us get that ‘I-don’t-know-what-it-is-but-I’m-sure-I’m-not-getting-my-share-of-it sort of feeling.’ Perhaps we spend too much time searching and not enough time just being. Our lives often seem so fragmented because we put different bits of ourselves in different compartments and then wonder why it doesn’t feel comfortable. So what can we do to begin to sort ourselves out? What about having some fun? ‘How can I have fun at work?’ I hear you ask. Well, you could try playing the fool.

The Corporate Fool

This is the title of a book by David Firth and Alan Leigh. It is about doing the undoable, thinking the unthinkable, saying the unsayable and driving your organisation mad with creative folly. No, it’s not a joke. Well actually it is, and that’s exactly the point. The Fool has a noble history as we can see from his appearance in King Lear. He is the only person who can tell the truth to the king and get away with it and this makes him the wisest and most complete person in the play. It is the role of the Corporate Fool to tell the truth about the organisation. He or she can expect no thanks for this, but the Fool doesn’t look for thanks, only for the truth. As Firth and Leigh ask, ‘What is the point of gathering knowledge if you are not allowed to tell the truth?’ If we did not always treat work as work we would feel more complete. Anyway, read The Corporate Fool for yourself. It is published by Capstone.


I always seem to get involved with organisations with long names, and the European Higher Engineering and Technical Professionals Association (EurEta) is no exception. As Secretary of the Association I recently arranged for a series of meetings of a small Executive Group to take place in the mystical area of Wiltshire. The garden of the
Castle & Ball Hotel in Marlborough provided the main venue, but we also managed to conduct some serious business in the car and in some surrounding pubs. All very unconventional, but much more productive than the standard formal meeting rooms and (dare I say it?) much more fun. The only problem facing the members from Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland was how to explain to their wives that they really did get their sun-tans while attending a business meeting in England! If you want to know more about EurEta see its developing web-site:

Shared Vision

This brings me conveniently to another of Peter Senge’s five disciplines. Shared vision, says Senge, is vital for the learning organisation because it provides the focus and energy for learning. While adaptive learning is possible without vision, generative learning occurs only when people are striving to accomplish something that matters deeply to them. This relates back to the issue of fragmentation and separateness in our lives. Senge says that in a corporation, a shared vision changes people’s relationship with the company. It is no longer "their company"; it becomes "our company". In his study of high-performing teams the psychologist Abraham Maslow observed that for exceptional teams ‘the task was no longer separate from the self…but rather he identified with this task so strongly that you couldn’t define his real self without including that task.’ You simply cannot have a learning organisation without shared vision.

Learning Cities

Companies can be learning organisations and in my presentation at the last International Conference of the European Consortium for the Learning Organisation (ECLO) I tried to show how an individual could be a learning organisation. Cities and other communities can be learning organisations too. In practice a Learning City, as defined by the Learning City Network, can be a city, town or community, regardless of its location or size. A Learning City addresses the learning needs of its locality through partnership, using the strengths of social and institutional relationships to bring about cultural shifts in perceptions of the value of learning. For copies of Practice, Progress and Value, a guide containing practical information on how to develop the Learning City approach, contact the Department for Education and Employment on 0114 259 3207.

The Partnership Approach

Stakeholding is a current buzz-word, but how can an organisation identify who its stakeholders are? The list will vary according to the profile and priorities of the organisation, but a useful approach is taken by The Co-operative Bank, who list their stakeholders as: shareholders; customers; staff and their families; suppliers; local communities; national and international society; past and future generations of
Co-operators. I particularly like the idea of past and future generations having a stake in an organisation. For more information see the web-site:

Words of Wisdom

The unexamined life is not a life worth living for a human being. - Socrates.

…the work of human works…(is) to establish, in and by means of each one of us, an absolutely original centre in which the universe reflects itself in a unique and inimitable way. - Pierre Teihard de Chardin.


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