Chris Thomson, Education Consultant and former sixth form college principal.

We English don’t have a lot of time or space for philosophy. We like to get on with things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life. When someone wants to persuade us physical things don’t exist we’re right there with Dr Johnson striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone until he rebounds from it, spitting out the words through clenched teeth, ‘I refute it thus!'

Much of the language we routinely use to talk about business implicitly yearns for physical activity rather than thought. We ‘nail it’, we ‘cut the mustard’, we ‘pick the low-hanging fruit’, or ‘kick the can down the street’. Even when we talk about thinking itself it’s as if we’d rather be using our feet than our brains: we’ll do it better by climbing ‘outside the box’, or at least by swapping the office for those elusive ‘blue skies’.

But in March 1994 I heard an FE principal tell the following story. He was, shall we say, towards the hard-bitten end of the spectrum and cherished a patriotic suspicion of abstract thought.

With due regard to my health and safety I’ll call him ‘Len’. He was meeting another principal for lunch who, to Len’s surprise, had brought someone along with him.

‘Who’s the company?’, asks Len.

‘Ah, this is Penny. She’s a philosopher, actually.’

Len takes a swivel at Penny looking as if he’d opened a tool box and found a frog.

‘She adds value to our work.’

Does she? says Len to himself thinking of the lunch bill. Cost, more like.

Anyway, the courses come and go, Len and his colleague chewing the fat about how things are and Penny staying shtum throughout but listening.

Listening aggressively, Len’s inclined to feel. So over coffee, he leans back and turns to her.

‘Well, you’ve listened to us for a good hour and more. What have you learned?’

‘I think’, says Penny, ‘that you believe your business is education but I wonder if that’s right? You both seem to me to be actually in the business of raising people’s self-esteem; education is merely how you’re doing it.’

Len feels as if he’s just been knocked out the way of a bus by a small child.

He takes a sip of his coffee.

Then another.

He suddenly has a lot to think about.

First, he expected Penny to respond to what had been said but she cut straight through the what to the why of the matter. That was perplexing.

Second, she was calling in question his career-long sense of purpose which was deeply unsettling and third, most worrying of all, she could be right. He felt immediately she was right. It was just that working all this out was a task and a half.

That was how Len and philosophy first collided. Granted, it wasn’t a comfortable experience but what if you’re reaching for the wrong fruit, kicking the wrong can or are in the wrong street? What if you’re better off thinking inside the box or contemplating grey skies? The consequences for you and your business could be a whole lot less comfortable still.

If you’re in Len’s position you can put this worry gently to rest by doing what he did: hire Penny. The rest of us have to manage by just doing our best to think like her as well as we can. So how was she thinking?

Penny probably didn’t understand a lot of the anecdote and detail in the conversation – who the people were, the colleges mentioned and so on. But she didn’t have to: it wasn’t relevant.

She was attending to what lay beneath the surface. She didn’t ask, what’s that? or, who’s that? but, why is that - or that person - important, apparently? Why are they talking about these things rather than others? What seems to be at the back of this conversation? What’s driving it?

Her first step was to listen out for what wasn’t said, yet was constantly spoken. That seemed to be about purpose, about the point of the two principals’ work. So she then asked, how clear do they seem to be about this? And she listened for that.

After a little while probably two ideas sprang to her mind simultaneously: a) it’s about means and ends; b) these guys are confused about it.

Final step, some more focused listening to see whether she could disentangle things herself.

This, or something like it, was how Penny arrived at the succinct statement that proved hard for Len to digest.

So in summary her thinking steps were:table 1 Chris Thomson

  1. Identify the chief issue
  2. Identify what it comprises
  3. Straighten that out.

If Len and his colleague had sat down to this rather than lunch they might have come up with a couple of columns at step 2 that looked something like this table on the right:

The diagram now helps them to think about step 3 because there are some obvious questions begging in it:

  • duplication for one,
  • and should there be three goals or one in the Ends column?
  • And if one only, which one?                                                                        

Alternatively, if they felt that thinking in columns was too binary, too black-and-white, they could have used a graph. If they had a large sheet of paper for the graph and smaller pieces for the ideas they could move these about to change the picture and deepen the discussion:

graph 1 Chris Thomson

And the technique would work for any big idea. For example, if it was business priorities, not purpose, they could use columns or a graph split between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’.

And if the issue was multi-faceted that wouldn’t make it any more demanding intellectually; they’d just need a different kind of diagram.

A senior management team seeking consensus on stakeholder priority, for example, could share their views on how central or peripheral they judged the top ones to be using the diagram below.

You can easily see that results like these would probably generate some useful discussion:

diagram 1 Chris Thomson diagram 2 Chris Thomson
diagram 3 Chris Thomson diagram 4 Chris Thomson

As before the great advantage of using the diagrams is that they provoke such good questions: no philosopher needed.

All the SMT require is sufficient emotional intelligence to want to understand the reasons for one another’s answers. From that a powerful consensus could easily grow.

Not that philosophers don’t have their place. And to be fair to Penny, Len did ask. On the other hand you have to feel for Len. He turned up to that lunch appointment reasonably enough anticipating the salmon not a seminar.

And if he were even to glance at this account of his meeting it would be enough to confirm there was nothing extraordinary about it, nothing he didn’t routinely do with his senior team anyway.

’Philosophy? That? Move over. Common English good sense, innit.’

Chris Thomson, Education Consultant and former sixth form college principal.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Advertisers

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Video Advert

Newsroom Activity

Ahlan Safety commented on 5 ways to keep your Company safe 6 hours 21 minutes ago

Workplace health and safety is very important part for every business. I read these 5 steps, So I...

Ahlan Safety commented on 5 ways to keep your Company safe 6 hours 22 minutes ago

Workplace health and safety is very important part for every business. I read these 5 steps, So I...

I really enjoy to read this article. I want to...

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page