Conference Report: Legacy Day

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(This is basically for Kalman, who couldn’t make it to the conference. Perhaps it will help with his reviews.)

The “Designing Organizations for Value-Creation, Sustainability and Social Well-Being” pre-conference program actually started last Friday with a two-day course by Barry and Sheila Deane. I didn’t attend, but I spoke with Barry on Sunday and he said it went rather well. Although I think that he could have done with a day off.

Instead, he got pulled into the “Legacy Day”, a time when leaders in the RO community sat down and discussed the state of things in light of the history. This report is a random set of statements about Legacy Day, in no particular order.

(I got an invite so that I could do things like this, writing up reflections about the conference. And, I must admit, not getting enough sleep.)

There was quite a bit of discussion about the history that has had more splits and divisions than a Baptist church. Really, almost everyone agrees to some basic principles and ideas, but these things happen as you attempt to get things settled. And, I think, divisions occur because people see different things at different times. I suppose that the people involved would be a bit more strident about it (“we have the real thing!”) but so do the people who argue over whether it’s “forgive us our debts” or “forgive us our trespasses”.

It really is the integrating values that brings us together.

Ken Shepard, the GO Society president, talked about why we do this stuff, how most of the people in the room (really, everyone but me) is just so thankful for the time and gifts given to them by Wilfred Brown and Elliott Jaques. Both of them were very free with what they knew, giving anything they knew away. (And, Ken joked, some even say giving away what rightfully belonged to others.) Truly giving men who believed that the ideas were important.

David Bolls told the story of a “truly fist-on-the-table moments with Jaques”, where the good doctor cried out “I do not want to see a school of Elliott Jaques!” Which is kind of what we’re doing, but I get what he’s saying there. David went on to do a great deal of work building on what Jaques gave him.

You know, there is a way in which Jaques was a truly Open Source advocate. He was much less proprietary about his ideas (for non-commercial purposes, that is, that you weren’t selling his ideas as your own, but you were free to use them to make organizations better). It’s neat to compare his ideas with progressive Intellectual Property people like Luc Hoebeke.

Richard Brown, Lord Brown’s son, was there. Brown wrote a chapter in the forthcoming book (released on Monday night!), which I got to edit, that dealt with Brown’s and Jaques’s ideas in the context of projects and project management. Brown talked about his father. He spoke of the relationship between his father and Dr. Jaques. Jaques was actually only employed by Brown briefly. In fact, the initial Tavistock work at Glacier Metal Company was actually sponsored by the British government. It has to do with trade unions, I think.

Anyway, Brown had already established works councils in the company. The works council brought Elliott Jaques back in because they felt that they weren’t working effectively. So Jaques actually reported to the works council although he was paid by Glacier. He did not report to Brown. This kept them at a distance all their working lives. Jaques believed that it would compromise his work as a psychoanalyst to get too close. Brown, on his part, believed that getting close to Jaques would compromise the work with the works council. Richard said that his father often complained that Jaques, who had complete access to everyone through the works council, knew more about his company than he did.

It’s an odd relationship: I pay you but I don’t control you. If you think about it, it’s what we really need but that the executives always refuse. An independent counsel, an independent investigator. You can’t kill my budget, you can’t control my investigations. Nixon (and now Bush) resisted independent investigation.

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