In the current Brexit debate in the UK politicians from the Conservative Party repeat certain words and phrases ad nauseam until the message is drummed home to an exasperated electorate on the expectation that they have a limited attention span: the Conservatives are the party to ‘get Brexit done’ because they want to ‘unleash Britain’s potential’. The latter phrase is often also used in schools and universities about young people to describe the institutions’ plans for them, and is widely deployed in organisations undergoing some kind of transformational project. The idea of potential, a latent ability which has yet to be realised, together with the word ‘unleash’, or to release from constraint, implies enormous energy, like water behind a dam, which is somehow prevented from reaching its full expression. When the UK exits from the EU the whole of the UK’s creativity and energy will suddenly burst free of the constraints currently hemming it in and will flood the world with Britain’s greatness.
The phrase is common to the humanistic and positive psychology movements as well as neoliberal groups suspicious of government regulation or any impediment to what they see as the free functioning of the market. Shared amongst all adherents of unleashing potential is the link with confidence and optimism. And as such the phrase has all the characteristics which should pique the curiosity of critical inquirers into contemporary organisational discourse. It is future-oriented, it is positive and it is simplistic. Continue reading →
The current state of British politics provides an interesting parallel for thinking about organisational life and the way in which fluctuating power relationships between individuals, and between groups, affect the way that the game develops.
In the days when the Labour Party had a strong majority and a leader who was perceived to be in control, opposition became focused around resisting the New Labour project, such as it was. When it is clearer who is influencing the course of the game this consequently defines the programme of opposition. Equally, since those who dominate must adapt consistently to the strength of the way they are resisted, so the quality of opposition also affects the way the game is played.
Within the government itself the task of the leader is to encourage rival groups to co-operate in support of a programme of activity that most members would support. According to Norbert Elias, the function of the king in the mediaeval court was to maintain himself as a pivot between the many different groups who were vying for power. He had no interest in fully supporting any one group but would always nod in one direction, then in another, hopping from foot to foot to maintain himself at the centre of the fluctuating power relationships. One might make the argument that Tony Blair also had to resist and constrain a particular rival to the throne, Gordon Brown. Continue reading →