Monday, 2 November 2009

Stephen Fry gets the message

Tweeting a million followers ‘Hurray, curry’ is boring, some said. The medium has become the message, as Marshall McLuhan foretold. Never mind the quality, feel the celebrity. But stopping might be difficult for Fry. He needs to tell, and his musings range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Take this from his book Paperweight (Quality Paperbacks Direct, 1992) “Education means freedom, it means truth. Training is what you do to a pear tree when you pleach it and prune it to grow against a wall. Training is what you give to an airline pilot or a computer operator or a barrister or a radio producer. Education is what you give to children to enable them to be free from the prejudices and moral bankruptcies of their elders. And freedom is no part of the programme of today's legislators. Freedom to buy shares, medical treatment or council houses certainly, freedom to buy anything you please. But freedom to think, to challenge, to change. Heavens no. The day a child of mine comes home from school and reveals that he or she has been taught something I agree with is the day I take that child away from school.”

I remember attending a conference at Henley Management College in the 1980s. The Head of Management Development at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), made a presentation. At that time DEC was one of the mainframe computer giants, but it was struggling against its competitors (not least because its boss, Ken Olsen, had said ‘People won’t want a personal computer on their desks’). The presenter stated the aim of the MD programme: ‘To ensure that the board is supported’. I stood up and asked pointedly: ‘Isn’t that the exact opposite of what it should be?’ Stephen Fry would have been proud of me! The choice facing organisations between education- and training-led approaches to management development is discussed in The Search for Leadership.

But what is responsible followership in an organisation? Is Professor David Nutt (the UK Government's former drugs tsar) showing how or how not to do it?