Saturday, February 17, 2007

Chewing gum for the mind

Here's some old stuff of May 2004, published in our school magazine CHNtimes (I"m a smoker again):

From the first of January on, I am quitting smoking. I discovered that “quitting smoking” is a process, not an act, not even a non-act. Since I know the effects of tobacco by experience, I always remember and like this effect. So, dear reader, this is why so many ex-smokers are the fiercest propagandists of non-smoking: they are simply jealous and want the smoker to undergo the same tortures as they went through in their non-smoking attempts. Just like converted heathen who wasted their lives with doing what they liked to do. They always preach that you have to live their sober lives, too: in secret, they regret their conversion and want to go back to their previous way of life, but they know that if they do this, they will end up in hell, and that’s what they didn’t know before their conversion.

Anyway, this spiritual battle of mine against the seduction of smoking is fought with the aid of nicotine chewing gum. They allow me to have a normal daily life. I seldom used chewing gum before, and now I‘ve noticed its peculiar features. At first, you think: what for heaven’s sake entered my mouth? Like for instance, that cheap wine I tasted recently: at first the wine feels as if an angel moistens your tongue, but a second later it is overwhelmed by a biting, bitter sour. With chewing gum, it’s the other way around: at first, you feel the urgent need to spit it out, but then you notice the soft and flexible substance and how it moves around in your mouth almost erotically, like… especially if her teeth are freshly brushed and she is a non-smoker. Until the piece of gum gradually becomes a nuisance, or a sense in your mouth that you almost unconsciously maintain because without it you would miss “something”, until somebody tells you how impolite it is to chew in the presence of other people, and you get rid of it until you are alone again for a new, fresh gum. I have to take care that I won’t get addicted to nicotine chewing gum.

The same holds for so many other things, such as theories and concepts. They are chewing gum and tobacco for the mind. At first, you either don’t notice or hate them. Then you have to read or hear them, starting the chewing process. You won’t read them because of curiosity, like you would start an interesting novel or “dirty booklet”, or some reading about your hobby. No, you have to chew, because your job (health) requires it, or you are afraid you can’t keep up with colleagues (non-smokers) or miss career opportunities, etc. But behold, a miracle occurs! After having read for a while, you get interested and eventually you end up as an enthusiastic expert or expert critic. Until after a while you discover that the concept or theory has lost its taste. When you start about it in a conversation or meeting, then you hear people around you sigh and look disinterested, or a roaring laughter bursts out: throw your concept or theory into the nearest bin a.s.a.p. In Dutch there is a word for it referring to chewing: “uitgekauwd” which means literally “chewed out”, “feeble”. It’s also a problem that many theories are launched, and you don’t know in advance what theory or concept will survive, because not all of them get feeble and chewed out, there are a few that persist. Now what I suggest is: I repeat this column after five years (my retirement year is 2009) and see what concepts have survived the chewing process and are still fresh: Values and Norms, Competencies Management, Development Lines, Balanced Score Card, Experience Economy, Portfolio, Own Responsibility, Interculturisation, PBL, CBL, Learning Routes, Identity Concept, Yield Management, Education Renewal, Computer Aided Education, Knowledge Management, Zero Tolerance Approach, POP, 360 Degrees Feedback, SWOT, Training on the Job, Learning Styles, Customer Oriented, Integrated Communications, Implementing Strategies, Target Groups, Market Segmentation, Synergy, Media Inflation, Stakeholders, Self-Review, Project Education, Fair Share, Intra-Organisation Integration, Target Audience Integration, Learner Reports, Short Answer Questions, Girl Power, POS, Cross-Cultural Education, Social Acceptabililty Management, Self Management.

.Examples of concepts and theories that recently got “chewed out”: Total Quality Management (TQM), Management by Objectives (MBO), Organisation Development (OD), Self-managing Teams, Education Renewal, Empowerment, Interdisciplinary Approach, the Learning Organization, Business Re-Engineering, Change Management, Assertiveness Training, Sensitivity Training.

Maybe a solution could be borrowed from the stop-smoking parallel: stop inventing new theories and concepts. But then you will miss really important theories and concepts that survive over time, such as: gravity theory, relativity theory, symbolic interactionism, scholastic theory, game theory, evolution theory, logic, post-modernism, service management, etc. Not inventing new theories and concepts, or ignoring them, would mean shorter study duration, and less staff needed, because we don’t waste time with chewing anymore. Do we want this? Or are we too hooked on theories and concepts?


Jean-François said...

I like your chewing-gum metaphor applied to management theories.
Remind me an old chart about wave of

Jean-François David

Grand said...

Some of those "concepts" are really vague.

I smoked for nine or ten months last year, stopping early last month. I didn't use any stop-smoking aids; I just suddenly lost the desire. Strange, huh?