Paul McKenna and the search for self-fulfillment

January 12, 2015

Until last week I had never heard of Paul McKenna. Now I have become aware of his claims to help me change my destiny, which seems a bit of an oxymoron

The whole thing about destiny, I used to think, is that it’s what fate has arranged to happen to you, come what may. So I listened up, when I heard somebody called Paul being interviewed on BBC Radio Five who claimed to have cracked the destiny business.

Paul spoke with the authority and conviction of a prophet bringing good news to the previously unenlightened. He wanted listeners to buy his new book, plus assorted multi-media aids to enlightenment.

At first, I wondered if Paul was one of those callers with a bee in his bonnet, and whether the interviewer had allowed him to rant on during an afternoon in which callers were scarce. Then he said there was scientific evidence and research backing up his system of do-it-yourself destiny control. I must find out more about Paul, I thought.

It’s all in the Daily Mail

It was a simple matter to track down Paul. He obligingly mentioned the title of his new book several times during the interview.

I found that Paul had outlined quite a bit of his approach in The Daily Mail just a few weeks earlier.

A few sentences will be enough to indicate what he is about:

Congratulations — today is the day you are going to alter your destiny. In just a few hours, the entire direction of your life will change for the better.

A dramatic claim? Certainly, but with just a little input from you, I know we can make this happen.

It may seem like magic, but it’s actually grounded in some astonishing recent breakthroughs in science, psychology and spirituality.

Cynicism and rejection

A few comments on his article were from those who had begun the few hours of effort and had begun to see their destiny changing.

But as happens with charismatic thought leaders, Paul also faces cynicism and rejection. Quite a few comments were hostile to the point of abuse. But that’s the nature of denial and the right to express views on the social media, isn’t it?

How I overcame my fear of flying

Paul mentioned the influence of his training in Neuro-Linguistic Programming. I can offer testimony to the effectiveness of applying these principles, although that was quite a few years ago, and I have not caught up on the astonishing breakthroughs Paul mentions.

What works for me is deep breathing. There you have it. A philosophy in a phrase. Deep breathing.

Deep breathing and visualisation

Paul also mentions brain-calming through visualisation. Yes, that works for me too, even that stuff about imagining you are on a sunlit beach. Lesson two. Visualisation.

Paul’s new book is called …

The Daily Mail did not mention the title or publisher of Paul’s book. This puzzling oversight was quickly remedied through a visit to the mighty Amazon. The book is called The 3 Things That Will Change Your Destiny Today !

Paul has also written books about wonderful things to do with gastric bands, and has helped smokers to quit, losers to stop losing, and the poor to become rich.

It works

I quickly found more evidence of how his methods work. A remarkable number of reviews have been submitted to the Amazon site within weeks of publication of The 3 Things That Will Change Your Destiny Today !

There was little of the cynicism of the Daily Mail readers. These Amazonian reviewers had been compelled to write in within days (sometimes hours) of receiving their copy of Paul’s book and tapes to say how they were finding their destiny. They could not restrain themselves from sharing the good news with others.

If that’s not evidence of the powers of Paul’s message, I’d like to know what is.


Peter Carey’s Amnesia is more than Wikileaks without Assange

January 1, 2015

Amnesia
Book Review

I bought Amnesia by Peter Carey for Christmas reading, partly on the author’s track record. Also because the blurb promised a tale of a cyber-hacker which a back story of political intrigue in Australia including the revolutionary events of 1975, and current controversies around the treatment of boat people, a version of a wider issue of immigration policy confronting so many countries.

Release of The Angel Worm

Cyber-hacker Gaby Baillieux’s actions have been shaped by a turbulent childhood with politically and socially active parents and diverse group of mostly hostile school mates. Her acts of rebellion with super-hacker boyfriend Frederick culminate with the release of the Angel Worm, which also results in the release of assorted prisoners detained in Australia’s prison system. Worse, the effects are felt around the world wherever American organisations are responsible for security, which naturally gives a new meaning to The Land of The Free. Frederick and Gaby become public enemies Nos 1 and 2.

A plan is hatched

A plan is hatched by Gaby’s glamorous mother Celine and Felix Moore, a discredited journalist and formerly a besotted admirer of Celine. The plan is bankrolled by Woody Townes, a left-wing property developer (implausible, but not quite unbelievable), who is a more recent member of Celine’s entourage. Felix is to write an account of Gaby’s life that will save her from extradition to a place where no Angel Worm will gain entry.

Amnesia indeed

Carey chosoes words carefully. The Amnesia of his title indicates the way in which unpleasant and inconvenient truths are denied and forgotten. It was certainly the case for me, and the book sent me back to the story which has scarcely been referred to for half a century. The forgotten crisis demonstrated for perhaps the last time the ultimate control exercised by The British political system in resolving Australian internal affairs. It remains a live issue in Australia, and is a backdrop to the tensions towards self-determination so important today around the world, not least in the United Kingdom in the devolution debates in Scotland and elsewhere.

In Amnnesia, the story unfolds from the perspective of Gaby, as related to Felix, who reverts to type by stubbornly refusing to write anything but the truth. Various factors including the motives and intentions of Gaby, Celine, and Woody make Felix’s task increasingly difficult and dangerous.

More than Wikileaks without Assage

The book makes no mention of Australia’s most notorious hacker. But it is, anyway, more than Wikileaks without Assage. I chose to leak no further, beyond noting that the book was by far the most interesting one I read over the festive season.


Wittgenstein Jnr by Lars Iyer isn’t Sophie’s World 2. Or is it?

October 22, 2014

Wittgenstein jnrBook Review

It is quite appropriate that I obtained a copy of Wittgenstein Jnr under the mistaken impression that the book is a follow-up to Jostein Gaarder’s classic Sophie’s World. It isn’t. Written by that Norwegian philosopher. But by the English one with a Norwegian name. Who writes campus philosophy books among which Dogma is my favourite.

My false premise

My false premise was at least in keeping with one of the themes both of Sophie’s World and Wittgenstein Jnr: the nature of reality (of course). Gaardner charms us into an overview of Western philosophy through a story of young Sophie and her journey of discovery through a world of the imagination. Iyer draws us into the world of undergraduate Peters, and his journey of discovery through a world of the imagination, set in the context of the simulacrum Cambridge (about as real as the Oxford in the Morse stories, which come to think of it is very real for a generation of admirers of the TV versions of the stories of Colin Dexter).

Wittgenstein Mark 2?

The central character of Wittgenstein Jnr is a philosophy lecturer who is referred to by his students as a latter-day Wittgenstein. This Wittgenstein Mark 2 indeed resembles the character portrayed by Monk in his biography of Ludwig the first.

The obsessive search for philosophic closure through symbolic logic or its destruction is here. The larger than life student characters of earlier work are here, but reworked away from hapless but cheerful inhabitants of a philosophic underworld to an equally hapless and cheerful bunch of privileged inhabitants of Camalot / Cambridge.

Ludwig is here, although Ludwig the second is even more clinically depressed and doomed than Ludwig the first

Highly readable in a creative slippery literary way

There is much to enjoy about the book. It is highly readable, and stylistically creative in a subtle slippery literary way. Lyer has honed his prose into a tight personal style. It works, like many works of art, by concealing the labour that goes into final text. when I tried extracting an example, it became clear to me just how crafty the writing is.

Crafty writing

Here’s an example chosen selected almost at randomm, a scene in which EDE, one of students announces his split with his girlfriend Phaedra. Lyer sets the scene in two one-line paragraphs. It might have been four or five lines of poetry.

Saturday Night. Ede texts. You up? I split with Fee.

Ede, in the communal kitchen, emptying a tub of mushrooms onto the counter.

Readable?

A cautious endorsement. I enjoyed it. When I tried explaining it to a friend, my description left him unconvinced. Which suggests the test might follow a visit to one of those old fashioned pre-Amazon  book vendors,  and a quick scan of the book’s contents.


Is Narcissism always a bad thing?

August 12, 2014

NarcissusNarcissism is often associated with ‘the dark side of leadership’. Recent studies offer a revised perspective

A review in The Economist [March 22nd, 2014] was entitled Narcissism: Know thy selfie. It reviewed two recent books on Narcissism: Mirror, Mirror: the uses and abuses of self-love, by Simon Blackburn, and The Americanization of Narcissism, by Elizabeth Lunbeck.

Lasch and the Culture of Narcissism

In examining these books it is worth going back to the psychodynamic treatment of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch. It is worth revisiting this classic study as the critic As Siegel summarized the work:

in “The Culture of Narcissism,” Lasch took what was still mainly a narrowly clinical term and used it to diagnose a pathology that seemed to have spread to all corners of American life. In Lasch’s definition (drawn from Freud), the narcissist, driven by repressed rage and self-hatred, escapes into a grandiose self-conception, using other people as instruments of gratification even while craving their love and approval. Lasch saw the echo of such qualities in “the fascination with fame and celebrity, the fear of competition, the inability to suspend disbelief, and the shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations.

The full-on connection between narcissism and many of the evils of modern society was always likely to attract a revisionary accounts such as those of Blackburn and Lubeck.

Narcissism and balance

Blackburn argues that a ‘healthy’ self-image is bounded at one pole by excessive self-regard, and at the other pole by lack of adequate self-image. This adds needed nuance to the Lasch position, as well as to the popular connection between narcissism and the dark side of charismatic leadership. His plea is for positioning the individual more carefully in their context. The prevailing view of egotistical leaders may have slipped too much into polarisation. Where he is closest to Lasch is in his cutting observations of advertising which seeks to bolster the self-image of the consumer (Blackburn takes the ‘because you are worth it’ message of L’Oreal as an example]

‘Good narcissism’

Lunbeck adds the point that the neo-Freudians have tended to focus on narcissism as bad, and that Lasch contributed this cultural belief. Freud, she argues, saw the development of self-regard as a form of ‘good narcissism’.

Narcissism as a dilemma

Both Blackburn and Lunbeck show us that narcissism may be more of a dilemma to be understood than a universal curse.

Suggestion to leadership tutors

Essay question: Is Narcissism a bad leadership characteristic? Discuss, drawing on the work of Simon Blackburn and Elizabeth Lunbeck


Capital, by John Lanchester, is a capital read

August 9, 2014

imageBook Review

The book jumped out and arrested my attention from the display at my local bookshop. The first impression was reinforced by Andrew, manager and supplier of the shop’s excellent cookies.

Capital, he said, had wowed his book-reading group. He then insisted on reading an extract as I consumed one of his units of production – a chocolate cookie – together with a less than skinny Latte. Of course, I was also thinking of another book. A century ago, [1867] Karl Marx wrote Das Kapital, one of the most influential books of all time and which translates into Capital.

Andrew and his excellent Latte made it a done deal. I left a shop with a copy of this novelby the English writer John Lanchester, set in London in the period approaching the great financial crisis of 2008.

It was published in 2012, shortly before the arrival pf the best-selling economic analysis also entitled Capital, and written by the French economist Piketty. Lanchester, so Andrew told me, had chosen the title for its multiple meanings. The book was about economic capital, set in the Capital city, with ironic hints at capital meaning excellent. Duh.

In the book, a cast of interesting characters is assembled around Pepys Road, a suburban location that has through a twist of economic fate made the occupants rich simply because all the houses there ‘as if by magic, were now worth millions of pounds.’ The reader is warned in these words in the book’s prologue that this blissful state of affairs would not last. Nor did it. Most readers will need little reminding of the approaching financial devastation of 2008.

The writing is clear, deceptively easy to follow, and full of authoritative touches. The book is an enjoyable read. Its rather unobtrusive plot concerns mysterious and threatening messages received by the occupants of Pepys Road. Readers were led to believe they were from a creative estate agent, but this was discounted as the messages became darker. The police are called in.

Even more interesting is the unfolding of the personal stories of the characters who are deftly described with insight and empathy, from the over-extended financial executive, the football star from Senegal, the traffic warden, and the Pakistani family running the local shop.

Half-way through the book, I briefly began to feel that I was reading a story that had been rather too carefully constructed, one that would elegantly unfold towards a satisfactory resolution. There was a satisfactory closure that matched the subtlety of the plotting.

To say more would risk plot-spoiling. I can only add the first LWD review five star recommendation for this enjoyable and thought-provoking tale.

Recommendation for LWD subscribers: *****


Discursive leadership: a note on leadership style

June 23, 2014

Book review: Fairhurst, G.T., (2007) Discursive leadership: in conversation with leadership psychology, Thousand Oaks, Ca: Sage

Tudor Rickards

I became interested recently in Discursive leadership through reading a book on the subject by Gail Fairhurst, an American Professor of Communication Studies.

Many leadership styles have been proposed by practitioners and theorists. They include the charismatic style; those based on theories X, Y, and Z; Machiavelli; authenticity; and moral rectitude.

Discursive leadership may appear to be yet another leadership style. It may also provide challenging insights to a different way of thinking about leadership and the nature of styles.

Discourse and discussion

Readers not acquainted with the term discursive will recognize the similarities with the more familiar concept of discussion. Readers acquainted with post- modern writings will already be aware of discourse theory, which explores the processes of constructing social reality through texts and other narrative structures.

Professor Fairhurst is not describing a style. Indeed, the book rejects the popular view that leadership styles exist as objective phenomena. The departure point is whether a leadership style exists as an objective phenomenon with a measurable and observable essence. The widely- accepted view is that it does, so efforts to study and measure the style are afoot. Professor Fairhurst subscribes to the social constructionist belief that leadership and its various modes are beliefs constructed in social action. It is a point that has been applied to leadership by other scholars such as Keith Grint

This set me wondering whether such a discursive approach could be applied to other leadership concepts. Might charismatic leadership be considered as socially constructed? And how about Authentic Leadership not considered as a style, but as arising from the way in which a social group develops its notions of authenticity?

If Fairhurst’s ideas become more widely accepted, cherished notions of leadership style will receive much-needed revision.

Comments

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“Going Clear”.  Why you can’t buy this book about Scientology in the UK

January 23, 2013

Ron HubbardGoing Clear is the title of a recently published book on Scientology, written by the distinguished journalist Lawrence Wright.  You can buy it in bookshops around the world, except in the UK

Why isn’t the book on sale in the UK? The publishers appear to have decided against facing an anticipated lengthy legal battle with the forces of Scientology. 

I tried unsuccessfully to obtain a copy in the days after its publication date during a visit to the US. I was unsuccessful, but did find a brilliant review by Michael Kinsley of The New Republic, which appeared in this Sunday’s New York Times [Jan 20 2013]

The book, according to Kinsley, attempts to be a balanced account of Scientology and yet which succeeds in making a powerful indictment of the movement’s methods of control which are considered by Kinsley similar to those found in totalitarian regimes. He describes Wright as accumulating convincing evidence of

“something close to prison camps where dissenters, would-be defectors and power-struggle rivals were incarcerated in deplorable conditions for years…a shadow totalitarian empire …financed by huge contributions from …[celebrity backers].”

Conspiracy theories

This is the stuff of conspiracy theory. Granted I am working at second remove from Wright’s book, but it is not difficult to see how a publisher might get worried that skilled lawyers on behalf of scientology could make a lot of trouble in the courts.

Beyond rationality

The conceptions of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard [image above] have been widely considered as beyond rational belief. That is the argument levelled at all religions by rationalists. I leave it others to examine the theology that between life on earth, death and an afterlife, is a period during which our spirits are transported to Venus to have their memories erased. This follows from Hubbard’s notion that life on earth originated with visits from Thetans from the planet Venus.

The charismatic leader

Accounts of charismatic leaders such as Ron Hubbard often describe how their unshakeable beliefs are instilled in their followers.   Mr Hubbard’s influence has extended long after his death [in 1986]. Current believers such as Tom Cruise contribute considerable sums of money to financing the scientology movement.

The dark side of leadership

Increasingly, the dark side of charismatic leadership is being recognised by researchers. L Ron Hubbard may be added to the group of charismatics deserving further attention in this respect.

Beyond Wikipedia

The book may add more authenticated research to the account on the life of Hubbard to be found in Wikipedia, which is particularly critical and lengthy. However, a feature of a belief system is its capacity to deny the validity of attempts which threaten its core.  It will take more than another book to budge the thinking of those committed to the beliefs of Scientology.


Lord Alistair McAlpine’s story

November 12, 2012

This morning [Nevember 6th 2012] I came across my unpublished notes concerning a story written by Lord Alistair McAlpine. It seems a good time to publish them in this era of scandals concealed and scandals revealed

The notes were tucked away in a book, and seem to have been written sometime in the late 1990s. I must have been collecting materials on political leadership, but I can’t recall completing them for publication.

Political intrigue

In the first of my notes, the author is writing about a political intrigue around a leadership challenge. He warns that the plotters have to be careful because “there was a time when the stalking horse won and stayed there for three terms (in office)”.

Hypocrisy and cynicism

In the second extract, I had marked up the following passage:

“Hypocrisy and cynicism are not uniquely the stuff of politics nor indeed of politicians. They are weapons of the second-rate in all walks of life … the tools of those who would only better their own positions. Those I write of have neither principles nor morals so they cannot be chastised for what they do”.

The trades are completely different

A final quote mused on “how strange it is that politicians have such admiration for those who succeed in business … The delusion explains a lot of the problems suffered by our nation … [because] the two trades are totally different”.

Disclaimer

The extracts are from Lord McAlpine’s work of fiction, Letters to a young politician, written around the mid 1990s. I re-read my copy of the book for this post.

You will find an excellent review of the book, by Andrew Marr, who exercises the reviewer’s right to avoid revealing how Lord McAlpine’s story turns out in the end.

Lord McAlpine has suffered from false accusations this week [Nov 6th-12th 2012]. The false allegations, repeated on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, contributed to the resignation of George Entwistle from the post of Director General of the BBC.


Julian Barnes, the Parrot and the Albatross

September 17, 2012

Book Review by Tudor Rickards

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes is widely recognised as a modern classic. It has already found its way on to courses of modern literature, and its author has indicated that he believes it one of his greatest achievements

I came to it only after reading his more recent work, this year’s Booker Prize winning Sense of an Ending. Both books reveal an author deeply aware of literary style. Barnes is a noted literary critic, and in some way I was left wondering if the critic sits like an albatross on the shoulders of the creative novelist.

Creative licence

I admired the intellectual effort which went into the crafting of Flaubert’s Parrot and (to a lesser degree) into Sense of an Ending. In the former, Barnes engages in quite a bit of prolepsis, anticipating and addressing naïve criticism that readers such as myself may incline towards. He challenges us to ask why an author should be compelled to tell a story holding to the established canons of narrative form. It’s an appeal to the creative rights of the artist, and there is quite a bit in the book to enlighten the reader about the nature of the literary issues involved.

The reader’s demands of an author

The book incorporates a melange of arguments (a manifesto?) of the merits and shortcomings of literary criticism. That is not to say the book is not worth some effort in the reading. It does have a story, but as I read, I increasingly wanted to develop more sympathy for the [fictionl] narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, an obsessive medical doctor and would-be novelist in search of unrevealed truth about his literary hero Gustave Flaubert. Barnes had not adequately engaged me (or maybe I had not adequately engaged myself) in the pursuit of the issue as to whether I had any right to make such a demand of the author.

But willy-nilly, in the reading, I had taken on board some of the author’s pre-occupations. I even found a wonderful image about perceptions of reality. The following is a slightly abbreviated quote from p101 [of my 2009 edition].

“The past is a distant receding coastline, and we are all in the same boat. Along the stern rail there is a line of telescopes; each brings the shore into focus at a different distance. If the boat is becalmed, one will seem to tell the whole, the unchanging truth. But this is an illusion. As the boat sets off again, we return to our normal activity: scurrying from one telescope to another, seeing the sharpness fade in one, waiting for the blur to clear in another. And when the blur does clear we imagine we have made it do so all by ourselves.”

Making sense of the past

It set me thinking about the way we attempt to make sense of the past. The meaning of leadership stories, but much more beside. How beliefs are less reliable than we tend to assume them to be. How anxiety sharpens the search for new meaning, which will always be prone to illusions and delusions.

You may also have noted the echo in the quote of the famous dictum from Mao about the sort of leader who influences events unnoticed, so that the followers afterwards believe they achieved things all by themselves.


A Fishy Tale from Norway

June 26, 2012

The contrary forces of innovation, Thomas Hoholm, Palgrave, ISBN 978 0 230 28366 4, 2011

Reviewed by Tudor Rickards

From time to time, a book for reviewing produces the response “Yes. That’s how it was for me too!” For me, this is one such book. It describes in rich detail and analysis a case study of the processes of innovative new product development. The environment of research and development (R&D) is beautifully captured.

Norway’s Blue/Green Strategy

The story has been described as a spin-off from the “Green Blue” strategy in Norway, which backed research into fisheries (blue) and agriculture (green). The specific innovations are traced to the research of a Professor Erik Slinde who was interested in industrializing Norway’s fish harvesting.

With entrepreneurial flair he hit on the idea of producing a fish-based salami. If you think that’s crazy get the book. If you think it’s a great idea, get the book. The little triumphs and disasters on the journey are convincingly reported.

Beyond a linear model of innovation

In his introduction, the author illustrates his departure from the traditional linear models of innovation as rather deterministic processes. Rather, he supports the notion of “path creation…that is known by a number of useful terms [including]: contingency, situatedness, relationality, heterogeneity, and co-creation” [page 1].

Hoholm argues that the management of innovation requires recognition of “a pluralistic power structure of leadership” [page 13].

Networks, paradoxes and dilemmas

This leads to an approach which examines innovation at the level of networks of interaction:

Corporate relationships shape and yet restrict or bound change

It is equally valid to say that a company defines relationships or that the company is defined by those relationships

Control of a network is desired but can become destructive


Actor Network theory

The author also draws on actor network theory, ANT, pioneered among others by Bruno Latour. Hoholm considers ANT “not so much a theory as an empirical and analytical methodology” [page 21].

He sees Latour’s work as a treatment which by-passes the agency/structure debate in social science in favour of a ‘circulating entity’ [page 22]. In more everyday terms, innovation like other social phenomena cannot be split into two entities such as agents and structures in search of causal explanations. This contrasts with much of popular explanations of innovation ‘caused’ by an individual, or an initiating idea triggering a linear sequence of consequences.

Why read this book?

I hope I have indicated why the book has appeal for researchers into innovation processes as well as a wider audience interested in how to conduct research in the social sciences