A desk is a dangerous place in which to watch the world.
John Le Carre
A couple of mornings ago, I made my way into Melbourne for a fascinating if not, “intriguing” event called Conversations of Intrigue hosted by @DangerousMeredith. I had little idea of what the event will be about but from what I had read from Meredith’s blog post of the same title, it was enough to make me curious about the concept. After all, here was an opportunity to be involved in a facilitated discussion about the function and dysfunction of modern organisations but it used John Le Carres novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as the basis of the conversation.
So last week, I was on the hunt for the book at the local libraries and managed to find a well worn copy. I spent my weekend reading it and trying to understand the plot and the characters.
— Helen Blunden (@ActivateLearn) September 18, 2015
Although we weren’t expected to have read the novel before the session, I decided that for my own appreciation of the themes we were going to discuss, I had to read the book and better prepare myself. I found the book at a local library and spent my weekend reading it immersing myself into the world of underhanded espionage, paranoia and double crossing tactics but don’t kid yourself, don’t expect a thrilling James Bond novel. It’s actually a complex read.
My first thoughts about the book were less about trying to draw parallels of a modern workplace and organisation but more about simply trying to understand all the characters and the story. I recalled the same confusion while watching the movie at the cinema. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is about how a “small, podgy and at best middle-aged” spy called George Smiley is brought out of retirement to try and find a mole in British Intelligence selling secrets to the KGB at the height of the Cold War.
What an assignment! If that doesn’t ring alarm bells in your head, I don’t know what will but poor Smiley, didn’t get much of a choice in this “consulting” gig.
I couldn’t help but think of those people we read about it the news (usually white, middle aged men in highly conservative and traditional roles) who get ‘tapped’ on the shoulder by government to head up an inquiry, commission or investigation and through the process of analysis, “dirty laundry is aired in the public”. I’m sure that even to this day, underhanded tactics occur every day – just look at Australian politics.
After our introductions, Meredith summarised the book and handed out excerpts. We read the excerpts out loud and talked about how this related to modern organisational culture and values. We explored themes such as competence, shared values, the role of leaders in creating vision, narrative and purpose. We also talked about how organisations can fundamentally fail when these are missing; and the impact that culture plays to individuals and teams.
Overall, my general feelings about participating in Conversations in Intrigue was that it made me think of who really holds the power in organisations nowadays and I recalled this article once again Social Intranet Strategy: Understanding the Impact of Networks, Power and Politics which was one of the reading references of the Exploring Personal Learning Networks MOOC. The parallels were similar.
If you’re interested in these Conversations of Intrigue and how you can use this forum to explore some issues in your organisation drawing upon the themes in the book (actually Meredith made it clear that it could be any book of your choice), then contact her for more information.