Thoughtful Indiscipline

This genteel blog can hardly lay claim to wanton rowdiness itself, let alone to inciting riotousness in its readers. Real insubordination, so the assumption goes, is hunkering down behind the barricades, Molotov cocktail in mid-arc, with your sweat-drenched balaclava steaming in the flickering orange light of another a smoke filled vigil. The idea of insubordination seems a far cry from real dissent, surely. Yet, as I’ve heard Roberto Mangabeira Unger say recently, “ideas alone can’t change the world; but without ideas you can’t change the world”, so maybe I’m okay sticking with ideas about insubordination. Like, for instance, making explicit the “underlying institutional and imaginative structures” (Unger, 1987) of a society or particular institutional practice; those sorts of ideas. My principle interest is in this blog are the institutional practices, and ideas, that go by the strange sounding compound term executive education – the education of mid- and late-career corporate executives, usually undertaken at university based business schools.

What sort of genteel or thoughtful insubordination can the corporate executive get up to? Cheating at golf, perhaps; fiddling their expenses; going home early? Maybe it’s more like running a company into the ground, or justifying unethical management practices, or just not being up-to-the-job and having everyone suffer as a result, none of which seem especially rare as examples of indiscipline. Or maybe, just maybe, the mischievous corporate executive thoughtfully disobeys the orders implicit in the underlying institutional and imaginative structures of their organisation, orders which compel them to believe that There Is No Alternative to a particular decision. And so, in defiance of the angry goddess TINA, the contemplative executive slowly crawls out from under their mountainous pile of commanding orders, onto the bleak sunlit summit that is the peak of their decision making. And the wizened mystic they meet and take guidance from atop the mountain? It’s none other than executive education; an educative event which doesn’t console the sorry executive in the mediocrity of their TINA decisions, but instead reveals to them, in the blinding azure vista, the vastness of the options open to them, options which only their insubordinate contemplation can bring to fruition.

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