Formation

The paradox on prominent display in the compound term executive education is that between commerce and the humanities; between the progressive goals of business and the equally progressive values of the liberal arts. In which case, executive education embodies a paradox of values. On the one hand, represented by “executive,” is the dominant neoliberal ideology in the guise of the corporate executive. Executing on behalf of the neoliberalist doctrines of freedom of enterprise and boundless market exchange, this regent of the dominant economic order carries out, as effectively as he or she can, what is obviously required by, and for, this order i.e. to make money and accumulate capital.

On the other hand, in “education” resides a different set of values, the most obvious of which, for the philosopher Judith Butler at least, are those which “address how we learn to think, to work with language and images, and to read, to make sense, to intervene, to take apart, to formulate evaluative judgements and even to make the world anew” (Butler, 2014).

Across this divide of values the glances exchanged are a mix of eye-glazing bafflement, risible smirks, pious disdain, and, quite possibly, since we’re working with language here, askance glares of withering insouciance. Stefan Collini offers us a helpful heuristic to make clear the distinction:

If you want to make money, go into business. If you want to learn how to make money, go to business school. If you want to learn what money is and how it has functioned and what might be the point of making a lot of it, go to university (Collini, 2016).

While these stations in Collini’s snappy, if smug, quote are not mutually exclusive, and in no way exhaust all the motivations that a would-be entrepreneur, or a would-be scholar might muster, nevertheless I find it helpful in differentiating three types of bildung (or formation as education is called in German) for the executive. That is between executive training, executive development, and executive education, elaborated crudely as follows.

Training simply transmits information to the subject, which in this case is the executive. Development attempts to improve the executive’s coping with that transmitted information. And education is a dialectic process where the executive is encouraged to constantly question any information deemed relevant to theirs, their paymaster’s and their subordinate’s, future state or well being. My interest is principally in executive education, believing this to be better formation of the executive, a formation suited to the task of questioning current assumptions than its cousins of training or development, and where a reconceived education can provide a radically new framework for reconsidering the educative purpose for mid-career executives. The distinction is further elaborated in my book, which comes out in the Autumn of 2017, titled Heidegger and Executive Education:  The Management of Time.

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