On art, limericks and the dead-hand of corporate bol**cks…
Some years ago, many of the artworks on the lecture theatre walls in the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen, were removed and replaced with posters of supposedly corporate relevance and interest. At about the same time, its then Director demanded that we should aim for our science “to be just good enough”. Hey, guys, let’s forget about creating a vibrant place to work! Who needs the sort of workplace to which bright young scientists could be attracted or one in which we can help them to develop a fulfilling career in science? And let’s forget about organisational reputation too!
No wonder the Scottish Government’s Chief Scientist laughed out loud when we told her that was our Director’s ‘vision’!
Oh, and by the way, f**k art!
I was recently reminded of all this when reading an article in the Graun entitled Is your boss a bit daft?. In my opinion, that would be a ‘yes’ when considering the senior leadership teams under which I worked in my later years, but fortunately for them the Graun also tells me that it’s possibly not their fault because:
organisations that emphasise image and symbolic manipulation can often reward smart people for not using their intelligence, creating a culture of “functional stupidity”. [the Graun’s article links to this amusingly-titled paper: Alvesson and Spicer, 2012, A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations]
‘Functional stupidity’! I wish I’d invented the phrase as it describes perfectly some of the tripe that at times seeped down on us from on high. I think the removal of artworks and their replacement by corporate statements to ’emphasise image and symbolic manipulation’ is a lesser example, but an example all the same.
So I was amused when a former colleague recently derided the art-less-ness of the place:
I often wish we hadn’t got rid of the art that used to hang in the lab … I suspect philistine elements of a recent regime were responsible for that.
I agreed wholeheartedly:
Getting rid of the artworks in a science-orientated institute in favour of vision statements and corporate branding always seemed rather vulgar to me. I can just imagine the Medici’s telling da Vinci to stop his work on the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper in order to focus more on bringing his inventions ‘to market’ whilst simultaneously advising him that his gizmos were to be ‘just good enough’!
Anyway, this all brought to mind an occasion some years ago when the Laboratory’s then Head of Science decided to ask staff to vote on their preferred ‘mission statement’ from a list of candidate drafts (and in doing so he failed IMHO to distinguish between a mission statement and a ‘vision’, as I believe his alternatives were clearly the latter and not the former!).
Now, I know I wasn’t the only person to view this development with quiet despair, because a more senior colleague suggested that we should try and see who could develop the best mission statement via the medium of a limerick.
The prize was a Kit Kat and was ultimately won by the only competitor that actually used the word ‘science’ in their entry! I submitted several and was doing quite well until the judge read the last one and disqualified me from the competition (of which more in a future post).
So, as inspiration is currently lacking for any new limericks, I’ve decided to present a series of older, unpublished limericks over the next few weeks that are drawn from my ‘Vision and Mission’ competition entries of yesteryear. Here’s the first:
The Sort-of-Serious One
M Luther King said: “I have a dream!”
That’s a Vision, if you know what I mean,
But how we pursue
What we wish to be true
Is the Mission for all in our Team.