History, according to a very simplified version of Marx, is basically a continuum of opposing arguments (dialectic) – with socialism versus capitalism being the most obvious example. Occasionally, minority schools of thought appear on the scene that may, or may not, help to change the course of history (e.g. the Utopians). When you have worked in the HR field for over 30 years you start to experience the same sort of dialectical process in real time. In the late 70’s, before Margaret Thatcher came to power, industrial relations was about management versus unions and, through a dialectic, this confrontational relationship has, by and large, reached a more positive juncture: although there is still a great deal of room for improvement.
The same dialectical process is currently being applied to two apparently opposing forces in management thinking. In the blue corner we have the evidence-based managers and in the red corner we have those who, for want of a better description, want to eschew the main tenets of conventional management for something less ‘managerial’. One illustrative manifestation of this latter view is the advent of the ‘unconference‘.
As someone firmly in the EB camp you might think I would want to dismiss such events but actually, as a seasoned conference speaker myself, I have always held the view that there is precious little evidence that conventional conferences are either an efficient or effective method for sharing useful information. Amongst their numerous flaws are the fact that no one can absorb multiple, death-by-PowerPoint, presentations; only the very best conferences use speakers who actually have some acknowledged expertise and there is never enough time for a thorough debate of the most important issues. So there has to be a better alternative, and I welcome any suggestions for improvement, but the theme of this ‘unconference’ (which is still a conference – when defined as a meeting of people with a shared interest) was “How HR can use social media to gain a competitive advantage” so surely it undermined its own proposition by resorting to a physical meeting?
As a teacher (who, incidentally, only gets paid if students/delegates continue to value the knowledge I share) I physically meet my MBA class but I also use ‘social media’ when they have problems with their assignments. So maybe this dialectic process is still working well and, in the true spirit of the unconference organisers, if anyone who attended wants to share some learning with my MBA class then I cordially invite them to offer their own answers to one of the assignments I set (on how strategic HR can influence ‘Intangibles’ – specifically Creativity in this case). We can then use these for comparison and further discussion.
I will happily publish my own answer on request and share whatever we might learn. All I ask in return is some evidence that creativity provided a competitive advantage.