In Arcadia ego

Our discipline is constantly searching for typologies and models, each of which following the limpest scrutiny end up fitting like a Byrite suit. Therefore, as aimless as any Conference South punt upfield, comes a new model – the Four Ba Blues.

It starts with some promise: the concept of ba. This idea was proposed by the philosopher Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945), using the Japanese word loosely translated in English as “place”. It means a shared space for emerging relationships that may be physical (office or other workplace), virtual (cyberspace) or mental (ideas), or any combination of the above – that is, in existential terms, a context that harbours meaning. When knowledge (which is intangible) is separated from ba, it becomes information (tangible) which can be shared, and resides in media. As you can imagine, it gets hellishly complicated from here on, but the key idea for workplace and social business thinkers alike is the vital and inseparable relationship between physical space and the virtual and mental. Vital stuff.

If ba is progressive, then its spiritual opposite, bah, isn’t. This is an essentially British approach, exported globally, that holds that all ideas of whatever form are fundamentally rubbish, especially those with very short names that sound uncomfortable when you use them in casual conversation or meetings. It is immediate, uninhibited and without pretention, albeit in most instances fundamentally missing the point. However, the point is not important as it would inherently contain context, which bah holds to be irrelevant. Unsurprisingly and evidently, it has underpinned many workplace projects of the last decade and thrives in prevailing empirical management culture. For a while yet, at least.

This leads us to the inverse negative of bah, often called baaa. This doctrine holds that original ideas and thought are ostensibly for others, imbued as they are with risk and requiring of some courage to articulate and action. Practitioners and adherents instead indulge in the vast quantities of freely available “case study porn” (as @euan terms it) – usually alone – providing access to that which has been thought or enacted before, and all of which is deemed unquestionably brilliant (by the proponent). The movement is essentially built on myth, in reality unsubstantiated guff, endlessly repeated by its followers in near-trance-like state at their ritualistic and institutionalised gatherings – annual conferences.

Finally in our quixotic quartet, the idea of bar. For converts to this approach, there are other priorities. Essentially focussed on the social (who is at the bar?), with reference to the physical (where is the bar?) and on the odd occasion the mental (how am I going to get to the bar?), all outcomes are inherently transitory. Well they are – aren’t they?

Because as Howard Devoto once said:

You killed me off in theory
et in Arcadia ego….

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