Feeling Blue

One of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever come across is the book “The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear”. The book introduces you to characters like the Minipirates, the Babbling Billows, Professor Abdullah Nightingale, the Troglotroll, and Fredda the Alpine Imp, but also to places like Hobgoblin Island, Tornado City, the Demerara Desert and the Valley of Discarded Ideas. According to reviewer Georges T Dodd, it is “like Robin Williams and Monty Python joining to narrate a Harold Shea adventure”. I don’t know about that, but I do know it’s a really good read! Extra credit goes to John Brownjohn, who must have had a both hard and joyful time translating from German.

When I told a friend of mine living in Germany about my “discovery”, he kindly informed me that Käpt’n Blaubär is to Germany what Donald Duck is to Sweden on Christmas Eve. Well, German culture is apparently not my bag. Maybe this is my ticket to improving my German though…


Memento Vivere

Ellen Key’s Strand is a house with a very special purpose behind it design. As author and public debater Key devoted her life to the improvement of the life of children and women. When in her late fifties Key wanted to retire in 1910, she had Strand built to first serve as a home for her where she could entertain guests such as Werner von Heidenstam and Prince Eugene. But she also had in mind letting the house be the summer home for working women in need of rest, after her death. The design of the house is bright, warm and clean, with light furniture easy to arrange to support conversation and reflection.

As a house built by a woman and not designed for a traditional family, Strand could have been included in Katarina Bonnevier’s PhD thesis ”Behind Straight Curtains – Towards a Queer Feminist Theory of Architecture”. In this amazing new thesis, three women and their houses are presented: Selma Lagerlöf’s Mårbacka, Natalie Barney’s literary salon at 20 rue Jacob and Eileen Gray’s E.1027.

The thesis is an exploration into the theatricality of architecture, where a house is viewed as a scene where we can take on different roles. Bonnevier is fascinated by what she calls the enactments of architecture. One way the thesis explores this thought is in its format, written as a series of lectures where both fictional students and historical persons are provided with voices. They are not notes from lectures, but written as dramatic scripts in order to become living representations of their contents.

One of the important thoughts explored in this thesis is to what extent architecture is the result of our view of the world, but also how architecture can change our perspective and afford certain activities. One curious similarity between Key and Gray is that they both used text to decorate the walls and make the guests reflect on life. Key with Latin such as “Memento vivere” and “Accende et arde” while Gray’s included messages in French such as "entrez lentement".

I think it is very important to look at seemingly neutral phenomenon with new glasses and also to use other than traditional protocols for theses and presentations. I wish I had more of that kind of courage and imagination when I wrote my thesis ten years ago.

Bonnevier’s thesis has changed my perspective on architecture in a similar way that Sophia Ivarsson and Lina Edmark’s work on gender aspects of international rescue missions provided me with a whole new view. In their report they reveal how the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is viewed by the Swedish rescue service, and how it has been implemented. It also provides very concrete advice on how to improve the implementation. For example, in an area where women traditionally search the woods for sticks to make cooking fires it does make a tremendous difference if the rescue team only look for landmines on the paths. Still, new perspectives are difficult to introduce why it is important to support collaboration such as the Operation 1325 initiative.


Researching War

When Carl von Clausewitz in the beginning of the 19th century coined the expression “the fog of war” he probably did not realise to what extent it would be used.

"War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty." Clausewitz, On War
Although the cannons used at this point of time would most certainly produce a lot of smoke, Clausewitz had a more metaphorical meaning in mind, referring to the chaos and confusion people immersed in battle can experience. This expression is still in much use and it is debated to what extent new information technology contributes to diminish or increase the fogginess. Clausewitz also contributed another much used military metaphor: the theatre of war.

"This term denotes properly such a portion of the space over which war prevails as has its boundaries protected, and thus possesses a kind of independence. This protection may consist in fortresses, or important natural obstacles presented by the country, or even in its being separated by a considerable distance from the rest of the space embraced in the war.” Clausewitz, On War
When viewed as a theatre, the notion of roles in war becomes even more evident. In one of the projects I’m engaged in right now I work with the Swedish National Defence College investigating how the use of academic researchers could be increased in international peacekeeping operations. One fundamental question is what role or roles a researcher could and should take on in such an environment, and be accepted both by his/her combat and faculty co-workers. How can researchers help to clear the fog?

Much organisational and management theory has its origin in the military context. Words like strategy, tactics, deployment and so on are now also used in business settings. However, the underlying military metaphor may have unwanted implications. In the article “The Heart of Appreciative Inquiry” authors John Sutherland and Jacqueline Stavros argue that it is time to replace the war metaphor when doing strategic development. They propose a shift from using tools like SWOT to SOAR instead. As it happens, the next issue (August 2007) of the AI Practitioner will focus on an appreciative approach to strategy where several applications of SOAR can be found. For those interested in other metaphors used in business settings, I recommend “Strategy Safari: A Guided Tour through the Wilds of Strategic Management” by Mintzberg, Ahlstrand, and Lampel, as well as James Lawley’s “Metaphors of Organisations”.

In the future, it would be really interesting to do field research focusing on developing the collaboration between military peacekeeping forces, NGOs and local government organisations. Especially by applying Appreciative Inquiry as both a research and organisational development approach, and by investigating what role modern information technology could play.


To Cultivate One’s Garden

I’ve been an irregular visitor to the Läckö Castle Garden for almost twenty years now. My first visit still comes to my mind in vivid colours. The fresh garden was absolutely new. The sky was as blue as the surrounding inland waters, in stark contrast to the sturdy white castle walls. For the first time, I experienced the beauty of the vegetable garden, making it apparent to me that also the practical can and should be presented in an appealing way. Today’s visit was blessed with the same wonderful weather, with crispy air and shimmering sun. Only the company differed.

A garden is a very useful metaphor, especially apt to illustrate growth and development. I remember when working for Linq how our customer Société Générale liked the name of our corporate portal, The Garden, so much that they adopted it for their own intranet prototype (although renaming it Le Jardin of course). Similar to gardens, you can adopt different strategies for your intranet. Well-structured as a French renaissance garden, or wild as an English park, tranquil as a Japanese Zen garden or surprising as an Italian one. My favourite is the English cottage garden with its abundance of flowers in all shapes, colours and sizes. Easy to overview and manage, and producing a warm welcome. Some day I would like to craft an intranet just like that.

Another garden well worth a visit is Peter Korn’s. This garden is being developed in the woods, based on the principle that plants should be placed where they can more or less manage on their own without adding water or fertilizers. In addition to looking at the rare plants, you can actually buy some as well.

Both these gardens can be considered as the result from combining personal initiative with entrepreneurial encouragement from the Region Västra Götaland. A good reason for everyone to contemplate going home and cultivate their gardens. Especially this year when we celebrate the birth of Carl von Linné 300 years ago!