Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Entering the Bullshit Zone

A lot of you may think that my life is pretty damn sweet. I get paid a decent wage for talking about books and ideas. Books and ideas that I'd talk about for free in the pub or on park benches were I not paid to do so within the confines of bad architecture. 

But like the rest of you, academia has been poisoned by the discourses of self-help, marketing, capitalism and all the other snake-oil bullshitters inexplicably given prime-time TV shows and acres of broadsheet print. 

Take this conference:

Entrepreneurial Education & Innovation: Developing Entrepreneurial Mindset for Knowledge Economy – explore the global eco-system of entrepreneurial mind-sets and high growth strategies in innovation. 

OK, it's not grammatical. But more than that: it's an offence to education and humanist values. Norman Fairclough himself would have a heart attack trying to swallow this rubbish. I particularly object to the implication that 'knowledge' is the key. I'd have thought that facts were less important than philosophy. Forget the tabloid Philistines' open and honest contempt for education: the real barbarians are inside the gates, mocking and sneering at us. 

Let's look more closely at what this might mean. 
The Entrepreneurial Innovation Conference… will address the need for an entrepreneurial mind-set in those countries wishing to compete successfully in the global market. 

No. The closest I can get is 'scoop up some suits from an airport and ask for their Alan Sugar-esque insights, because we all know that capitalism is the product of individual genius, don't we?'. I can't even begin to think what 'high-growth innovation' is. I didn't think innovation was a measurable commodity.  
Well, I think the last few years have proved that globalisation, capitalism and entrepreneurship have saved the world's economy. Look at Bernie Madoff, Rich Ricci, Alan Sugar himself (though not too closely): shining examples of sustainable and equitable development. Oh, hang on a minute. 

But I'm being mean. They're not all snake-oil salesmen. Look who's coming to dinner:

The conference will be chaired by professional speaker, moderator and author Roy Sheppard ensuring a slick, interactive and entertaining day (and night!)  “He’s also our dinner speaker!”  

Indeed: his after-dinner speech is 'How to be Upbeat in a Downbeat World!'

You can always tell you're getting a sober analyst by the presence of italicised bold complete with quotation and exclamation marks. I think it's worth quoting Roy's CV at length because it tells you what this pseudo-academic event is really like and for.

Roy Sheppard is a specialist international conference moderator and business speaker working with countless global organisations at the C-suite level. He has moderated numerous global conferences and summits for the Olympic movement and has worked extensively in the IT, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, retail real estate and tobacco sectors.  
A trained therapist and former BBC broadcaster, Roy is knowledgeable, funny, inspirational and thought-provoking.  
Roy is the 'conscience of the audience' and he sees his role as ensuring delegates and guests gain maximum value from attending the event. He has been a visiting lecturer at Cranfield and Henley and is also the author of various relationship books. 
His most recent, to be published in July 2013, are for all 15 to 25 year olds; Dear Son: what I wish I'd known at your age and Dear Daughter: what I wish I'd known at your age. 
Roy’s books include:
-  Dear Son: what I wish I’d known at your age
Dear Daughter: what I wish I’d known at your age 
How to Be The One. This book explains how to be a better girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife for your existing partner, or for ‘the one’ you have yet to meet 
Meet Greet & Prosper. A handy pocketbook on the essential skills of networking. FREE COPY FOR ALL DINNER GUESTS 
- Rapid Result Referrals. How to turn your contacts into customers by using ethical word-of-mouth techniques and strategies.  

So not only is Roy not an academic, he is – inevitably – a 'therapist'. Is he a qualified therapist? Who knows? His qualifications aren't exactly trumpeted on his website. All we know is that he happily works for the most sinister corporate sectors in existence. And lucky attendees get his book Meet Greet and Prosper for free! Anyone who says it's a rewrite of perennial losers' manual How To Make Friends And Influence People is just a cynic. 

But it could be worse: at least he's not handing out copies of another of his self-published books, That Bitch: Protect Yourself Against Women with Malicious Intent, co-authored by Mary Cleary.  

So, who's going to this conference? Well, apart from any of my colleagues (we've all been invited), it's aimed at:

all strategic decision makers from across the globe

which makes me feel pretty darned important and entrepreneurial, let me tell you.  

Still, it could be worse. UCL hosted a conference on 'resilience', which I suspect would have cost you many hundreds of pounds. 

ISRS is due to hold its inaugural conference on 13 November 2012, entitled “Building an Ethos of Resilience: A new Manifesto for Business.”  
The purpose of the conference is to assess how individuals, organisations and societies can build resilience to crises. In the modern interdependent, networked world, crises are now the norm not the exception. Without understanding the true nature and reasons for these events, the risk of continued vulnerability remains. This conference will unpick the complexities that give rise to crises and offer practical and deliverable solutions to those seeking to tackle the crucial task of building resilience. 
Resilience to crises is the key to the fitness of organisations in our uncertain times. This is a working event for business leaders, civil servants and academics to help guests develop practical ideas to take back into their own environment so that they can build greater personal and organisational resilience.

Who's there to tell you about 'resilience' and explain why 'crises are now the norm' (which seems closely allied to the Shock Doctrine of paramilitary capitalism)?
Tony Blair – the importance of resilience in leaders
Oh OK. That's one war criminal millionaire. Who else?
Michael Gove – education is the foundation
And a man with a personal grudge against intellect. Next?
John Reid – placing resilience at the heart of your strategy 
One of the most reactionary and knuckle-headed New Labour apparatchiks, now making large amounts of money from security firms (which he never mentions on TV). Spoil me more!
John Browne – constant innovation 
Would that be the John Browne who perjured himself in court and had to resign in disgrace? The one then employed to essentially privatise Higher Education? Why yes, it is! 

Who else? Well, a lot of shills, and then one other speaker who caught my eye. Why, it's internationally-acclaimed critical management studies guru… Ross Kemp! Yes, the former 'actor' of EastEnders fame.  

REF star Ross Kemp in action
Sadly, my informant informs me that neither the press nor the public were admitted into UCL's ivory tower to discover what this motley crew of criminals, thugs and ITV4 stars could tell us about 'resilience', but I'm sure it was worth every penny. 

So when you imagine me scratching away with a quill on parchment to bring the world the latest insights into 1930s Welsh writing, remember this: I'm 'going forward' with 'entrepreneurial' zeal into the  'knowledge economy'. I'm a 'global thought leader'. I'm innovative. I'm…crying, head down on my desk as I think of the days when universities weren't complicit in selling people lies. 


Steve Sarson said...

Great post. Did you see my THE piece on how this kind of thing is entering university classrooms? http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/employability-agenda-isnt-working/2002639.article

Anonymous said...

God, I wonder which IDIOT wrote the press release for that 'Entrepreneurial Education & Innovation Conference'.

Bet he's a wanker, whoever it was.

The Plashing Vole said...

It is appalling. The Society of Typographers should hang him from the nearest tree.

Kevin M said...

Perhaps the time has come for a UKuncut type national movement against this kind of charlatan payola: 'No More Cash for Gibberish, Nonsense and Pork Pies' or something like that. Good stuff Aidan.

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