Agape Workplace Initiative


25th Jan 2017
"Of course schools have no interest in wisdom!"
1st Dec 2016
I was slightly taken aback by this rather strong statement in the title made in passing by a head teacher friend of mine, but decided to test it out on one or two others immersed in primary and secondary education. The response in each case was a sad and reluctant nod.

It’s not just that wisdom is seen as old-fashioned. “Wise words”, “Give us the benefit of your wisdom”, “Let’s pool our collective wisdom and see what we can come up with”. Whenever we use the word, it is always positively. Yet recently when I was facilitating a discussion by a group of governors trying to redesign their mission statement, the word “wisdom” was greeted with a luke warm response. It’s as if wisdom has a mysterious quality about it that is out of reach for mortal educationalists laden down with statutory requirements, focused on helping pupils gain qualifications, so that they can get decent jobs, so that they can join the rest of us in the rat race. So we settle for growing knowledge rather than wisdom.

But there’s a personal cost to count as well. Wisdom is such a holistic word - it demands that we bring the whole of ourselves to the educational process. It insists on drawing us in as subjective actors in the story, rather than objective experts in the classroom, and that makes us feel vulnerable. Many of us would prefer not to go there.

The courses we run operate in this space, such as our forthcoming “Managing Through Effective Relationships” Course for heads and deputies coming up in the new year, over three Wednesday mornings in Central Birmingham. Email me on for details. It would be nice to think there are some people still out there who really are interested in growing wisdom - in both themselves and others. I’d love to make contact.
Keep Calm and Go to Work
17th Jul 2014
Today it has been announced that unemployment levels in the UK are at their lowest since 2005. I note that when governments are trying to resuscitate dying economies, work is talked about as though it were national service. There is militant language of retired people “re-entering the workforce,” or lament over the mothers who have “retreated from the workplace.” It all sounds a bit like a war effort.

Concern for our national wellbeing seems to me like one good reason to work, and I think it would be wonderful if we all felt that solidarity of working together to make life better. But the arrangement feels relationally hollow. We don't really feel that we’re serving the economy and winning the war. Neither do we all feel trust and confidence in the powers who are calling us to arms. Many of us feel like we’re going to work only because we have to.

Work is usually, in part, an economic arrangement, but when that's all it is, it's a chore. It becomes a cold social contract where I do my bit of service and then what's left over is mine. If this is the way that those in power view work, then sooner or later everyone starts to feel like a cog in the machine. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's...” I think a lot of jobs feel like that.

Rehumanising work begins with the belief that work is supposed to be fulfilling, humanising, relational and meaningful in some way... not merely a necessary evil. Perhaps rescuing the very idea of work from the bottomless hubris of global economics might begin with a few questions:

What does my work cultivate in me?

How does it benefit others?

How does it cultivate relationships?
On Obnoxious Sales Techniques
4th Mar 2014
There is a tendency these days among salesmen: telesales men, doorstep salesmen, and those bright young things hired by charities to enlist new donors. It's their trick of beginning a conversation with you by asking you a certain yes/no question: are you the home owner? Do you have children? Have you ever known anyone who's died of cancer?

It seems a presumptuous way to start a conversation. I think we should probably introduce ourselves and our business to a stranger before demanding personal details from them. But for a long time it didn't occur to me to ask them any questions at all. I assume, since they continue to do it, that it continues to be a successful method – that other people besides myself also feel obliged to answer “yes” or “no” with that wide eyed caught-in-the-searchlight stare. Why do we do it?

No doubt there's a subtle power relationship involved: between business and customer, between corporation and consumer, between the consumer-capitalist structure and the individual. When mobile phone companies ask me if I'm on a contract, I feel faintly policed, as though I might have been doing it wrong and they ought to know about it. When the man on the doorstep asks if I'm the home-owner, I feel like it’s my duty to answer, as though they were the DVLA or something. The old phrase the customer is always right and the kind of power relationship it described is long gone. It's not that I liked always being right, but now I feel like I'm always wrong about something and should obediently submit to the salesman's diagnostic interrogation... because only the salesman can put me right again.

It's a spell that can be broken of course. It only happens because we accept it. The fascinating thing is that we do accept it. We are willing to play our subservient role as obedient subjects to the rule of business. Ready to give answers on call.

I would love to hear alternative responses to these miserable impromptu interrogations. However, I suspect the whole thing is even more miserable and oppressive for the one who is paid to start these conversations. No doubt, the salesman isn't the one who comes up with the trick question that he's paid to deceive people with all day long, and I'd have thought it makes for a sad dripping tap in his own heart. Anyone with a bit of chutzpa can put the salesman down with a witty reply, but how do we derail the zombie conversation with compassion? These poor people have become something like the tax-collectors of the gospels – who collected money from their own people for a greedy machine that didn't care about any of them. They were lovingly derailed by an invite to dinner (Jesus usually invited Himself to theirs, we note). What could be further from the cold demand for personal information by a stranger, than an invite to dinner?

Perhaps, then, we might say something like, “I'm not at all interested, but I'd love to have a sandwich with you...” Lord knows what might start happening.
The 50p Tax Debate, Again…
12th Feb 2014
The question of the 50p tax rate is of great significance to the business world, but one can only roll one’s eyes in boredom when politicians are sat down to thrash out the argument again (and again). If I’d known that this issue would be raised on Question Time last week, I could have accurately scripted the debate before it’d happened.

The maddening circularity of this discussion perhaps lies in the possibility that both sides are right (and therefore both wrong, about the other side’s wrongness). On one hand, how can the richest get a tax break when the poorest are having their services cut? And on the other hand, the market dictates that high top-rate taxes are worse for the economy, not better. The thing that sits god-like and absolute under the whole question is capitalism’s sympathy for our instinct to keep... Keeping is winning. Giving is losing. It’s obviously best to operate from wherever we can keep the most. In this respect at least Capitalism works against Robin Hood type economics.

All this is adds to the growing desire to see a sort of patriotism in business ethics these days, or at least a sense of voluntary responsibility toward the land that a business operates out of. Are such things askable, or even possible against our pragmatic approach to business?

In any case, the 50p tax debate is another example of how it is capitalism regulating governments now, and not the other way around.

David Blower

AWI co-host Syrian Refugee Fundraiser
18th Nov 2013
In Syria, fear and strife have escalated to new heights. Earlier this year, our partner organization Global Aid Network [GAiN] responded to the needs of 3,000 Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan. These needs continue today and, through our partners on the ground, GAiN continue to bring hope to these traumatized, hurting people.

Over 500,000 registered refugees are now living in Jordan, but many live in squalor - either in the refugee camp, or huddled together with up to 12 people in small rooms or makeshift structures.

As a reponse AWI are getting involved by co-hosting a Syrian Cultural Evening in Birmingham city centre on Tuesday the 10th of December from 6:30pm.

Find out more about GAiN's work with Syrians here: i

Although we're primarily inviting Birmingham business people, if you want to get a greater sense of Syrian culture, hear some stories from a recent visit to refugee families on the Syrian border and fancy an Arabic 3 course meal with a glass of wine, do join us.

The event is taking place at the Syriana restaurant, 1 Constitution Hill B19 3LG, Birmingham

The cost is £25. You can acquire tickets from 167 Newhall Street, B'ham or call 0121 7654404.

When bureaucrats rule the world
5th Oct 2013
Last week my brain went into overdrive. Someone had dropped out of a leadership development programme at short notice and I was asked if I would step in. The programme leader saw it as an opportunity to do something innovative and different, something to do with the inner life of the leader, not just a gap to fill.

We put together two days of training, kicking off with a leadership inventory, scoping out a framework for growth, decoding five major worldviews, before launching into a forgiveness discourse via Les Miserables clips, role plays and a personal case study. This morning we should have been getting into emotional awareness and threefold assertion, before introducing each participant to a coach who would walk with them over a period of weeks to press home some of the goals they would establish through the inventory and workshop. At some personal cost, the programme leader made himself available to help me with the role plays on the Saturday.

But three days ago I had a call from a very dispirited man. There's no budget for coaching. The workshop is off. But it was the comment in his post mortem email the next day that hit me with tragic lucidity: "Hopefully we can begin to identify how the immune system was triggered in this way and with this timing. It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to initiate anything in the present climate".

I wonder how well your organisation's immune system is working?  Is it protecting you from harm or is it killing off your staff?

Phil Jackman

Ten Myths about Work
4th Oct 2013
Both myself and Jon Horne of AWI have enjoyed contributing to a blog called threads. I wrote an article about hip-hop lyricists and Jon wrote one about vampires.

Starting this week on the threads blog is a series of 10 articles that highlight the biggest misconceptions about the workplace from a Christian perspective. The series was put together by Sarah-Jane Marshall of London Institute of Contemporary Christianity and judging from the first post I'll be checking back to read the other nine.

Read Myth 1 here

Read Myth 2 here

Is the Investors in People award worth having?
5th Jun 2013
Is the Investors in People award worth having? IIP has been under fire in recent years over whether they can objectively substantiate the claim that meeting their standards genuinely enhances business performance. But the problem I have is more fundamental than that. To get the IIP badge, you have to be able to demonstrate the link between people investment and performance. And my beef is that the very process of tracking that link has a dehumanising effect.

It's often said that whatever you measure is what you value. That's fine if we measure what we already value, but dangerous because if that's not so, we will come to value what we measure. In the case of IIP, that could mean coming to value people for their productivity alone. And although we will never say out loud "alone", that is still the direction that IIP takes us. The more focused and passionate we are about the measurement, the more dehumanised we will become.

It's ironic that in the public world of business we focus heavily on how to use people to make profit, then go to our homes where we turn this value on its head and use the profit we have made to help people - particularly our immediate family. For IIP to make any sense at all we must rigidly maintain the public-private divide, and any sense of holistic thinking in the workplace will become a threat. One of the defining factors is the language we use. The IIP world is all about "Return on Investment", "Human Resources", "Star Performers" and the like. And the language rules the show. IIP only tightens the circle and magnifies the effect.

So am I against the award or against the concept itself? In truth I'm cool with the idea of investing in people (small letters). On one level, it's almost the only thing I do. But we need to shift our accounting focus. Most businesses still review their accounts quarterly. That's OK for some purposes, but where people are concerned we need to do them intergenerationally, though even a single lifetime is a good place to start.

Tracking that becomes a whole lot less precise, but it also becomes a whole lot more real. Try reading the book of Proverbs in the Hebrew bible. Thinking this way is not so hard as you might imagine.

Phil Jackman

Sharing Ideas in an Ethical Vacuum?
19th Mar 2013
Umair Haque, Director of Havas Media Labs and author of 'Betterness: Economics for Humans' wrote an essay for the Harvard Business Review earlier this month. The essay is titled, 'Let's Save Great Ideas from the Ideas Industry'.

In a powerful and counter-cultural way the essay critiques the new wave of big idea forums like TED [short for Technology, Entertainment and Design]:

"I think TED thinking cheats us. Not just the "audience," but all of us. By putting climactic epiphany before experience, education, and elevation. Sure, we can spend our lives, in this digital age, getting quick hits of epiphany from our pundit overlords. In that sense, TED thinking is like a one-night stand with ideas."

Just a few paragraphs later, he hits even harder:
"There are no sources of evil in TED world — apart from a "lack." Insufficient Technology, Edutainment, and Design (or "innovation", "growth", "insights"): these are the only shortcomings the human world faces. There is no venality; no selfishness; no cruelty; no human weakness that is not readily amenable to the cure-all of Perfect Technology, Edutainment, and Design.

Hence, in TED world, there are heroes, but no villains. There are self-reliant supermen; but no rent-seekers, no criminals, no charlatans, no mountebanks, no fraudsters, schemers, or...just plain humans. There is good, but no evil. No ethics is possible given this calculus. It is an anti-ethics that perfectly describes the vacuity of our age. In this sense, TED thinking is a kind of Nietzschean enterprise: one beyond good and evil, where Supermen save the world. Yet, the real world asks us to have an ethical calculus precisely because the human heart is capable of great cruelty; of evil, of indescribable atrocity.

To me, this is the greatest and truest failure of today's idea industry: it is a mind without a heart. TED thinking cheats us of the better angels of our nature; of ethos itself, the highest, truest, and noblest of all the arts of human thought.

Great ideas, then, demand something from us — something more than pleasure. They demand more than just our "attention" — and far more than our standing ovations. They demand not just our eyes, wallets, and hands, but our hearts, minds, and souls. They demand our heartbreak, our hurt."

I think on one level Haque is being a little too harsh on TED - Isn't it okay for TED to invite people to present innovative solutions in the Technology, Entertainment and Design spectrum, some of which have been developed over many years? The presentations aren't merely new-fangled notions. If you haven't watched any TED talks and you have 20 minutes then start with this one: Sir Ken Robinson on Do Schools Kill Creativity?, which is a favorite of mine.

I would argue that one of TED's strengths IS its optimism, which in a world full of war, cynicism, cut-throat capitalism, extreme poverty, political impotence and environmental disasters is truly refreshing. It does present glimpses of the world as it ought to be and this can be galvanizing.

At times TED talks do force us to stare squarely at uncomfortable problems, though the pervasive conclusion is that we as species CAN ultimately overcome these problems. It assumes that we are moving towards some sort of balance between elitism and egalitarianism and that as we spread positive ideas especially with a naturalistic and therefore 'reliable' worldview, everybody wins. We learn from mistakes. We grow in empathy. We try really hard to recognize our carbon footprint.

But do big ideas forums like TED fail to address the fact that humans, including those in the audience, are capable of great cruelty; of evil, of indescribable atrocity?

Read Haque's whole article here and share your thoughts.

Joel Wilson