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The Midas Touch

The Midas TouchWe all have it but we don’t notice it. It steals what we value. Like King Midas we discover that everything we delight in becomes, through excess of our attention, no more than another commodity. We are all conditioned to want more stuff so that we are good consumers and therefore help to support an economy that is consuming the planet on which we live. … and we think of this as “progress” – but what are we observing?

It is much more widespread than that. It affects almost every aspect of our living. Read the ancient tale of King Midas – it has never been more relevant and touches every person on earth.

Consider the example of tourism. An adventurer once discovered a far off land where the people were innocently going about their simple lives in what seemed to be paradise. The sun shone on the lush landscape, wildlife flourished, pristine beaches were lapped by clear waters, simple facilities catered well enough for travellers’ needs. The adventurer wrote for the newspapers and before long crowds came, those who served the tourists made money, homes became guest houses, fishermen became tour guides. Then foreigners invested in new hotels, souvenir shops, nightclubs, diving schools and an airport. Everything the adventurer had written about passed into history. What was remarkable has been reduced to a global product in exchange for cash.

Such a story has been repeated worldwide in myriad forms at every scale – but we still pack our bags and fly to exotic locations, blind to the fact that we are contributing to the process of raping the planet for money.

Your child or grandchild enjoys treats. You enjoy giving treats. You collude with one another until it becomes one of the norms of your relationship. Unless you are very careful the receiving of treats becomes an expectation and even a precondition of being together. What was once of intrinsic value is only valued for its extrinsic worth. What lesson have you taught?

Turn on your TV and you are bombarded by exhortations to indulge yourself – “because you are worth it”. You are seduced into desiring stuff you could well live without but this persuasion is a cultural force. You will be diminished in the eyes of your friends or neighbours unless you have this gadget or that car or another TV or a new kitchen – and so on. Of course, you are not naïve. You discriminate. But even so your values are eroded and you begin to want what previously you had never even heard of. You now have to buy your own self-esteem!

It will not go on for ever. There will be some kind of reckoning. Perhaps, like Midas, we will wake up too late to save ourselves. Perhaps it will simply be a shortage of everything or maybe the whole system will collapse and we will revert to being hunter gatherers in warring tribes. But remember there are now almost 8 thousand million people and awesome destructive powers on earth. It will be for the survivors to make something of the wreckage we leave behind, in a heavily polluted world.

Is there hope in artificial intelligence?  AI can be stupendously smart. But AI is not our intelligence being used as it could be. It shines because we insist on being dumb. And is AI with all its cleverness really capable of the finer intelligence for which we humans have the potential – the possibility of enjoying art and music, of spiritual awareness, of love?

Remember the scene in 2001 Space odyssey in which the protagonist shuts down Hal, the brilliant computer. Why would humanity invent its own demise and abdicate in favour of AI?

The very idea is perhaps the equivalent of King Midas’s daughter who also turned to gold. Midas relented. Will we do so also? What can we each do to rediscover what makes living worthwhile – the very meaning of our life?

The search for meaning is what High Trenhouse exists to support. Join us on one of our open events! OR bring your group to HTH to explore your own quest for meaning.


Thinking and Perceiving

Thinking and PerceivingAs facilitators and change agents we are constantly expending cognitive, emotional and vital energies to inform and guide other people in their creative work. It is necessary to pause, relax, reflect and regenerate – as they say, to re-charge your batteries. There is nowhere better to do that thanat High Trenhouse. Come and discover the peace within, thinking and perceiving with fellow travelers in a small bubble of calm we will construct together.

In November this lightly structured residential weekend event will enable you to unwind, listen, learn and refresh. Under the direction of John Varney, founder of High Trenhouse, Centre for Management Creativity this event will be largely self-guided, with opportunities for meditation, visualisation, conversation and dialogue as well as local walks and excursions. Of course we will all benefit from great food and the wonderful location in good company.


Nine Steps to a successful off-site leadership retreat

Nine Steps to a successful off site leadership retreat

Taking a leadership team on off-site retreat can transform what is possible – what seemed hugely challenging becomes achievable. Done well a retreat brings about new relationships and a new level of thinking. The retreat gets you to a different starting point. Such events are essential to making a difference. Ideally you will find an oasis of calm, so that new visions can emerge.

Here are some points to consider that will help you make the most of going off-site.


Deeper Learning Integrates Theory and Practice

Kurt Lewin said “there is nothing as practical as a good theory”. It must be clear to anyone that action is more effective if people know what they are doing, on top of which, no action is ever without some kind of theoretical source – “I do this because… or I do this so that…” even if it is not articulated. Hence theory and practice are intimately connected.  However, that does not guarantee that when, for instance, we need to learn some new procedure or process, we can put into practice what someone has taught us. Deeper Learning Integrates Theory and Practice

I studied architecture part-time which meant I connected theory and practice on a daily basis. When I switched to full-time study I discovered my fellow students were unable to relate lessons

in structures, construction and systems to the practice of building design.  What I had integrated was, to them, no more than unrelated parts. Learning “about” seems to be different from learning to do. We can learn a lot about skiing from books and videos, but that may not enable us to perform well on the slopes.

This is a matter of different levels of learning, as in Bateson’s  Learning I, II and III.  Learning I is the accumulation or revision of skill and knowledge (the product of most education) and Learning II is a meta-learning that, while enhancing Learning 1, also integrates it with experience, enabling contextual understanding to inform our actions.

It seems likely that, without integration through experience, we can only ever achieve Learning I. Furthermore, only with adequate Learning II might it be possible to achieve learning III, which enables insight to change how we see the world, how we act within it and who we are becoming. Leadership development depends upon Learning III as well as I and II.

On many professional training programmes, people get a great deal of instruction, often divorced from any experience outside of the learning environment and thus integration eludes them. The cumulative effect of this disconnect invisibly erodes society’s capacity for effective action.

At High Trenhouse we have tried to work on all three levels of learning since our inception in the 70s. In the early days sheer necessity obliged us to immerse ourselves (and our clients) in rural subsistence. Our cows were good teachers! When we began to apply what we had learned to management development in the 80s, we

retained group-work and outdoor experiential learning along with a country lifestyle, coupled with theories a

nd thinking processes that enabled people to gain strategic insights. Now, in our Deeper Leadership Programmes, visceral learning is inherent in every aspect; learning from colleagues; learning from nature; learning from activity. Between residential modules: learning from one another; learning from exposure to real-life events; learning from real-life situations. The emphasis is on behaviours at every scale – for the individual, group, organisation and society. People learn to explore, observe and reflect, to give and receive feedback, to seek higher-level learning and to put into practice their evolving theory.

The place itself has evolved to suit this kind of work and is ideal for any facilitator who knows how to work effectively with groups. It has its authentic roots in the land, based on those early days and its origins. It has a wonderful combination of simplicity and appropriateness for development work. This, combined with genuine hospitality, excellent food and immediate access to nature, make it fit for learning I to III! There are very few venues where space and place contribute so effectively to your developmental process.

John Varney


Spirit of Wholeness

Resilience is an internal quality that enables an entity to survive and even to benefit from stress and change. It is an emergent quality of teamwork. By emergent we mean that the system as a whole has characteristics that were not there in the parts – in other words an effective team can have more resilience than any of its members.
Spirit of Wholeness
The wholeness of a team is a function of the wholeness of the people within it. You cannot have a mature team of immature individuals so teamwork must be developmental for all involved. If we want to survive and thrive, we need to work on our own maturity and contribute to the maturity of teams. In this short article we explore these qualities as they emerge in teams and as they mature in individuals.

Read the article – published in HR Director November 2017, issue 157


What do we mean by Space for Co-creation?

Co-creative space is where people can come into relationship to make something new together. This is especially valuable when you are seriously challenged – a new team sorting out its vision, the executive developing a new sense of purpose, a project team tackling innovation, a team seeking High Performance and so on. Co-creation demands a higher level of thinking than the day job and therefore requires special conditions.

What do we mean by Space for Co creation?

Firstly there is the physical space – ideally away from everything that supports normality – somewhere close to nature but well equipped and well serviced. In such physical space you can then develop the emotional container to enable people to drop their defenses and “play” together as equals. Once you feel secure and safe you can discover the cognitive space where diverse experience and perspectives can interact. The three kinds of space conflate as Space for co-creativity where novelty emerges. Of course you need skilled facilitation – someone who understands the psychology of creativity and can guide you towards extraordinary outcomes. For them to work in authentic space for co-creation enables them to achieve outstanding results.

This is the ambience that high Trenhouse has evolved over forty years and which you will struggle to find anywhere else. Hotels and conference venues cannot provide it because it is a specific market niche that few people understand. It makes it worth the journey and the sacrifice and yet it costs little more than your average hotel. Clients enjoy having a place to themselves; comfort without pomp, good food and wonderful seclusion. Facilitators rejoice in high levels of support and service, responsive to the needs of their programme. It works! Co-creation is more likely and more productive when given ideal conditions. Find out more


Creative Space

by John Varney, founder of High Trenhouse – Centre for Management Creativity

I am preparing a presentation on “Space for Co-thinking” Creative Spacefor the business department of the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. Reflecting on how creative work has evolved at High Trenhouse during the last 40 years I have come to understand how appropriate physical space needs to be overlaid with (metaphorical) emotional space to contain relationships as well as cognitive space where ideas can co-mingle. When all the conditions are optimised, the space between them is pregnant with creativity. Then it is ready for facilitation to work its magic.

In our modern era people are being manipulated and exploited, mostly through pleasure seeking, instant gratification and the stimulation of unnecessary appetites. Because creativity occurs mostly in the space between us and is dependent on high levels of trust, attention, sharing of information, pooling of diversity and so on, conditions for co-creation have to be carefully nurtured. Creative space rarely arises by chance and most spaces in which we are expected to be productive are seriously out of balance.

For instance, you book a room for a team meeting and, although it may be technically well-equipped, it perhaps lacks a good outlook (or even a window). Because “meeting” means no more than being in the same room, the décor frustrates your attempts to focus, the furniture no doubt needs re-arranging and the room has no soul. While providing a tolerable physical environment, display surfaces may be insufficient and the confines of space will hardly allow ideas to flow. Distractions abound and the energy of your event will leak away through the bar, dining room and other channels during breaks and overnight. Getting the depth of relationship your event demands will be difficult when so many aspects of space are stacked against you.

Of course, your ingenuity and dedication may enable you to overcome many of the obstacles. However, I urge you to take note of the multiple qualities of space that make a difference. Resist the temptation to put up with whatever space your client is content to use, just because it is convenient or cheap or because it is what they always use. Discover spaces that work best for you and then insist on using them so that you can do your best work on your client’s behalf.

Forty years of being both provider and user have enabled us to produce, here at High Trenhouse, special conditions that work exceptionally well for small residential groups (e.g. management teams) seeking a quantum leap in performance. Come and see for yourself. No doubt there are other places that have some of the desirable qualities. They will be worth seeking out. When you find them please tell us so we can champion their cause.


The Patterning Instinct

The Patterning InstinctBook review

by Jeremy Lent

This is a superb easy-to-read history of human cultures around the globe from the earliest days until now with glimpses into possible future scenarios. It stimulates an off-world perspective that might help you think afresh about society in our modern era. Strongly recommended.

See full review


Discover the Dales

Discover the Dales

Enjoy a luxurious four-day walking holiday house-party with Jonathan Smith to guide you through some of the finest scenery in the Dales, introducing you to the rich history and folklore of this fascinating area.
Waking up to the quiet of Malham Moor and the beautiful gardens overlooking the Malham Tarn (SSSI and internationally acclaimed Ramsar site) sets the scene for each day. Well-designed guided walks ensure a most refreshing break from the rigors of everyday life.
Return to the peace and comfort of High Trenhouse to refresh and relax in good company. Your group will have exclusive use of this wonderful retreat, famed for delicious food and warm hospitality. Seclusion and safety enable you to fully appreciate the beautiful natural surroundings.
Jonathan Smith, experienced mountain guide, outdoor enthusiast and lover of the Dales, is your guide on the walks and also your host for dinner. For further information or to book click here


The Systems View of Life

The Systems View of LifeBook Review

By Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi

This book argues convincingly for a change of thinking from the fragmentary reductionism of popular science (what we learned at school) to integrated thinking in terms of systems. We learn how life has evolved and that living systems (including us) have co-evolved through relationship. Failure to grasp this connectedness is leading humanity towards its demise which is countered by proposals for unifying the web of life.

See full review