Joseph F. Duggan
Dare I publicly admit to Postcolonial Networks’ (PN) followers my corporate experience as a senior human resources executive for global professional service firms?
In previous Founder’s Blog posts I have written about the way various aspects of my life, identity, and experiences explain and support my passion for PN. In this month’s Founder’s Blog post I reflect on the value of my corporate experience and the ways I have channeled this experience into my PN leadership style. Corporate formation and other life experiences are part of who I am as the founder of PN. Every aspect of who I am is manifested in the work I do with and for PN. There are corporate experiences that have been useful and those that I have chosen—even had—to leave behind, as I have sought to foster and nurture a distinctive path of relationship, innovation, passion, and leadership. For this reason, PN capitalizes on the best of corporate culture, while pushing beyond and supplementing it.
Relationship as Experience that Fosters Innovation
I was lucky, privileged, or destined to work with some brilliant women and men who were partners at the top of global service organizations like Price Waterhouse, Deloitte and, Stone & Webster. The people at these organizations did not sell a consumer product. Rather they sold services such as audits, consulting opinions, tax advice, and expertise in areas like mergers and acquisition. In my twenty years exclusively working with professional service firms I learned that even more than any particular service these firms cultivate and sell relationships. The most senior executives who flourish in the consulting world are those who are innovators and know how to take care of their client relationships. The best not only maintain relationships, they initiate relationships in as many contexts as possible. These relationships lead to revenue, but before they achieve that desired result, they go deep.
Relationships drive innovation, not the other way around. Through building relationships executives foster trust necessary for bold, innovative services. At PN I mentor team members and board members to value our (and their) relationships. Innovative executives know the way to make a relationship a memorable experience. More and more companies are selling experiences. Likewise I am working to develop a distinctive experience for authors and readers of PN. Far too many scholars are treated poorly by prestigious journals as they wait unacceptably long periods to receive peer-review feedback and for the final form of their scholarship to be published. Other educated consumers are completely left out of the discussion by jargon-filled papers and books that leave only the elite to have discussions with each other.
PN does not work to improve the rate at which we publish only slightly or by small measure to improve communications with our authors, as if either of those gestures is enough. Rather we want our authors and readers to remember PN because of the way we have partnered with them to publish their scholarship. I want to make sure our authors never have a question about where their paper or book manuscript is in the process of peer review or publication. We do this by the way we intentionally maintain our relationships with authors and everybody else we collaborate with for the generation of content. I did not learn about the value of experience-focused relationships from editors at other journals, academic publishers, or faculty. I learned this valuing of relationships in the corporate world, while working with leaders at the top of world-class organizations. Not all corporate employees function in this manner, but the women and men I had the privilege of working with were among the best in the industry and they mentored me well.
Innovation flows from relationship as carefully managed experience and enables us to establish credibility. Small organizations like PN have the potential to add more value than larger, more prestigious organizations because of the way we treat people, enhanced by our attention to the margins. For example, one difference between PN and other seemingly innovative corporations is the way we define diversity. In most corporations, diversity is still only about the diversity of ideas, if that, not diversity of people or cultures. Very few businesses have fully integrated global leadership teams with key executives in Africa, Asia, or the Middle East. It is not uncommon for global leadership teams to have executives from New York, Hong Kong, London, and Singapore. It is far less common for executives to be from Bangalore or Jakarta, for example. Corporations are still very much defined by foreign branches versus global networks. In a similar way the boards of most theological journals are very US and UK based versus PN, where we have people from around the world. Neither these journals nor most corporations have rigorously applied power analysis to their diversity commitments.
Change Management versus Altered Cultures
Innovative organizations always seek to identify, recreate, and/or replace processes that do not effectively work or serve the needs of their consumer-customers. True innovation does not just tweak a process. True innovation generates services and products that have never existed in order to make people’s lives better. Think about the many healthcare innovations as examples. It has been a lifelong passion of mine to read about innovators and their innovations and inventions. I started early, reading biographies of inventors like Thomas Alva Edison and Albert Einstein. As a young executive I read about innovative companies and leaders. In my home library I have a whole shelf of books on innovation! These books sit a few steps away from an entire bookcase dedicated to postcolonialism.
In what way does innovation serve PN and the wider postcolonial studies discipline and postcoloniality more broadly?
Every project that PN has undertaken has in some way addressed a scholarly literature gap. There is not a single project we have undertaken that has not added dramatically new knowledge to postcolonial studies or postcolonial activism. At our Manchester meeting in 2008 we were the first to ask in an organized fashion about the role the Church of England had in the British Empire’s expansion. At our Bangalore meeting in 2010 we were the first to foster sustained conversation between postcolonial theologians and postcolonial theorists. We were the first to bring religion and postcolonialism together in an expansive way through our Palgrave series, Postcolonialism and Religions. In October 2010 we were the first to initiate a team of postcolonially influenced evangelical scholars to write a comprehensive anthology of evangelical postcolonial theologies in ways that when published next year will open up new questions for multi-disciplinary debate and scholarship. We will be the first to bring together postcolonial and queer theologies and theories when we meet next summer in Buenos Aires. PN will dramatically broaden the discipline and vastly expand whose voices are heard. PN does not ask if the subaltern speaks, but does everything it can to make sure we all listen.
Through these new forms of postcolonial knowledge, PN scholars are not satisfied with a few more published books. PN practitioners are as passionate about praxis and activist collaborations that match experience with scholarly theory. The test of theory is the way we change the lives we lead and the choices we make before we ask others to change their lives.
Innovative executives are functional people. Innovative executives like scholars excel at a function, albeit one is far better compensated than the other. The PN difference is that our ambition goes beyond mere mastery of function. We function in particular ways so that we might bring about postcolonial societies. To bring about postcolonial societies means that we lead our individual lives in the very same ways that we write postcolonial narratives and scholarship. Our lives matter as much—if not more—than the texts we write and publish.
Integrity of Leadership
I had the privilege of working for Price Waterhouse back in the eighties. Each time Price Waterhouse was invited to respond to a proposal, a potential new client was put through a thorough review process. The process was a “due diligence review.” Price Waterhouse was in the business to make a profit, but they did so only in ways that would strengthen their brand as an organization. They turned down multi-million dollar engagements with organizations that they did not want to be associated with, with whom such an association might risk the loss of their brand position.
Because of confidentiality commitments I cannot share with you the names of organizations that Price Waterhouse did not pursue as new clients, but they were names with which you would likely be familiar. Given my postcolonial formation, I think there are many other companies that Price Waterhouse should have rejected, but this would have required a postcolonial values platform that most organizations do not integrate into their missions. PN could one day have the credibility to teach firms the way to expand their due diligence efforts in ways that would protect and advance vulnerable, colonized people. Even if they have done well in other ways, social responsibility efforts in corporations have not gone far enough.
Credibility Challenges Faced as PN Founder
Corporate experience and postcolonial activism—are you kidding?!
A major influence on the way I have led and advanced PN has been my corporate leadership formation. I see my formation in every aspect of my work. PN’s strategic valuing of relationships and innovation flows directly from my corporate formation. It also works in ways that our authors and readers do not see, but close team members do see. For example, I have limited patience with scholars who make a commitment to write a paper or a book review and then change the due date without any communication with me or team members. In business relationships there are delays but they are communicated and negotiated. The difference is culture, but also respect. Sadly I find that too many scholars do not respect one another or value each other’s time. Not unlike business people, scholars are very competitive, but often without the value for collaborative relationships outside of very narrow disciplinary confines. PN is seeking to transform this landscape, as a breakaway, innovative organization that uses some corporate principles to actively rethink the ways scholars, activists, pastors, and community leaders work together.
We are not alone in this work, but we are carving out new ways of thinking about what it means to be a scholar, activist, or pastor. We are not content with traditional scholarly, activist, or pastoral roles. We are living these roles differently through bi- and tri-vocational careers. I left Deloitte in part because I wanted a bi-vocational career. I wanted to continue to be an executive as I went to seminary to become ordained. At seminary I wanted to work part-time as an executive, but part-time does not compute with most executives. Now I am tri-vocational—founder of Postcolonial Networks, the leader of a Sacramento congregation, and an author of various narratives.
As an innovator-entrepreneur, postcolonial scholar, activist, and pastor I am always a fish out of water in whatever pond I live and work. I thrive and flourish in these multiple contexts. The challenge is that I speak a blurred language in which postcolonial scholars hear resonances of corporate speak and then put all of my work and commitments through a laser-fine evaluation. Likewise executives hear academic speak and discount my vision. Most of the time I am very cognizant of the constant need to translate and reinterpret my ideas into the dominant cultural language of the people with whom I am working at any given time. Sometimes in my most passionate moments I forget to interpret and translate corporate speak for my postcolonial collaborators. I am most troubled when the corporate speak diminishes my credibility in the eyes of my postcolonial collaborators.
Therefore, I often work to slow myself down, reminding myself that I have chosen to live and work in, and to invite others into, a hybridity that is not supposed to exist. So while my credibility has surprisingly not be questioned as much as it could be, it has been questioned enough to help me realize that my universe is an alternative universe where it is possible to be many things without the fatal judgment that forecloses the rich possibilities generated by unexpected convergences of ideas and practices.
Notwithstanding these challenges, my combined personal, spiritual, and corporate experiences now described in several blog posts have enabled me to provide distinctive leadership to a growing group of people passionate about postcoloniality. I believe these competencies will advance the postcolonial studies discipline among a new generation, where scholars, activists, and community leaders blend theory with praxis into the real-world subaltern contexts that lead to liberation and transformation for all to flourish. Like the best innovators, PN wants to expand and grow vastly the number of people who passionately care about postcoloniality.
PN has been fortunate to leverage social media to realize our vision. In a future Founder’s Blog post, my PN partner, Jason Craige Harris, and I will more specifically address social media and PN.
How do your life formation and the totality of your experiences enable you to pursue postcolonial activities?