Thursday, May 21, 2009

David Larkin

Chapter One

As written in the autumn of 2009, Chapter 1 of a fictional piece representing a re-creation of a reality according to, and undifferentiated from its protagonist, David Larkin. More exactly, I refer to the central characters abstract or immaterial ideals and consequent arbitration's; David Larkin, being individual, unegalitarian, anti-homologous and objectivist - the sole adjudicator of his life.

Further explanations or commentary about the writing are not necessary as it is my preference to invite the reader to come in, deduce, comprehend and finally acknowledge, address and respond.
David Larkin smiled.

It was the most unpretentious of smiles. Before him, streamed thousands giving the impression that he were witnessing a colossal conscious wave, a physical mass created in that instant for his scrutiny alone. Only moments earlier, the oval offered a spacious and serene vista then, in a blink of an eye, the tranquility was consumed by a moving mass of life in an infinite continuum of colour and sound conveying a dynamic and simultaneous impression of order as if rehearsed. So much predictable orderliness and regulation transformed his smile to an overt grin.

In the immediate foreground stood the football ground, its prominence imposing and grand, it occupied ones entire field of horizontal and vertical vision, a planned and constructed manifestation symbolising that which for him, was both right and wrong with society, with community, with workplaces, with the individual. He turned away; just briefly, he could not be sure any longer. Such moments of uncertainty were infrequent; he seemed astounded by the thought of not knowing, even if only for an instant. He turned away from the spectacle and took several steps forward before turning back and, in an act that indicated a sense of knowing, he once again faced the ostentatious image that so transformed him seconds earlier and pronounced to the world at large that he was, is, and will. It was not a deed of explicit self-righteousness for he did not consider himself right nor wrong, he was only one David Larkin, individual and singular. There was too, no need to judge the other, only a yearning to communicate that which he understood, there was no compulsion compete, to criticize.

He did not question; things were as they were, nothing complex sinister or odd. In that instant, he regarded that which flowed before him as if a living organism. The individuals resembled single cells within an illusory whole, self-contained, and self-maintained yet paradoxically, highly reliant on both the totality and the parts that formed it – too reliant he thought. There was no self-interest on his part but somehow he felt bemused whilst contemplating that he was, in some way, very self-contained and totally, self maintained. This was comforting and normal, so completely normal albeit different in ways.

He imagined the arena expelling its contents, outwards and toward him, as if it were a structured act of nature executed for the sake of consolidating an understanding and strengthening a conception of self that began as far back as he could recall. He straightened himself and walked briskly with relaxed dexterity toward a City centre located several blocks away, a motion revealing an entity that needed or sought nothing. He focused on the pavement as it streamed toward, under and passed him and asked, was it he that were moving, or the Earth moving under his feet? The perfectly contoured walking paths made him marvel at how blessed modern kind was, in the grand scheme of things, it was not that long ago, that one would have strolled on a smelly dirt track filled with the pungency of horse urine.

The City looked splendid and perfect to the eye, he thought of all the men and woman who made these urban jungles of concrete, steel, and glass. He considered the architects whose pencils gave shape, the engineers whose equations ensured that it all held together, the surveyors and town planners whose schematics created the spatial consistencies that allowed these cities to function as they did. The accountants whose calculations provided a financial win to everyone involved and finally, the laborers, whose hard and sweaty toil gave outline to that which at first was merely a dream; a magnificent synergistic exercise that quantified the expectations of so many.

Larkin turned the corner toward his apartment. At the end of the block and just past a series of outdoor cafés that competed madly for each passerby, stood Hansen House. It blended correctly with its surrounds and yet was somewhat different to the many structures recently built in the CBD, none of which challenged the established orthodoxies of design. Suite following suite in likeness he thought, to present day men and woman in business. Not ordinary small business, Larkin was thinking well beyond those running the likes of common retail or manufacturing establishments to those whose decisions could affect fundamentally fluid change of a kind that transformed modern laissez-faire societies in the golden years of growth.

Like a movie reel, his fervent mind rerun diplomatic but heated exchanges that took place at school campus against a popular and deep-rooted view that advocated the virtues of consensus majoritarianism and its mechanisms. His contrasting notions conveyed somewhat indirectly yet naturally and without apology, expressed that it is individualism and independence of thought that produced the best outcome, not that this was explicitly stated. It soon became apparent to all that this one, this Larkin, was a different apple, of a different order, misguided thought most, but brilliant nevertheless. The individual, his self-reliance, her liberty, his independence, her autonomy of thought and imagination ultimately built great business establishments. Delicately, but doggedly, he would make a case that large concerns, including most companies and enterprises, societies, institutions, the state - and some of the “mind numb second handers” that worked within them - more often than not, stifled the free flowing spirit of individual creativity. Larkin’s conviction, wholly embraced every contrasting stance to collectivism, communalism, holism and communitarianism. Thus, soon he was perceived as not merely uncooperative, but one who rejected all processes based on participatory inclusiveness and order within decision-making processes. This alone diverged greatly from quite nearly all management and leadership teachings of the day. After his final assignment, the highly esteemed Joseph Bradley of the Lettin Business School wrote of Larkin - amongst other things - ‘he seems to reject any views other than his own … etymologically speaking … to think and feel with the group … to reach consensus in any form of decision making … appears as if strangely alien to him … ’.

Peter Kent stood just outside the foyer; his right hand was busy adjusting his tie and collar even though it did not need adjusting.
“Is that you Dave?”
He was approaching the building when Peter sought his attention.
“Congratulations!”
“Thanks, but perhaps it’s you, who ought to receive the congratulations.”
“No mate, I mean it. And how is it; the whole class got through” Peter continued, “You got what you wanted didn’t you?”
“Yea, maybe.”
He paused briefly concentrating on David’s reply. He knew that Larkin thought nothing of what he just said and, as always, he felt most uncomfortable in his presence and this annoyed him more so today than ever before. After all, he got the better grades, near perfect in fact. Larkin would most probably have failed had it not been for the stupidity of Bradley’s last minute input.
“Where you going?’
“Upstairs” said Larkin, “to sort something out.”
“Ah Dave”, called out Peter, “you probably hate my guts right?”
“No, why would I?”
Peter knew that whatever he added to the conversation was inconsequential. Deep down he also knew that he hated Dave with a passion and had hoped that he would have failed his final year and for that matter, anything else he tried in life.
“What are you going to do now?” shouted Peter
This was a rare time when he actually cared about the answer.
“Probably nothing.”
Peter stood watching as the enigmatic Larkin disappeared behind the huge revolving doors marking the entry to Hanson House.

As one stepped into the mammoth foyer it were like coming out of a wormhole in another point in space and time such was the material contrast within a few short metres. The lobby area had huge rectangular white tiles with distinct joint lines giving the impression one gets when at the starting block of a hundred metre dash. The distance between entrance and lifts appeared vast, practically insurmountable. The dozen or so people going about their business appeared like small insects as they moved in mechanical like fashion back and forth. High above, heavily upholstered pads, the size of queen mattresses were suspended strategically, altering the acoustic properties from the expected to the unanticipated. An environment that should have sounded like a sizeable unrenovated bathroom instead offered a warm yet impersonal sensation of mind that one could not quite express. Larkin moved through the atrium toward one of the many lifts as if he were the owner of the building. To a lay observer this is how it would have appeared, in reality though, it were simply a natural disposition, nothing to do with attire, more like a bodily expressiveness of little care and certainly holding small regard for anything peripheral to his physical frame.

As a residential tower Hanson House was, in all probability without equal for a variety of reasons including geographical placement, the sophisticated and highly innovative design and perhaps some ongoing clever marketing that targeted an impressive list of names. Its location offered inspiring views in all directions from every one of its forty-three levels. The structure articulated itself through its strong vertical elements and, even though there were taller buildings, it seemed to stretch to the sky. Every level was in itself distinct with some common finishes and materials providing an awareness of subtle continuity, an achievement given it exhaustive, and meticulous design fundamentals. The general frame was inlaid with polished steel grillage yet balanced beautifully with sensibly placed glazing systems. Sitting atop were two enormous penthouses each with three levels that one could not visually decipher from street level, this is just how its wealthy residents wanted it, none more than Mrs. Kent did.

Jessica Louise Kent had, by all accounts, enjoyed a privileged life. Her father made his family a fortune during the boom times of the early rag trade, an era when great wealth could be acquired locally, very different from the Asian connections required today. Having never married she sold up shortly after the death of her parents and, for a sum significantly less than she sold, the city’s best penthouse occupying levels forty-one to forty-three at Hanson House became hers. Her younger and only sibling died giving birth and the newborn was raised in the Kent household as if their own with Jessica assuming the role of mother. Dear Peter, as she would refer to and think of him, was her own. In his usual manner, David waltzed in and headed for the bedroom. In four years of residing with Peter and Jessica, he rarely stopped for any casual conversation save the normal and obligatory greetings.
“David is that you have you seen Pete?”
“No ah yes actually, five minutes ago downstairs.”
“Did he say where he was going?”
“Can’t say he did.”
“He hasn’t had a proper lunch, how can he expect to function without one, I often wonder why I worry but he needs to develop proper habits if he’s going to begin working full time soon.”
David entered his room without as much as acknowledging what Jessica had just uttered. At Peter’s request, she reluctantly housed David through his Lettin years for one reason alone. Peter seemed to rely on his schooling capacities to help him through. David would complete his own assignments with apparent ease before assisting Peter to complete his. She found it perplexing how it was Peter who would get the good grades whilst David quite nearly, botched each year and culminating in his apparent failing to get his MBA had it not been for the intervention of a senior teacher. David disturbed her, not because of what he would say or do, it was more than this, almost illusory. It was the things not said, his extraordinary personality, it left her always guessing about his inner workings. She wondered whether to release him now that Peter had completed his studies, contrary to her son’s comments; she was not convinced that the need was over.
“David”, - she called out tentatively – “someone from the school called for you, sounded important.”
“What, whom”?
“Can’t quite recall, elderly fellow, very formal sounding, but I guess they all sound that way at Lettin.”
“You’ll be surprised.”
“The numbers on your desk, apparently you need an appointment.”
“Ok”, responded Larkin, not appearing fazed or otherwise about the nature of the call.
Jessica thought that she must convey this to Peter. Maybe they failed him after all, perhaps Peter might know. She thought too, how outlandish David’s response was, if it were her son, if it were Peter, she would reprimand him. She also knew that this carelessness, this reckless attitude pleased her; maybe he did fail after all. David stood transfixed at the breathtaking views of the city below, he had much to think about, to plan and execute. It was nine days before he lifted a receiver dialed the number and heard the eloquent voice of a personal assistant pronounce the words, “Joseph Bradley’s office”.

The Lettin school of Business and Executive Education was without equal as a leading provider of management education. With alumni of some twelve thousand members, its global standing and reputation was formidable. Formed thirty-five years earlier it has, for the past eight years, been ranked as the No 1 business school for executive education offering one of the finest and comprehensive programs on offer for those who firstly, had the entry grades and secondly, could afford it. It prided itself on the quality of every facet of its programs including teaching standards, research and innovation, curriculum, service and facilitation as based on a heritage of excellence. Lettin offered talented men and woman postgraduate business management degrees including MBA’s for leaders at every stage of professional life. Its services also extended to organisations offering corporate learning and contemporary leadership and executive development programs in an intensive retreat mode format. It had developed deep and unequalled connections with business focusing on global operations. The lecturers were generally recruited from some of the other renowned business schools, universities and global corporations and were chosen according to past education and perceived ability to shape management and leadership education, in addition to public policies.

As a rule, and apart from sourcing only the most talented from secondary schools, it mostly attracted individuals who were on the boards of major corporations, currently consulting in emerging business fields, at the top of multinational companies, interested in starting up their own entrepreneurial ventures or, as alleged in a major tabloid recently, anyone prepared to pay the exorbitant fees.

Joseph Bradley had built an enviable career as CEO of one of the countries, and indeed the world’s largest I.T companies before embarking on a career change at Lettin as the schools leading lecturer specialising in strategy, leadership, change management, and entrepreneurship. It was not until Larkin was in his fourth and final year that he came under Bradley’s immediate radar. A year earlier, after listening to a barrage of criticisms concerning Larkin’s apparently eccentric styles, he strongly suggested that such a student might harm the school’s reputation if permitted to get through. Thus, the consensus was that unless Larkin re-directed his energies to the established tenets of contemporary business thinking, he would risk certain failure before year’s end. Strictly speaking, David’s work had not shown any improvement in the months that ensued, not in the sense commanded by the lecturers; on the contrary, he continued to espouse his ideas and ideologies whenever the work permitted. Slowly however, Bradley recognized David’s more elusive qualities, and this probably saved him. Larkin’s theoretical grasp of subject matter was exemplary but his big picture afterthoughts disturbed the other lecturers, none more so than Victor Notting, the head of Lettin’s standards and ethics committee. He argued vehemently that Larkin be reproached or face certain failure. Said Notting at the last meeting prior to graduation,
“He’s too eccentric, self righteous and serious for any establishment to hire let alone cart an MBA awarded by us.”
“Go easy Vic, let us focus on the theoretical, his work warrants a pass, we cannot simply fail him because he’s different.”
“Not different Joseph, more like chalk and cheese.”
After much deliberating back and forth and with Bradley supporting him at every turn, Larking gained the pass, but only just. It was put to a vote and of the eight professors who cast, five abstained and two-voted yes thus it was settled but none was prepared to offer a reference for any employer. Bradley had other ideas though.

Along a narrow path of restored bluestone, there lies a vantage point from where one can see the entire Lettin campus spread beneath and far into the horizon. In the immediate foreground are the newer faculty buildings offering a design solution far surpassing the criterion of local building requirements but also respecting and seamlessly blending within the neighbouring urban landscape, which was both characteristic and carefully articulated in the scale of its surrounding older precincts. Enrich house was home to Lettins business research centres where final year students conducted extensive research in areas like Brand Management, Consumer research, International business, Finance and accounting, Learning and development, Economics, Technology and innovation. To the immediate left in the older quarters stood Forbes house named after the schools founder and first chairperson, Daniel Forbes. Here scholars engaged in the schools learning and development programs covering areas as Change, Coaching, Influence and negotiation, Leadership, Organisational development, Operations and project management and Strategy development and implementation. To the right in the low lying ceramic brick dwellings was the schools Centre for Business & Public Policy. Its purpose was to bridge the worlds of business and public policy, a noble aim thought Larkin, in reality though it was home to endless mind numbing dialogue on public policies and there affect on business. David could not help but chuckle the first time he laid eyes on the centres mission statement. On a cool day some four years earlier whilst his classmates stood in awe on their first day listening to a guide expressing a string of persuasive prose, “There is in each of our buildings, in each school and centre and ultimately in each of you, a sense of historical continuity, of mission…”. The mission statement read, “Our role is to facilitate deeper debate in a neutral space … free from the customary constraints faced by each side, to focus on the collective purpose of achieving improved public policy outcomes and results …”

Bradley’s office looked strangely like the small chapel at his former schools Anglican Church, more like a public oratory than an office. Still thought David, it blended well with its surrounds and architecturally speaking, it was stunning. When he entered the office, Bradley waved him in whilst continuing a fervent phone conversation on the merits seeking an affiliation with a major university in the U.S. He was a tall man looking more like a successful new car sales manager than a tertiary educator. Broadly speaking, he presented a formidable presence with his Italian designer suit and tie. The style was very contemporary, the fit relaxed, the fabric appeared soft and supple with the suit jacket having three distinct buttons, no vent and double reverse pleat trousers. The tie highlighted the Armani logo on a background of polished red and white print silk, looking floral and slightly art deco, it conveyed power, one would think, to David Larkin however, he may as well have been dressed in a cheap Asian sweatshop tracksuit.

In a approach befitting the greeting bestowed on a fellow lecturer, Joseph stood and warmly signaled David to approach the desk whilst extending a genial hand.
“David, its good to see you here, finally. I was beginning to think that”, he paused whilst lowering his head and focusing on him through the top of his chic reading glasses, “you might have passed up an opportunity”.
David sat down and assumed an implausible relaxed posture.
“How was the traffic, there is always something on of late, if it’s not a Grand Prix, it’s a Tennis Grand Slam. What’s on at the moment? World Swimming Championships is it not. Speaking of Grand Slams it was only last year that I realised how significant they are in terms of tennis events on the circuit. Apparently, they’re the most important events of the year for rankings, prize money and tradition and there are only four of them, the U.S., Wimbledon, The French and Australian Open. Do you follow any of it?”
“Not in a serious way, aren’t you a bit of a late comer. Did you just learn all that?”
“I guess I did”
Bradley was happy with the way things were unfolding although he felt a little unsettled; he questioned why.
“You’re probably wondering why I’ve summoned you here.”
“The thought did cross my mind”.
“And ….”
“That’s as far as it went, why am I here”?
Joseph leaned forward, placed his elbows on the desk and pressed his palms together.
“I see you’re a straight talker David.”
“To be more correct, I would venture to suggest that you knew I was a straight talker in advance of this meeting.”
Bradley focused downward toward the cordless keyboard directly in front him, David should have looked and sounded smug but neither was evident.
“Tell me something, why did you enroll to do an MBA here at Lettin”?
There was no break, the reply coming without the slightest of delay. David’s poise was notable but in some way, it was also grotesque to Joseph.
“Because I wanted something, why else does anyone do anything, in my case I sought knowledge, greater understanding of the mechanics, the control points if you will, of those unseen forces that bind a status quo”.
“A status quo at the organizational and individual level that, for the most part, includes an unacceptable degree of mediocrity, is that right?”
“Thank you Mr Bradley, you are getting to know me”.
“Sounding a tad philosophical there David, can I assume your also referring to Management theory, I’ve read your work.”
“Management, Leadership issues, Teaching methodologies, character traits”…Bradley cuts in,
“So let me see now, are you citing the individual human psyche, the human condition if you like?”
“There is no flaw; we’re all perfectly capable of being different. It is behavioural, having more to do with external”, he paused, “stimuli, for use of a better term.”
“So you didn’t just enroll due to Mrs. Kent’s generosity.”
“Sorry, oh yes, that to, of course.”
Joseph straightened himself trying not to appear surprised at the last remark.
“Where was I to find the fees to study here?”
“Think we’re a bit rich?”
“It’s about market positioning is it not?”
Joseph chuckled slightly. “I note that Peter Kent bounces well of you, he should make a fine leader.”
“He will make a fine manager”
“But”, added Joseph, “not a good leader?”
David did not reply.

Joseph adjusted himself in his seat once again and refocused on David as if re-evaluating a stratagem, sizing up an adversary. “What words would you use to describe these mediocre types to which you often refer?”
David was beginning to enter a realm that he was secure with, in his own element.
“There like pretenders, baseless types, somewhat unethical, dishonest to those they serve and to themselves. At the least, they are grossly hypocritical and in just about all cases, second handers. You know what is worse, there propensity to act as speed hump for those that do wish to excel”.
David’s fluency of speech, his demeanor, suggested that he had thought about what he was saying many times. From his point of view there was no disputing his remarks, he spoke as if stating universal truths of the physical world.
He continued, “How often have we heard it, about being part of a brain based economy where the best assets are your people, but how many leaders appreciate what this means? In the interests of doing something, anything, they create diversions, give the impression that they’re actually doing something, they fool around with the latest management fad, they re-structure, engage in deal making more oft than not, to consolidate there own arrangement.”
“But sometimes David, Joseph adds slowly with great composure, “one needs to do what one needs to do, to achieve a predetermined outcome, managing expectations is an interpersonal science unto itself.”
“Everything you have just said is true, but in addition and without selfishness of a regular nature, they should be creating environments where the brightest and best are sought, retained and unleashed, and, I might add the brightest need not automatically man the most educated.”
“Selfishness of a regular nature, I am interested in what you meant by this, but moving on, have you come across or heard of, “The Centre for Objective Thought.”

copyright © 2006 otto marasco all rights reserved

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