Diversity begins close to home

Diversity begins close to home

Diversity begins close to home

Professor John Newton

Diversity begins close to home

Professor John Newton

For years now our corporate training and consulting services have provided many tools and exercises for tackling interpersonal differences at work. Such methods, however, often fall far short of meeting tensions that derive from our ‘cultural self’ rather than our individual personalities. It is hard to grasp our cultural self because culture is not something we have; rather culture is something that has us. It is made up of all the messages we have internalised about ‘people like us’ that come to the fore when we encounter ‘people not like us’. Usually, we are not aware of internalising such cultural messages but they become so integral to our sense of identity that we get defensive when we need to collaborate with or depend on people who internalised different messages about the right way to be.

Lessons in the right way to be, start early as we are shaped by our gender, skin colour, authority relations, family history, politics, economic circumstances, spirituality, social grouping and schooling. Too often we react to the appearance of these markers and do not take the time to explore received cultural messages and the assumptions hidden within them. Instead, our emotional reactions to cultural markers can provoke all sorts of defences against the immediate experience of the ‘other’; defences such as stereotypes, fantasies, irrational fears, overcompensation, denigration, idealisation, avoidance, envy and mimicry. It is not enough to read descriptions of the other’s culture. First, we have to understand our own cultural identity in order to accept our own ‘otherness’, then to practice ways of mindfully negotiating our emotional responses to the ‘other’ whilst being respectfully curious. It requires learning from experience with others who wish to manage more productively the inter-cultural dynamics that are increasingly part of our daily lives. Or as Primo Levi put it, to achieve a state of mind where “….the differences in our origins make
us rich in ‘exchangeable goods’, like two merchants who meet after coming from remote and mutually unknown regions.”

I am pleased to recommend the following NIODA short course as a robust, educative and developmental way of exploring untapped riches in the cultural relations between us and them.

John Newton

Professor Emeritus John Newton

September 2021

Diversity begins close to home

Prof John Newton: Reflection in Action Panel

John Newton

Professor Emeritus, NIODA

From 2002-2008 John was Associate Professor of Organisation Dynamics, RMIT University and Director of the Masters in Organisation Dynamics. He was the founding director (1987) of the Master in Organisation Behaviour at the Swinburne University of Technology where he initiated the first Group Relations Conference for Australian postgraduate management students in 1988. This conference was offered annually introducing more than 500 managers to learning for leadership in the Tavistock tradition.

John is now a freelance consultant, part-time lecturer, action researcher and author who draws principally from the systems psychodynamic field. He is the lead editor of J.Newton, S. Long and B. Sievers (Eds.), 2006. Coaching In Depth. The Organisational Role Analysis Approach. Karnac: London and he has editorial responsibilities with the journals Socioanalysis and Organisational and Social Dynamics.

He is a member of ISPSO and a founding member and past-President of GRA.

Diversity training with a difference: Dr Brigid Nossal and Ms Helen McKelvie

AUD $2,000 for six live interactive online two-and-a-half-hour sessions

These sessions are fully interactive and online. The commitment is for six, two-and-a-half-hour sessions on Tuesday afternoons 3.30 – 6 pm (Melbourne time). The two and a half hours will involve short seminars, experiential learning activities, group discussion and reflection for integration of learning.

3.30 – 6 pm 🇨🇰  Melbourne
12.30 – 3 pm 🇸🇬  Singapore
10.00 am – 12.30 pm 🇮🇳 New Delhi
5.30 – 8 am 🇬🇧  London
6.30 – 9 am 🇧🇪 Brussels
12.30 – 3 am (eek!) 🇺🇸  New York

The time listed below is set to calculate the first start time depending on the time zone of your computer.  The first session will start at:

time start


The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations. 

The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.

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The Authority to Profess

The Authority to Profess

The Authority to Profess

The recent appointment of Susan Long to the rank of Professor at NIODA follows her more than 50 years of rigorous scholarship as she has grown her own distinctive practice as a thinker, author, teacher and action researcher.

The authority to profess Susan Long

The shorter Oxford dictionary defines a Professor as a public teacher of the highest rank in a specific faculty or branch of learning. The title designates one who is accorded the authority to profess their thoughts, understanding and sentiments to a public that should be willing to listen and be influenced by the Professor’s erudition.

The recent appointment of Susan Long to the rank of Professor at NIODA surely accords with this definition following as it does her more than 50 years of rigorous scholarship in the fields of psychology, psychoanalytic psychotherapy, clinical practice, group relations, social dreaming and education, each discipline informing the other, as she has grown her own distinctive practice as a thinker, author, teacher and action researcher. Her curiosity about, and respect for, the ‘unconscious’ has led her to explore it from many angles including the historical, the here and now, and the prospective. Her recently conceptualised differentiation of the ‘associative unconscious’ from Freud’s notion of the repressed unconscious is breathing new possibilities into our understanding of creativity as social process. She is a restless inquirer.

Students of Organisation Dynamics learn that the concept of ‘authority’, whilst essential to the process of reliable organising, regulating and acting, has many vicissitudes.

In society today there is much concern about whether our authorities can be trusted. And as long ago as the 17th century the philosopher John Locke so wisely warned that every error known to mankind has had its professor. In this case, we can rely on the fact that Susan Long has previously held professorial appointments at two universities, Swinburne and RMIT, has many peer-reviewed publications and research grants, and has been elected, by her peers, as President of both local and international professional associations. Her ‘top-down’ authority is assured. But what about her ‘bottom-up’ authorisation? Are students and clients still willing to listen? Well, her supervision to completion of 22 PhD students, so far, helps answer that question. As does the number of requests for her service as an examiner and consultant, along with the ‘sold out’ status of her writing workshops, the repeated invitations she receives to work on the staff of group relations conferences in Australia and overseas, and the applause from many current and past students at the news of her NIODA appointment. The key to this respect, I think, is Susan’s profound understanding that authority which cannot be questioned is just power. She always invites others, students, colleagues and clients alike, to question their experience, including their experience of her, in order to think together about how emotional currents are shaping their views of reality, the possibility of collaborating, and the ethics that will guide their behaviour.

NIODA is honoured and enriched by Susan’s appointment and her continuance in the role of Director, Research and Scholarship. Long may she continue to profess and to guide NIODA’s students in the making of good authority for an uncertain world.

John Newton

Prof John Newton
Chair Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

1 May 2020

The Authority to Profess – Susan Long

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about making good authority? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

The Authority to Profess by Prof John Newton

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

The time to reflect is now, in-action; not in some despairingly imagined future respite. And, the form of reflection we need in-action is more than just personal introspection, it is a mode of social inquiry.

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

The idea of reflecting on our experience is often associated with having the luxury of time to spend in quiet contemplation, looking back and ruminating on what was and what might have been; recollecting the forks in our road and identifying the choices that have shaped our current state of being. It may involve a summing up of achievements and disappointments; a revelation of patterns in our behaviour and emotional dispositions, of ‘confidences exchanged and trusts maintained’ (to use the words of the poet Seamus Heaney). In mythology, reflection is often associated with relaxing beside a body of water: the sea, a river or stream which conveys the ebb and flow of life along with the metaphoric attraction of a mirroring surface covering hidden depths and currents.

Ah, yes a sea change is what I need!

Unfortunately modern life tends to make a myth of such notions of reflection. We find ourselves yearning for the space to collect our thoughts and recalibrate what is central and peripheral in our lives because in reality we are stressed out by the deadlines, options, choices, demands and
commitments of a recursive, 24/7 world of work.


Paradoxically, the time to reflect is now, in-action; not in some despairingly imagined future respite. And, the form of reflection we need in-action is more than just personal introspection, it is a mode of social inquiry. A pause from action (a form of inaction) to consider together our experiences in-action.

The more pressure we are under to think fast the more we need to be able to create the space to be able to think about how we are thinking (or not thinking, just reacting). But we won’t create this space until we learn to value it. And in organisational life we won’t learn to value it unless we can
learn to reflect with our colleagues about our collective experience. Such social reflection is called reflexivity. It is about noticing and thinking together about the nature of our involvement in our participation with each other as we strive to collaborate in pursuit of common aims. It is about noticing our avoidance of and resistance to sharing our feelings about our experience of participating and having the courage to present that as data to colleagues.

Reflexivity is the process of making sense together of the connections between past and future, of personal trade-offs and political compromises, persuasions accomplished and views relinquished, values held and practical judgements made in the pursuit of the common good. It reflects the personal as an aspect of the collective. Encouraging reflexivity is a key component of contemporary leadership and developing that leadership capacity is a key component of NIODA’s Master of Leadership and Management in Organisation Dynamics. We all live with the unconscious tension of wanting both to be a part of, and apart from, the groups we need to work with. Learning how to quietly inquire about and manage that tension in-action is a critical skill for leaders today. It takes courage but it is not necessarily heroic. As Henry Mintzberg put it: “Quiet management is about thoughtfulness rooted in experience.”

John NewtonProf John Newton
Founding director of Master (Org. Behav.) Swinburne 1987
& current Chair, Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

7 October 2019

Reflexivity: Learning to Reflect in-action

ps Are you a leader or manager and would like to learn more about reflexivity and learning to reflect in-action? Have a look at the NIODA Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course.

Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

   Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

Economics: the science of the creation and distribution of resources

Organisation Dynamics: the capacity for understanding and influencing the ‘push and pull’ of conscious and unconscious resources in the human endeavor to collaborate on primary work tasks.

Neo-classical economics is often referred to as ‘the dismal science’ because the predictions of professional economists are so often wrong; even now when they are able to make use of supercomputers and crunch more data than ever before through models comprised of many, many variables. The fundamental flaw in this approach to economics is the assumption it makes about human behavior. Namely, that humans will always make rational choices from available options to maximize self-interest; homo economicus.

More recently there has been much interest, and a Nobel prize, in the emerging field of behavioural economics which attempts to explain the predictably irrational ways that humans defy neo-classical economic theory. This field relies greatly on cognitive psychology and neuroscience, tending to focus on our estimation of ‘losses and gains’ in decision choices made in the super market and the stock market. So far it has failed to espouse a consistent, unified theory of behavior because it is limited to ‘set piece’ situations within notions of market behavior and, again, the over-riding assumption of individual self-interest.

Management theory too has suffered from assumptions about human behavior in its attempts to be ‘scientific ‘about its predictions involving performance motivation, leader and follower interactions, spans of control etc. The management science tradition also assumes that human beings are properly rational and ‘good’ management is necessary to ward off irrational deviation from management objectives. We have to search at the margins of management scholarship to find approaches to understanding the behavior of people in groups and organisations that include unconscious, emotional drivers alongside conscious, cognitive functioning. Approaches such as NIODA’s systems psychodynamics tradition embrace the ‘libidinal economy’ of unconscious desires, fears, anxieties and unforbidden pleasures as part and parcel of life and work. All of these inherently human, ‘economic’ elements can shed light on the joys and difficulties of collaboration and contribute creative insight to possible futures. They are the very stuff of emotional data as ‘intelligence’. Sometimes referred to as, ‘what is really going on.’

The libidinal economy is not about prediction and control. It is about the future we strive for together through uncertainty, passion and vulnerability. It privileges the tension between self-interest and common-interests. Or, as Wilfred Bion put it, we reach common sense when we can get all our senses to work in common. Understanding and managing the libidinal economy requires learning-by-acquaintance. Another term for experiential learning. You have to be in it and learn to regulate your own desire to win it. Along with everyone else you work with.

John NewtonDr John Newton PhD
Chair, Academic Board of Governance NIODA
Learning about Economics and Organisational Dynamics

November 2018

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

Experiential Learning: ‘Market’ value or real value?

The Australian literary figure Clive James, who coined the term Cultural Amnesia, argues that we can forget that some things don’t have a market value, they only have value. And the current Banking Royal Commission is surely resurrecting this crucial point.

I argue that ‘experiential learning’ or learning-in-experience is an educational process that has a value beyond any price the market might put on it.

The educational tradition from which NIODA has evolved is that of experiential learning or, to put it more directly, encouraging students and staff to learn from their own experience, both in the classroom and the workplace, so they may become wiser and more balanced in the accountable exercise of their power and authority.

The current Master program began to take shape in the Graduate Diploma of Organisation Behaviour at Swinburne in 1980 where it grew into the first Master degree offered by the School of Management (1988), then extended into a Professional Doctorate (1996). A shift in SUT’s priorities led to a shift in location to RMIT in 2002 and then to the independent, not-for-profit NIODA (2010). Along the way, the program name changed to Organisation Dynamics to reflect the increasing complexity of workplaces (and their globalising, networked environments) and the unconscious dynamics that are triggered in individuals and groups by increased uncertainty.

We have all changed but we haven’t changed as much as we haven’t changed. If you get my drift.

The difficulty of learning from experience has not changed because human beings will always find it very hard to learn in public and deal with the self-generated feelings of shame and self-judgment at not getting things right. What has changed is the diminished provision of emotional security in organisations that ‘manage by metrics’ and increasingly regard human resources as disposable. This makes it even harder to admit a mistake, even to yourself, and get helpful feedback. We are flooded with information and decision timelines but none of it educates our gut feel nor helps us make critical judgement calls. The ‘market’ prompts us to oscillate regressively between paranoid threats and boundless opportunity rather than struggling purposively with our customers and clients to discover what is actually in their best interests.

The content of the NIODA program continually changes to draw from new theory and techniques but the support for participant learning remains a constant. This support includes discovering the potency of well managed boundaries (time, task, territory and authority) to enable deep learning about how to connect thoughts, feelings and actions in a productive and collaborative manner. It requires both personal courage and staff who en-courage in order to be able to spot the defensive routines in oneself and in the groups we seek to lead.

The outcome is a graduate who can fully take up their role and offer on-task leadership, not just speak the management jargon. Or as Prof Henry Minztberg put it, a person who is an actual manager not just a qualified MBA.

John NewtonDr John Newton
Founding director of Master (Org. Behav.) Swinburne 1987
& current Chair, Academic Board of Governance, NIODA

27 June 2018

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