These Seats are Reserved for Members of the Olympic Family

July 30, 2012

It has been reported from the London Olympics that mortals have been complaining about the practice of reserving seats for members of the Olympic family

Meanwhile, in the boardroom on Mount Olympus, the Head God called the meeting to order. “It has been reported” he began “that mortals have been complaining about the practice of reserving seats for members of the Olympic family”.

“ ‘Thrones’ ” said a lesser God. “They must mean thrones. They are not just seats but our temporary visiting thrones. And mortals don’t get to use our thrones”.

“It seems the fuss is about the temporary thrones we reserve for use from time to time for visits to the celebrations in our honour held in the Earth lands. It’s hard for mortals to understand why we need them, when we don’t use them that much” mused a Middle Status God. “They just think of them as bits of fabricated material for sitting on.”

“But to challenge the rules from the Gods still invites hubris upon them” interjected the God of Tiny Places. “Something must be done”.

“A thunderbolt?” suggested Thor helpfully. Thor tended to suggest thunderbolts as the quick fix to any problems brought to the general meetings of the Gods.
“Maybe we could give away temporary God-like status to humans permitting them to sit briefly in the seats when we are not inclined to use them?”

The Head God noted the suggestion, and proposed that a special sub-committee be set up to examine possible ways of granting temporary membership of the Olympic family permitting use of their reserved seats during special celebratory events.

The proposal was carried unanimously.


For many years, the musician and humourist Miles Kington documented the special meetings of the Gods at Mount Olympus. This post is based on the dilemma of the empty seats reserved for ‘members of the Olympic family’ and which occurred at the start of the London Olympics in July 2012. Miles would have found a great deal of wry humour in the attempts made to place the backsides of mere mortals on the seats left unoccupied by the legitimate family members from Mount Olympus.

As Olympics starts, Mitt’s blitz irks Brits

July 27, 2012

Mitt Romney arrived in Europe at the start of the 2012 Olympics to visit leading politicians. It was part of his Presidential campaign designed to raise his profile as an internationally-significant figure. He may have passed through London unnoticed, if he had not made a mildly critical remark to a US journalist

London, Thursday July 26th. One topic has distanced everything else from the nation’s attention. The Olympic Games.

Mr Romney might have arrived and announced plans single-handedly to rescue the Euro and bring peace to the Middle East and been largely ignored. Instead he chose to mention a few concerns based on news he had learned of glitches in the administration of the Games. Mr Romney is quite keen to remind American voters of leadership skills he showed in rescuing the Winter Olympics in the US in Salt Lake City in 2002.

Keep your nose out, they are our glitches

The British media had enjoyed its own frenzy of anger towards various glitzes. The head of G4S, a services contractor, had been hauled before parliament to agree that his organisation’s performance had been a shambles. Tweets by athletes complaining about bus delays were also reported and discussed. On the day Mr Romney arrived, the Olympics committee was forced to apologise to North Korea for mixing up its flag in its football game with that of, [oops] South Korea.

Ironic sympathy

Mr Romney might have won favourable attention by offering a few remarks in the tone of ironic sympathy that Bill Clinton was famous for producing. But Mitt does not do ironic sympathy. “Keep your nose out”, yelled the press. “These are our glitches”.

Enter Boris to fan the [Olympic] flame

The day ended with a concert in Hyde Park where the assembled party-goers were treated to a wide-screen presentation. Boris Johnson, the charismatic mayor of London, added his wit to the story, hugely enjoying the opportunity.

“There’s this guy called Mitt Romney” he began, to roars from the crowd. “He wants to know if we are ready. Are we ready?. The crowd roars back.

A retraction

The late news bulletins presented the mayor’s remarks, followed by an uncomfortable Mr Romney making what sounded like a retraction to his original line. He now takes the politically-correct (but factually incorrect) position offered by the Prime Minister and just about everyone else, that this was a glitz-free Olympics – until Mitt blew into town.

Michele Bachmann re-enters the political fray with accusations against prominent Muslims in public life

July 24, 2012

Michele Bachmann  has accused  [Democratic] Representative Keith Ellison, of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group she says is seeking “America’s demise.”

A report in the Boston Herald outlines the emerging story:

Ellison, a Muslim whose congressional district borders Bachmann’s, said Friday that he saw Bachmann’s remarks less as a personal attack than as a broadside against Muslims in public life. Earlier in the week he had criticized Bachmann for similar allegations against Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  

Ellison said of Bachmann, “I knew when I raised the issue of her unfounded accusations of disloyalty that sooner or later she was going to get around to accusing me. I will say for the record that her allegations are false.”

He pointed out that Ms Abedin would have had to pass rigorous background checks to obtain the security clearances needed for her position.  If Bachmann’s allegations are not challenged, he noted “there literally could be no Muslim who could hold a position of responsibility in government.”

A growing wave of negative reaction has emerged from within Bachmann’s own party, beginning with Senator  John McCain, who took to the Senate floor [Wednesday 18th July 2012] to defend Abedin.

Bachmann sits on the House Intelligence Committee, a post she has cited in an attempt to give heft to her allegations. But that committee’s chairman told USA Today that Bachmann’s remarks about the Muslim Brotherhood’s infiltration efforts are false.  With Republicans distancing themselves from Bachmann’s remarks, many Democrats have stayed on the side lines, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said:

“New immigrants to America have always faced a wave of ignorance and discrimination.  I would have hoped that this type of discourse no longer existed in our country, but clearly we have more educating to do with respect to what America is about.”


A few Bachmann defenders argue that the political storm represents an overabundance of political correctness.



As happens in politics, attacks invite counter-attacks.  US TODAY correspondent DeWayne Wickham addressed an irony he found in the story:

After she dropped out of the GOP presidential race following her [poor] showing in the Iowa caucus, [Bachmann] was granted Swiss citizenship [in May 2012]. Because her husband has Swiss parents, she could have obtained Swiss citizenship in 1978, the year of her marriage.

Why did she wait 34 years? Bachmann said through a spokesperson after the story was broken by a Swiss broadcaster, that her children  “wanted to exercise their eligibility for dual-citizenship, so they went through the process as a family.”

Two days later, Bachmann renounced her Swiss citizenship. “I took this action because I want to make it perfectly clear: I was born in America, and I am a proud American citizen. I am, and always have been, 100% committed to our United States Constitution and the United States of America,” Bachmann said in a statement.

In other words, Bachmann didn’t want her followers to see in her what she so often claims to have discovered in others: a lack of commitment to the country of their birth. By this, I don’t mean those who hold dual citizenship are less American. But I suspect Bachmann realized she would have a hard time explaining her shared citizenship to the people who back her attacks on those who are not thought to be American enough.

What goes round comes round

Or, in a dirty fight everyone gets muddy. At election times,  attacks on opponents are part of the spectacle.  But there is much to learn from military wisdom that attackers should always consider the possibility of leaving a hostage to fortune in the hands of the enemy, which could lead to personal disadvantage.




In memory of Stephen Covey (October 24, 1932 – July 16, 2012)

July 23, 2012

Stephen Covey touched the lives of innumerable leaders through his work and writings. His classic Seven Habits of Effective People remains a much read and acted upon book

Stephen Covey died from complications following a bicycling accident sustained some months earlier [in April 2012].

His [1989] book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, sold more than 20 million copies. In it, he develops his ethical theories into a set of habits which can ead people from dependence, through independence to interdependence.

He also wrote three other best-sellers: First Things First; Principle-Centered Leadership; and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.


Professor Covey was educated in business at the University of Utah, took an MBA from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Religious Education (DRE) from Brigham Young University. His work stemmed from his strong religious beliefs as a Mormon. He was a voice within the movement regarding leadership as an ethical responsibility, writing of the 21st century leader as service oriented:

We need to break away from the Industrial-Age psychology
that labels people as expenses and cell phones as assets.
Jobs should cater to our interests.
Instead of telling people what they’re hired to do,
we should ask them what they love to do.
Then create a marriage between that passion and your needs.

Social controversies

His foundation has had to deal with controversial social issues, in view of Mr Covey’s opposition to same-sex marriage. His campaigning included fundraising for Save Traditional Marriage 98 (STM98), a political action committee seeking a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.

His work touches the beliefs of many people who do not share his religious affiliation. On a personal note, I find that even today, students from around the world on business courses regularly nominate “The Seven Habits” as the book on leadership that has influenced them the most.

Sherlock Holmes and the mysterious affair of the mattress tacks

July 20, 2012

Sherlock Holmes had little love of organized sport. So much so that he would have fled London before the start of the long-awaited Olympic games. But his ingenious solution to the mystery of the missing torch had again proved he had lost little of his astonishing powers of detection. So it was, that he had been persuaded to tolerate the celebrations that had overtaken his beloved city, in order to offer help in any emergency

And yet, he had so little patience for waiting. It had been a week since his triumph in the case of the stolen golden torch which he had wrestled from the grasp of a performing juggler who was about to escape into the refuge of the ———-ian Embassy.

A visitor lightens his mood

Since then, he had sunk into one of his moods of melancholia, worsened by the hundred inconveniences inflicted on his lifestyle by the encroaching games. He would likely have remained for some while in that state, were it not for the unannounced arrival of a visitor at his Baker Street consulting rooms.

Unannounced but not unnoticed

Holmes had idly been scanning his newly-installed panoptical closed-circuit system and had already noticed something in the gait of someone in the street below.

“A visitor, Watson. From France, and someone clearly in need of help. He has passed by the once, but he will be back, I wager.”

I knew better than to compete in that particular game.

“If you say so, Holmes” I retorted wearily.

“Indeed, I do,” he replied “and be so good as to find me an account of yesterday’s stage of The Tour de France You will recall something very strange happened.”

It a few moments I found the item to which he referred. The sporting world was agog at the mysterious attempt to sabotage the tour. At that moment further discussion was interrupted by the sound of someone seeking admittance below us.

“Entrez, s’il vous plait” called out Holmes with some enthusiasm, releasing the security catch.

A few moments later a stranger stood at the entrance to the study. He was a young man dressed in sober but elegant casual wear. Holmes waved him in, and he advanced into the room with no little sign of anxiety puckering is fresh features.

“Forgive my little show of vanity, Monsieur. I assume that you are here hot-foot from France for help in the case of sabotage to your beloved Tour de France? I noted of course how your clothing shows the taste of a cultured young Frenchman not unacquainted with shopping in the heart of Paris. Your elegant spectacles are in homage to the post-modern philosophes of which your country is so proud. Your arrival here coincide with the time expected if you had taken the Eurostar.”

The highest peaks of the French establishment

Our new acquaintance confirmed these observations to be correct, showing an adequate level of admiration of Holmes’deductive powers. He introduced imself as a Monsieur St Just. He added that he was representing the Tour de France organization, and with backing from, as he put it, “the highest peaks of the French establishment”.

At this last remark, Sherlock Holmes became yet more animated:

“Do not play games, Monsieur. Yes, I believe that you have come as an emissary from the highest authorities, but do not try to conceal from me the bigger game at play. Now, I beg you, say what is the core of the matter or be kind enough to leave these premises”

To be continued

Bradley Wiggins’ leadership lesson from the Tour de France

July 17, 2012

Leadership lessons become clearer as a crisis looms. An attempt to sabotage the 14th day of the Tour de France in 2012 gave an illustration of the point with the actions of Tour leader Bradley Wiggins

The crisis, as often happens, comes like a storm from clear blue skies. A tough but not particularly critical stage was underway. The large bunch of riders making up the peloton were scaling a steep incline. The various team members were working to protect the broader interests of their own lead rider, as general classification category, or various other competitions for King of the Mountains, Sprint champion, best young rider. The leaders for each could be distinguished by their gaudy but prized jersey… The bright yellow jersey of overall leader Bradley Wiggins was clearly visible in the midst of the multi-coloured millipede of the peloton [main group of riders].

The chess game

In the chess game of the tour, breakaways by a small group of attackers occur and are assessed as damaging to the broader goals and capabilities of the riders and teams in the Peloton. Today, a breakaway seemed likely to be successful for a stage win, but not harming the prospects for other prizes.

The mysterious punctures

Then the bolt from the blue. Or more literally, the punctures in the tyres. Significantly, Cadel Evans, last year’s winner, and still with some chance of regaining his title, was stricken, in a location where back-up provision of a new tyre was not possible. The frequency of punctures reached highly unusual levels over the next half hour or so.

Wiggins makes his leadership decision

For Cadel Evans, the misfortune threatened to end all hope of his winning. Wiggins could make his lead unassailable. But instead, Wiggins acted in the spirit of the Tour, by bringing the peloton to a slower pace to give Evans a chance to regain his place.

Enlightened altruism?

Wiggin’s actions fit notions of altruistic ‘old-fashioned sporting values’. He later said he had no option. There was an option, although it posed a dilemma of perceived self-interest (“race to win within the rules” weighed against the consequences of capitalizing on the misfortune which had hit Evans.

Give me a break

One rider, Pierre Rolland, chose to seize the moment to make a break. There is some evidence that a form of rough justice may be meted out to a rider who breaks the unwritten rules. Later, after another attack, and apparently under orders from his management team, he made obvious his own decision to allow the peloton to catch up

To the outsider

To the outsider, the actions may be clearer by understanding the dilemmas of self-interest and social standing above a peer group. Which may be another way of thinking about temptation.
The sabotage attempt, and wilful blindness

I could have written another post focussing on the sabotage. It showed the difficulties of the Eurosport commentators David Harmon and Sean Kelly. Harmon began to searching for explanations of the punctures.

“Quite incredible. Maybe a rough road surface?” he asked

Sean Kelly’s mind was running along more suspicious lines but he offered a cautious view:

“There might be something else. It has happened before…” He was hinting at foul play, maybe tacks strewn on the road.

“But it’s unbelievable it would happen here, in the Tour de France”. Harmon still did not want to believe such a betrayal of the spirit of the tour, although it was quite in keeping of the early days a century ago. Unbelievable, but it was quickly confirmed. And there is still the unanswered question “why?”


Bradley Wiggins retained the cherished Yellow Jersey. He and the main contenders ended with the same time differentials that they held at the start of the stage. The French Press hailed Wiggins as “Le Gentleman” a linguistic tour de force and concession to Franglais. An English journalist suggested in The New Statesman that such actions explain why England does not have the winning mentality at sport.

Re-housed Blue Peter Goes All Digital

July 14, 2012

Last year, BBC Children’s broadcasting moved to a glossy new home in Salford’s media city. Now its programmes bow to the electronic age in a shift from BBC1 to a digital channel

Report by Susan Moger and Tudor Rickards

It was coincidence that we visited the BBC centre in Media City on the week that the announcement was made [May 15th 2012] that BBC children’ s programmes were to be moved to a digital channel.

Shaping National Culture

The role played by the BBC in shaping national culture should not be under-estimated. Within that culture, the Blue Peter programme has a particularly iconic status.

The Independent noted:

After more than 50 years as a children’s teatime fixture, Blue Peter will set sail from its flagship BBC1 home to a digital channel that the BBC made earlier.

The magazine programme, along with children’s favourites including Newsround and In the Night Garden, will be banished from terrestrial channels as part of a shake-up to cut costs after the completion of the switchover from analogue broadcasts to digital.

Blue Peter, which first aired in 1958, and other programmes for pre-teens, will now be shown solely on the dedicated children’s channel CBBC. Biddy Baxter, the programme’s former editor, opposed the move, saying it would reduce the available audience.

But figures showed that more children aged six to 12 already watched Blue Peter on the digital channel, where the episodes now premiere, than on BBC1, where it is shown on Fridays.

Sailing into the digital future

Media City Salford is a vision for a creative hotspot becoming reality. If successful, it will attract even more creative talent, and produce a 21st century environment for innovation and economic growth. Even not-so-young programmes like Blue Peter are moving with the times.

Dilemmas of harassment make news in Shanghai subways and London’s law courts

July 10, 2012

The world-wide movement for gender equality reappears in Shanghai’s subways. Notices warning female passengers to dress discretely ‘to avoid harassment’ have met by protests about implied claims that provocation may be used as a defence by sexual predators

Western readers will understand the dilemma. It crops up in various versions. At its crudest, it boils down to the plea that harassment was provoked by the appearance or behaviour of one individual. The opposing view is that assault is assault. Its most common form is the male-on-female assault.

The Telegraph reported the original story

A group of women took to the underground on Sunday with their faces covered and holding signs reading: “I can be flirtatious but you can’t harass” and “We want to feel cool! We want no dirty hands [touching us]!”

“We believe women have the freedom to choose what to wear how people dress should never be an excuse for sexual harassment,” one of the protesters told the China Daily newspaper.
The protest was triggered by an online message posted by the Shanghai metro authorities last week counselling female passengers to dress more discreetly. “Girls, please be self-dignified to avoid perverts,” it said.

The post, which was accompanied by a photograph of a woman waiting for a train wearing in see-through dress, [and which] followed a spate of sexual crimes on Shanghai’s sprawling underground system.

Hitting the headlines in England

Another case was hitting the headlines concerning England’s football team captain John Terry. It had already been delayed for the curious reason of it possibly interfering with England’s progress in the Euro Finals [I may be simplifying, but that is how it seems from the news reports].

Mr Terry stands accused of racially abusing an opponent. This appears to have been in response to the opponent making provocative remarks about John Terry’s moral standing. There are a lot of contextual issues but I’ll keep in simple.

The abridged version

The press reports provided the story with or without censorship. I provide the abridged version:

The court heard that Terry told Ferdinand to “**** off” and also called him a “******* ********” as the pair exchanged insults.

Opening the prosecution, Duncan Penny said: “The crown alleges that the words he used demonstrated hostility based on Mr Ferdinand’s membership or presumed membership of a racial group.”

The court heard that Terry maintains he was only sarcastically repeating words that Ferdinand wrongly thought he had used.

Penny said: “The crown alleges that the defendant, most probably in response to physical gestures being made by Mr Ferdinand, which the defendant understood to refer to the well-publicised allegation of an extramarital affair with a team-mate’s wife, shouted at Mr Ferdinand.”

From Chelsea with Love

Meanwhile, Didier Drogba is heading out of Chelsea Football Club for Shanghai, to continue his spectacular footballing career. He is well-placed to understand the similarity in the dilemmas on the Shanghai subways and on the sports fields of England.

Competition and collaboration: Insights from Osram’s Design Contests

July 8, 2012

A prize-winning paper reports on a community-based design contest which invited contributions from nearly 1000 designers and engineers around the world.

Collaborative innovation has become an important approach to release the creative potential of individuals which has benefitted from advances in social media and its technological platforms.

One such project won the best paper award for 2012, for the journal Creativity and Innovation Management, awarded at journal’s annual community workshop in Berlin [28-29th June, 2012]. The members of the research team were Katja Hutter, Julia Hautz, Johann Fuller, Julia Mueller and Kurt Matzler, Professors at the Innsbruck University School of Management and of the University of Halle.

‘Emotionalize Your Light’

The ideas contest may be seen as a latter-day version of suggestion schemes of the past. But this is only at a superficial level. Formal suggestion schemes were found to have success when embedded in a corporate set of values, for example in the early decades of the quality and continuous improvement movements. Employees in companies such as Toyota generated vast numbers of ideas which cumalatively contributed to process and produce excellence.

The immediately obvious difference in the Osram project is the creation of a global community which becomes involved the idea generation and in the evaluation/implementation stages. The process is particularly suited for its virtual form, with technologically appropriate platforms.

The research findings

You can read the research findings in the article entitled Communitition: The Tension between Competition and Collaboration in Community-Based Design Contests. [CIM 20,1, 2011].

The study addresses a dilemma identified as the potential conflict between competition and collaboration. There is an unreflective and widely-held view that competition lies at the heart of business success. This view is partly nibbled-away at by game theory and the famous ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ which suggests that unbridled selfishness is far from the most effective strategy. Unfortunately, unbridled altruism is also too open to exploitative strategies.

Earlier workers in this fascinating branch of organizational theory coined various terms for hybridised approaches, such as co-opitition. [I seem to remember one of Edward De Bono’s books examined the theme as a kind of thinking combined competition and collaboration.]

These are my labels which help me understand the behaviours proposed by the authors:

Style 1 Competitive
Style 2 Cooperative
Style 3 Both [this is the integrative style labelled communitition].
Style 4 Neither

Style 3 is the new and signficant hybrid style proposed by the researchers. However, style 4 is not without interest. I like the evidence of community members who are not primarily collaborative nor competitive. These may be people who are observers who join a community for the purposes of learning, or perhaps potentially active contributors who never overcome fears of looking foolish.
While it was possible that someone may exhibit different styles over time, the evidence suggested that the styles were stable. In the situation of the context, participants seem to display a favoured style. This in itself is a valuable research finding, suggesting opportunities for developing research-based approaches for improving a community’s innovation processes. It may well be, that the different styles will call for different means of encouraging effective participation.
The authors recognise the need for studies of a wider range of such idea contents. However, they have made a valuable contribution in a currently hot are of innovation research. Other important questions include the manner in which leadership plays out in community-based activities.

Barclays in a spin. Bob Diamond goes, Marcus Agius comes back

July 3, 2012

[Update] In twenty four hours, the LIBOR scandal at Barclays bank results in exit of Marcus Agius as Chairman. Then CEO Bob Diamond quits, and Mr Agius returns as Executive Chairman through the revolving door of fate

Yesterday LWD noted the departure of Mr Agius, and speculated on the future of Bob Diamond. Diamond Bob had gone out of his way to reassure significant financial individuals in and outside Barclays that the story would fade away leaving financial institutions relatively unscathed.

Within twenty four hours, the matter had become the centre of a political as well as a financial storm. It seems that the establishment of parliamentary enquiries to investigate the LIBOR affair had resulted in a decision by Mr Diamond to quit immediately [BBC’s financial sleuth Robert Peston, 8.30 am, July 3rd 2012, shortly after the announcement was made public]

I speculated yesterday that Mr Diamond was a financial asset whose value could fall as well as rise. The fall was more rapid than I could have imagined.

A storm brews

The story is escalating as quickly as any I have followed over many years. In 24 hours there have been debates in the House of Lords and House of Commons. Those impacted include very senior civil servants, the head of the Bank of England, the fomer head of Barclays, John Varley, high-profile political figures such as George Osborne [who seems to have some part to play in any political story in the UK at present]. Oh, yes, and various financial executives at Barclays and elsewhere who found yesterday a good day for resigning their posts.

Update [6th July 2012]

The Diamond performance to the commons committee attracted widespread attention. The opinions varied from ’10 out of 10’ [for avoiding any ‘confessional’ statement that might be held against him ], to much lower ratings for failing to convince the committee of his integrity [laughter at his perceived obfuscations], and an error of judgment in trying to be too familiar [use of first names . The committee was also rated in some commentaries, but I couldn’t find any assessment that was positive.

I urge students of leadership to get hold of a full copy of proceedings. Also note that for MBA business presentations (not to mention for Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman) the interviewee would certainly be more promptly advised to deal directly with a simple question (but that’s a bit more advanced than media training 101)