Ann Widdecombe’s ‘Are you having a laugh?’

March 28, 2013

Ann WiddecombeTV Review: BBC1 Wednesday March 27 2013

Last night I watched a rather sad late-night programme fronted by Ann Widdecombe. Her focus was the hurt caused to Christians by assorted humorous treatments of religious themes. The humorists she interviewed argued they were mocking not Christianity but attitudes of Christians


Ann Widdecombe has celebrity status in the UK, for her uncompromising views on matters political, social, and religious. Following a career in politics she moved into the world of media and journalism. Her visibility is enhanced in a culture which delights in unself-conscious eccentricity. Her views are mostly of a socially conservative kind which she is prepared to back up by taking a moral position, at one stage refusing higher office during her time as a junior Government minister which would have required her to work against her beliefs.

A regiment of mockers

In the programme ‘Are you having a laugh: Humour and Christianity’ She offered an unshakable position, setting out to confirm it under the guise of rational discourse. Anger at the mockery naturally led her to name, shame, and confront a regiment of mockers ranging from the Monty Python team, Ricky Gervase, stand-up comedians as a tribe, and a few producers of other assorted media programmes.

Feel my pain

Her pain, induced by what she sees as the mocking of her beliefs, seemed genuine enough for some of her interviewees to show empathy, not a quality particularly manifest by the interviewer. I found my own sympathy diminishing she moved from the [in]famous crucifixion scene ending of the Life of Brian film to other less cogent examples of blasphemy through mockery.

Dangerous Territory

There was one point made about fundamentalist evangelical Christians in America, which fitted in with the general narrative, and yet was different. For once, Widdecombe’s views were not expressed with clarity. She seemed to be sensing dangerous territory to be skirted. Or maybe she felt that however egregious were the actions of these leaders, the basic point did not really fit into the theme of blasphemous mockery.

The arrogance of the mockers

The examples seemed to be located along a wide spectrum of any mock scale. Collectively they capture the libertarian component in British culture rather well. The perpetrators, one confessed to the confronting Widdecombe, are often prone to arrogance and a belief in the superiority of their views. Ms W, who presents herself as rather similar to another Conservative, Margaret Thatcher, in her grasp of irony, found only pleasure in the repentance of the wrong-doer.

So long as it doesn’t offend…

I detected an inauthentic note in her conclusion that ‘we’, (presumably Christians), should be more robust about such humour,’as long as it doesn’t mock ‘our’ beliefs.’ Quite so.

It was then I turned

I watched the programme feeling that I really should go to bed, or turn over to anything else that might provide me with less disappointing viewing. Eventually, I turned to my trusty non-religious tablet, and began writing…

Have you ever been accused of being a spy?

March 27, 2013

John KeaneJohn Keane

Have you ever been accused of being a spy working for MI6? I know someone who has. Even more disturbing, he has the same name as myself

I became aware of the story originally when I looked up my name on the web. My namesake is [or was at the time] a professor at The University of Westminster in London. He recently blogged about the disturbing news he received though a telephone call from a friend. He tells his story in his blog in a post entitled Laughter and Tears on being accused of spying for MI-6:

[Dateline London, Saturday 1st August, 2009]

One of those weird moments when glum silence is the most sensible reaction. A colleague telephoned to spill the bad news. ‘This morning, in a preliminary statement before the highest court of the Islamic Republic of Iran’, he began, ‘you were named by the Deputy State Prosecutor as a co-conspirator in an organised attempt to overturn the present regime by means of a velvet coup d’état.’ Surely a prank call, I thought. ‘ You’re accused [with the distinguished Western intellectuals Jürgen Habermas and Richard Rorty] of acting as CIA and MI6 agents. I’ll e-mail more details this afternoon.’

Professor Keane denies all allegations

In 2004, during one such visit to Tehran, I indeed taught an officially approved short course based on research for [my book] The Life and Death of Democracy (which has just been published).

It is not true that I participated in ‘operations geared to the collapse of the governments of Eastern Europe’. I did not spend ‘the years 1973 and 1975 in Czechoslovakia’ (I lived in Canada during this period) and at no time have I ‘often travelled to Poland’ or worked for the ‘Polandising of Iran’.

When my colleague hung up, animal laughter morphed into a cloud of pensiveness, riveted by the thought that words can ruin lives, or torture and kill. It is no laughing matter for scholars to be lumped in with plotters, mercenaries and secret agents of ‘Western’ and ‘Zionist’ reaction.

From a scholarly point of view, the most worrying development, recently confirmed by the Supreme Leader, is the link that has been drawn between the human sciences, the universities and the so-called ‘velvet counter-revolution’.

Detention without trial – which is prohibited by the constitution – and death in custody have nothing to do with reason or justice, or with the Prophet’s call for listening to people and treating them with kindness and respect. Friends: that is why you know that whatever you say or do in weakness will be used against you – and why you have resolved to be strong, cling to your integrity with all your might, and to find courage and consolation in the assurance that your loved ones, and millions of people around the world, will not forget you, or accept your ghastly predicament as fate.


I have found it strange reporting about someone with the same name as myself. An additional layer of ambiguity to a fascinating story which itself seems to challenge our sense of reality. Professor Keane captures what we can imagine to be the Kafkaesque sense of panic and disorientation through being falsely accused by a powerful court of Justice.


John Keane [Image above from the University of Sidney website] is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney. His scholarly contributions include the concept of monetary democracy. He certainly exists, and his blog makes fascinating reading for students of politics and leadership.

The author of this post describes himself as ‘another John Keane’ interested in the processes of leadership in politics, public affairs and business organizations. He holds a position within a research institute in the United Kingdom, where he studies leadership from the perspective of social constructivism. He is also interested in how modes of learning are becoming mediated through social media.


Margaret Rope, a leading artist in stained glass, was arrested as a suspected spy in the 1930s, according to a BBC Radio documentary. She aroused suspicion by her passion for driving high power motor cycles, accompanied by her cousin who added to the confusion by also being named Margaret Rope. More information welcomed.

Do Ye Ken John Keane?

March 26, 2013

John PeelLeaders we deserve announce the forthcoming post on leadership from author and leadership researcher, John Keane. John believes that social media such as blog sites are offering opportunities for experimenting with new formats for communicating ideas

John’s post, which takes the form of a piece of creative writing, will appear in LWD within the next few days.

The image

The image of John Peel [not John Keane] is from the nostalgic site Pipe dreams from the Shire . Blame your editor for thinking John Keane shared his name with John Peel before correcting the original title of this announcement. I thought subscribers might still enjoy the image of the celebrated Cumbrian huntsman.

Why business students like the Alibaba case and Jack Ma

March 23, 2013

Jack Ma wikipediaWhen Asian business students are asked to write about leadership, one of their favourite topics is the Chinese telecommunications giant Alibaba, and its dynamic leader Jack Ma

This is hardly surprising. The company has grown through the vision and enterprise of its founder. Already a host of corporate stories are developing around him and his giant baby, recently valued at 35 billion dollars.

The Jack Ma story

Jack Ma fits the profile of the creative entrepreneur. His decisions are imaginative. He describes his leadership journey in vivid anecdotes which suggests that he has a well-developed transformational style. An English teacher and graduate of Hangzhou, Mr Ma became a skilled web site builder, one of the first in China.

When he was thinking about going international he looked for a corporate name that worked in Chinese but which also had global connotations. Once when in America, someone mentioned the story of Ali-Baba to him, and he thought he had found what he was looking for. He tested his idea quickly and locally, as found there was surprising recognition of the story from the Arabian Knights, and the magic password Open Sesame which opened up a cave full of treasures.. Yes, my company could be remembered for opening up a place full of treasures, he thought. Ali-Baba had brought prosperity to his village.

He listed the new name slightly differently, noticing that it was also effective when written in Chinese characters.

A sprawling conglomerate

Alibaba, founded in 1999, was to grow into the largest private corporation in China. It was described by Bloomberg Business Week as a sprawling conglomerate of web-based companies. The largest elements are Taobao and the Alibaba group. The former is a Chinese version of E-Bay and was to become market leader in e-commerce in China

Its Business relationship with Yahoo has been controversial. Alibaba grew and prospered under its founder-leader, Yahoo struggled to compete in its more global business.

Time to quit says Jack Ma

Recently, the founder has decided to hand over the leadership to a senior executive Jonathan Lu in advance of an anticipated initial public share offering which is being predicted to match that of Facebook [or more, as Facebook’s shares have dipped this year]. The South China Post stated:

The announcement came a few days after Alibaba, which Ma founded in 1999, announced a sweeping restructuring that will divide the group into 25 business units under the direction of two committees, one for strategy and the other for operations. In an e-mail sent to Alibaba’s more than 24,000 employees worldwide on January 15, Ma said he decided to relinquish his position as chief executive because the company had people who “are better equipped to manage and lead an internet ecosystem like ours”.

Ma described how he realised years ago that he was not suited to be a traditional chief executive of a big firm. He said that “at 48 I am no longer ‘young’ for the internet business”. What he aims to be is “a good partner to more capable colleagues”, which he intends to accomplish by continuing his role as executive chairman.

Ma described the restructuring as “the most difficult reorganisation” in Alibaba’s history. But it is a bet to stay competitive in the mainland’s fast-growing e-commerce market. JP Morgan has estimated this market to be worth US$436 billion in 2015. The move fuelled speculation that Ma was laying the groundwork for Alibaba’s initial public offering, which the company has denied.

What happens next?

Predictions are generally favourable. I agree with The Economist [March 23rd 2013] which noted that while the future is promising “…there is nothing inevitable about Alibaba’s future fortunes”. I urge students of leadership to do a little ‘map testing’ before accepting that newspaper’s casual SWOT analysis: [1] that Alibaba could overreach itself; that [2] it would face the risk that ‘foreign governments will clamp down’ and [3] face an internal threat because ” The Communist Party is bound to be jealous of an outfit that has so much data on Chinese citizens.”

I’m afraid that piece of analysis would have not obtained a particular high grade, if it had been supplied in a student assignment on Alibaba’s prospects.


September 10th 2014

Jack Ma biographic note on the man who is changing china.

November 3rd 2014

Jack Ma is judged wealthiest Chinese individual

Things I wish I hadn’t said: Sir Clive Woodward

March 19, 2013

Clive WoodwardMonitoring the predictions of Rugby experts in the recently finished Six Nations competition, I noted those of former England coach Sir Clive Woodward

Sir Clive Woodward will be remembered as the England coach for the team that won the Rugby world cup in 2002. He is now a commentator for the BBC. I was particularly interested to learn insights from the thinking of a successful sporting leader. I found that over the last two weeks of rugby, he shared the human tendency to avoid challenging the reliability of his prior opinions in light of additional evidence.

Prior to the England Italy game

“It would be good for England to score five tries to put them in the right spirit for the game against Wales [the title decider, the following week]”

After the England Italy game

“The way they played against Italy is just the wake-up call to prepare them against Wales”

Before the Wales England game

“It will be tight but England should shade it.”

After the Wales England game [which Wales won 30-3]

“England will learn a lot from this defeat”

The next day

After the match, Sir Clive seemed to have had a spell of amnesia regarding his early remarks, telling the BBC

“The rest of the world would have taken notice of that, the bubble has been burst and teams would have seen who they [England] are and what they have to do to beat them.”

Other reactions

One English commentator pre-match had made a different assessment to Sir Clive in an article “Here’s why the whole of Wales and Scotland and Ireland want to see England humiliated”. It’s worth reading in full, to capture some of the dimensions of the “Arrogant English” charge leveled at its Rugby establishment.

More typical was the view expressed by another former England international, Mike Tindall, in his balanced analysis of why “England must be ready to face Cardiff’s cauldron of hate”

“England are by far the best team in the Six Nations. The most important thing about them is their base game. It’s of the highest standard and that will always keep you in a game.”


Image is from barryjphillips blogspot . Barry wrote a positive review of Sir Clive Woodward’s book Winning, saying he would like to deliver a pass to a rugby playing friend, but decided to retain possession.

Holy Smoke: The symbolic nature of voting processes

March 17, 2013

Pope FrancisThe election of Pope Francis illustrates the symbolic nature of the voting process deployed by the Catholic Church in the selection and election of its spiritual leader. But how different is it to the practices of decision making found in many other Organizations?

In a papal election the symbolism is evident. The conclave of Cardinals assembles in Rome from around the world and its members are prepared for their elective duties. Through dress, location and traditional rituals they are reminded of their sacred duties. The process combines periods of prayer, periods of intense discussion cut off from the ears and eyes of the world. The votes are recorded anonymously, each Cardinal adding a single name to a simple voting slip. these are scrutinized to assess if the required majority has been reached. In either case the slips are ritually burned to provide one of the most famous of signs, the smoke emerging over the Sistine chapel, black for an inconclusive result, white for the awaited news that a new Pope has been elected. [Incidentally, the chemicals now used to achieve the dark and white plumes are pretty noxious…]

Unique and Universal

The ceremony is unique. Yet I suggest it has near-universal aspects which can be noticed in leaders appointments elsewhere. This week, for example, election results were announced in The Falkland Islands and in China.

More symbolism in voting

In each case there was a heavily symbolic component. The Falklands have remained disputed territory between Britain and Argentina which the ‘Thatcher war’ did little to resolve. In the Falklands referendum-type vote, , 98.8% voted to remain British. Three votes were cast against. In China, the electorate voting for President Xi returned an almost identical 98.86%. I will spare you lengthy political analysis. There was one point I found interesting made my commentators in each. On the Falklands, a spokesperson said the result was good because a 100% vote might have seemed suspicious. A Chinese blogger said it was Xi himself for reasons of modesty returned the one vote against, not wanting it be seen as voting for himself.

My unreasonable view of voting

Like many citizens around the world, I value the symbolism of participating in voting. But part of me carries a suspicion that many ballots are more about symbolic process through which a contested election appears to be ‘the will of the people’. Too often, the voting conceals the power behind the ballot box, for example in the choice of candidates or voting procedures. This applies to decisions of corporate boards as much as to those made in the election of a parliamentary representative or a President.

American Giant and the greatest Hoodie ever made

March 14, 2013

American Giant HoodieAmerican Giant was founded by entrepreneur Bayard Winthrop on a simple idea, to create the greatest Hoodie ever made. The product was so successful it almost bust the company in its start-up year

This is how the story hit the headlines this week [Match 2013]:

After only eight months in business, everything at online fashion company American Giant was going according to plan last year. The San Francisco-based business was enjoying “slow but steady growth”, says founder Bayard Winthrop. Then American Giant got the type of positive publicity many companies can only dream off. Orders rocketed, and the firm was sent into emergency mode. “Four days later we had nothing left,” says Mr Winthrop. “We were down to the sticks in our warehouse.”

Since it is an online-only retailer, customers cannot try on the clothing before buying. And reliant upon word-of-mouth marketing, Mr Winthrop estimated it would take two years for American Giant to really take off. Then the online magazine Slate ran an article that named American Giant’s hooded sweatshirt “the greatest Hoodie ever made”. It triggered half a million dollars of new orders in less than two days, clearing out American Giant’s inventory.

The nature of web-based success

We have become accustomed to the unpredictable explosion of growth as a business idea goes viral. Typically, a simple concept captures the imagination and attracts the attention of millions of people often in the time cycle of twenty four hours as the news spreads around the world.

The precise ingredients for success remain unclear. A few years ago Facebook and then Twitter burst on the scene. Twitter had two factors going for it. It’s brilliant idea was easy to explain: Anything worth saying can be captured in 140 characters or less. The second element was the speed of take up of the idea which becomes part of its success. In other words Twitter became famous for becoming famous.

The New Darwinism of the Web

In the New Darwinism of the Web, there is room for only one species at the top of the food chain. This not a new idea, but it certainly applies in web-based markets, where dominance by one ‘species’ is common.

Which brings us back to American Giant

The story is a sure-fire candidate for study as a Business School case. If it isn’t already, [March 2013] it’s because case writers can’t be as agile as their business heroes.

The greatest Hoodie in the world

The idea of producing the greatest Hoodie in the world has another old-fashioned virtue, the wow factor, which is often accompanied by the famous words “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Not such a simple idea

Part of the answer to the question is that the monstrously successful business idea has to be ‘financialized’. Sometimes deliberately with foresight, sometimes by ‘stumbling upon it, the entrepreneur had to see not just what such a product might look like, but how the idea could be protected and commercialized.

A leadership challenge

If you haven’t come across the history of American Giant, here’s my challenge. If you had the idea of “the greatest Hoodie in the world” how would you turn it into a world-beater.

I’ll offer a few ideas, but you will need to keep a look out for them in future amendments to this post. And I’ll welcome suggestions from LWD subscribers.

To be continued…

Hugo Chavez will have a foothold in world history

March 9, 2013

Hugo ChavezHugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, who died this week, deserves study as an example of an visionary revolutionary leader whose influence impacted on global events over several decades.

His life story is the stuff of legends. The disentanglement of myth from reality is difficult. Inevitably there is the view of his supporters who find it easy to support the great leader narrative. Conversely, the view of his detractors provides the mirror image, that of a delusional tyrant who misapplied the oil revenues of his country through his foreign policy adventures.

A platform of understanding

There is a factual basis of events which forms a shared ‘platform of understanding’ or POU, regardless of which of the rival ‘maps’ you subscribe to. I have drawn the following synopsis from an obituary in the Guardian, selecting information which can be found in other sources.

Chavez was born in humble circumstances and had no obvious natural advantages by birth. What he achieved he did largely through his own efforts. If there were other factors it would be the natural resources and particularly its oil which give Venezuela considerable economic clout beyond its borders.

His parents were both teachers by profession, but a passion for baseball led young Hugo to enrol in the military academy at the age of 17. As a young officer, he became disillusioned with [corruption in] the armed forces and led a failed uprising against the military. The successor to President Pérez, Rafael Caldera, ordered the cases against them to be dropped. Chavez later stood for president with a promise to sweep aside the old order, rewrite the constitution and eliminate corruption. Riding a wave of disgust with politics, and strode to power. Later elections consolidated Chávez’s grip on power. There followed a period of unrest, a resignation, and a subsequent reinstatement.

During his 1998 presidential campaign, Chávez had insisted that he was “neither of the left nor the right”. But by 2006, he felt sufficiently secure to declare that socialism was the only way forward. Specifically, it was “21st-century socialism”. By 2011 Chavez was in poor health, and he stood and won re-election in absentia earlier this year [2013]

Internationally, he supported allies through his oil revenues and was particularly influential in Cuba. His political stance was increasingly distasteful to the United States. His presidency has been described as fostering a socialist pink tide sweeping Latin America including Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Arguably Brazil, under Lula, a more cautious leader, internationally, supported Chavez in principle, without risking the roller-coaster ride in political fortunes.

What can be learned about leadership from studying Hugo Chavez?

I believe that students of leadership should study the accounts of influential leaders. However, my view comes with serious reservations. The stories tend to be either highly favourable or highly dismissive. In either case, what is missing (and what the student has to provide) is the lessons from the way the leader deals with the tough problems or dilemmas. Too often I read essays in which leaders appear to overcome all obstacles through natural brilliance.

21st century socialism

Chavez consistently faced difficulties including imprisonment and possible impeachment or worse. He was consistent in placing himself in a high moral position by appealing to a higher cause including ‘Bolivarization’ of his country, the emancipation of the oppressed, and (more recently) 21st century socialism. This implied a creative leadership stance of ‘Both And’ permitting him a retention of his Christian faith, while supporting other socialist and communist leaders who rejected it.

Police Reform: A noxious brew of politics, regulation and special interest groups

March 7, 2013

Tom WinsorThe dilemmas of police leadership are fictionalized in a thousand police dramas. These are currently being played out in the UK following the controversial appointment of Tom Winsor, a lawyer with no service experience of police work, as Chief Inspector of Constabulary

The police forces of the United Kingdom are united mostly in a concern that changes imposed on them by outsiders will be ill-informed on the special features that make policing unique among the professions.

Inevitably, the appointment of a Chief Inspector of Police from outside their ranks [July 2012] produced initial hostility from ACPO [The Association of Chief Police Officers, and The Police Federation. And that was even before Tom Winsor got down to work.

An intellectually undemanding profession?

He was quoted as saying that the service was still based on a century-old structure and that:

“For too long policing has been unfairly regarded by many as an occupation of an intellectually largely undemanding nature .. policing today is entirely different. The attitudes of some police officers remain fastened in that mind set and I believe that is holding them back [in order that] all men and women of intelligence and good character consider a policing career on a par with law, medicine, the clergy, the armed and security services, finance and industry”.

Not the words of someone seeking a conciliatory relationship with police leaders.

The Home Secretary’s choice

Theresa May has acquired a reputation of a conservative hawk as Home Secretary, attracting controversy either deliberately or insensitively, according to your political perspective. Her attempts to reform immigration control procedures led to battles and blame-naming “United by love divided by Theresa May” goes one slogan against her policies. .

On the home front, her choice of Winsor is seen as an attempt to finesse the challenge of leading a campaign for police reform, by relying on the inclinations of Mr Winsor to ease the way towards unpopular legislation.

According to the BBC’s home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw

The current system sees all police recruits begin work as a constable, regardless of age, skills or experience. The Home Office proposals being put before MPs herald a fundamental change to the current system of police recruitment. It currently takes about 25 years for a newly recruited constable to work their way to the most senior level, a process that is thought to deter talented people from other professions from joining the police.
The direct-entry plans expected to be put forward follow recommendations in a report last year by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Tom Winsor.

Watch the watchdog

Tom Winsor may be Theresa May’s watchdog but he is no poodle. Brought in as Rail Regulator, he become involved in bitter disputes with the Government over what he considered to be efforts to undermine his authority.

The case of the Bradford Batman

March 4, 2013

BatmanStop Press: A man dressed as Batman walks into a police station in Bradford in Yorkshire, and hands over a wanted man into custody. What’s all that about?

This may be a story which breaks before I have time to publish it. It may still be of use for lecturers looking for a ‘warm-up’ class room exercise in creative problem-solving or even leadership.

Background [March 4th 2013]

The police apprehend the youth. Man in Batman outfit escapes. No prior information about the alleged criminal had been released to the public.

What might have happened?

Suggestions welcomed. A publicity stunt? An off-duty police officer who does not want to become known to associates of the person brought in?


Later, [March 7th 2013] the identities of the suspect and Batman were revealed:

A man who was handed over to police by a friend dressed as Batman has admitted trying to cash a stolen cheque he said he found in the street. Daniel Frayne appeared at Bradford magistrates court nearly a fortnight after he was taken into a police station in the city by Stan Worby, who had dressed as the caped crusader while watching his team Bradford City play Swansea in the Capital One Cup final at Wembley.