In Pawn Sacrifice, Bobby Fischer takes on the world again

November 24, 2014

Pawn Sacrifice is a dramatized version produced by Edward Zwick of Bobby Fischer’s iconic chess match with Boris Spassky in 1972

Pawn Sacrifice was previewed at the recent Toronto film festival

It is a more fictionalized version than the earlier film Bobby Fischer takes on the world, and confirms the relative normality of protagonists Carlsen and Anand who are currently slugging it out for the World Chess Championship in Sochi.

Mostly positive reviews

Reviews on Pawn Sacrifice have been mostly positive. The most negative one I found was from The Guardian, and even that whetted my appetite for watching the film.

Must see?

Probably a must see for chess players of a certain age, although a possible unsound sacrifice of two hours viewing time for the wider public.


Tim Cook makes the case for an inclusive workplace

November 4, 2014

Paul Hinks

So Tim Cook is gay. The announcement wasn’t so much about the ‘outing’ of Tim Cook, as a message that openly supports diversity and equality in the workplace. The fact that Tim Cook is CEO of Apple, America’s largest firm, adds gravitas to the story.

Race, gender, age, disability, sexual preference are all topics with which organizations have to grapple. Firms are keen to demonstrate they are operating a diverse and ethical workplace where everyone has their fair chance regardless of their personal circumstance or outlook. Perhaps too many firms ‘talk the talk’ with the aim of ticking a box in a corporate brochure?

Tim Cook’s announcement provides an authentic message that Apple is an organization that understands the importance of providing support to ‘their most important asset’. Harnessing different perspectives from a diverse workforce provides a win:win – people with different values and background see things differently from those who are turned into generic corporate clones – walking and talking a certain way – it can all become a bit a dull, boring and predictable. Tim Cook’s announcement is not about him per se; it’s about promoting equality and diversity – and perhaps re-enforcing a culture that can provoke creativity and innovation.

Tim Cook has never denied being gay, but he is acknowledged and recognized as being a private individual. So to publicly make a statement about a private and personal matter, and then place the context of the statement around support for others deserves credit and recognition.

The New York Times provided insight and a deeper perspective:

As Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, put it, “He’s chief executive of the Fortune One. This is Tim Cook and Apple. This will resonate powerfully.”

Mr. Cook was plainly reluctant, and, as he put it in his essay in Bloomberg Businessweek, “I don’t seek to draw attention to myself.” But, he wrote, he came to the realization that “If hearing that the C.E.O. of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Mr. Cook’s essay also seemed carefully drafted to be inclusive, to embrace anyone who feels different or excluded, which could broaden its impact far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Mr. Cook was “wonderfully candid about why it was difficult for him to come out,” said Kenji Yoshino, a constitutional law professor at New York University and co-author of “Uncovering Talent: a New Model for Inclusion.”

“When I give presentations on diversity and inclusion in organizations, I often start by noting that of the Fortune 500 C.E.O.s, 5 percent are women, 1 percent are black and zero percent are openly gay,” Professor Yoshino said.

In his essay, Mr. Cook wrote that he was many things besides being gay: “an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic.” Professor Yoshino noted: “When Drew Faust became the first female president of Harvard, she made a similar point. ‘I am not the woman president of Harvard,’ she said. ‘I’m the president of Harvard.’ ”

Apple’s future success

Since taking over the leadership of Apple from Steve Jobs in 2011, Tim Cook has demonstrated that he can successfully pilot the largest corporation in America. Tim Cook is not Apple’s ‘gay’ CEO, he’s Apple’s current and successful CEO.

In terms of competitiveness, Apple is currently riding the crest of a wave. The recent product launch of the iPhone 6 broke all records – so there’s no obvious need for a cheap publicity stunt. Tim Cook’s announcement shouldn’t be seen much as statement about himself, rather his statement symbolises the importance of providing an inclusive, diverse and stimulating workplace, one which supports new ideas, aims to look at the same situation from different perspectives – a culture true to Apple’s values – one which fosters creativity and innovation.

In the future, perhaps Tim Cook’s announcement will be reflected upon as the time when Apple took a leadership position in supporting diversity and equality in a positive and effective way. It will be interesting to see how many other industry leaders follow Mr Cook’s lead.


Leadership and the Local Peak Syndrome

October 26, 2008

New leadership ideas and actions are particularly valuable when the going gets tough. A new book based on Culture Theory shows how to understand and overcome the local peak syndrome

There is a cartoon often shown during leadership programmes. It shows a mountaineer planting a flag on the summit of a mountain. But the drawing can be expanded to show what the climber had missed. He has reached a local peak, and the real challenge looms ahead. What’s worse, he has to get off the local peak before he can start climbing again. It’s a powerful visual image.

Local Peak Syndrome

Mountaineer and author Michael Thompson knows quite a bit about expeditions to conquer the world’s greatest peaks. He took part in successful yomps up Annapurna and Everest in the 1970s. He is also a pioneer of Culture Theory, and although he doesn’t use the term, he also knows about the local peak syndrome, which he outlines in his latest book Organising and Disorganising: A Dynamic and Non-Linear Theory of Institutional Emergence and its Implications published by Triarchy Press

The title may put some potential readers off. That would be a pity. Readers may be pleasantly surprised at the enjoyment and benefit to be derived by signing up for the expedition.

For one thing, the author is a confident guide, and illustrates the journey by means of lots of interesting maps of other expeditions including investigations into environmental problems of the Napalese region, climbing expeditions, and (in some contrast) the move of Arsenal Football club from Highbury to The Emirates Stadium. The stories illustrate a rich version of cultural theory, and have implications for leaders of all kinds.

The virtues of ‘clumsy’ solutions

For example, the Arsenal story shows that The Emirates Stadium site would have been overlooked in favour of elegant but simplistic solutions favoured by three different groups of stakeholders some of whom would have made for implementation of these ideas difficult. Thompson calls the outcome a necessarily ‘clumsy’ (but effective) resolution as opposed to elegant but unacceptable front-runner proposals.

His point is that many well-intentioned policy initiatives, and strategic plans fail to take the complexities of change into account. This is particularly apt in the current environment of what Alan Greenspan referred to as an economic Tsunami.

Social solidarities

The next point in his argument is that complex systems have what he calls solidarities each favoured by some people involved. These solidarities are recurring patterns of social coherence. They are labelled the hierarchical, the egalitarian, the individualistic, the fatalistic and the autonomous solidarities.

These four terms can be derived from the celebrated work of Mary Douglas, and a more recent ‘two-by-two’ grid of them can be found in an essay by Aaron Wildavsky (try googling Wildavsky and Culture Theory).

Readers may be more familiar with ‘two by two’ management grids (high and low levels of structuring, and high and low levels of groupiness), or maybe the two-by-two of sociological paradigms by Burrell & Morgan.

We need to know a little about cybernetics to see where Thompson has taken such treatments. Essentially he grasps one of the nettles too often ducked. What might be the mechanisms through which people (and groups) move from one ‘box’ to another?.

Burrell and Morgan’s work helped generate a lot of debate about whether such movement was possible, or whether the belief systems of the boxes represented incommensurate paradigms.

Thompson’s solution is to add a fifth element. In doing so he mentions the principle of requisite variety, cherished by cyberneticians since it was developed by Ross Ashby, many years ago.

Ashby worked out the requirements for any configuration of any system to be stable (‘we could see the stable states as ‘solidarities’). These were the viable states of the system, which had the survival property of the appropriate degree of requisite variety

Dr Thompson takes Ashby’s principle a few steps further, invoking a formal proof that requisite variety for systems stability exists in five and only five solidarities bracketed together.

The formulation began to remind me of even more ideas, including one associated with Lawrence and Lorsch, a team of Harvard organizational theorists. They proposed that differing conditions shape organizations into different (sub)systems, with differing integrating mechanisms. This contributed to Harvard’s pioneering reputation for contingency models of organization.
Thompson’s integrating device (the autonomous ‘solidarity’) introduces his fifth component into the established ‘two by twos’.

How real is real?

The author makes it clear that he believes that organizational stability (viability) needs the existence of five solidarities. And not just any old five solidarities interacting in any which way, but mediated through his specified autonomous solidarity. In so doing he believes he gets around many of the difficulties of prevailing theories of social structures.

You will have to read the book to see if this ‘essay in persuasion’ works for you. I was partly already converted into accepting some of the basic ideas presented. Time will tell whether re-reading helps me reach a greater level of persuasion on other suggestions in the book.

I was fortunate to have taken part in discussions some years ago, with cybernetics theorist, Stafford Beer.

Stafford had developed a model of organization which I (and other colleagues) regarded at the time as a powerful metaphor. Stafford was emphatic that his model was more than a metaphor, rather an identity for an organization’s defining features.

I sense a similar conviction to Stafford’s in Michael Thompson’s treatment of his five solidarities. Stafford’s famous model also has five interacting systems. (It even has at its Level 5, a super-ordinate integrating mechanism similar to that of Thompson’s autonomous system) . Broading this further, we might reflect whether Senge’s fifth discipline (learning to learn) might not be a similar integrating mechanism within yet another systems theory of change.

Buy the book

If you find this half as interesting as I did, you must get hold of Organising and Disorganising. And, if you haven’t already, have a go at any of Stafford’s books still in print. Brain of the Firm would be a good one with which to start.


Battle of Ideas: Picking on the Apprentice

October 19, 2008

Alan Sugar acts out the leadership myth

Alan Sugar acts out the leadership myth


Creative leaders are idea warriors. Which is why many will be found engaging in the debate on bullying at work organized by The Institute of Ideas

The Fourth annual Battle of Ideas will involve over 1500 participants including strands on bullying at work, biomedicine, the family and (inevitably for election week).

The bullying at work session has marketed itself as Picking on the Apprentice. Leaderswedeserve has had a few points to make in the past on the television program. Like ourselves, The Institute of Ideas is more interested in hitch-hiking on the over-publicized programme to get at a far wider wider range of issues.

The bullying event will examine the recent case when a Marks & Spencer employee was fired for whistle blowing. And the example of Jason Toal, a black fireman bullied by colleagues who hurled racist taunts at him and allegedly soaked him with water and binned his paper work.

Other sessions will explore whether management consultancy and the professionals are in need of a stronger moral compass in the interests of the community, and (if that appeal is not enough) for their own post-credit crunch survival.

Political correctness running sane

Many people have developed a kneejerk reaction to describe their feekings of frustration and anger under the catch-all phrase political correctness gone mad. It might be interesting to trace the origins of this.

I have no doubt that themes within the Battle of Ideas will attract the inevitable media take of political correctness running mad . Which is OK. It is a comfort to think that debate offers a chance to develop more balanced views, and more importantly to act accordingly. On balance I’d say that is political correctness operating in a socially healthy way.

Acknowledgement: The Institute of ideas for the press release which prompted this post


Obama McCain Round Three and the Myth of the Mousetrap

October 17, 2008
A better mousetrap?

A better mousetrap?

The third Presidential debate provided little further evidence that might change the minds of American voters. A recent study of the myth of the mousetrap suggests how the candidates might be better able to get their ideas accepted

The candidates have had even more media exposure (if such a thing is possible) because reporting of the twists and turns of the Bush regime in its attempts to deal with the financial crisis of the last few weeks.

For all his charisma, Obama sticks to offering a low-key and generally reassuring style of debate. He did not go for broke with an appeal to the anxieties of voters. That was a relatively easy call for his advisors and Obama. He is, after all is moving ahead rather nicely in the polls.

In contrast, McCain is struggling in the polls. Observers suggest that he has decided that there is no option but to stick to a personalised attack on Obama. Arguably, each candidate had strong reasons to stick to their earlier strategies.

The leadership dilemma

The debates offer a case example of the dilemmas facing a leader. Stick or twist? If in a strong position why change? If in a weak position it would be nice to change in a way that addresses the perceived weaknesses. But how to find that new strategy, and how to put it into action?

The Myth of the Better Mousetrap

It just so happens that a book came in for review shortly before the third presidential debate. Anne Miller in The Myth of the Mousetrap: how to get your ideas adopted (and change the world) writes about the challenge for a creative person to get ideas accepted. The book primarily focuses on technological ideas and acceptance seeking processes. I commend it to technologists and inventors, but I want to locate my remarks around its relevance in the context of the Obama-Bush campaign

The dangers of the ‘he who is not with us’ approach

Miller goes back into history to show how scientific pioneers have to find ways of overcoming a comprehension gap. She quotes one scientist who many years ago (in 1944) observed the tendency of someone committed to a new idea to be over-zealous:

Zealous believers commonly follow the motto ‘He that is not for us is against us’ [and that] it does not help the cause to accuse all its critics of a state of mind that is as unworthy as fascism’.

She comments that the phrase ‘ with us or against us’ has ‘a worrying echo’ of George Bush in building his ‘coalition against evil’ , adding that
‘being combative may make your supporters feel good, but it does nothing to encourage people who are teetering on the edge of being interested in your ideas’. Her proposition is that increasingly, influence derives from efforts to involve people which will also harness their creativity.

If Miller is right, we begin to understand the dilemma facing McCain. It is less of a problem for Obama, who seems to have been more successful in involving and enlisting an army of youthful supporters.

Bush, and not thinking about the elephant

Another illustration comes from the success of the Bush campaign of 2000. Gore did not win the case by pointing out that Bush tax cuts would mainly advantage the top 1% of voters. Miller (p105) cites George Lackoff’s analysis that Bush had succeeded because ‘people do not vote with their economic self-interest, they vote with their identity and their values [such as] ..strong defense or family values’ .

I assume Lackoff’s analysis has been noted by strategists on the left and right alike. In any case, values are being repeatedly signalled by both candidates. Yet, this time around, there is an elephant (or a gorilla) that can’t be ignored. And it’s not too far away from the point made by Clinton. It’s the economy stupid. Which then gets dressed up in value-laden language. Last night, [October 15th 2008] John McCain personalised it with extensive references to Joe the plumber’ (a real person).

But there are further complications. Appeals to injustice or real and present danger have immediate emotional impact, also trigger feelings of guilt, inadequacy and anger. Such manifestations have been a feature of recent McCain events, less so with Obama’s.

Miller refers to a favoured notion of mine about change from the behavioural theorist Ed Schein. He suggests that people’s attitudes are ‘unfrozen’ by triggering acknowledgement of dissatisfaction with the status-quo coupled with vision off a better state and a simple credible action. If I have a concern about Schein’s model it is in its simplistic application in which someone goes around whipping up dissatisfaction, anxieties, and feelings of inadequacy. This holds for someone arguing for a new product idea and for a change of leadership. It is likely to be more effective in the latter case, than in the political arena, where the actions may just trigger anger against a common enemy.

So McCain is toast?

‘Barring the unexpected’, I would say yes. The possible sources of a turn-round seem to be dwindling. The initial boost from the impact of Sarah Palin is fading. Chances to score in the three televised exchanges have come and gone.

But these are exceptional times. If there is a change it will be a radical disruption of all the factors that have been pushing the polls in favour of Obama.

It might just be worth planning for the implications for a Democratic win.

Acknowledgement

To Gilleport for the image of a better mousetrap


Guido Fawkes Blown Up?

April 26, 2008

The influential Guido Fawkes blog disappeared from the blogosphere this morning. Has its author finally succeeded in getting himself blown up?

What I Didn’t See This Morning

I didn’t see something this morning [Saturday April 26th 2008]. I didn’t see a blog on the web. I was looking for the latest posting from a political blogger described as one of the most influential around. The blogger goes under the name of Guido Fawkes, in homage to that earlier revolutionary figure Guy Fawkes.

This Guido Fawkes has acquired a bit of a cult status among bloggers. He has been attributed with breaking political stories which eventually have impact in the real world. For example, he can claim credit for starting the stories about a damaging bit of naughtiness by Peter Hain, during the campaign to replace Mr Prescott (arguably also caught in e-flagrante.

The convenience of pseudo-anonymity was blown most obviously in a Newsnight interview, after which a Mr John Staines claimed that he was indeed the blogging Guido Fawkes.

Guido Revealed

Another blog [‘Tunbridge‘] described the outing of Guido:

Despite the pantomime of the shadowy, unidentified mystical figure sitting in the studio, which everyone in political circles knows is Paul Staines; and Paxman’s usual put-them-on-the-back-foot opening gambit of “Why do you insist on this preposterous charade of sitting in a darkened studio?…” or words to that effect, the central question being raised by Paxman and Michael White, of the Guardian, was a crucial one. That Guido as a blogger can say pretty much whatever he likes and that newspapers, TV and more traditional media have all kinds of pressures and restrictions on them which prevent them from being so loose tongued.

Which remains the central point of the blogging debate and of this post.

In Search of Guido

Anyway, this morning there was an item on the BBC webpages which again referenced the egregious Guido, which prompted me to follow the link to his web-site. Not available. A bit surprising, but it happens, so I tried a few other ways to locate his site. Same results. Guido was no-where to be found.

Conspiracy?

Only if you believe in conspiracy theories. I’m on the opposite side of the world on this one, as far away as possible from believers in Lady Di assassins, cover-ups of alien visitors, Masonic plans to rule the world, and so on.

But I found myself wondering if Guido has been taken out of the game, having gone too far. Something he has done, or was about to do called for swift action. It would have taken some clout to do that. The sort of influence required to ‘persuade’ Google to operate a censorship filter to prevent its zillions of users in China from accessing the sort of information available in the West. A Mr Big has nobbled Guido. Or maybe a Ms Big ?

Guido Restored

Later: [1500 hrs]. Guido is back. But he was worried too, noting

Overnight something has happened. Not sure if it is technical failure, a hacker attack or just a glitch. Everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…

[Later] UPDATE : It was a glitch.

The Importance of Blogging

A debate going on about the merits of blogging, and its willingness to transmit (and create) unsubstantiated, and mainly scurrilous stories. It was touched on in the Tunbridge post above on the kind of virtual world whose inhabitants can write ‘pretty much what they like’.

The BBC Story

The BBC story prompted me to take a look at the Guido Fawkes site was about a hoax purporting to be reporting the resignation of a government minister.

Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman is the latest MP to become a victim of internet hacking. An item was posted on her personal site for several hours announcing her defection to the Conservatives. It began: “To friends, foes and fans, below is a copy of the resignation letter that landed on Gordon’s desk this morning.”
Beneath it was a link to a spoof Harriet Harman blog. The site ..appears to have been taken off-line following the discovery of the rogue message, which was highlighted by the widely-read Westminster gossip blogger Guido Fawkes.

The story also pointed out that

Last year, Conservative housing spokesman Grant Shapps was targeted by hackers who broke into his YouTube account to post a message under his name saying the party could not win the Ealing Southall by-election. In 2006, David Miliband [environment Secretary at the time] was forced to shut down an experimental wiki site after it was bombarded with surreal and abusive additions.

Games People Play

These examples seem to be indications of assorted behaviours, including creative if malicious japes, to the web equivalent of graffiti, passing off, and evidence of the wisdom or otherwise of the crowd.

The Bloggers we Deserve

One of the few clear aspects in the debate is that no simple answer seems to be adequate. At present, bloggers have a well-earned reputation as purveyor of unreliable stories.

In keeping with the interests of this particular blog, I find myself arguing that the development of the blogosphere comes with its particular context of social action.

Through it, in ways we are still trying to understand, ideas gain credibility in the old world of modernity, with its traditional concerns about truth, reality, and morality. Some ideas take hold. This happens probably because of what people are inclined to believe, which itself indicates something about deeply-held fears and hopes.

On this line of reasoning, celebrity bloggers like Guido Fawkes are the bloggers we subscribe to, and are the thought leaders we create and deserve. The hackers, and jokers come as other denisons of the new blogospheric territories.

Something Old, Something New

For what it’s worth, I find connections with various old and newer ideas about innovation and change. I’m reminded of Rosabeth Kanter who developed a visionary picture in the 1980s of a future in which the most successful organizations operate with open access to information

More recently, a similar ‘freedom is good’ theme can be found in the ideas of Henry Chesborough under the catchy rubric Open Innovation

These ideas present the case for the virtues of cherishing freedom of expression in the interests of social and economic good.

However, I wish I could agree with Guido that ‘everything is backed-up and will be restored in due course…’ That would be very nice.


The Reinvention of Apprenticeship: Alan Sugar’s Variation

April 25, 2008


Apprenticeship has ancient origins, and has reinvented itself as time goes by. Alan Sugar’s celebrity version for the BBC is a recent modification. Its viability as a leadership development approach is examined

I have expressed reservations about The Apprentice in earlier posts. It seems unlikely that many more series will be commissioned.
Nevertheless, it has had enough social impact to warrant some critical attention not as entertainment, but as a possible template for leadership development.

I decided to dig a little deeper into the history of apprenticeship, and compare its dynamics with other approaches for identifying and developing potential leaders.

A short history of the apprenticeship model

Historical studies sometimes only hint at the justified reputation that apprenticeship was often exploitative and one of the targets of social revolutionaries.

Since time immemorial, people have been transferring skills from one generation to another in some form of apprenticeship. Four thousand years ago, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi provided that artisans teach their crafts to youth. The records of Egypt, Greece, and Rome from earliest times reveal that skills were still being passed on in this fashion. When youth in olden days achieved the status of craft workers, they became important members of society. Their prestige in England [sic] centuries ago is reflected in a dialog from the Red Book of Hergest, a 14th-century Welsh [sic] Bardic manuscript:

“Open the door! “I will not open it. “Wherefore not? “The knife is in the meat, and the drink is in the horn, and there is revelry in Arthur’s Hall; and none may enter therein but the son of a King of a privileged country, or a craftsman bringing his craft.”

An excellent historical review from the 1920s traces the origins in England to the 11th –century. It cites Ricart’s Kalendar (I like that) from the 14th century thus:

It is said that any man having an apprentice may sell or devise his said apprentice in the same manner as his chattel

The article further notes that

Subsequent legal cases tested the principle which eventually became accepted as the right more precisely to dispose of the office or apprenticeship not the apprentice as a chattel.

Phew. That’s a relief.

Sitting with Nellie

Wasn’t that a bit like the 20th century approach fondly remembered as Sitting with Nellie?

Turns out the origins of the term still defeat blog surfers. I remember it in the context of apprentice training in Northern engineering and textiles organizations. Steve Holden reports that the widely-used phrase can also be found in the USA, where he links the term to the apprenticeship model, but also suggests its value for 21st Century work requirements the open-source world.

Another insightful summary comes from the Institute of Physics

Organisational knowledge creation takes place when knowledge acquisition is managed to form a continuous cycle. This happens particularly effectively in self-organised teams, where members share tacit knowledge and talking brings it to the surface. They exchange thoughts and experiment with new methods and ideas; they initiate problem-solving routines and manage and repair the social context within which they work. Concepts are refined and redefined and then shared with other staff, developing and emerging in more concrete, explicit form through an iterative process of trial and error.
Knowledge can then be transmitted by a process of internalising, of learning-by-doing so that tacit knowledge spreads within the company. The distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge helps to explain why, up to a point, “sitting by Nellie” (now an unfashionable concept) can work where “translating learning to the workplace” from training often does not.

The Apprenticeship Model Revisited

The Apprenticeship model is not without merit. We might agree with the Knowledge Management argument that it is a version of Sitting with Nellie which works ‘where “translating learning to the workplace” from training often does not’.

The self-referential frenzy whipped up by the BBC during The Apprentice run involves increasing number of interviews with ‘losers’ and even panels voting on ‘Was Sir Alan right to fire ….?’ thus keeping the story going from day to day.

These exercises are a bit too voyeuristic for me, and arre anyway open to a more detailed cultural analysis than I have time to make. (Anyone out there interested?).

My impression is of a number of captivated cult-members who make sense of a deeply meaningful experience in terms of a close encounter with a charismatic cult leader.

The robust feedback meted out by the all-powerful Sir Alan is accommodated by his devoted acolytes. If you belief in the virtues of a swift sharp shock as a trigger to learning, the process arguably ‘works’, and a reflective and introspective process of self-learning occurs. It appears to be, at least in the short-term, a developmental experience.

We might reasonably consider if there are longer-term impacts of such experiences on the self-image and social identity of participants. Cary Cooper carried out one of numerous subsequent studies of the impact of such social shock doctrines in his PhD, many years ago. I can’t remember the detailed results, but in general Cooper found, as have workers since, that the impact of developmental leadership programmes on individuals is difficult to assess for longer-term consequences (See Rickards & Clark, 2005).

It’s only a game, isn’t it?

Yes, The Apprentice is obviously entertainment, and hardly intended to offer a leadership role model. However, if the antics of Sir Alan make him the best known among Britain’s business leaders, and if he also is involved in a business development institution, there is at least justification in examining the consequences for public perceptions of business.

Beyond the Apprenticeship Model

But what other models of leadership development offer something aspired to as conversion of tacit knowledge into personal development? Labels abound: Action Learning; Group Relations Training; 360 degree feedback; Communities of learning; Experiential learning; Mentorship; Appreciative Enquiry; The Manchester Method.

What they share is a pedagogically justifiable rationale. Providing individuals with some direct feedback is part of it. (Remember the gentle irony of Bob Newhart’s driving instructor, a wondrous take on the teacher who ducks out of providing honest advice). No one can accuse Sir Alan of failing to give direct feedback.

Sir Alan’s shock-treatment may yet be treated as a wake-up call to those advocating alternative approaches … So let me be direct. Sir Alan, it’s become too tacky, you’ve been captured by the process of becoming a celebrity. I can’t fire you, and there may still be time to get out of the pantomime before someone else does. Walk out of the house. Or am I mixing up my celebrity reality metaphors?

Notes:

In preparing the post I was reminded of the work of Graeme Salaman.
and studies by his Open University colleague John Story for concerns about unreflective exercise of organizational power


Gwyneth Dunwoody: This One is Personal

April 21, 2008

Gwyneth Dunwoody [12 December 1930 – 17 April 2008] never placed personal ambition above public service. So she avoided the more fatuous trappings of high political office. Her undoubted leadership talents may have been seriously under-estimated

If Gwyneth Dunwoody had followed personal ambitions on the road to political advancement, she would have challenged for the highest political honours. It is interesting to speculate what might have happened in the process.

We would probably witnessed very lively and uncompromising campaigning battles. There would probably have been one of those dubious market research investigations beloved of Newsnight producers. Maybe a representative panel of voters would have been assembled and quizzed for their views by a remorselessly cheerful American. ‘If we had to choose between Gwyneth to Tony, which car would be more like Gwyneth? ‘

If so, the panellists would almost certainly have been more likely to opt for a no-nonsense, tough and reliable model. Maybe a modern Skoda. Certainly not a flashy and sporty job. They would certainly not have nominated a sporty Austin Healey, trendy Smart Car, or posh Porsche Testosterone.

Crusty Integrity

She developed a media style of humouring the more fatuous celebrity journalists. It seemed to reflect a crusty integrity. But a leader?

Maybe she was too likely to place ethical considerations even above party political advantage. I suspect she would have been more than able to combine integrity and competence, but the suspicion among the king-makers and queen-makers might have been enough to preclude her as a serious contender for the top job.

Maybe a different culture facing different problems would have recognised her leadership attributes. Yes, I could just about see Gwyneth not as a Tony Blair middle-east mediator but a Middle East leader of Golda Meir stature working tirelessly towards a just resolution of the region’s problems.

But that’s all a fantasy. Crusty integrity does not generally play as well in the leadership dramas as polished insincerity. Or, maybe even the rarer commodity, polished sincerity.

Why didn’t I think of Gwyneth before?

So have I fallen into the tradition of praising the recently-departed figure? Possibly. In compiling case examples of political leaders I have been aware of a dearth of female candidates. Has habituated prejudice blinded me to the possibility among those in public life in The United Kingdom? POssibly.

But I don’t think even now of Dunwoody as a female politician, but as an unremarked but able politician who happened to be female.

It is a pity that her story is less well-known than would be the case from a more determined self-publicist. I vaguely remember her father Morgan Phillips as a General Secretary of the Labour Party. I did not know that her political pedigree went back to her grand-mothers, who were both suffragettes, and her mother who became life-peer, and Lord Lieutenant of London.

The tributes today brought back other incidents that briefly hit the political headlines.

In December 2007 she surpassed Barbara Castle’s record for the longest unbroken service for a woman MP .. Mrs Dunwoody was also a Member of the European Parliament between 1975 and 1979, at a time when MEPs were nominated by national parliaments. Her most famous victory over those within the party who would shut her down came in 2001, when backbencher Labour MPs defied the party hierarchy to back her as chair of the House of Commons’ powerful transport select committee.

Under her leadership, the committee had produced several [frank] reports on government transport policies – which many saw as a factor behind the government’s desire to replace her with a more pliant chairman.

Gwyneth and Shirley compared

It is still tempting to compare and contrast the background and careers of Gwyneth Dunwoody and Shirley Williams. The association comes to mind in examining their backgrounds. Williams hailed from the intellectual and more privileged Fabian wing of the emerging socialist movement. Her mother was the distinguished novelist Vera Brittain.
Vera and Shirley graduated from Somerville College, Oxford (as did Margaret Thatcher).

Gwyneth, The Skoda; Shirley, perhaps like some car out of a movie fantasy, maybe on of the most famous of all, Genevieve herself.

Genevieve is fondly remembered for symbolising some gentle unself-conscious former beauty. Quintessentially English, of course. Except Genevieve in the film was actually not what we always believed. Genevieve, unlike Shirley Williams, was in truth of distinctly non-English heritage (a veteran twin-cylinder Darracq).

Shirley Williams was also a rather glamorous and romantic figure in an earlier era. Not that you’d think so from the rather prim version available on her current web-site.

She became a more notable political figure in British politics for her membership of the gang of four now demonized for its contribution to the decline of the traditional Labour party, and eventually to the formation of today’s Liberal Democrat party. Her break was with the values of Old Labour to which Dunwoody remained faithful to the end of her days.

In contrast to Gwyneth, Shirley has shown an intellectual pragmatism throughout her career. Quite recently she accepted Gordon Brown’s invitation to work within his ‘Government of all the talents’ while retaining the Lib-Debs whip in House of Lords.

Gwyneth has always demonstrated her convictions as unshakably as did Margaret Thatcher. That is not to suggest that Williams is less genuine or firm in her beliefs. Rather, her upbringing, and scholarly professonal career shaped a more nuanced political philosophy.

This One is Personal

Bloggers tend towards the detached or the involved. In general I have favoured the detached style, dealing with people and issues which I nevertheless find personally important.

This one is different. Gwyneth died on the day I shared with my family in South Wales services of thanksgiving for Mabel Goldsworthy Rickards.

‘… In loving memory of Mabel, devoted wife of Tom; much loved mother and mother-in-law of Tudor and Susan, Philip and Kathryn; proud nan of Lloyd and Catherine, Paul and Theresa; adoring great-grandmother of Morgan, Alun, Joanna, Evan and Freddie.’

That’s why this is a very personal blog, and utterly influenced by not one, but two remarkable women.


Martin Johnson: Bigger, Stronger, Braver, Better?

April 17, 2008

The much-rumoured appointment duly occurred. Martin Johnson replaces Brian Ashton as England Rugby Coach. But is his unrivalled credentials as winning captain on the field adequate for the wider leadership role he now assumes?

The issue has been simplified to a mantra. Martin Johnson was England’s most successful Rugby captain of modern times. This seems enough for some commentators who argue that England Rugby needs a winner like Johnson to rescue it from under-achievement.

Two inter-related issues. The selection process has involved a group of administrators which as had its fair share of criticisms for lack of grip of essentials of sporting management and leadership. The most famous criticism by former Captain Will Carling likened them to a bunch of boring old farts.

The second issue faced was what to do about current head coach Brian Ashton.

On the eve of the World Cup final last June [2007] I shared the wider doubts among rugby fans about Ashton’s future as England coach.

England Rugby, The World Cup and Brian Ashton

Less than a month ago, Mr Ashton was seen as credible a leader as Sir Menzies Campbell [who had resigned before he could be fired by the Lib Dems] The performances of Ashton’s teams had been bitterly criticized. Now, on the eve of the 2007 final, he now stands one game short of receiving the kind of accolades showered on his predecessor Clive Woodward after his team became World Champions, four years ago. Outside of England, the suspicion is that England are serious underdogs to a South African team that beat them comprehensively in the run up to the finals. This is not a time for logic. How far is Paris from Agincourt?

Which was a bit high-falutin’, but the drift was right. England had turned around a dreadful run of results under Brian Ashton. As ultimate success against South Africa was unlikely, the case for firing Ashton was a strong one. Rumours that the turnaround came from player power subsequently added to the ‘Sack Ashton’ campaign. This week’s sacking has been generally acknowledged as bungled, but not necessarily a bad decision.

Martin Johnson, Superhero

As a one report put it

Martin Johnson has been appointed England team manager from 1 July to the end of 2011 in a shake-up that sees Brian Ashton removed as head coach. The World Cup-winning captain, 38, will have full control of team selection and the appointment of the coaching team.
Johnson will report to [Rob] Andrew, but have “full managerial control” of the England team.

He remains a sort of Chief Operating Officer to CEO Rob Andrews. (I translate the roles into Business Speak).

Experience

That an under-performing England team have been crying out for leadership — and that Martin Johnson is the ideal man to provide it — ought to be beyond question, even if his detractors decry his lack of coaching experience.

Or according to The Telegraph

Is Martin Johnson the right man?
Yes, he is. We all know he’s straight-talking and hard-nosed. But his greatest qualities are his intelligence, his perception and his sensitivity. A growl and a stare don’t frighten anyone these days. Not on a rugby field, nor off it. Johnson has integrity, shrewdness and decisiveness.
Does it matter that Johnson hasn’t managed before?
No. If you’re good enough, you can learn on the job.

Discussion wages around whether the exceptional on-field performances are an adequate rationale for making Johnson such a nailed-on candiate for the wider managerial role.

Beyond LCD

These are not accounts from Lowest Common Denominator media sources. But the arguments are little better than LCD opinions, taking us no further than pub talk. They illustrate how difficult it is to construct analysis in a theory-free zone.

Over the last decades, studies of leaders have become regarded as less fruitful than studies of leadership processes (‘Situated leadership’ as one of my colleagues calls it).

We have a long way to go, even in this little corner of social science. But there are a few emerging principles which may be worth introducing in this specific case.

Leadership involves several inter-related components. Building a great organization or a Rugby team involves a distribution of leadership responsibilities. The responsibilities are shared among a ‘top echelon’ of individuals including Martin Johnson, but also including Rob Andrews, and key figures from within the governance system so graphically described by Will Carling.

From there, we can better see the roles and responsibilities for those involved, and their inter-relationships.

This process of concept-building permits us to test assumptions and beliefs (formally propositions and hypotheses). We can introduce evidence from other cases.

To make such analysis requires a lot of hard thinking, creativity and judgement. For example, can we draw on examples of leaders in other sports, or even in business or politics to inform our new model of leadership of England’s rugby team?

Theorizing Martin Johnson

What’s the point of theorizing Martin Johnson? Partly because we can adjust our expectations about what difference he might make in his new leadership role, and how.

It is almost certainly reveal uncertainties more than specific predictions regarding his success or failure. Less enthralling than the dreams and visions in the headlines at present, but maybe more grounded in reasoned evidence.


The Charismatic Campaign: Will Boris become London’s next Mayor?

April 16, 2008

Boris Johnson takes an early lead against the incumbent Ken Livingstone, and eight other candidates in the contest to become London’s mayor. It promises to be a campaign running on charisma and celebrity

The Charismatic Candidates

Think of a larger-than life political figure in the UK. Someone who has acquired a reputation of an outspoken and somewhat eccentric individualist. A person who can cause himself great political harm by intemperate remarks. Untrusted by leaders of his political party. A media celebrity with a reputation for acerbic humour. A bon viveur.

The description could come from press accounts of Boris Johnson, new darling of Conservative politics, and contender in the battle to become London’s mayor. They could equally well be applied to Ken Livingstone. That’s what makes the current leadership contest so fascinating.

Boris Launches his Campaign
At the launch of Boris Johnson’s campaign to become the next Mayor of London, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the endorsement made by David Cameron.

Boris Johnson would “do a brilliant job” as London mayor and is “exactly the kind of leader” the capital needs, Tory leader David Cameron says. He was “twice as charismatic, twice as energetic” as rival and current mayor Ken Livingstone.

At the launch, Boris was on his best behaviour. His foot was away from his mouth and from the humour pedal. He offered a concise statement of the policy on which he would run.

Mr Johnson, who polls suggest is in the lead for the 1 May election, said that tackling crime was his top priority. If elected he would set up a fund to encourage London’s “wealth creators” to support voluntary sector projects tackling the city’s social problems… [adding that] he believed it was possible to get more police on the streets and [that] creating a safer city was central to everything else that he wanted to achieve.

You can find a neat sketch of the launch in The Telegraph.

Mr Cameron [warned of] the “real risk” if people who want a change don’t come out to vote that Mr Livingstone will win another four years in power, after which the Tory leader arrived at the heart of his message: “Fortunately, there is an alternative to that dismal prospect. Boris Johnson.”

There was a time when such a statement might have produced titters even among the pro-Johnson audience assembled in the deliberately unglamorous setting of Bounces Road Community Hall, Edmonton, north London.

But now that Mr Johnson has shrugged off his undeserved reputation as a purely comic figure nobody dreamed of laughing.

The Rise and Rise of Citizen Ken

Boris has to overcome the formidable figure of Ken Livingstone. When he was first elected mayor in 2000, it was as an independent who had come to power as a rebellious outsider. Red Ken had become a symbol of the political leftie, kicked out of the Labour Party, and standing as very much his own man. His political power grew out of his leadership of the Greater London Council, during which time he had acquired an image of an outspoken individual and eccentric newt-loving revolutionary. An introverted personality, and a rather flat and quiet delivery did not prevent him appearing successfully on television shows as a witty entertainer, a useful asset towards celebrity status. The very unusualness of his life and escapades increasingly gave him the additional label of charismatic.

Charismatic Credentials

Churchill, Castro, Jose Mourinho, Mandela, have all had regular mentions in this and many other blogs. While it seems a bit of a stretch to add Ken and Boris to the list, they fit into the wider category. Livingstone, like his mayoral rival Johnson, has been the centre of self-generated controversies which have reinforced suspicions that politically he can be a liability.

Nevertheless, Ken’s success at the ballot box and continued popularity resulted in a pragmatic decision by Tony Blair’s labour government to reinstate him to the party and endorse his campaign for re-election. That was also to prove successful. Now Boris has received a similar kind of reinstatement in his endorsement from David Cameron.

An Earlier Analysis in The Guardian covered two of the three defining stories of the Livingstone’s time as mayor, his acknowledged part in bringing the Olympic Games to London, and his much admired public reaction to the terrorist bombs of 7/11 when London was still celebrating the winning of the Olympic bid. [Note to leadership students: the speech stands comparison to those classic political performances of Martin Luther King and Churchill. Yes, it’s that good.] The third defining story is that of his controversial transport policy, in which he has shown determination, commitment, and vision.

So Why isn’t Ken an Odds-on Bet?
That’s the next fascinating aspect of the race. Polls suggest that Boris quickly moved into a surprise lead.

Charisma can compensate for lack of experience. We are seeing it in the currently successful Presidential campaign by Barack Obama (and arguably by the John McCain, who is relatively inexperienced the highest levels of political office). David Cameron himself swept to power as Conservative leader in similar charismatic style, as did Tony Blair for the (New) Labour party.

But the charismatic success often emerges out of a distaste for and rejection of the status quo. Ken has to operate within the general climate of discontent with Gordon Brown’s Government. He may be a somewhat luke warm supporter, but he is officially the Government’s candidate.

The Challenges Ahead

The next mayor of London will have several mega-challenges threatening the well-being of one of the most vibrant and complex of the world’s great cities. He or she will have to make decisions that will influence the security, comfort, and well-being of upward of ten million residents, and countless others indirectly affected. The Olympic Games will compete with the logistic and financial complexities of moving people and goods around the metropolis. Wealth generation from its financial operations is expected to be more bumpy into the foreseeable future (which is not very foreseeable even into next year, as the campaign for mayor starts).

Ken’s Policy Manifesto states

London is leading the world with 21st Century solutions to the challenges that face all of the world’s great cities. My priorities for a new term will be clear – transport, crime, housing, the environment and good community relations.

Boris Leaps into Action

In search of more information about Boris and his policies, I went to his web-site

At the time of my visit, [April 1st 2008, but no joke] the day after his endorsement by Cameron, I found nothing on the site about the election, but a lot about local concerns such as the possible closures of post- offices. Surprising, and not consistent with the ringing endorsement from his leader about how his energy levels will be deployed in the forthcoming campaign.

Even more unexpected, I found the biographic details somewhat familiar. Boris, (yes it must be he, rather than an aide) had extracted the good bits from his Wikipedia entry. Like the journalist he is, he acknowledged his source as his Wikipedia entry, but suggested that further unmoderated comments can be found via the wikipedia site.

Yes, there are quite a few of those, and a few more substantiated ones which will no doubt come into play as the campaign unfolds. But the same can also be said about Ken’s Wikipedia bio. My point is whether Boris is confirming suspicions about his political frailties in dealing with controversial aspects of his past in such a fashion.

Will Boris become next Mayor?

If he does, the logic of the electorate will require the skills of an undercover economist to explain the manner in which fear, loathing, and hope were components within the process. The election is already promising to be one to explore the concept of voters searching for the leader they deserve

Note:

See blairwatch for an extended review of London Transport problems, and an examination of Boris’s proposals for dealing with them. Also the useful observation that the four key responsibilities of London’s Mayor are for transport, culture, emergency services and development.