The sport we love: How much have we been in denial over doping?

April 5, 2016

I believed, like many others, that taking performance-enhancing drugs was a problem for a minority of people in a minority of sports.  It is increasingly clear that I have been in a state of denial for many years

Like some hideous conspiracy project, the extent of the problem is revealing itself more and more.

“What do you think about [****] ?” Someone asked me yesterday.Tudor Rickards   He was referring to one of the high-profile cases in a sport he knew I was interested in.

“Unfortunate” I said uneasily.  “A career ruined”

“… and [****]?” He mentioned another sporting superstar whose name is a global brand.

“There have been accusations for some years” I admitted.  “But some people are looking at exceptional performances as proof of drug-taking. ”

He nodded.

 Within hours, another story broke 

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Alan Green, Arsenal and humiliation theory

February 21, 2011

Alan Green illustrated the potency of humiliation theory in a single remark after Arsenal’s drawn FA cup-tie with Leyton Orient

Alan Green has earned numerous plaudits as a BBC sports reporter, and particularly as a football commentator. His style captures the richness of popular opinion. He is passionate and opinionated. He remains one a fierce critic of all things stupid as he sees them. Among his targets are the malign impact of money on football, the crassness of the Football Association, the duplicity of FIFA, the ineptness of referees, the exploitation of fans, and … [well you’ve got the idea]. For all that, he is worth listening to. His pungency does not need deconstructing for hidden agendas. But his words may still reveal deeper emotional influences.

Pulsating end

Speaking in Radio 5s 606 talk-back programme yesterday [20th February 2011] he was discussing with a caller the pulsating end of the Leyton Orient/ Arsenal FA cup tie. The minnows battled to snatch a draw against The Gunners. Alan adores the FA cup (or the magic of the cup, as he puts it).

Humbled or humiliated?

Sadly I didn’t write down his exact words but here’s my best attempt at capturing them. Isn’t that the magic of the cup when a great team like Arsenal can be humbled in that way?

Eureka! ‘Humbled’. For humbled read humiliated. That was the motivation behind the commentary on MUFC against Crawley Town the day before: a yearning for the downfall of the mighty. Humiliation theory applied to football. But not complete obliteration but hubristic come-uppance of the mighty by the humble.

He doesn’t really hate Arsenal

What is not is a loathing of Arsenal. Alan Green has an equally non-judgemental enthusiasm for the way Arsenal plays football under its quixotic coach Arsene Wenger. His praise for the team mid-week in defeating the even mightier Barcelona was unstinting. No. This is more a display of human motivation rooted in social identity and insecurities. Humiliation theory is alive and well, and has impact beyond the football terraces.

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.