Meic Stephens, Welsh cultural giant (1938-2018)

October 3, 2018

 

Meic Stephens grew up in the little welsh village of Treforest and became one of the leading cultural figures of his generation in Wales, as a writer, editor, poet, and arts administrator.
We grew up together in two close families living in one of the ribbon streets of the villages lining the South Wales valleys.

In the 1950s, Meic was a few years ahead of me at Pontypridd Grammar School. One of my earliest recollections of him at the time is our experimenting together at home with one of the new-fangled tape-recorders. Meic choose to declaim with appropriate hwyl, from Under Milk Wood. Even then he had become committed to the nationalist politics, and culture of Wales.

Our paths after our schooldays diverged. I became nomadic, Meic stayed close to his roots. He became more than fluent in Welsh, and a distinguished author and poet narrowly missing the converted crown at the National Eisteddfod. His passion became the development of the Anglo-welsh cultural voice.

Sam Adams, writing in the Guardian, noted his achievements. Academically, he was able to join the University of Glamorgan, ‘a stone’s throw from his birthplace’, on the site of the old School of Mines. He became professor of ‘welsh writing in English’.
One of his interests was reflected in the obituaries he wrote in The Independent, mostly for other literary figures in his extended network.

During my extended exile in America and then England, my main contact with his burgeoning career were those obituaries. I even missed the one written for him, being by then a less-regular subscriber to the i.

I retain some comfort from my  memories, and a story I like to relate of a childhood in which the South Wales valleys were brim full of poets. I was not, I like to say accurately,  even the most celebrated poet in the village. I was not even the most celebrated one in the street.


Susan Moger (6 July 1954-12 September 2017)

October 13, 2017

Susan Moger

 

Susan Moger: ‘She was beloved on earth’

 

We all have our own Susan though our various memories. I want to share some of mine, together with contributions from Susan’s family and from her many friends around the world.

At first, I thought our various individual memories would be unique, but I quickly discovered several widely shared themes. For example, if there is an essence of Susan that could be bottled, it would be undiluted high-concentration determination always to do what she had set about doing, to the limits of her remarkable abilities.

In this respect, I recall catching a glimpse of her many years ago, walking up Oxford Road to the University of Manchester, though a blustery rain storm, leaning into a head wind. Metaphorically, it captured how she met subsequent headwinds in a similar way.

Another favourite memory of mine illustrates how she was often incapable of claiming credit for much of what she did for others. At times that later became painful, as she learned how the world rarely notices unpublicized efforts. We were working together once with a particularly favoured organization, Guinness Ireland, in Tinnakilly, County Wicklow. Susan had become a huge favourite of the Guinness executives. Our job was to help them come up with their own ideas to solve a tricky corporate problem. Susan came up with the idea which was eventually implemented. The client thanked me for the idea, publicly, at the end of the meeting.  Our rule was to say the team got the idea not an individual. Susan never claimed ownership, although she rightfully reminded me of the injustice of what had happened.

Her distaste for self-marketing was shown in her customary introduction to new groups of executives. When teaching together, Susan would begin “I qualified as a nurse, becoming a Senior sister in intensive care. I then took a degree in history at the University of Manchester, before becoming involved as a member of Manchester Business School.” For whatever reason, I had to add the additional information that her degree was a first-class honours one, and that she also had a most appropriate Masters’ degree, by research, in business, researching personality styles.  The case examples from her Masters’ were later to form the basis of the Handbook for Creative Team Leaders.

Theory and practice from her research were to come together when attended a session on personality profiling on styles of innovating and managing change. It turned out we had polar opposites on all the factors of the test. The distinguished tutor used our results to suggest that if we worked together over an extended period we would be an example of a dysfunctional team, because we would have too many personality differences to resolve. He was right about the differences, but was wrong about his prediction that the relationship was ultimately doomed through our incompatibility.

We had a scholarly riposte to that scholar, subsequently. We wrote and published a paper examining the dynamics of the film The Odd Couple, with its characters Felix and Oscar. We drew on our own diverse styles, to illustrate the tensions and nevertheless the richness found in such a diversity. Felix, the neat meticulous and responsible partner, Oscar the slovenly disorganized one.

An achievement of which Susan was rightly proud, was the success of the international journal, Creativity and Innovation Management (CIM). At first it was produced by ourselves, during which she showed her exceptional editing skills.  It was work for which determination and acceptance of little immediate recognition are required. The Felix of the partnership so often took the lead. Susan had those requirements in bucketfuls. As the Oscar, I had thimblefuls of either, in comparison.

One article from Japan was eventually to become a tipping point. We could have rejected it as it needed such extensive deciphering. Late one Sunday night, with the copy still incomplete, we decided we had gone as far as we could with the article and of ten years of editing the journal.

A new editing team was needed, and ownership passed to a wonderful group at the University of Twente, and later, more recently to Potsdam.

Today it is one of the recognized journals in its field, retaining our original concern for understanding the practice of business creativity and innovation, while holding to high standards of research excellence. In recognition of her contribution, an annual best paper competition was instituted in her name, giving her great pleasure as a way of continuing our association with the journal.

Over time, Susan became a much-loved member of the international community, and a familiar contributor to conferences around the world. Friendships were forged from Twente to Taiwan, from Buffalo to Brussels. Her editing skills also began to reveal themselves in a range of books. Notable among these were collections of he annual conference reports from The European Association for Creativity and Innovation (EACI). The rewards were friendships made around Europe.

Back in Manchester, Susan became a source of comfort for ‘our’ students who often became part of our extended international family.

Another editing task she later would refer to time and again, was that of The Routledge Handbook of Creativity during which she was the ‘front office’ for dealing with twenty or so groups of leading academics in the field, including some for whom the description Prima Donna would not be too far from the truth. If the Japanese paper was my sticking point, this Handbook was Susan’s.  She vowed never to edit a collective work of that kind again. You will not be surprised to know that she kept her word.

On a more personal level, Susan was a gold-medallist in sending greetings and Thank-You cards. She would replenish a stock which was being regularly depleted through birthdays, anniversaries, congratulations for achievements, and after social meetings. I would sometimes be co-opted to share in their signing.

In these and other more personal situations, Susan had a remarkable memory. Her knowledge of sports of all kinds was encyclopaedic. In football and tennis, she was unmatchable. As far as I detected, it was only cricket which defeated her, and in particular the follow-on rule.

Her greatest sporting love was tennis. She became a member of the Northern Tennis Club, Didsbury, and helped for several years in running the junior tournament, and one of the Ladies’ teams. Both would have served as case studies of sports leadership and creative problem-solving.

One of her other sporting memories was of work at Manchester United, where at a dinner at the end of one event, she won a competition for a signed United shirt awarded by Sir Bobby Charlton, ever-after a prized possession.

Susan was a much-loved sister and aunt, generous to a fault, always willing to be supportive and provide encouragement. Never looking for recognition and with her contribution often only really known to those who were the direct recipient of it. As I learned later, in her final months, Susan kept sets of rosary beads – in her handbag, in her home desk and also in top bedside table drawer along with rosary prayer books and prayer cards for those in pain. One can only hope that in small hours of the night these brought her comfort and strength.

In the last decade of her life, Susan encountered a series of illnesses which required all her determination, and which left her increasingly frail.  Recently she regained her old enthusiasm with involvement with riding for the disabled. Music filled the house, until one piece from Sibelius became one of those themes which would not go away, as she prepared for an event which would require her to demonstrate new skills of dressage from a standing start.

In this, as in her later determination to continue to pursue tennis using lightweight balls and racquets, her courage shone through.  I began to see in her an anger against the challenges posed by her illness, which reminded me of the famous Dylan Thomas lines

Do not go gently into that good night.

Rage, rage against the passing of the light.

 

A consoling few lines were sent by editor Katharina Hölzle, speaking on behalf of the CIM journal. I will let her words speak for themselves.

“Susan was one of the most inspiring persons we have ever met and her warmth and passion have inspired us tremendously. And if there is a person where we found the Late Fragment by Raymond Carver better reflected, then it was Susan.”

Late Fragment

by  Raymond Carver, A New Path to the Waterfall

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.

 

As Katerina put it, Susan was truly beloved on earth.

We must appreciate her as a gift received, and , together with our mourning, cherish the memories of the kind I have outlined

TR, October 10th 2017


Fidel Castro: On evauating a leader’s charisma

November 28, 2016
Fidel Castro
The rules about not speaking ill of the dead are increasingly suspended. Most posthumous remarks about Fidel Castro this week tell us more about the speaker than the Cuban leader. The venom of much of the recent Presidential election remains
A colleague of many years  once told me how Fidel assembled his closest followers into a room shortly after he seized power, and then dished out posts as best he could. I remember it was someone with a passing understanding of finance who had to take control over the central bank.
Top leader
Castro has fascinated me as being one of two cuban leaders whose names appear at the top of lists when charisma is being discussed.  The other is, of course Che  Guevara.
 I wrote a light-hearted piece about The Castro Charismatic Scale,  at the time of the 2015 Labour leadership election. The idea for students of leadership was to show how dubious it is to believe in such league tables.
Jeremy Corbyn
Based on impact on his or her followers, Jeremy Corbyn came somewhere towards the middle of the list, ahead of the other candidates.
Acknowledgement
To Eagle-eyed Susan, the first to spot my bungled spelling of Mr Corbyn (now corrected).

Independent Judgement. I will miss you greatly

February 15, 2016

Obituary for a dear friend

Indy Paris RotatedThere was an inevitability about the passing of the print version of The Independent. I will miss a quirky friend who made morning coffee the more enjoyable for several decades.

My not particularly guilty secret. I became addicted to the print version of the Independent for a bundle of reasons. Now I have a tough decision. What will take its place in my affections?

But that decision is for the future. Now is time to recall the best of friends, brilliant, contrarian, instinctively liberal.

The Indy was not always reliable. It could never be guaranteed to turn up as regularly as I could have liked. In the three Newsagents closest to me, one always ordered a reasonable supply. One gave up stocking the paper a few years ago, and the third resolutely refused to double its numbers of copies, meaning that at times I was thwarted by someone else with a minority taste in the news they preferred, and the way in which it was presented.

A cause a day

Then there was a period a few years ago when every day was time for a new cause waged against a national or global injustice, until I felt slightly desensitized in my enthusiasm for for the ‘Cause of the day’.

Looking back

The Indy was born as a reaction against the last big disruption to the print media.

In the UK. Rupert Murdoch was successfully breaking the hold of the old print Unions. A handful of journalists opposing the Murdoch dominance formed The Independent.

The project was always fighting the economics of a declining market recognized so shrewdly by Murdoch whose Empire had the financial muscle to run promotional campaigns that further weakened its competitors. The Independent would have gone under far earlier if it had not been bought in 2010 for nonfinancial reasons for £1 by Evgeny Lebedev who has bankrolled it since to the tune of £60m

Its innovations included messy changes to a tabloid size, and occasional excessive exuberance in design ideas that never quite lined up with user appeal.

Now creative destruction will hit a fair number of the staff, even some among a talented bunch of journalists.

Chess

One of the reasons I stuck with the full rather than the little Independent.

The chess column shows tireless interest in the game by Grandmaster Jonathan Speelman. Maybe the e-paper will give him a nice new platform for his daily offering.

Obituaries

Its obituaries by Meic Stephens gave me a link with my school days. Thanks to Meic I was not even the best poet in the village. Don’t know if he will get a chance to write an obituary or a poem in memory of the print Indy.

Not just a Viewspaper…

Viewpaper accusations by Tony Blair were taken on board unashamedly, as the Independent ironically admitted the importance of opinion pieces. Mr Tony was uncomfortable about the paper’s uncompromising stance over Iraq, and several other of his policy decisions.

Great journalism

I’m among the readers who dote on Mark Steel’s brand of satirical commentaries., Robert Fisk’s foreign affairs polemics, and Rupert Cornwall’s effortless demonstrations of his deep insights into politics to match those of his step brother David, aka John le Carre.

What next?

Do I seek out a new morning partner to gaze at over my coffee? These are early days after a heart wrenching loss.

 

 


Denis Healey: ‘The best leader Labour never had?’

October 14, 2015

A Reflective Obituary

Denis Healey (30 November 1917 – 3 October 2015) has been widely described as ‘The best leader Labour never had.’ What might lie behind such claims?

This week [October 2015] the deaths were announced of two influential political figures, Denis Healey and Geoffrey Howe. Although from opposing political parties they will be linked in the history of the late 20th century. I will take a brief look at the attempts made by Denis Healey to become leader of his party and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and claims that he was ‘The best leader Labour never had’.

Read the rest of this entry »


Nintendo’s President Satoru Iwata (1959-2015) was a great innovative leader

July 16, 2015

220px-Satoru_Iwata_-_Game_Developers_Conference_2011_-_Day_2_(1)The Nintedo organisation gave the brief official notification of the death of their President Satoru Iwata. There followed a flood of tributes to a remarkable leader

The notification [July 13th 2015]

Nintendo Co., Ltd. deeply regrets to announce that President Satoru Iwata passed away on July 11, 2015 due to a bile duct growth

  1. Name:Satoru Iwata
  1. Date of Birth:December 6, 1959
  1. Career Record:June 2000, appointed as Director; May 2002, appointed as President, appointed as Representative Director;June 2013,appointed as CEO of Nintendo of America Inc.
  1. Other Information:As a result, the following two Representative Directors remain at the company.Genyo Takeda (Representative Director; Senior Managing Director).Shigeru Miyamoto (Representative Director; Senior Managing Director)

An outpouring of respect and affection

The official corporate notification above was followed by an outpouring of respect and affection for a remarkable leader.

Reggie Fils-Aime, President of Nintendo of America commented:

Mr. Iwata is gone, but it will be years before his impact on both Nintendo and the full video game industry will be fully appreciated. He was a strong leader for our company, and his attributes were clear to most everyone: Intelligence, creativity, curiosity and sense of humor. But for those of us fortunate enough to work closely with him, what will be remembered most were his mentorship and, especially, his friendship. He was a wonderful man. He always challenged us to push forward…to try the new…to upset paradigms—and most of all, to engage, excite and endear our fans. That work will continue uninterrupted.

Background

Satoru Iwata was born into a comfortably well-off family (his father was mayor of his home town of Sapporo ). From a young age he showed an aptitude for information technology, and electronic engineering, is some way echoing the stories of pioneering figures such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates before him.

As a schoolboy he also did freelance work as a programmer for HAL Laboratory, Inc., a game developer that often collaborated closely with Nintendo. This gave him access to Nintendo, so that after University he was able to join then quickly make significant contributions in its transformation from a modest manufacturer of had made playing cards to a global giant in electronic gaming.

In keeping with traditional Japanese corporations, Nintendo (roughly translated ‘leave luck to heaven’) retained an extremely stable corporate structure. In 2002, Iwata was to become only the fourth President in a hundred years of operations.

Nintendo’s growth was fuelled by the innovativeness of internal technical workers, often creating through spare-time activities, becoming legends in the fast-developing electronic games market.

Gunpei Yokoi developed ideas for the Japanese toy industry in his free time. Yokoi was moved from maintenance to the new “Nintendo Games” department as a product developer. He later hit on several creative ideas of enormous importance. In 1979, Yokoi conceived the idea of a handheld video game, while observing a fellow bullet train commuter who passed the time by interacting idly with a portable LCD calculator, which gave birth to the Game & Watch suite of games.

Another innovator working with Yokoi was Shigeru Miyamoto. Recruited as a young student, he went on to create, direct and produce some of Nintendo’s most famous video games, including Gameboy.

Among other global successes were the Super Mario games in the fictional Mushroom Kingdom. Its successive developments made it one of the most downloaded of computer products.

At the start of the 21st century, with the leadership of President Satoru Iwata, the company was facing serious competitive challenges. Under difficult trading conditions the company recorded a substantial drop in profits in 2014, prompting Iwate to take a substantial salary cut.

However, in Fiscal 2015, the company returned to profit although this was partly through favourable exchange rates.

Leadership and culture

In the Anglo-American culture, Iwata would have been lauded as a creative genius (think Gates, Jobs, Branson). In a Japanese context, It is easier to see the more subtle notion of distributed leadership playing out.

It is also instructive to note that the engineering culture in German manufacturing has also been more aware of the power of distributed leadership. You can see the examples of the link between the power leader (machtpromotor) and operational leader (fachpromotor) outlined in the various editions of Dilemmas of leadership in the chapter on project management.

Iwata’s insights into celebrity leadership

Iwata had the grasp of social media which allowed him to revolutionize Nintendo’s relationship with its army of faithful gamers. His appearances as a game character and as his corporate self, produced strong bonding and interactions. Shortly after his death, a tribute went viral showing a sleeping Iwata character surrounded by weeping Nintendo characters.


The Incomparable Richie Benaud (1930-2015)

April 10, 2015

Baggy green capAfter a successful career as a cricketer, Richie Benaud gave pleasure to countless fans around the world for his affectionate and unique broadcasting style.

As he matured, his walnut-brown crumbled face to camera resembled an extension of the baggy-green cap as a symbol of Australian  cricket.

Towards the end of his life, he endured accidents and bad health stoically.

Obituaries this week made comparisons with other cricketers and commentators.  

He is ranked with his compatriot Bradman for influencing the success of Australian cricket. Similarities have been notedwith Mike Brearley for his  astute  captaincy, with John Arlott as a warm and empathic commentator, and with   Geoff Boycott, (without the spiky narcissism) as a reader of the game.

Comparisons may help a little in  our understanding of his achievements and facets of his personality.  They can do little more.  Richie Benaud the man remains incomparable.