Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Anonymous comment to blog provokes feelings of distain...

My thanks to Rob Greenland and Patrick Hadfield for responding to my blogpost on action for climate change. Firstly, I hope I don't come across as a hectoring judgemental busy body - the last thing I wanted to do was provoke feelings of "oh no, I am not doing enough". Lord knows, I do little enough...

I also received a reply from a blogger called "About Me" and can in no place find out who this person actually is. I am probably not trying hard enough but it makes me think they are cowardly if they don't post their name. I know in the blogosphere we can be anyone who we want and that Patrick might actually be Daisy, Rob might actually be David and I could be Dr Seuss for all you know but somehow, it does not occur to me that someone who uses a name would lie about it (for the record, I am not Dr Seuss). On the other hand, "About Me" gives no name and thus I somehow feel that person has something to hide. I know that is spectacularly irrational and would be interested to know how the anonymous blogger makes anyone else feel.

My feelings are exacerbated by the fact that the remarks "About Me" left are simply silly, defensive, and judgemental. I wonder a few things:

1. "About Me" states that I have misunderstood. The aim of climate camp "isn't to influence companies to but to stop them directly". Forgive me, but how do you get companies to stop? You influence them one way or the other. And having gotten them to stop, you have succeeded in influencing them to such an extent that they have changed their behaviour.

2. How does "About Me" know what I got up to at Climate Camp? Maybe I did empty toilets and do the washing up. "About Me" has no idea and his/her data-free speculation is presumptuous.

3. I did not say Climate Camp are doing anything wrong and I am fully aware of the recent successes. What I did say was that Climate Camp would be even more effective if their actions were more informed.

Whilst I am delighted Climate Camp took up my challenge to read and respond to my original post, I hoped for a more postive and less defensive response. The response I received was childish and unprofessional and I am sorry for that.

For those of you who want to read the original response from "About Me", it is below:

"i think you've slightly misunderstood the climate camp, our aim isn't to influence companies to but to stop them directly and build a movement that is an alternative vision of society. The climate camp isn't about asking others to do things it's about doing it ourselves.if you wanted to feel involved and make a contribution at the camp perhaps you'd have been better off emptying the composting toilets, doing the washing up or one of the other hundreds of jobs needed to build a strong grassroots movement, rather than telling us we are doing it wrong - have you read the news this week? victories for us (not alone but as part of broader movement) include Kingsnorth delayed for at least 3 years and not likely to ever happen, BAA backing off on the 3rd runway and a new coal threat at Hunterston called off before it even starts."

For those of you who would like to know more about "About Me" here is a link to his/her blog:


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Only a marriage of youth and experience will change the world

As I sit on a cold Tuesday morning with the heat off and many sweaters on, I am simultaneously reading the paper, listening to Radio Four and catching up on the Bloggers Circle. I am forced to reflect that all of this collective hand ringing is actually reaching a very small audience and that this small audience is not very effective at putting the collective hand ringing to good use. I am an active participant in the collective: I read, I write, I listen, I have heated discussions with friends, I go to lectures at the RSA...and yet I feel, as Patrick Hadfield does that, on some important issues such as climate change, the world is not changing for the better - or at least not fast enough.

There are probably loads of different reasons for that, most of which have to do with the fact that the people with power are older, less energentic and idealistic, and have a short term view which stems from the fact that their main priority is keeping their jobs, and have less time for "extra curricular activities". The net result of the list is that they are more interested in doing what it takes to maintain their status quo than in effecting world change. Realistically, that is what drives decision making both at a corporate and at a government level.

These people can be influenced to a point. The questions are who does the influencing and in what way?

On the influencing front, I have tried writing letters to my MP (no response), joined in the protest of the war in Iraq (failed), and recently participated in Climate Camp which was a thoroughly depressing experience. Firstly, because I did not have dread locks and am clearly over 21, I was consistently asked if I would like a leaflet, rather than accepted as a participant. Secondly, for all the enthusiastic chat, and gung ho educational modules about how to "do" civil disobedience, among other things, the organisers actually did not know, in the main, who - WHO - they were trying to influence. We gathered outside the head offices of large corporations. Did the protesters know who ran them (and thus who they should write to, phone, e mail in order to influence them?): no. Did the protesters know the latest about the enviromental policies of these large companies: no. They meant well but are too prejudiced and narrow minded to ever make a big impact because they refuse to learn who they should be influencing, and how.

We need to be able to marry experience with enthusiasm in vast quantities in order to change the world. Age and youth need to work together. So here is my starter for ten list of suggestions to the members of the Bloggers Circle, the RSA, and the reader regarding how to do that and, in that way, ideally change the world:

1. Get your criminal check done so you can go and speak about something at your local school (get them while they are young).
2. Contact an action group and see if they are open minded enough to have you come in and speak to them about organising themselves better and getting to know who it is they need to influence. Give lessons in corporate culture, how to write a letter, draw an org chart on the wall to show them how the decisions are made, teach them about CSR and how to manipulate it.
3. RSA: find some way to get university students involved on a regular basis in what we are doing and see if we can harness some of their ideas and enthusiasm in return for...?

I have motivated myself whilst writing this and will contact Climate Camp forthwith to have a chat about my observations and offer my services to them. Sadly, I am nearly 100% certain I will be thanked and dismissed because I don't fit their profile. Watch this space.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Where next for the Bloggers' Circle?

The twin objectives of the Bloggers' Circle were to enable members to develop a wider audience for their blog posts and to be a source of inspiration for our own writing. I think we need to look at them both before passing judgement.

To take the last one first, the Bloggers' Circle is absolutely inspiring for me. It has become like a second news paper for me, and a valuable source of content, comment and opinion. The digest is the most helpful bit of the Bloggers' Circle as it enables me to scan the headlines to see whether there is anything I want to read and debate. There are usually two or three things that interest me and that's pretty good given I don't bother reading about 80% of the newspaper. So, I do feel like the blog posts are informative, educational and interesting. I regret I don't always have the time to debate them as I would like to as many are a source of inspiration for my own writing. 10/10 for the inspiration bit.

To take the first one last, I know the Bloggers' Circle has not expanded the number of people who follow my blog. Having said that, my blog posts have been debated a couple of times by members of the circle and that is nice. If I flip that over, I have debated a number of blog posts and I know that people who follow me (via my blog, twitter, or facebook) have followed up on those links from time to time, have read the original bloggers' posts, and have commented back to me. I do not know if any of "my" followers are now following the other bloggers but I do know that I have not become a follower of any of the Bloggers' Circle members. The digest makes it so easy to stay informed that I don't need to follow anyone directly: I can follow everyone through the digest. 5/10 for the wider audience bit.

What to do?

I love the Bloggers' Circle, truly I do, for the above reasons. It mostly meets my aims and, although I admit I wish more people followed me, I rationalise that the reason more people don't follow me is that I don't have enough interesting stuff to say. Certainly the circle has given me a wider readership from time to time, even if it has not given me a wider followership. I am ok with that. However, Matthew, if the Bloggers' Circle is not meeting your aims, it must become disheartening to manage the digest and the admin of the circle. Please at least let me now say thank you - I appreciate what you are doing.

As for taking it "to the next level" I wonder if more active networking in addition to or as an alternative to debating is an idea? What I mean is that if I read a blog that interests me maybe I should suggest to the writer someone (person or organisation) they could send the post to directly - so it comes from them (with a recommendation) and not from me? Maybe we should be more proactive in enabling posts to be sent newspaper or journal editors, think tanks or politicians directly. Are members looking for work? Are they looking to get published? Are they looking to commericalise their creativity in some way?

Maybe we could introduce a component of action among all the talking? Just a thought.

Summary of Interview with Mandeep Kaur

Mandeep Kaur was born is the Punjab and is the first Sikh Chaplain in the MOD. In her role, she has responsibility of "providing moral, pastoral and spiritual support to Sikhs serving in the armed forces and their families." She met me off the train at Birmingham station and we sat in a cafe and talked long beyond the sixty minutes I had promised her. She is a warm, thoughtful person who was immensely generous with both her time and her thoughts and feelings.

Mandeep believes it is virtuous to develop oneself and to strive to be a good person where "good" is defines as taking righteous actions and conducting oneself honourably. Love is the essence of virtue as love pushes the ego away and enables selfless service, tolerance, and humility all of which are the very opposite of sinful behaviour. Behaving virtuously is beneficial to her in many ways: it makes her feel good and when she feels good she sees that goodness comes back to her; it results in her receiving respect from others; and it delivers financial and material success in that when she leaves greed and envy behind her, she automatically feels satisfied with what she has and sees herself as successful.

She does not think that people, and she would include herself in this, think actively about virtue and definitely believes that this needs to change and we need to start the debate about the virtue of virtue. In general, she sees that a lack of dialogue about virtue has caused us to take it for granted when there is clearly a large and growing lack of virtue in our society. As humans, we need to be taught to be human and to live in humanity. Accepting this statement is a necessary first step to developing humanity.

In order to embed virtue Mandeep stated very simply "change yourself and the world will change". If you want your world to be better, you have to be better. If you are bad, your world will be bad. To that end, we all have a responsibility to bring out the best in others, to thank, praise and acknowledge them for positive contributions they make. We also have a responsibility to bring out the best in ourselves by reflecting on our behaviour and taking actions like forgiving someone or endeavouring not to tell fibs the next day. We do not live in a world where we can do whatever we want. We need to live together humanely for the sake of humanity or we are little better than beasts in the wilderness. Virtue is the enabler.

For more on the virtue project and links to other interview summaries, please see an earlier post: Behavioural Change: The Way out of this Mess? (for the virtue project)

Related links:



Summary of Interview with Ed Kessler

Dr Ed Kessler is, among other things, the director of the Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths which is "dedicated to teaching, research and dialogue in the encounter between Jews, Christians and Muslims." He received me with great kindness on a rainy day in September and we talked about virtue in his cosy office tucked away at Wesley House in Cambridge.

Ed mused that virtue is an old fashioned word, one that does not get a lot of air just at the moment and conceded that he does not think about virtue per se in that he does not use the word to define what he does think a lot about which is "doing right". Ed believes virtuous behaviour can be demonstrated when doing small things like picking up litter, or big things like helping people off the path of sin and on to the path of righteousness. His virtue comes out of engaging in education which he does because he thinks the process of teaching is the right thing to do.

Ed believes that virtue is practically relevant to the average person and that people think a little more about it today than they did ten years ago. This is because we are challenged so much more than we used to be. We see much more suffering and many more causes for concern (terrorism, global warming, refugees, immigration, the financial crisis) are daily front page news. It is difficult, however, to translate the raised thinking into action because humans are naturally conservative and change averse. Under stress we tend to retreat to what we know rather than reach out and across boundaries to effect change.

In order to embed virtue Ed believes we need to acknowledge where we go wrong, reflect on it, and the go out there and do good which is what he tries to achieve every day.

For more on the virtue project and links to other interview summaries, please see an earlier post: Behavioural Change: The Way out of this Mess? (for the virtue project)

Related links: http://www.woolfinstitute.cam.ac.uk/cmjr/staff/kessler.php

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Why stop at a Director of Strangeness for the Arts Council?

Year ago my driver in Siam Reap admitted he did not like western classical music - it all sounded like noise to him. We laughed because what I hear as the ping pang pong of Cambodian music all sounds just like noise to me. We agreed the issue was that we could not access each other's music. Like a totally foreign language, we could not hear where one noise ended and another began: our respective classical traditions were strange to each other.

Strange is something I frequently want to overcome - or at least understand. Strange leads to action. Diversity, on the other hand, is supposed to be "a good thing" in its own right. We are not meant to want to overcome it, we are just meant to love it for its own sake. Where is the opportunity for transformation or progress in that?

Mark Robinson's somewhat tongue in cheek idea of a Director of Strangeness for the Arts Council is actually a great one but why stop at that? Maybe all companies should have CSOs (Chief Strangeness Officers). And we should definately have a Minister for Strange in the government. Maybe we would actually start to make progress.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Too much action without enough strategy is a sure route to bankruptcy!

As a management consultant, I would like to respond to Simon Cooke's blog post that there is too much strategy and not enough action. I read with interest his blog and was interested to see that he started his argument at the point when the goods and the place of exchange were selected. Selecting the goods you want to sell (the market you want to be in) and the place of exchange (the distribution channel(s)) are two key elements of strategy and if you get them wrong you will find yourself in an unattractive market, trying to sell products that nobody wants in a way that will not reach the intended customer, assuming there is one in the first place. So, whilst his friend may need to focus on tactics, that could be because he has already done the strategic leg work.

There are many definitions of strategy. The one used at my old firm (The Monitor Group) was the following: "Strategy is an integrated set of choices about what market opportunities exist, or can be created, that are organisationally and economically practical for your company to capture." This is a longer way of asking five questions:

1. What are my goals (market position, financial targets, non financial aspirations, etc.)?
2. Where should I play (product lines, customer segments, geographies, etc.)?
3. How will I win (distribution channels, pricing, brand, make vs buy, etc.)?
4. What capabilities must be in place (skills, resources, etc.)?
5. What systems do I require to manage (IT, decision making, cost management, manufacturing, governance, etc.)?

Question One is a heartland corporate strategy question. Questions Two and Three get us into the realm of marketing strategy. Questions Four and Five are about operational strategy. In an ideal world, executives start at the top and go to the bottom, moving from corporate strategy to operational strategy in a linear fashion. Practically speaking that is rarely possible because companies are living, breathing organisations that are impossible to freeze whilst we answer all of the above and the world changes around us. The important thing is that all the questions should be answered so that executive have integrated and robust corporate, marketing, and operational strategies that re-inforce each other and are difficult for the competition to copy.

As for strategy consultants charging you more than other consultants, let me reassure him that I will charge him just as much to do a marketing project as I will for doing a strategy project!