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Month: March 2010

Is the essence of new management the promotion of self-esteem?

We are right.  Oh, hold on.  We were wrong.  Completely and utterly wrong.

Have you been in a situation, say, of supporting the invasion of Iraq to destroy WMD and then finding out you were duped.  Well, let’s face it ~ finding out you were wrong.  Wrong about the evidence.  And more importantly, wrong about your certainty.

I’ll argue you that we are not grown up, not quite grown up, until we’ve experienced being utterly wrong, about the facts, their interpretion, our certainty and our right to dismiss the other side.

Yes, we were wrong to dismiss the other side.

We need to seek an apology and forgiveness but I am not going there today.

Converging ideas about new work, organization and management

Today I am getting my thoughts together about the amazing convergence of ideas in business and the current tensions between the old guard and newcomers in management.

Management theory was laid out before World War I and has been a matter of frills and extensions for 100 years.

By the turn of this, the 21st century, we had begun talking about positive organizational scholarship, distributed networked models, and yes, mytho-poetical approaches.

Believe me, these ideas are an 180 degree about turn.  Our first impulse is to say they are wrong.  And they will be wrong in parts. There is no doubt about that.  Nothing is every completely right.

Equally, just because ideas converge, does not mean they are right. Not at all.

But we have to challenge our impulse to dismiss ideas because they are unfamiliar.  If we have a scrap of intellectual honesty, we must recognize that they are inconvenient to those of us who have invested heavily in understanding old ways.

It is our job to go forward with them and turn them into working ideas, to find out their limits, and to find out their worth.

Self-esteem and Nathaniel Branden

As one more piece of the jigsaw puzzle, I looked up the work of Nathaniel Branden.

Branden has worked on self-esteem for 50 years.   Here is one of the touchy-feely ideas that gets rejected out-of-hand.

What struck me is that Branden has asked a question that I haven’t seen asked before and I hadn’t thought to ask.

Can modern businesses survive without people who have high self-esteem?

In times of rapid change and technological development, how can we work, except with people who believe they can cope and who believe they have a right to happiness?  Anyone who expects less is unlikely to rise to the challenge of modern day living, simply because they will accept 2nd best.

And the corollary, of course, is what happens to a company when it is staffed by people who have low self-esteem?

The empirical test for an HR Director, I think, is what happens to people when they join the organization.  Does a person with low self-esteem gradually change to become a calm, composed, assured person who is neither whiny nor dictatorial. Or does the opposite happen?

Self-esteem may be the critical competitive competence of our 21st century world

In the meantime, the world moves on.  We can be sure youngsters with high self-esteem are self-selecting environments that are healthy.

Indeed, I’ll predict that the western country that concentrates on developing wide spread self-esteem will come out best placed as we work through the financial crisis and shift of power to the East.

Enjoy.  We need to relearn our trade.  There is plenty for us to do.

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So is social media social, a waste of time, or what?

Social Media Fatigue

Earlier this week, Umair Haque wrote of his growing despondency with social media. It’s not an uncommon sentiment.  People are learning that social media is a tool that allows us to work and organize in novel ways.  It is not a panacea for all societal ills.  Indeed, like all tools, social media amplifies evil as easily as it amplifies good.

What is social media exactly?

Adrian Chan of Gravity7 sums up the issues better than I can and in suitably formal language.

Social media  “facilitates asynchronous communication between people whose mutual connectedness online can make them present to one another in a fashion that transcends the limitations of physical co-presence. And which, for its capture and storage of that communication in the form of a digital textual artifact, renders this communication in a way that, within the medium only, lends it some persistence and durability. All of which leaves behind content for later use, re-use, recontextualization, and what have you. That’s what it’s good at: mediated communication and interaction.”

In plain language, this means.
  • Social media allows us to talk more easily to more people than we can by phone, email or in person.
  • Our connection online allows us to work on projects together.
  • Social media keeps record of our communication with little effort on our part.
  • We can remix our communication for other purposes.
Social media is just a tool of communication that allows us to interact through digital media.  No more or less.

Why I am fascinated by social media

It’s what we do with social media that is interesting.  And for me, anyway, it is the possibility of ‘pull’ models that is interesting.

But just because we can do interesting things doesn’t mean to say that we do.  Nor does the presence of boring things stop us doing interesting things ~ well not so far.   It is not like work where you can be forced to do dull, useless things all day long.

That is why I am interested – the potential of organization structures that are vigorous and successful yet do not require people to do dull useless things all day long.

How, of course, are organizations that require us to do dull useless things profitable, we might ask.  Dull we know about.  Jobs were divided into small parts and done repeatedly to produce uniform products at speed.  We get MacDonalds.  Not all bad, but not fine food either.

Useless comes when the food value of a hamburger is no longer food.  How does that come about?  By what is known as “rents”.  The system allows people with vested interests to impose exploitative relationships.  Social media won’t make that stop.  We would all like to impose rents.  We plan to.  We aim to.

But social media make it possible to create new business models that don’t have to pay those rents.  That’s why so many institutions are coming under pressure.

Who will win or lose remains to be seen.  That’s the entertainment of the teen years of the 21st century.  What undermines ‘rents’?  How do ‘rent-seekers’ respond when their rents are undermined?  How does the battle play out?

The rent-seekers can still win.  This is an open-ended story.  We have to wait to the end to find out.


Be my dictionary. What is the difference between earnest and sincere, solemn and serious?

Speaking properly

I once worked with people who hated other people ~ or so they said.  I hated broccoli (I like it now) and I hated doing my tax return.

Sometimes I loathed someone.  Or I disliked someone.

Speaking accurately

The nuances of emotional words are interesting.  We have poor emotional vocabularies as a general rule.

Understanding nuances

The other day, I dipped into  Kate Fox’ Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour.

The nuances of Englishness

Kate Fox suggests the English accept serious but not solemn and sincere but not earnest. I looked up the differences in my COBUILD dictionary that was built from a corpus of actual English usage (Collins Birmingham University International Language Database).  It wasn’t very enlightening.

Serious not solemn; sincere not earnest

So I am on the trail to distinguish solemn from serious and earnest from sincere.

Any suggestions?


Governments cannot promote innovation. . .

That’s what I said.  Government’s cannot promote innovation

Yesterday, I was playing with John Hagel’s list of three features that distinguish fringe/flaky activities from edge, innovative activities and I suddenly realized: governnments cannot promote innovation.

This is why.

3 differences between fringe/flakey and edge/innovative enterprises

John Hagel, famed for his work on the motor cycle industry in China, points out:

#1 Edge activities are scalable

There is a way to bring the critical stakeholders and a  critical mass of people together to make a difference.

#2  Edge activities are ‘life works’

The change brought by edge activities are so compelling that we are willing to back them with everything we have.

#3  Edge activities change the status quo

Edge activities don’t exist as a complement, extension or protest to mainstream activities.  They intend to take over the mainstream.

When we develop a new industry, we curtail, or even displace, other industries.  People are put out of work.  How can a government sponsor that?

QED.  Governments cannot sponsor innovation.

How can governments support innovation?

It seems to me that govenments’ job is to promote social conditions that promote innovation.

#1  Look at employee rights in failing or contracting industries.  I don’t mean employee privileges, I mean rights.  How do their rights stack up with the rights of other stakeholders (who are also losing out).  Bring those into balance in a fair, transparent, agree and comprehensible matrix.

#2  Make it easier for employees to move from one industry to another.  How easy is it to retrain mid-career?  How often does this happen?  How do individuals go about it?  With what success?  What structural changes would make it easier?

#3  What other structural issues make it hard on employees exiting collapsing industries?  How do we treat people who are not in employment?  How does the tax law and the banking law make life difficulty for people who are reinvesting in new industries?

What I learned from Hagel’s points on edge industries

That’s what I learned from thinking through Hagel’s three points about edge industries.  Government has got to make it easier for more edge industries to  succeed.

And that means Governments must make it less painful for old industries to shrink and eventually fade away.

It also follows that a good governments, in this day and age, should be boasting that this is an economy, and society, in which old industries are given and neat, tidy, respectful burial.  And that we are proud of our ability to move on.  Because moving on just got profitable .  .  . for everyone.

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3 reasons why non-Americans care about American healthcare

#1 Is the political system broken?

America is big.  America is a fiercely democratic as any place bar India.  So decision making takes time and is hard-work.

Too many people had given up on their ability to get along with others.  Too many people had given up in a two party process that thrashes things out until a decision is made.

America did not give up this time.  That is why we care.  America did not give up on itself.

And if America, large and committed to hearing everyone out, did not give up; then we don’t have to give up either.

That’s why we care.   America you have done it again.  Democracy may be hard work but it works when we work.

#2 We do business with America and your policies affect us

I’m in the HR world and I work with Americans.  You may be my clients.  You may be my competitors.

You angst about pensions and health care.

Employers elsewhere take more responsibility, contribute more to their employees health care, yet interfere with individual decisions less.  You do “get your knickers in a knot”.  You also seem to arrange your affairs so that you have wicked levels of liability that could bankrupt you.

You could learn from us.  But I am not trying to sell you anything.

Rather I know that your policies at home affect the policies of your subsidiaries and your subsidiaries affect our business environment and the competitive landscape.

So we watch you carefully.  We know you angst about insurance.  Carry on!  You spend time & money worrying about what the rest of us get straightened out at the outset.  We like that!  It gives us competitive advantage.

Here is a good link to the health care to what was voted through last night.

#3  A happy America is a stable America

But we care.  Really we do.

We care because we care.  And of course a happy healthy America is an America that will be a good citizen of the world.  We don’t want a country as big and as rich as you descending into civil strife.  And believe me, large disparities in wealth and well-being go in that direction.

Now you have done health care, live with it!  Make it work.  And get back to what you are good at.  Over paid, oversexed and over here!

There’s a life to be lived and more people should be able to live it with vigor.  That should benefit everyone. Even those for find the new schemes unfamiliar.

Anyway.  That’s why we care.  Beyond the human emotion of caring about our friends.

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Congratulations, America!

I sat up till 3.30am to watch the Health Reform Bill pass.  Congratulations, America!

For me, watching the House of Representatives in action was an education.  Even two years’ ago was it possible to watch American law being made across the ocean?  Maybe it was technologically, I don’t know, because it is only this year that the world holds its breath and turns to America to watch its every move.

I’d never seen the House of Representatives in session before.  I imagine most Americans haven’t either.

  • There are set plays and set speeches over 2-3 hours clustered in sections like halves and quarters or innings.  More like American football than European soccer.
  • A sub-leader for each side takes over and calls play allocating 1m, 45secs and even 15secs.
  • Most activity is mostly token asking for “unanimous consent to revise and expand their remarks”.  They change one or two words in this ritual.  Democratics say something like “this historic bill” and the Republicans say “this flawed bill”.  Then it appears the representative hands something to the stenographers.
  • Several Speakers (‘chairmen’) are used for short spells of half-and-hour to an hour.
  • The Speakers’ tone is cold, even hostile.  Language is passive. “The House will be in order.”   Time is strictly, adhered to.
  • When it is time to vote, Representatives are given 15 minutes to enter their vote electronically and CNN kindly gave a running score up on the screen.

Being the early hours of Monday morning here, I was struggling to stay awake and I think I missed a bit but I was there for the last, which was a bit more lively.

  • In short, there is no give-or-take or repartee as there is in the British Parliament.  The House didn’t even feel full.  Not for the Americans is there the Churchillian feeling of knowing something important is happening because the House is crowded.
  • Though prepared in advance and most people where repeating a liturgy “I seek unanimous consent”, the speechs were poor in diction, delivery and content.  I couldn’t see what purpose they served.
  • The on-the-spot decision making was done by the sub-leaders who manage their 15min ‘quarters’ scrupulously interchanging between one party and the other and trying to finish the quarter within seconds of each other.

Of course, you could predict which party someone belongs to with fairly high accuracy.  If they are not male WASPs, they are probably Democrats.  The Republicans have a few women.

How to tell a white male Democrat from a white male Republican?  Well if they are youngish, they are probably Republican (take note of that).  It they have untidy hair, they are probably Democrat (though there were two notable exceptions).  If they dress with a bit of eclan, then they are definitely Democrat!

The speaking style of the various groups also differs markedly.  Republicans rarely show any charisma.  Their persuasive tactic is that “I am right”, “you will see”, and “you are wrong”.

A few black representatives used some oratory.

And Nancy Pelosi allowed her face to express all her emotions.  I am so glad that I am female and allowed to give non-wooden speeches.  Yay.

For me, it was fascinating because it was new to me.  But it is dull.  Representatives are doing other work while they sit through the ritual.  It seems to me that some iphones fitted with the new card reader would dispense with voting in 30 seconds.  Gee, even university lecture rooms can process data that fast.

There you have it. Politics grinds on.

Congratulations, America! You made history.  Again.

And for god’s sake, make it work.  Can you affford not to?


We can afford what we create

The golden rule of economics and politics

It is all that we need to know really.  We can afford what we create.

Our plan of work tells us what we can afford

And from the golden rule ~ we can afford what we create ~ we have two other rules.

It is better to work with others than alone

None of us can create everything we want, or need, to afford.  It matters that we belong to a bigger group or tribe.

The collective to which we belong tells us what we can afford.  Our family, our company, and yes, the country, the sovereign state to which we belong, define what we create and our lifestyle.

When I am writing, someone is creating the electricity that powers this laptop.  While another person is making my washing machine (running in the background), I am looking for easy-to-understand writing on our economy that cuts through the obfuscation delivered by politicians.

The system matters.  Our place in it also matters.  But the whole,  the collective, is what we must keep our eye on.  Where we draw the boundary matters.  Because we can afford what we can create. Who is weBetween us, we create what we can afford.

Draw a circle around who we trust, and who lives and breathes because we live and breathe, and we have defined what we create and what we can afford.

If that circle is too small to define the lifestyle we want,  there is our first task.  Widen the circle. Widen the  magic circle of trust.

We need leaders who instinctively read that circle and work with our neighbors, suppliers and customers to widen our system.

Tell me what you are going to do.  Economics will follow.

The second rule that follows the golden rule is that value comes first.  We can check the economics afterward.

The clear writing economist, Ann Pettifor, makes this point well.

The central bank in each country should set the money supply to match the economic capacity of a country.

She doesn’t like using a household or small company as an example.  So let’s use a giant multinational.

When a giant company needs something done, and they are pretty certain it will work out, they put up the budget and let the managers and workers get on with it.  Money comes first in time.  But profits, and worrying about profits comes last.  Paying back the investors comes last.  We will recover our money provided we only put up the amount of money that the work was worth.

But we will never make money unless we have the money to bring a team together and get going.

The skill in managing, and financing, a major investment is understanding what venture is worth.

Before you tell me that business does not work like that.  It does.  Don’t confuse where you work with successful companies and successful public service.  I’ve consulted to them.  I’ve led in them.

I have two rules:

  • What do you want to do?
  • After you’ve told me, we’ll run the numbers to make sure it is economically viable.  If not, we go back to question 1.  What do you want to do? We begin with the value.  We begin with what you want to create.  Economics follows.  If you want to do it, we will back it.

We can afford what we can create

These are our questions.

What can we create?

Who do we create it with?

What is our potential that we are not using?

To find our potential: ask people.  What do you want to do?  When that is on the table, we’ll run the numbers.  If the numbers hold together, we back their plans.

The golden rule and Britain’s government deficit

Ann Pettifor puts this story in the context of Britain’s government deficit(which is large but not nearly as big as the bank bailouts).  She is standing for parliament but don’t let that dissuade you.  She writes clearly.  That alone is a good reason for electing her.

The collective, Britain, defined by the reach of the Bank of England and the reach of the pound sterling, has potential.   Fund it.  A simple message.  Fund what we can create.

The only question that I ask, and I’ll go to her blog now to ask the question, is how quickly will we recover the money?  I think I would like to see the numbers run by month, quarter and year.  Then I would feel more comfortable.

Then my trust would increase  Then the collective strengthens.

Sometimes economists (and lawyers and accountants) forget that everything they do depends upon us believing it.  Yes, the outer boundary is the reach of the pound sterling.   The real boundary is our belief in each other.  Some people call this belief ‘confidence’ but that is the wrong measure.

Confidence  is self-efficacy.  The correct measures is collective self-efficacy.  The question for that is “Do I believe that you will do better economically this year?” When we answer yes to that question, then we will boom.

But first the question of timing.  I must ask Ann that.

For now I am thankful for finding that quotation.  Simple.  Pithy.  We can afford what we create.

Followed by my two rules.

  • People matter.  Who is we.
  • We’ll check the economics after we have decided what we want to do.

P.S.  I googled “we can afford what we create” and I didn’t find any other reference to it.  Did Ann coin this phrase or is it a well known economic expression?

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1 more framework to tell a story or design an engaging event

Did you miss out on learning to tell stories at school?

I did Latin at school.  I am mostly OK with nouns, verbs and sentence strucuture.   But I was taught to write in the dry style of academic reports.

I am not alone.  Those of us who wasted our time with this type of education, have literally to be re-educated to tell a story, about someone, with sentence structures that are easy on the ear and inviting to the reader.

We start a long way back.   It’s not that we can’t grasp the mechanics.  We don’t really have the concept, let alone the experience.

Another for telling a story or designing a popular event

Well here is another list of steps that are useful for telling stories and designing events as a story.   I found it in an old notebook and didn’t want to throw it away.

#1 Persona

#2 Event

#3 Immersive

#4 Avatar walks the talk [I added a note here – multiple voices?]

#5 Position yourself.  Does fashion determine the event?  Or does the event determine fashion?  I wonder what this means?  Whatever, my notes say that your position affects who joins in.

#6 Think about Gen Y and the accoutrements of Gen Y – mobile phones, virtual money, etc.

#8 Defragmentation [?]

#9 Fashion exclusivity

Well, I wonder where that list came from?  It looks as if it will be fairly useful for evaluating a plan or diagnosing your reaction to a plan.

Can you elaborate any part of it for me?

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By our metrics we shall be known: selection for the knowledge industries of the global information age


Metrics are good.  They make us do something that psychologists call “operationalize”.  Operationalize isn’t some complicated Freudian notion.  It just means that we take a rather vague slippery idea and say exactly what we mean.  We don’t use “operationalize” to sort out clients who are in an emotional mess. We use it to sort out us ~ to make sure we are clear about what we want to do.

Applying the wrong metrics . . . ouch!

It’s alarming then when we look out into the world and we see people using the wrong metrics.  Often people take a technology and use it in the wrong circumstances, terribly impressed that they are generating a number but apparently unaware that the numbers they are looking  at does not match what they say they are doing, or need to be doing.  It’s doubly scaring because it is clear they haven’t simply made an error.  They have no idea about what they need to do or how to do it.  Nor, it is clear, do they understand the very ‘technology’ they are applying.

New organizations

The world is changing and we are going to need new ‘technologies’ for new situations and new metrics to define exactly what it is we are doing and how well we do it.

Choosing people to join an organization

Big organizations will still have a familiar task: choosing people to join them.

The old idea that we would match people as pegs to holes like the game we give to 1 year old’s just doesn’t wash anymore. What was designed to quickly allocate hundreds of thousands of conscripts to roles in WWI and WWII is not well suited to today’s business.

We have a ‘talent war’ now.  This means that our success depends upon know-how brought into the organization by our people. What we do and how we do it depends more on their ingenuity,creativity and judgment than our preconceived notion of what to do and not do.  After all, if we knew what to do, we  wouldn’t be hiring them as talent.  If we knew what to do, we could probably use a computer or a robot.

There are some roles still where “Mac” jobs rule.  Goody.  Just knowing that the organization runs on “mac” jobs is enough to make look for something better.  Decide the level of your product.  If it is . .  well least said.

Metrics for new selection

What is, then, the essence of selection for new organizations?  And what would be the metric.

I like the idea of assessments that are genuinely two way: in which the candidates find out about us.  Even if they choose not to join us, through that exploration they become clearer and optimistic about their opportunities.  And we become clearer about what we are doing, and the value of what we are doing because of the questions they asked and the conversation they stimulated.

My metric for new selection

Could the measure of an assessment system be the percentage of people who believe that the conversation we invited, initiated, and managed was worthwhile?

Thinking like an academic,

  • Would the opinions of the applicants be uni-dimensional, or would we have to break it up?
  • Would the applicants’ opinions of our conversations tally with our own?
  • Do good quality conversations predict good quality conversations in the future?
  • What are the features of good quality conversations and do they fit known models (such as Losada’s model of team performance)?
  • Would good quality conversations lead to increases in productivity in the units hiring?
  • Do good quality conversations lead to insights about how to negotiate the improvement of the entire supply chain?
  • Are good conversations associated with JIT labour supply?
  • Are good conversations associated with lower total costs of HR administration?

Hmm, I’ve seen this rolled out without the metrics. And I’ve seen plenty of utterly misplaced metrics.

When are we going to step up and serve the knowledge industries of the global information age?

When, o When?

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Walking with the elephants: remembering Galba Bright

Galba Bright

Many of you will remember Galba Bright. The British Sierra Leonian migrant to Jamaica who built a successful emotional intelligence website in less than a year.  He died very suddenly and many of us miss him.

Shortly before he died, Galba set me a challenging questions. Do “in tune” people reflect?

When Galba died, I had two unfinished posts on my computer.  They’ve stayed here for quite a while and a Twitter poll urged me to publish them in tribute to a man who many of us found inspiring.

This is the draft that I find the more inspiring.

Walking with Elephants


Galba Bright of TuneUpYourEQ asked me to expand my comment that people who are tuned into the world don’t reflect much.  I thought this picture of Paul Van R bicycling in Zimbabwe illustrates the point I wanted to make.

Of course, we laugh at first.  Then we may wonder whether Paul was being slightly reckless.  We question his good sense and  wonder if he knows what he is doing.

If he does know what he is doing, if he understands elephants, if he knows when they are likely to walk on the road, if he knows how they will react when they see him, then he is not necessarily reckless at all.

Moreover, if he meets an elephant and the meeting is cordial, if the the elephant was allowed to be an elephant and do elephantly things in an elephantly way, then that evening Paul is likely to relax with some fond and pleasant memories.

Of course, if he doesn’t know much about elephants and he reacts to any elephants he meets in a ways that elephants don’t much like, he might spend the evening in a whole different form of reflection.

We could flesh out this question quite a lot more.  I thought it would be fun though to think about elephants.

I think my point is that when we are “in tune” with the world, we don’t reflect very much. We are connected. We are in touch.  We are enjoying the world and ‘dancing’ with its rhythms.

When we are not “in tune” with the world, then it is time to reflect. Then it is time to focus on where we are in touch, where we feel vital and alive, and what to follow and do more of.

And as most days are not blissful rides through Africa on a hot, sultry day, some time spent each evening in reflection and when we awake in the morning, helps keep us in touch with what keeps us in touch.  Some reflection calms down our fretful helter-skelter rush into stressful activity that is poor replacement for what we love.

We miss you, Galba.

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