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Month: September 2011

The Secret or Sour Grapes?

The Secret

don’t worry, nobody has the
beautiful lady, not really, and

nobody has the strange and
hidden power, nobody is
exceptional or wonderful or
magic, they only seem to be
it’s all a trick, an in, a con,
don’t buy it, don’t believe it.
the world is packed with
billions of people whose lives
and deaths are useless and
when one of these jumps up
and the light of history shines
upon them, forget it, it’s not
what it seems, it’s just
another act to fool the fools
again.

there are no strong men, there
are no beautiful women.
at least, you can die knowing
this
and you will have
the only possible
victory.

Charles “Hank” Bukowski
1920-1989

I never know quite what I think of Bukowski’s poetry – realist? cynical? ugly? brutal?

But perhaps the view that “there are no strong men, there are no beautiful women” is essential to mindfulness – to be fully present with whomever we are with, wherever we are.

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Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, adjustment: put the banking crisis behind us

Ladies and gentlemen, where are we are the path of psychological recovery after learning, not only that our country is not only flat broke, but that our prosperity in the last ten years was a house built on sand?

Denial?

Anger?

Depression?

Bargaining?

Adjustment?

Denial about the banking crisis is over

I believe we are out of denial.  Do you agree?  Not everyone understands the extent of our financial woes, or the rate that they are getting worse, but we have grasped that when we wake up in the morning, the problem will still be with us.

Anger about the banking crisis . . . still with us?

Much of the citizenry is still very angry about the financial crisis.  We are still looking for someone to blame and somebody to hurt back in return for the hurt we have suffered?

Am I right so far?

Depression . . . the politicians are depressed about the crisis?

Politicians, to a man and woman, seem depressed about the crisis.  They are busy having meetings and telephone conference calls.  But by-and-large, they are being busy.  Of course, they are busy. They are ‘shaking the tree’ or in the parlance of a domestic household, looking down the sofa for small change to pay the rent.  That doesn’t put anyone in a good mood.  But their gloom is the result of more than penny-pinching and cash flow management.

Do you think they are acting with a positive sense of the future or just getting-by?

Bargaining  . . . what does bargaining look like?

What does bargaining look like anyway?  I don’t really know.

In other countries and other crises, I have seen people protest a country’s position ‘between a rock and a hard place’ by going on ‘fasts’ (not, hunger strikes, ‘fasts’ or ‘pacts with God’).  The country didn’t move forward very much but the fasters did get very slim and they learned to get up early in the morning.  I can say that for their methods.  Whether their lives improved in other ways, I doubt.  Unsurprisingly, they did very little work.  Their electronic diaries were pristine with the exception of their prayer schedules.

The secular equivalent of keeping one’s head down can be just as dangerous, by-the-way.   It normally involves being very busy doing-the-boss’-bidding while he or she sits out of harm’s way- a bit as Carne Ross described in talk at LSE this week on life as British diplomat.

Does satire play the role of bargaining?  Does laughing about ‘their idiocy’ without taking action not perform the same function of reducing emotional concerns without moving forward?  Resignation rather than adjustment which is really a form of bargaining?  If I laugh, then it will be alright?

Is writing this post a form of bargaining?  I guess it is.  I am being an observer of ‘them’.

Adjustment . . . is it possible?  Can we just adjust and get on with it?

If I don’t really understand bargaining (as much because we think this stage of recovery is a delaying tactic rather than useful), I do know what adjustment is going to mean.

Adjustment is accepting that we were all part of the mess and are all part of the mess.

Adjustment rests on a foundation of “who we are”.  Who are we loyal to?  Who is ‘me and mine’?  Until we really feel solidarity with each other and are willingly to form a new social compact based on that solidarity, then we aren’t going anywhere fast.  We will ‘lurching from church to school’.  I’ve no idea where the expression came from but it conveys the idea.

Our solutions will be in direct proportion to our solidarity.  While we hate each other, our solutions will be correspondingly mean and inadequate.

Getting to adjustment in a country that is in trouble

Getting to ‘adjustment’ when a country is severe trouble is a tough one.  The psychological key is our own good temper, or whatever kernel of good temper that we can find.

When we identify what we believe is good in Britain, when we can point to what is, rather than to what we want to be (usually through someone else’s efforts); until we believe the something is sufficiently good that we are willing to get out of bed to work on it, whether or not anyone else is working on it, we – I mean you, I mean me – are not going anywhere very fast.

The questions, to me, are three fold:

  • What is, right now, is so good that it fills me with awe?
  • What is, right now, that I can bounce out of bed to look after and nurture?
  • What am I willing to do right now, whether or not you support me or not, but which can include you if you want to be included?

Keeping my good temper intact

So here I am writing a post ‘about’ Britain – and in a way about what is wrong with Britain. Here I am apparently procrastinating and avoiding doing some work which has shards of pleasure and the sharp edges of tedium.

Am I being a hypocrite?  Or am I saying that I like to process the news and know what I think and feel?  Am I saying that I like to read between the lines and see the big events that might be affecting us all (the government is looking for small change down the sofa)?  Am I saying that I like to use the heuristics I have gathered over the years to think economically?  Am I saying that I think people like Carne Ross (apostate diplomat) are right?  Change in UK will not start in Whitehall. It will start at street-level with small matters, with whatever we care about executed, not an angry, contested manner (even when that is concealed under do-goodery), but in a respectful, collaborative manner that demonstrates democracy in the minute detail?  Am I saying that I like Web2.0 (blogs etc) because they minimally give me a neat place to store my thoughts and writings and a place where others can read them if they choose?

And having cleared my mind, I can get back to work, because work is like hoovering the carpet – it’s not much fun but the results are pleasant.

And for every moment I spend doing work that matters, I might be building a foundation for future solidarity.  And from there we might find solutions to build a Britain fit for the next 50 years.

So here ends my thoughts on where we are psychologically in making sense of the financial crisis using the well known heuristic of the grief cycle – denial/not us,anger/blame, depression/loss of direction, bargaining/magical thinking, action/affection.  The kernel of your good temper is Britain’s future.

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What did the garrulous Lao Zi know?

读老子

言者不如知者默
此语吾闻于老君
若道老君是知者
缘何自著五千文

dú lǎo zi

yán zhě bù zhī zhī zhě mò
cǐ yǔ wú wén yú lǎo jūn
ruò dào lǎo jūn shì zhī zhě
yuán hé zì ruò wǔ qiān wén

Reading Lao Zi

Speak person not know know person silent
This saying I hear from old gentleman
If Way old gentleman be know person
Reason what confident five thousand characters

Reading Lao Zi

Bai Juyi

Those who speak do not know, those who know are silent,
I heard this saying from the old gentleman.
If the old gentleman was one who knew the way,
Why did he feel able to write five thousand words?

Published Version

This poem is volume (juàn) 455, no. 1 in the Complete Tang Poems (quán táng shī).

My Source

Mark Alexander who has a book available at GBP 7.99.

MY CORRECTIONS

I am not a Chinese-speaker. Nor do I have a copy of the original poem. But I think there may be mistakes in the Chinese at the top. I have corrected the characters in three places.

言者不知, 知者默.
此语我闻于老君.
若道老君是知者,
缘何自若五千文?

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3 questions for a winning week

“It’s time to get up. The time is 6:30.”  Who in the world does not get up to those words or some close equivalent?  And who does not turn over and wait for the reminder ten minutes later, “It’s time to get up.  The time is 6:40”.

Psychologists spend a lot of time wondering situations like these where we just cannot gather the will power to do something – or when we appear to procrastinate. Sports people have simpler explanations.

  • Are we trying to take charge of a game?
  • Do we have some energy and pace?
  • Are we paying attention to what needs to be done right now?

Or alternatively:

  • Have I thought through what it means to have a winning day (rather than just a day)?
  • What do I need to do right now (rather than what others need me to do)?
  • Am I enjoying focusing all my attention on the task of the moment?

Knowing these questions probably won’t make me better friends with my phone when I am woken before I am ready to wake up but it sure makes planning my week a lot more fun.

  • What is winning to me?
  • What needs my attention right now?
  • Am I enjoying this?

I hope these questions help you turn some tiresome weeks into weeks that are easier and more enjoyable.

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A goal: that’s the task you are already working on

Goals make work refreshingly easy

I am sure you have noticed that when you set a goal, and measure your progress, you tend to achieve your goal. And much more quickly and easily than you expected at the start.

You can look at the science; but try the wise words of poet Goethe

I can point you to much published literature on goal-setting showing the effects of goal-setting. But why when German poet, Goethe, already said the same, and so much more beautifully.

Until one is committed,
there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back,
always ineffectiveness

Concerning all acts of initiative and creation,
there is one elementary truth
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas
and splendid plans:

that the moment one definitely commits oneself,
then providence moves too.

All sorts of things occur to help one
that would never otherwise have occurred.

A whole stream of events
issues from the decision,
raising in one’s favor
all manner of unforeseen incidents,
meetings and material assistance
which no man could have dreamed
would have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can,
begin it.

Boldness
has genius, power and magic in it.

Begin it now.

Goethe

A goal is what you are already working on right now and you committed to finishing

A goal is simply what you are so determined to finish that you have already started.

Even though you don’t have all the resources and know-how you need, you are so keen that you got started anyway.
What are you actually working on at the moment?

 

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Scottish farmers get their local supply network humming

Be the change you want in the world  . . . but be worldly too

Self-improvement experts will tell you that “you must be the change you see in the world”.  They are right.  But there is another view too.

Developed economies are so complicated that you cannot get anything done unless something else happens, often one or two steps away.

Some people shrug and go into a tail spin of mild depression.  Others set about organising their “supply networks” or “collaborative supply chains”.  They not only take responsibility for what they do themselves; they hold up a market opportunity for all to see and help a network of actors to understand all the points where they need to cooperate.

  • They hold up a real and significant market opportunity.
  • They shine a spotlight on the critical junction points in the supply network.

Farmers in the tippy-top of Scotland go upmarket and boost their local economy by quarter of a million

In this post, I’m going to summarize the triumph of Scottish beef and sheep farmers from the very tip of Scotland who, in one year of enhanced cooperation, gained an extra 10p or kilo or £37 per cow and £3 per lamb more than their peers serving the standard market and brought in an extra quarter of million additional pounds to the remote rural economy.

This is the story of Northern Highland Products, beef and lamb farmers in Caithness in Scotland and an Irish butcher who came to join them in bid to deliver premium meat to the British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s.

  • Northern Highland Products only wholesales quality products within 100 miles of the Castle of Mey.  Beef and lamb are their core lines and they also carry fish, honey, jam, cheese and pork.
  • The Northern Highlands has a strong history of livestock production on small farms.
  • The initial funding for setting up the Northern Highlands Products project in 2005 was a £71 000 grant from the Scottish Executive under its Marketing Development Scheme, some contributions by an initial group of farmers, an on-going levy on producers, and contributions from Caithness Enterprises and the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency.
  • Information from farmers is combined to forecast and manage supply and demand.
  • Delivery and price information is also pooled so farmers can benchmark their output against the average.
  • Mey Selections only buys livestock reared on Caithness grass and does not buy bulls.  Prices vary by quality of the carcass and track the general market but above the average.
  • Farmers have access to information (including organized training) about the whole supply chain so they understand how and why carcass classification ripples through to costs in processing.
  • Mey Selections sponsors a Producers’ Club to help producers share information among themselves.
  • Animals are slaughtered at one of three abattoirs to minimize travel and stress to live animals.
  • Mey Selections offer training to Sainsbury’s staff.

 

General principles about collaborative supply chains and supply networks

I could draw out some general principles about collaborative supply chains and supply networks but in business, general principles often feel like the “tail wagging the dog.”

Business is not a spectator sport and we have to deal with the real and immediate in the same way as shepherd still has to traipse the hills to find a lost lamb in inclement weather.   Do it now, or not at all.

Supply chains work when we have real opportunities that we want to exploit and sufficient knowledge of our industry to see what has to happen. Then we can exercise the leadership to shine a light on

  • The opportunity
  • The critical linkages.

Until we have that real-world knowledge and business-in-action, then we are simply apprentices in our trade and we should do what needs doing now – which is get some hands-on experience.

This post summarizes the information on the supply chain of Caithness farmers in the northern tip of Scotland and how improved collaboration and disciplined attention to what they do well locally led, in a single year, to an increase of a quarter of a million pounds into their combined businesses.

Don’t wait.  Be the change you want to see in the world.  But be worldly and organize what is already working and do it better by focusing on real opportunities and real tasks that need doing!

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Business in a jam – or jam?

We want to work

Undoubtedly, UK is in a financial jam; and undoubtedly, deservedly so.  But talking about what is wrong with Britain is a way of life for the chattering classes.

A business in a jam; the business of jam

This is a story about another kind of jam – one which you may not even buy anymore – though this story will have you looking at your supermarket shelf with more curiosity.

This is the story of McKays – an industrial jam-maker founded in 1938, in the berry-growing, marmalade-making east of Scotland around Dundee – perhaps better known for being home to several games-producers.  Paul Grant bought McKays from global giant, United Biscuits, in 1995.  In the following 12 years, the throughput of fruit and jam multiplied 10 fold.

So in the time that Sergei met Larry, founded Google, and took us to Google Street Maps and the Royal Channel on You Tube, a jam-maker in Scotland bloomed.  This post is about what we can learn from Mackays.  Their transformation is as modern as Google and is a practical working example of a idea that is often talked about abstractly.

MacKays worked on their whole supply chain but rather than trying to manage the whole chain and offload risk to suppliers, Mackays reformed the chain to manage variability. Because they can tolerate variability, they are able to up volumes, and of course grow at the phenomenal rate they did.

The market for jam

In 1997, Scottish jam-makers, MacKays, processed 30 tonnes of fruit into jam and marmalade which they sold to supermarkets as “commodities” – that is, they competed on price.

In 2007, they processed 350 tonnes and they had repositioned the MacKays brand as premium and sold a parallel line, Mrs Bridges, through independent retailers such as garden centres and hamper companies.

Premium jams

Premium jams depend upon “things staying the same”, or as we say in management-speak “taking the past into the future.”  We move in the opposite direction to the box-ticking, target-setting fiends, and concentrate on what is good and true.

  • McKays retained its traditional taste by retaining its traditional production of jam with a slow roiling boil in copper-bottom pans
  • They used Scottish fruit allowing them to extend the recognisable and valued Scottish brand.
  • They used local produce which allowed them to coordinate more closely and manage variability that comes with agricultural produce.

Government help

MacKays did receive a government grant that gave their bankers the commercial security to lend them the capital to expand.

Supply chain

There were four key issues to reforming the supply chain and increasing upstream demand for fruit by 1000%.

  • MacKays had sufficient belief in their product and consumers to envision both repositioning as a premium product and multiplying their volumes, not by a few percent, by multiples of 100%.
  • MacKays had sufficient belief in their suppliers to negotiate the delivery of clean, fresh, full flavoured fruit suitable for bottling rather than the fresh produce markets.
  • MacKays invested sufficiently in relationships to welcome farmers in the factory and to be welcome on their farms.
  • Because they had good relationships, it was easier to work through the inevitable variability that comes with agricultural produce.  MacKays retained a consultant as their agent for this work.

Learning from the jam business

These key five points translate to other businesses.

  1. What is good and true?  What is the equivalent of jam made with artisan manufacturing with fresh local produce?
  2. What is better and possible?  What is the equivalent of consumers who want a good quality jam?
  3. Who can we depend upon and what do they need?  Who are the equivalent of farmers who need clear signals about how our needs differ from needs of their other customers?
  4. Who will work more easily with us if they have a sound understanding of how we work and if we have a sound understanding of how they work?  What do our suppliers not understand about us and what do we not understand about them?
  5. And most importantly of all, where is there natural variability in the system and where we need to be available, pay attention, and work together to keep our business relationship intact and prosperous on both sides?  What is the equivalent of strawberries that are better some years than others and what does it mean in our business to adjust to variability in someone else’s part of the supply chain?

In this story, the slightly-new notions are that huge gains come, not out of investment or control or competition, but from

I hope this practical example shows you how networked supply chains work in ordinary, down-to-earth businesses but do remember that the details are different for every business.  And that business is not a spectator sport.   Talking about business does not make it grow.  We need to be doing something.  Now.

Reference: This cases study is part of a wider series of case studies on collaborative supply chains in agriculture in Scotland.