Do we pay enough attn to world politics in local career planning?

Daft question?  I hope not

Today, I whizzed over my Acorn feed.  I recommend it to you. It is always well written – up there in the top class with the Spectator and The Economist.

It is erudite and informed, topical and up-to-date.

Acorn discusses political economy and international relations through India’s eyes. I find it so useful.  Somebody is asking thoughtful questions about the world in a systematic way.

It is particularly useful to understand the conflict in Afghanistan. I also read it to understand the race for Africa’s resources. You will find expertise on topics that interest you, I am sure.

The importance of a professional diplomatic service

Today, Acorn argued that a country must systematically map out the power relationships in the world, and that failure to do so, will lead to loss of world status. I couldn’t agree more. I doubt we can be any stronger than the combined abilities of our diplomatic service.

Foreign affairs and career planning

But surely each and every one of us should be consciously mapping world relations too?

Why, dear fellow career professionals, do we not check that our clients understand the world economy and international relations?

I know they are fretful about the decisions they need to make now. But unless they get into the habit of understanding the vested interests in the world, aren’t they going to continue ‘lurching from church to school’?

We need simple visual renditions and we need to be informed ourselves

I would like to spend more time gathering simple information together so that people can see their goals in relation to other people’s goals, and to see it all unfold in real time.

Work & organizational psychology in the 21st century

I suspect that the main practical contribution by work psychologists in the turbulent economy of the 21st century will be to provide dynamic feedback to help people position themselves relative to the others.

So good on the Acorn. I recommend it for your own edification.

If you are interested in slurping data and presenting it on the net to help people understand where they are in relation to the world, please give me a nudge.

To trust trust again. The Economist, will you help?

This week, The Economist said something shocking: Departing bank bosses weren’t venal, they were useless.

My thoughts exploded like a box of fireworks meeting an accidental match.

Why do the English smirk quietly at the “cock up” theory of management?

Why is it that the English assume that it is better to be an incompetent boss than a competent thief?

I think – I may be wrong – that we think incompetence does not imply disloyalty. “He is really on our side after all”.

But, is “cocked up” management loyal?

But, is rubbish management loyal – to you and me?  I want you to follow this argument.

“Bank bosses” aren’t “the boss.” They have bosses above them, who in English law are called the Board of Directors. The Bank bosses are employees. So why did the boss’ boss allow him (or her) to be incompetent, consistently, over a long period of time.

The inescapable conclusion, sadly, is that they don’t care about managers do to us.  That is why I prefer a competent thief.  They were never on my side.  They didn’t pretend to be.

An incompetent manager, and worse a whole chain of incompetent managers from bottom to the very top, hurts me 3x over.

#1  I suffer from their bad management. The company loses money and we lose our jobs.

#2  I am bullied into following bad working practices on their say-so.

#3  Everything I do is tainted by their incompetence.  Instead of working on what works, we work on what doesn’t work and it backwashes through the system distorting promotions, training, selection, recruitment, education.  The end point is that we have nothing to show for our efforts and we detest each other.

When the boss’ boss says incompetence is OK, provided you are a mate of mine, there is loyalty, but it is not to us.  We should be shocked.  Deeply.

Do you trust your employer any more?

The Economist might be vaguely amused by it all, but fortunately, the people have noticed.  Elsewhere, in the same issue or within a week, The Economist reported that the tables have turned and fewer than 1 in 4 people trust their employers.

I am heartened.

Rants are pointless.  What are we going to do?

I hate ranting.  When I am irritated,  I like to work through it and come up with a plan of action.

This is what I am going to do.

#1  Stop relying on chains-of-command to know best

Writer, Paolo Coelho, tweets.  If you are on Twitter, follow him.  It is him, not a ghost writer. Yesterday, he put out a Confucious Clone:  Only a fool follows the crowd.  Wise people make up their own minds.  If I am involved in something, I want to know what is going on.  I want to see the accounts.  I want to know that I can ask questions.  And I want answers.  Or, I depart.

#2  Audit my filters

I will never know or understand everything and like everyone else, when I am a “noobe”, I rely on my friends’ judgements.  But the more filters I understand, the better.  Each month, I will take one filter that is important to me, and systematically research the questions I should be asking about say, the fuel that goes in my car, the milk I drink, or the way the local town council is elected.  I won’t wait for a crisis before I start to think.  I’ll do my upgrades systematically.

#3  Celebrate trust

And then I will celebrate trust.

Not mindlessly.  I’ll actively recommend what works and tell people the criteria I use.  They’ll gain from my filters and I’ll gain from their feedback.  (I’ve found when I tell people why I trust someone, they tell me why they do, or don’t, as the case may be.)

I’ll learn more – but that goes under #2.  My real goal will be to spread trust – to celebrate that we have something to trust and to learn to trust trust again.

What I want from The Economist

And from The Economist, I would like to see some better reporting.  I appreciate the writing, but for wit I can go to Radio 4.  From The Economist, I want information that leads to action.

I don’t want to hear gossip about the ‘good and the famous’.  I really don’t care.  I don’t do the celebrity thing.

Having lived in a country that was prone to bragging to the point they would brag about being modest, I learned an important distinction between bragging and celebration.  Bragging says look at me – but when you try to join in, you get knocked back.  Celebration is an invitation.

I want my news organized for action.  Tell me something I can do something about.  Don’t erode my trust further by pretending something is OK when it darned well isn’t!

What would happen if we stopped the BBC news? Nothing or anything?

I listened to the 11 o’clock news as I drove home today.  I counted 9 items.

  • One item was news – the value of the Footsie Index.  But they don’t announce that everyday, so why today?  Anything happened that was different from yesterday?
  • Another item was past tense but vague.  A woman pleaded guilty . . . no information on when, where or the context other than the charge.
  • Two items were advertising – one for BA and one for the Labour Party.
  • A handful were information from the National Statistics Office that rightly belonged in commentary as the data describes events of months ago.
  • And some filler stuff intended to be titillating.

What would happen if BBC became an honest filter and said “Nothing happened in Britain this morning that is worth bothering your head about.”

1.  They’d get back to the work mandated in the Reith vision.

2.  We’d say, Where did the news go?  My favorite part of the day!

3.  We’d realize that the BBC are not that good anymore and stop paying our license fee.

4.  We’d say cool.  Wake us up where something happens.

5.  Other

The test today is to fill in the Other scenario!

Or, pick one of the others and elaborate –

  • I am old and listen to the radio a lot.
  • I am young and rarely switch it on.
  • I am a journo and I am not going to bite the hand that feeds me.

I want BBC to live up to an ideal that is in my head.  Be the best filters in the world.  Provide structure to ideas in the top 20% of any profession.  Is that too much to ask?

Filter, filter,filter. That’s where the money is.

In the olden days, our job, you and I, was to consume.

Today, we consume, create and share.

And because we all create and share, we have greater choice, overwhelming choice.  Suddenly, we have to take responsibility  for our choices.  Like it or hate it – we can no longer blame poor outcomes on lack of choice.  Nor can we assume that the creator of what we consume is acting responsibly, thoughtfully, competently, or in our interests.  Anything and everything is out there.  A terrifying world for people who cruise along on auto.

Filter, filter, filter

The scared will run inside and slam the door.  The reckless will try anything.  The bold, the curious, the inquisitive and the thoughtful will learn.

But how do we filter?  Who can we learn from?

I put “filter” into Flickr and this is the first image that came up.  A scientist folds his filter paper in a special shape so that when he filters soil, the thingymebobs that he wants to look at naturally fall around the edge.  Have a look.

Confusing filtering and hoarding

I didn’t put the image here because it is “all rights reserved”.  That is the scientist’s choice.

Quite likely, he assumes our only possibility is consuming with permission from him (and fee).  Sadly, for him but not for us, in this day, people will create and share as well.   His work has no value as scarcity.  His work only has value if it is used.

Let me explain the alternative. He could have  put a creative commons license on his picture, with attribution and share-alike.  Then I would have put his picture here and publicized his work for him. True, some of you will trek over to Flickr but I can guess only 0.5% of visitors will – the typical CTR – click through rate.

Understand our value to the world .  .  . and be rewarded for it

This person’s ability to do science is of far greater worth than his ability to post a picture on Flickr.

A much better bet would be to post the picture and ask for comments and alternatives.  By become the central point for discussions on scientific filters, his knowledge and reach grows, and commercial opportunities of far greater value would emerge – from his filtering ability – not from his hoarding ability.

To demonstrate his ability, we will want to see it in action. Junk, comment, redirect. Junk, comment, redirect.  Rinse & repeat.  Finding one good product from the process and trying to sell it doesn’t advertise the process. The process advertises the process.

That is the nature of filters that we have to get our head around!

1.  Filter so as not to be overwhelmed by junk.

2.  Filter because it is our ability to filter in a specific domain (not to be confused with hoarding) that will have value to others.  And people will want to see the process.  What is our raw material, how do we evaluate it, what advice do we give.

My mind is racing.  This works equally well for the baked beans and irradiated apples at the supermarket as it does for scientists, psychologists, politicians and newspapers.

Enjoy. It is where the money is in the future!

3 questions to structure your filter of economic data

All over the internet yesterday, people were chattering about filters.

What sense do you make of the world? And the 100 million dollar question, what is your understanding worth to anyone else?

Scary thought?

Well, here is an easier one!

Which indicators do you use to judge the health of the economy?

Last night, Forbes suggested that men wear brighter ties when the economy is on the up.  And wear duller ties when it is going down.  And the dull ties came out before Lehman crashed!

What do geeks wear when the going is good?  What do Kiwis wear?   They seem to wear black forever.

How do you judge the state of the economy?

The Forbes indicators tell us about confidence in the economy. What else should we be looking at?

When I lived in Zimbabwe, a leading economist advocated that we look at the state of people’s lawns.  Lawns are expensive and tiresome to look after.  Someone who is ‘staying’ will look after their lawn.  Someone who is ‘leaving’ will let it go.  Drive down the street and you get a fair idea of what people intend to do.

So if guys’ ties tell us how chirpy we feel, and where the economy might be headed, what tells us what people are going to do?

Which behaviors do you look out for and which leading indicators suggest the behavior may increase (or decrease)?

And what deceives us? What is just another dazzling bubble?

I remember another economist being overly impressed by the growth of flash chain fast food outlets in Harare.   I was stunned because I saw fast food outlets as a sign of non-investment activity.  When we have money that we have ‘won’ rather than ‘made’, we tend to waste it.  It’s a sure sign we are in a bubble.

Another working economist reckoned that he could judge the viability of a working farm in a glance as he drove up.  If there were more vehicles than drivers, the farm was going under.   The motivation was a little different, but once again money was being spent on decoration rather than functionality.

British political scientist, Parkinson described this phenomenon in other terms.  When organizations build monuments to themselves, they are on the way down.

Others may call this ‘chi’ – or lack of it.  We can feel the focus and vigor seeping away.

Which warning signs do you notice?

Three questions for your economics filter, then.

  • In your world, what tells you when the economy is on the way up, and does the same indicator tell you when the economy is on the way down?
  • In your world, which behaviors are so important to the future health of the economy that it would be good to have advance warning? What might that leading indicator be?
  • In your world, which behaviors suggest our eye-is-off-the-ball?  Or, that we are playing with funny money – or stolen goods – or money not made in the productive economy?

What else should I be looking at to structure a useful, working filter of the economy?

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The secret of an un-junked life is your own filter

Do you remember the days when you needed a ‘big man’ to present you to the world?

I barely remember, yet it was not so long ago that we had to find a patron, if we wanted to be heard.

  • If we wrote a book, we needed a publisher.
  • If we were into politics, we joined a political party.
  • If we kept counted the beans in business, we found ourselves an employer.

Some of these ‘big men’ were indeed patrons of quality

When we wanted information and advice of quality, we went to the same ‘big men’.  People of quality gathered around them.  We could randomly pick anyone of them. They would probably be OK.

Clay Shirky explains why we needed ‘big men’

Taking newspapers as an example – printing on paper was expensive.  Journalists couldn’t invest in the prohibitively expensive printing presses and distribution networks.  And newspapers proprietors wanted to be sure their printed papers would sell.  So newspaper owners had a vested interest in promoting quality and they become the arbiters and promoters of journalistic quality.

The internet has broken the ‘big man’ model

The internet has made publishing cheap and easy.  Working together has got cheaper and easier.  In short, the internet allows us to present ourselves to the world without going through a ‘big man’.

Every man and his dog has a story up on the internet and we feel drowned in a deluge of material – unfiltered and of indifferent quality. Junk food, junk mail, junk bonds, more junk.

The flip-side of everyone being their own ‘big man’ is that refereeing quality, and promoting quality, has become our job – perhaps our only job.

The secret of an un-junked life is our own filter.  And as the art of speaking is the art of being heard, for the first time we are faced with the task of truly understanding how other people filter.  We cannot rely entirely on ‘big men’ to do it for us.  Too much is going around and past them.

How do we filter the deluge of junk?

#1 Work with the ‘big men’ who remain

Political scientist, Matthew Hindman, reminds us that the old patronage systems are still up and running.

In so far as these systems provide a quality filter, there is no harm in using them.  We still go to university.  We read good books.  We even watch good TV programs!

What we have to get our heads-around is that as little as five years ago, the ‘big men’ provided the only channels, and the only filters. We lived with their definition of quality – like it or not.

Today, we do have a choice.  And we find ourselves having to judge the quality of the ‘big men’.  Do the filters that we’ve used for so long have the quality they promise?   Sadly, the alternatives, even the alternatives produced by amateurs, are exposing many ‘clay feet’.

#2 Actively reconstruct our filters on a regular basis

The power, and responsibility, for judging quality has shifted to us.  Our next step, fortunately seems to come quite easily.  We figure out what matters in the world.

Much of what happens is not worth reacting to.  I loved President Obama talking about racist responses to his initiatives.  Looking utterly relaxed on the Letterman show, he began, as if to make a serious point, then with good timing, reminded us he was black before the election.   It is true, he reminded the audience, with mock insistence.  How long have you been black? said Letterman.  Our mental models have become important. It doesn’t do any more to borrow from the great and the good.  We must have mental models of our own.

Julius Solaris, intrepid London networker, also wrote today of pruning his huge networks, much like my neighbors pruning their roses. A healthy network is free of dead wood and dead heads.  And for that matter, free of ‘dittoheads’ as they have become to be known on Twitter.

But do other people actively filter? Will they hear us among the deluge of junk arriving on their screens?

I count 5 ways to understand how information reaches, and doesn’t reach people.

#1 Old forms of patronage count

We shouldn’t dismiss the power of old establishments.  They might not fully comprehend the loss of their old monopoly, but they will defend their territory, and they will use the weight of their considerable resources to defend their position.

Be wise and take the back road to the high ground.

#2 Recommendations of friends still matter

Though many people are incredibly trusting of the old filters, they still trust their friends more.

Old fashioned communication systems remain influential.

Get close to the people who matter to you and be in touch – literally.

#3 Understand Google

How do we find information on the internet?  We can put up a website but does anyone ever look at it other than us?  Understanding the algorithm used by Google is part our our new literacy.

#4 Join social networks

Our lives are now lived virtually as well as on the street.  Join up to major social networking sites and take part.  To be off the network today would have been like refusing to read newspapers in the 1960’s.  Odd to say the least.

#5 Become a respected filter

Build your own web presence as a filter that other people can rely on.  Let people see the world through your eyes.

If you are a fan of junk food, then yay, the world can discover junk food in your wake.  If you have an understanding of the deep structure that underlies good food, like Daniel Young, then show that to the world.

Working consistently on our web presence helps us understand our own filters.

Using the many statistics packages available (like Google Analytics) helps us track what other people respond to and deepens our awareness of their filters.

Sometimes this is deeply depressing – but hey, knowledge is power. If people come to this site to find out if they are good looking (told you it gets depressing), or at other extreme, how to do HR in the recession (deeply depressing), it tells me a lot about them. And it tells me a lot about how I manage my relationship with the world’s cybermediary, Google.

It is a brave new world. The deluge of junk can get overwhelming.

This is no time to be lazy.  Our job in this age is to define how the world works, to gather quality information around us, to digest it, and to put our understanding back out there for the next person to use.

Can you imagine doing anything less? If you can, I would like to know.

Because the quality of our filters seems both to preserve our sanity and be the basis of our earning power.