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Tag: UK

Coding in schools? Take the splinter from our eye perhaps?

As I wait for FTP to download a website from a server onto my laptop, I thought I would write a bit.

I was up late last night, probably unwisely, as I tried to fix odd errors on my online shop. One error led to another.  I left a message for my US suppliers went to bed and got up in the morning to the usual geek-like rude reply – read this link.

Well my response is

a)      Why wasn’t that pointed out to me earlier

b)      When I put that advice in plain words, your product does not work under the conditions you said it would work. You did warn us by saying “if you use  . . .”.  But the truth is that you should have said “We do not recommend using  . . . If you do use our product with this other product, here are the 5 things you must get right.”

Anyway, I deleted the 2nd product and guess what – their product now misses the 2nd product and has frozen my online shop.  Hence downloading a copy of what is left onto another compute for safekeeping before I fiddle any further.

So why is this important?

  1.  Don’t do your computing when you are tired and don’t try to read Geek-English when you are tired and stressed.  They do their computing and writing when they are tired and stressed and it shows.
  2. There is a big debate going on in UK about teaching coding in schools.  I scoff at this debate. It began with Eric Schmidt of Google, teasing the UK government about teaching word processing in schools (i.e., using Microsoft).  The geeks of UK have fallen for this line and now think we should teach the average teenager how to write the next package. Hmm. .  it will be as a bad as the one that I am using and why anyway should we trade in Microsoft for Google.  For all our frustrations with Office, it is much more stable than any Google product.
  3. But yes, we should all use computers a lot more. I bought some software because I thought my predilection for writing code from scratch was ill-served.  Get working ecommerce software and use it! Bad idea. Bad idea to rely on geeks. Much better to know every corner of your code yourself.

But of course we cannot know everything.  But yes.  Using other people’s code is like signing a document without reading it. We do it – often.  We shouldn’t.  We should streamline our lives to have two boxes:

 # Box 1 : Not very important to me

Things in this box are not important to me.  So I can afford to sign bits of paper or use other people’s code or eat food of unknown origin or sleep with someone who seems to sleep elsewhere too – you get my drift.

If it doesn’t matter, put it in this box.

# Box 2: Very important to me

In this box are the things I care about.  So I should tend to them carefully and learn about them deeply.

As I can’t do everything, I should be very selective about what goes in this box.

I have to be careful about leaving things out too which do impinge upon me or would enrich me enormously.  So what is important must go in and what goes in must be looked after.

What kids should learn at school

That’s what kids should learn at school. To do their work well.  Not to spend time on things they don’t care about.  And not to complain if things they ignored turned out to be important.

Of course, when they are small, they can’t understand this completely or understand enough about anything.  So we grow their world for them slowly, helping them to push back their horizons, bit by bit, as they can absorb more and attend to it with the same care as things already in their world.

To live in narrow world is not grown up. We might even argue that it is to be ‘not of sound mind’.  But to suggest we should code at school.  . . that’s as half-baked as the code I stupidly bought.

Teachers know a bit about helping kids to grow

Kids must go to school and expand slowly from the world they are in to a bigger world. Teachers have some idea of the average pace that kids can work at.   And they know quite a bit about managing an environment where kids can grow steadily in a safe environment.

How can we help schools?

If we think there is something in our world that teachers might like to see, then I think we should invite them in.

Hold bar camps for teachers to have a lovely relaxing weekend in their hols with good food and pizza and geeks with blazing eyes excited by their weekend challenge.

We can accept problems teachers identify with software and work on some improvements.

A splinter out of our own eye?

But it is not kids who need fixing. It is not schools who need fixing.

It is the geeky world of very bad software and very rude help desks. N’est-ce pas? And TG for Google Translate so I could check my spelling.

Getting with the program

Oh, btw, did you see National University of Singapore have built an iPhone app that translates Mandarin speech into spoken English.  . . might make me lazy about learning Mandarin.

Anyway, Stanford watch out.  Asia is hot on your vapour trail.

And where is UK . . . making key apps?  . . . making life better? . . . yes Eric Schmidt is right.  We are a nation of chatterers preferring to use a word processor than to build one.

We should build the companies and businesses that take on NUS and IIT – Kids will work that out fast enough and set that as their new horizon.  Something for kids to look forward to  . . . they don’t need to aspire to aping US entrepreneurs for 20 years ago or 40 years ago.

And if you don’t know what NUS or IIT stands for, of course Stanford’s former post-grad students can solve the puzzle for you.

So ends my self-entertainment – but my FTP download is still not done.  Is it stuck in a loop?  Dearie me. Do I have to understand it’s code too?  Well don’t be taken in by geeks.  The first thing I learned as a CS student is that code is arbitrary.  The problem is usually the comma you didn’t know was supposed to be there.  Now to search Google for ‘looping FTP’. Logic will not fix this. Nor common sense. Someone has seen it before – or not.


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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 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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Living with meaning in a Zizek world

In my last two posts, I encouraged you to read Zizek in the original and gave you my take on the curious impotent rage that we are seeing all over Europe.

I am arguing that we are all up-to-our-eyeballs in the mess we rail about and that we got into the mess because we abdicated responsibility for our lives and our tantrums are signs of more abdication.

Simply, to adapt Zizek words, we will start to feel good about things when we are able to put on a list what “no one else will do it for [us], that [I] have to be the change [I] want to see.”

The tricks of a psychologist

As a psychologist, I always listen for the ”I” and the “we”.

  • What is the person in front of me actually going to do?
  • Who are they doing it with or for?
  • Of all the things they talked about, which brought a light to their eyes?

Zizek moments and psychology

We are in a Zizek moment when we retort that we are unable to do anything because the system makes us impotent.

We are focused, in short, on the ‘not living’ rather than the ‘living’.

These moments aren’t fun and this is the psychology of getting our attention back on the ‘living’.

 A small example of giving to Caesar. . .

To take a simple example, I lock my car when I leave it at Milton Keynes Railway Station.   Don’t you?

I accept that there is plenty of nonsense in the world but I act sensibly.

I don’t devote a lot of time to thinking about security at Milton Keynes Railway Station but I don’t take it for granted either.  Most of all I vote for people who treat the security people around the station fairly and I pay my rates so they can.  Don’t you?

Do you abdicate the responsibility for the conditions under which we live?

Read what Zizek says about Greece:

“When the protesters started to debate what to do next, how to move beyond mere protest, the majority consensus was that what was needed was not a new party or a direct attempt to take state power, but a movement whose aim is to exert pressure on political parties.”

Why do we abdicate to others?

Of course, we delegate to others, yes.  If there is a security person at Milton Keynes Station, I don’t interfere while they are doing their job.

But abdicate, no.  I can’t say “There is no security at the station.  You must fix it.”  I can’t bluster and stamp my feet and say “There is no security.  I am your employer as a taxpayer. You must fix it.”

I must act definitively.  “We have seen this pattern of events.  Please tell us what action you will take to change the pattern and suggest a date that we can meet to review whether the actions have been effective.”

And I must be clear what I am going to do if I am still not satisfied.  What is the point of stamping my foot?

“To riot [even if it is a middle-class tantrum] is to make a subjective statement, implicitly to declare how one relates to one’s objective conditions.”

Tantrums not only accept our position of powerlessness.  Tantrums say we are OK with our position of powerlessness.  Don’t come to me later complaining.  I will only ask you: Well what do you want to do about it?”

I can never be too enthusiastic about

“impotent rage and despair masked as a display of force; it is envy masked as triumphant carnival.”

It’s like over imbibing.  You will regret it in the morning.

So what do psychologists suggest when you are feeling impotent?  Indeed when you are overwhelmed with indignation at your impotence?

#1  Let’s stop thinking that this is a first in history.  We are not alone in this. Read the old works and read the new like Zizek .

#2 Think back to Jesus Christ saying to his followers:  Give unto Ceasar . . .   Get involved in as much nonsense as you have to . . . but keep it on the periphery of your existence in the way you lock your car at the station. . . it is not your life.

#3 Learn from feminist Germaine Greer who wrote short chapters that women could read on the loo – the only place where they have peace and quiet.  Find five minutes every day to be quiet.  A park is nice.  But be effective on this at least.  If it the loo is the only place possible, then the loo, it is.

#4 Think back over the last 24 hours about what is ‘good, true, better and possible’, and do more of it. Sounds naff?  Try it.  When you are more purposive about what you want and take active steps toward it, it tends to move toward you.  When it happens, your main reaction is going to be, “Eh? This easy?”  Yes, it is normal to be suspicious but when you move toward something, it comes to you. On the other hand, if you are faking it, it will blow you a raspberry.  I repeat, what you move towards will move towards you.

#5 Where you have a choice between two good things, do the one that’s better for other people too.

That’s it.  Shit will continue to happen but you won’t be so directly implicated and you won’t be sitting around thinking that some vague person in some vague office should be sorting it out.  That is no way to live.  Your life is going to amount to what you are willing to be responsible for.

To find out what you are willing to do, because it is your choice, not mine – find five minutes to review each 24 hours.  Celebrate the good, the true, the better and the possible, however small, particularly the small . . . and do more of it.

And then you will be like Zizek – watching the Zizek moments with Zen-like calm, waiting for more people to catch on. Then sociological conditions will change and we will have a new sociologist to read. Enjoy.


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So 21st century: a Zizek moment

Zizek and the politics of our age

Zizek, one of the most important thinkers of our age, tells us that much of the time, we cheerfully go along with nonsense like – derivative trading – telling ourselves all sorts of ‘porkies’ [for non-British readers that is Cockney slang for a self-serving deceit].

We reassure ourselves (rather greedily) that we will not be the victim when the ‘house of cards’ collapses.  Not for us ‘ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee’.  Oh no, somehow it is OK to go along with what we know is wrong.

A Zizek moment

And when it does go wrong, when quite inevitably the scam is revealed in all its shocking-ness, we express indignation in a useless tantrum.

We tell the ‘authorities’, we tell some nameless, faceless people over whom we have no power or influence even if we did know who they are, to sort it out, or “we will be cross”.

Having abdicated our future when we joined the scam, we abdicate again by claiming that ‘someone else must sort out the mess.

Writing of the current Spanish demonstrations, Zizek comments “the indignados do not (yet) claim that no one else will do it for them, that they themselves have to be the change they want to see”.

A British example of a Zizek moment

Let’s take a British example.  The News of the World tapped phone messages.

But who did not know that before this year?  Pleassse.

And who did not encourage them?    At least 3 million people gave them money every week.  I’ve be known to read The Times when it popped up on my screen.

But what is with the outrage characteristic of a Zizek moment?

We are outraged because we knew what was going on all the time and if we didn’t actively take part, we encouraged it or condoned it.

We are outraged because we are caught out in the lies we tell, chiefly to ourselves.

And we are outraged because like an emperor with no clothes, we are caught with no life plan accept bouncing from one scandalous scheme to another.

If you like being outraged, then, please, carry on.  If you don’t, psychologists have do-it-home advice

In the next post, I’ll lay out the do-it-at-home tips for you.  There is no need to spend oodles of money.  Indeed I wouldn’t take your money because unless you do get started at home, not even millions of dollars of professional help will get you going.


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Not heard of ZIZEK? Why should you read ZIZEK?

I must say that a few months, I had not heard of ZIZEK.  But we all should have heard of Zizek because we are going to hear a lot more about him.

Why should a mechanic, a fireman, a hairdresser and god forbid, a member of the chattering classes, read sociology?

I know a lot of people who never read any sociology and the live quite happily.   Maybe they are happier than us too.  And they probably are richer and more powerful too.

But not knowing about the sociology of your time is like not knowing that the banks deal in derivatives that are 10x the value of real assets.  Even if we don’t have the big money to play on the derivatives market, we should at least understand that

  • liberalization of banking means derivatives
  • and derivatives mean a banking system that has electronic (or printed) money
  • that there is more than one derivative (so to speak) for each tonne of wheat or gold that they say they own
  • and there is not 10% more but 10x more paper than things.

90% of derivatives are what you and I think of as a pyramid scheme.

So we read sociology because we don’t want to be caught out holding useless paper assets

Any economist or financier reading this will wince at my crude explanation but you do see my point.  If you willfully persist in ignoring the basics of social science, don’t cry when you are standing in a Northern Rock queue when the bank almost falls over.  Don’t cry when your pension turns out to have been invested in derivatives and they turn out to be worth 10% of their face value or nothing at all.

And we are tired of the argument that there is nothing you and I can do

Many people will talk to me as if I am an idiot, and say “there is nothing we can do about the mess of our politics and economics”.

That indeed maybe true too.  I am not telling you to start fixing the derivatives system.  But I am explaining that knowing more about sociology will mean you will be the patsy less often.

We begin by knowing what is going on

I am pointing you here to a commentator who is worth reading, even if he writes real sociology that requires a little concentration.

So you go and read Zizek. 

In my next post, I will try to give my understanding  of what  Zizek says about the way we are living.

And I’ll do what psychologists do: translate what Zizek says into what you  and I can do ourselves – apart from read him.  So go read.  See you later on my next post.


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Is the universe capable of having your city at its center?

View from the Rockfeller Center - Top of the rock - 51 by caccamo via FlickrStanding where you are – what do you see?

Psychologists angst quite a bit  over whether there is an essential us  or whether we are creature of circumsances.

Of course we are both and neither.

Without a deep respect for the place where we find ourselves, how can we see the world?  Irish Yorkshireman poet David Whyte calls the place we stand “hallowed ground”.

Birmingham poet, Roy Fisher is functional as  any Brummy should be.


The universe, we define

As a place capable of having

A place like this for its centre.


There’s no shame/ in letting the world pivot

On your own patch.  That’s all a centre is for.  (p.13).

Roy Fisher


( I must buy his book but I haven’t discovered the title yet.)

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If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Eureka by Ben+Sam via FlickrMake yourself lucky, be happy, BS?

If you hang out with management theorists, you will know by now the essence of the prevailing zeitgeist.  Whether Richard Wiseman is talking about luck; whether Martin Seligman is talking about happiness; or John Seeley Brown is talking about edge, we have a common formula that is applied over, and over.

Following are some notes I made reading a paper by Keith Grint of Warwick Business School on leadership in local government.  He begins with a great question 🙂

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Keith Grint of Warwick Business School asks:

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

The questions (I think) are

  • How do we do local?
  • Why is doing local better than doing central?
  • And, does ‘doing local’ work better than doing central?  After all, surely the whole idea of politics is to seize the commanding position and dictate terms?

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local, at least to answer the how, why, what and whether of local using theory, we need to begin with the theory.   Let’s check our assumptions first.   At the same time, we’ll see that we are assuming, rather than proposing in scientific sense, that local is the “dog not the tail”.  (If anyone knows a non-dog metaphor that will work as well, please let me know!)

Once we’ve grasped, the idea that we are dog, and political change is the tail, then we want to know “how”.  And the task of popular writers is to explain the “how” well enough to stop people disappearing into the bottomless pit of despair and victimhood that is part of the self-story when we think of ourselves as the tail.  That Brits love the victim story is a different post.

Today, I’ll try only to explain how we start change at a local level which is what I think Keith Grint was talking about and what management scholars and their ilk can tell you a lot about.

The theory of act local

The theory of “act local: begins with some beliefs about leadership.  If you have differing ideas about leadership, nothing else I write will make any sense at all.  So, try these on for fit.  If they don’t fit, all else will be a logical exercise. If they do meld with your beliefs, you might find a sense of relief in the account of “lead local” that follows.

Two basic beliefs about leadership

Leadership is not air; it is the wind.  When leadership is there, it is there. We might be able to see it coming.  We might in odd circumstances be able to build a wind tunnel.  But for the most part it is ephemeral, situational and transitory.  Nonetheless we know it when we feel it and we know it when we see its effects.

Leadership is not a map; it is a place.  When you are there, you are there.  When you are not, you are not.  You are not a leader-in-waiting.  You aren’t leadership-material.  You are either leading right now in this place with these people.  Or, you are not.

One basic proposition about national leadership

UK’s future is not made in Whitehall.

It is made by us. Because leadership is like place and wind, the UK is made and led through our local squabbles and the place-by-place, moment-by-moment decisions we make where we are, where ever we are and whomever we are with.

So, how do we set about making UK’s future at local level?

So far so good – if we believe that leadership, of necessity, of its very essence, is a local, situational and transitory phenomenon with nonetheless real consequences, how do we act as a local politician?

One basic assumption about politics

Politics is about defining space.  Politics is about defining who gets to be here and who get to talk.

One basic proposition about leading the politics of radical change.

Cynically, party politics is a device for keeping us apart.  Defining history is about connecting with people we don’t normally talk to.

I’ll repeat that.  The politics of change, the politics of defining history, is about connecting, not with people like us, but with people we don’t normally talk to.

The nexus of leadership and politics

So, to pull together ideas about leadership and politics – we believe leadership is in its very essence local but nonetheless we have political structures which determine who is in and who is out – or in plain terms, who gets to be part of the conversation.

To set off radical change, we have to change who talks to whom.  Or natural instinct is to huddle with people with ‘common interests’.  Actually, we must do something else. We must expand the conversation to a ‘complete world’ of everyone who has an interest.

To take a stark example, if I were campaigning to reduce immigration (which I am not), the intelligent political approach would be to include the immigrants (and their employers).  That the campaigners don’t shows us that they aren’t really serious and that they will always be somewhat surprised by the results of their political initiatives.  They simply haven’t done the work of connecting people who have an interest.

Changing the future of our country, then, is changing who we speak to!

The “how to” of modern politics

And now to the “how to” because after all, the reason why I am writing this at all is because people think they are not able to affect the future of their country (preferring to whinge but that’s another post.)

Is politics viral?

Sometimes it seems that politics can be viral.

Take Egypt.  Wael Ghonim puts up a Facebook page at just the right moment.

But, was the page just timing or relevance?  Without being a historian of Egypt, I think the page became a lever on a fulcrum of wide-spread concern among people who have generally have neither need nor opportunity to speak to each other on a daily basis.

And with lever and fulcrum, as Archimedes said it would, the world moved.

The page was the lever.  The fulcrum was the concerns of many people partially connected and ready to be connected further.

Is viral politics enough?

Some people thing viral politics is enough.  I don’t think so.  We still have to do the ‘foot slogging’ of door-step politics. We have to build relationships painstakingly.  We have to build our coalition (woops, dirty word in UK).

Simply, if defining history is building new connections with people we don’t normally talk to, we have to build those connections.  We have to initiate the connections and we have to sustain them with repeated contact and mutual respect.

What’s more, we have to engage with people who not want to connect with us.  It might take a while to build the connections we need.  But of course we don’t mind if we really believe in the future we are imagining!

Is success assured?

Again, without being a historian, the Facebook page in Egypt came at the end of an era of making connections and making connections and making connections.  Wael Ghonim didn’t intend to start a revolution.  He put up a Facebook page, and while he wanted to connect with others, he had no idea how important those connections were to become.  The Facebook page might not have succeeded.  There had been many attempts to rally Egyptians.  This was the rally cry that came when the connections were enough.

Simply, change will not happen unless we believe in it enough to begin without any guarantee of success.  If we don’t believe in our people enough to begin, if we don’t believe that we are enough; we will never make enough connections and we won’t have the Facebook page, or whatever happens to be the lever in our movement that tips the final balance.

We never know exactly when the tipping point will be.  We have to begin in faith of our dream and our people.

And is one big viral event is enough?

Sadly, not.  A big viral event may give us a head-start.  A big viral event like Tahrir Square dramatically improves the self-efficacy of everyone takes part.  They will volunteer readily next time and won’t be easily put off by challenges.

But as one swallow only makes us think of summer, we need many successful events for active citizenry to be the norm.  Actually, we need many successful events to trust each other.  We need success to offset the disappointments and to build the momentum.

If we believe in the future that we say we want, we need to do the hard slog of building the connections and maintaining them over the challenges, triumphs, disappointments and tears of real world politics before we will be rewarded with deep and longstanding change.

So if you are banking on one big viral event, you will squander the benefits of the event, for benefits are huge but not enough on their own.

And should we wait for politicians?

I wouldn’t!   Old guard politics will produce more of the same.

What can you and I do?

What has to happen is you and I connecting to people we think are worth listening to.  No proclamation from Whitehall will ever make that happen.  This depends on whom we believe are worth listening to and whether we can be a****d to make the connections.

What we get back depends on what we are willing to do.  England, Britain, United Kingdom is us. If we want change and we haven’t changed something small today, we are simply talking BS (oh dear, what did I say?) 🙂

Change something today – get lucky!

The advice for starting change at local level is the same advice that psychologists will give you for making yourself lucky (and happy) (and indeed for giving up smoking or losing weight!)

The advice from psychologists is simply this.

Do something different today.  Drive to work a different route. Speak to the person next to you on the train.  Give up your seat for someone on the tube.

Mix it up.  Connect.  Connect.  Connect.

  • Complete your world by connecting with everyone you need to take part in the conversations you know are just waiting to happen.
  • Start to tell the collective story.  Start to tell the story of your collective .
  • Learn what other people want too.  See where you can help them and see where they are delighted to help you.
  • And, include the people you think you can’t stand (But talk to them later! Start with someone who is just new or different!)

How long will it take?

I don’t know for sure. Psychologists aren’t  hot on time.  But, the poets and gurus say you will see results in three months and life-changing experiences in a year.

Will you begin to lead locally?

What have you got to lose by trying?  You only have to talk to someone new each day and do something different like take a new route to work?

What will you gain?

A more interesting day for a start.

A life experiment second.

Maybe something bigger third.  The curious will go for that I think.


Leading questions: If ‘Total Place’, ‘Big Society’ and local leadership are the answers: What’s the question? Leadership February 2011 7: 85-98,

To get a copy of the paper, you’ll have to email the author Keith.Grint at wbs dot ac uk.

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Happiness Index: Practical useful stuff

Three chess games, Jul 2009 - 19 by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHappiness Index

We have to take happiness seriously. Yes, we do! The UK government is going to measure our happiness and as we all know, what gets measured gets done!

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has been around now, in a formal way, for over 10 years. That is not long but after all Google has been around for about the same time. And Facebook for a fraction of that.

Of course, happiness is a lot older. To make a more precise statement about ‘happiness’, academic psychologists in Western countries have been studying happiness with a sense that ‘it is right to do this’ for a decade.

So what have we learned from ten years of the formal study of happiness by psychologists?

What does positive psychology tell us?

Positive psychology is little different from other topics in social sciences. It doesn’t tell us answers. It helps us ask the right questions. Most importantly, it helps us put aside questions that are simply the wrong questions.

What are the wrong questions to ask about happiness?

Are some people more happy than others?

We love to ask who is more intelligent, who is more good-looking and after all, who is more worthy. We like to line people up with the best in front and thereafter claim they will beat the front of the line forever and because they are in the front, permanently the best, that they are worthy of more respect, more love, more care, and sometimes even more food.

We know this is the wrong question for three reasons.

Wrong question – Reason 1

Yes, some people are better and some people are worse at specific tasks and they keep this rank order for a short space of time. They are also likely to build a portfolios around their strengths of today, but they don’t stay permanently on top. A top cricketer might become a cricket coach in time, for example, but he will no longer be the top batsman or bowler. Sensible people retire from competition at the right time!

If we are going to compete in the happiness stakes, most of our lives we must be losers.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 2

Being good at one thing does not make us good at everything. Indeed, learning a skill takes time (around 10 000 hours of practice as a rule-of-thumb or ten years of organized practice) and we can generally only be good at one thing.

If we think about being good at something, we are going to make a choice. Some of us can choose to be good at happiness. Others will have to make do with being good at something else.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 3

Asking who is the happiest is simply not a worthy question.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that one person  is permanently good at one thing and with great good fortune also good at two or three other things: does that make them a more important person than someone who is not very competitive at any activity?

Should one child be loved more than another? How corrupting is that for the child who is supposed to be so much better? Lets not go there for if we do it is a case of morality fail, not so?

What is the right question about happiness?

If asking who is the happiest is the wrong question, then what is the right question?

What is happiness?

All these discussions about who is happy and who is not begs a simpler question: what is happiness?

Most of can recognize happiness in the same way that we recognize the difference between a good meal and an indifferent meal.  We just can without necessarily being able to create a good meal ourselves.

Partly we fail to create good meals because we don’t want to learn the skills and do the work that goes into making a good meal. We try cheating with recipes. We add ready-made sauces. We can work on one or another principle ideas – for example, buy good ingredients (would we recognize them?).

The truth is good meals are produced by many factors brought together by someone who understands the issues, who has had a lot of practice, and who is paying attention on the day. Happiness is the same.

• We work with what we have in the moment

• We understand the issues

• We pay attention adjusting as we go

What are the issues surrounding happiness?

Positive psychologists and management theorists in a related field, positive organizational scholarship, have settled on a checklist of FOUR issues to guide our thinking at any moment.  The four issues have been compressed into an acronym PERMA.

• Positive emotion

• Relationships

• Meaning

• Accomplishment

Positive emotion

Positive emotion simply means play nice – not only with others but with ourselves.

A simple trick is to review each day and after reviewing what we feel and the stories we are telling ourselves (and others), we look over our stories and highlight what we went well.

It is astonishing how negative processes are allowed to crowd out positive processes. In part, it’s a survival thing – we attend to what scares us.

The trick to restoring a positive outlook is to make a (written) checklist of what did go well and mark what we would like to repeat and expand.


We are intensely sociable animals. Even the most introverted among us like to do things that make sense socially.

Sometimes an activity done alone, like writing poetry, really is sociable, as is the commute of a person who treks long hours to earn an income for his family. We will always prefer the activity that links us to the people we care about.

Indeed, we care about the people when we do things together.  We like the people we do things for and with.  Games designer, Jane McGonigal, suggests we like people better when we play games with them, for this reason. Sports bring us together, etc. etc.?

Giving mental space to our relationships makes even the most introverted of us happy.


Life also makes sense when we are working on something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes that means commuting for the sake of our families. Sometimes we use the ‘bigger than’ line as an excuse, e.g. when we go to university because the system requires us to. But we know the difference because when we don’t care about the wider meaning, we hate what we are doing and feel exhausted.

We have limitless energy when we really care about the ‘story that we are writing’. This is a good exercise as well. Write a few lines of your autobiography each night and ask whether you are writing about who you want to be – or about someone else. In a previous post, I’ve suggested that (necessity) entrepreneurs rewrite their story nightly. Writing our story coherently helps orient ourselves to what we care deeply about.


How we love to achieve! Solving problems is lovely. Triumphing over adversity is invigorating. Dreadful jobs are dispensed with so much more easily when we set them up as little challenges that we can tick of – there! there! there!

Setting little hurdles for ourselves improves the day.

Happiness Happening near you!

If you haven’t already seen Jane McGonigal’s presentation at School of Life (sermon actually) on 26 October 2010, it follows below.

Jane McGonigal is a games designer. She explains the theory of positive psychology. She explains how she used the theory to accelerate her recovery from concussion.  She illustrates the theory by replacing the dreary world of ‘to do’ lists with the PERMA checklist. She weaves her vision for the world into the template of sermons as a children’s story.

It’s fun to watch and shows you where this happiness stuff has got to and where it is going.

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Go students! But in solidarity

UK Uncut Demonstration 041210 by ucloccupation via FlickrThe ethics of Gen Y

I am puzzling over the ethics of our youth.  That’s not unusual, of course.  By an accident of history, I am a typical Gen Xer.  I drink water and carry a laptop. I’m highly independent and anyone not quite ‘up to it’ receives a glance of disapproval that is the hallmark of my generation.

Gen Y’ers elsewhere

I’ve also lived in a country where the Gen Y’ers clashed  magnificently with the old guard who reminded them constantly of history. “We fought for your privileges”, said the old guard.  “Toughs”, said the youngsters, “give us more. And NOW!”

Little emperors, indeed.

Student action in UK November 2010

The student action along Oxford Street of the moment are interesting.  So many students are not there.  We look around our universities and wonder.  Not even self-interest can get them out.

But self-interest has got some out.  Are they really ethical though?  Are they pouting because they have been excluding from the loot and pillage of the economy?  Or do they really care about a well run society and are they prepared to run society well in exchange for a fair and decent wage?

Solidarity is the ethical test of politicians

The test is in solidarity.  Let’s see what alliances are formed and let’s see how easily they are bought off.  How many of the leaders would join Top Shop tomorrow if given a graduate management position?

The test is in solidarity and I am hoping (against hope) that they will take the lead in mapping the issues that face the UK today.

But beware: Politics is about results not motives

But then an old politicial science professor said to me once: In politics motivation doesn’t matter.  Only results matter.

Unless students have a clear ethical position and  a map of the alliances they want to forge, they will find their energy quickly coopted to other causes.

It happened to other generations who were smug and complacent. It can happen to them too because that is politics.

We are waiting to see.  Hoping but waiting.  I hope their political science professors have taught them well.

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Great Leaders, Great speeches: Jimmy Reid

glasgow university by Gavin Gilmour via FlickrJimmy Reid: Orator and Visionary

Jimmy Reid will not be known to many people outside the UK.  Nor will he be known to many Gen Yers.   I hard vaguely on the news that he had died but thought little.

Then on Saturday I stumbled over Jimmy Reid’s 1972 speech to Glasgow University which was reprinted in its entirety by The Independent.  I was so excited.  I thought a new leader had burst into UK politics.

I was half way through the speech before the penny dropped.  1972 – 4 decades ago and every bit as relevant a maninfesto today.

As a speech, it may not be quite on the same plain as “I have a dream”.  It doesn’t have the simplicity or the connection to images shared with a huge audience.  It’s too thoughtful.  It might rank up there, though, with Obama’s speech to the Democratic Party in 2004.

Here is a Wordle of the speech (via ManyEyes.)  I am going to do more work with speech.  I’d love your comments and requests.

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