We will not put our lives on hold because you want us too

hacia la diversion, con es fuerzo by fabbio via FlickrLiving with collapse

A long time ago, a British Professor visiting Zimbabwe goggled at our 15% inflation rate and said, “How do you cope?’

Twenty years later, 15% seemed like heaven. And coping had turned into a lifestyle. Oddly though, you can still attend an HRM conference in Harare infinitely more sophisticated than you will in London.  Lunch might be peculiar but ideas continue.

The power might go off repeatedly but a Zimbabwean firm has rolled out a 3G network.  Living in the UK, I have copper cables that were replaced twenty years ago in Harare and my mobile reception is so dodgy that I can’t use it for internet.

Running away from collapse

I left Zimbabwe and came ultimately to UK because I didn’t want to cope with those circumstances.  I had lived through Smith’s UDI and figured that “I had already done” war and sanctions.  It was time for alternative experiences.

A psychological model of collective responses to despair

Around six months before I left Zimbabwe, just after the Presidential elections, I tried to make a psychological model of what would happen.  I figured that everyone would make up their minds what they were going to do.  Then they would test their plan.  And after 6 months they would re-evaluate.

Of course, we had a definitive unambiguous event that marked a cross-roads.  Mostly we don’t have such a call for decisiveness and we procrastinate.

Then we were surrounded by people making tough decisions but amiably accepting that we differed in our needs and values and might go our separate ways.

And we knew we were jumping out into the unknown.  We might find our new lives hostile but few of us left a path to return preferring rather to “shake the dust from their feet and not look back”.

The Zimbabwean diaspora and the Zimbabwean survival

So 3-4 million people left Zimbabwe.  I got on a plane.  Others walked and with no exaggeration, dodged border guards, swam across a river infested with crocodiles, cut their way through fences and threw themselves on the streets of cities larger than anything they had ever seen before.

But 10-11 million people stayed.  They were the old, the young, the sick and the infirm.  They were those who stayed to look after the old, the  young, the sick and the infirm. They were also those who had fought for the liberation of Zimbabwe and were continuing in their quest.  They were those who lived “outside” last time around and “had done that” and now took the alternative route. And there were the energetic and entrepreneurial who make a go of anything.

Zimbabwe has suffered. There is no doubt.  It is uncomfortable being there.  But it has survived.  And it is this survival that I want to write about.

People don’t curl up and die because the economists and politicians and pundits say they should. They pursue their ends as they see them. They experiment and revise.  They keep going.

So Zimbabwe didn’t die.  The currency shattered all records for inflation and it remained the currency of choice long after economists said it would disappear.  It has gone now but probably more because  of pressure on the German government by activists made printing it more difficult.

Simply, action matters; not theory and not prediction.  People will not stop living just because we think we wouldn’t be bothered in their shoes.

African universities don’t die either

I’ll make this point  again using another story.

A decade ago, I was part of a team reviewing the staffing situation in African universities for World Bank.  Briefly, the a priori thesis was that Africa suffered a brain drain.  Coopted belatedly on to the team, when I was briefed, I burst out  laughing.  “You can’t get rid of us,” I guffawed.

So how do universities run when they have bullet holes in the walls (one in our sample did) and  havelittle money to pay academics?

Yes, universities suffer from “not on seat”, a Nigerian expression that someone came in, left his jacket and went out to do his own business.  But despite one university paying its staff the equivalent of one chicken a month, staff kept pitching up, kept teaching, kept examining.  They keep doing what they do. I know it sounds improbable, but it is your theory that is wrong; not the world!

But maybe Western economies began to die

Today I came across another story in Global Guerillas that illustrates the point again.

Pick up any HRM textbook in UK, Australia or NZ, and it is all about smashing the unions.  Thatcherism was a dramatic struggle against labour power.  And Thatcherism won.  It liberated the economy from the tyranny of unions!

That  maybe so but smashing the “working classes”, or the middle classes as they are called in the USA, also concentrated economic surplus in the hands of corporates.  And we see the results now.  Oh, you might have drifted off when I put it like this.  Read on.

People don’t sit on their hands just because you told them they were worth nothing.  They carry on living their lives.  Instead of achieving their life goals by making more money by being more productive, they continued achieving their life goals and put their energies into other schemes – like second houses or just flipping their first. The goals stay.  The energy to progress is diverted.

We will not put our lives on hold because you want us to.  It simply doesn’t work like that.

A good system provides opportunities for us to achieve our own goals within a collective mutually beneficial framework.  We need a system where each of us can see a promotion on the horizon and has access to learning experiences and training that allows us to seek promotion.  As soon as the system says “nothing for you here”, we will divert our attention elsewhere but we won’t do nothing. Don’t say this is not possible; this is called HRM.  And don’t laugh.  Who hired the HR Manager you have?

Where will individuals put their energy in the UK now?

In a country as big and diverse as the UK, it can be hard to see what might happen next.  The choices are not obvious.

Certainly, at an individual level, the prize will go to those who envisage positive goals in depressing circumstances and who continue seeing opportunity while those around them become panicky and depressed.  But we will each do what makes sense to us at the moment that we do it.

At a collective level, it seems to me that we really must strengthen what Britain called the working classes.  And the best way to do that is for people who have power to limit themselves.

Instead of running around asking for 25%-30% indicative cuts, Ministers should be talking to everyone with power or unusually high incomes (and I include the unions and the local drug barons).  Ask them rather, what can you do to make the middle level guys better off. What can you do to free them up from worrying about housing and heating, food and chidren’s clothing?  What can you do to help them feel secure about their future (to aged 90) and their children’s future and prospects?

Those with power and resources must settle down those who will otherwise divert their energy where they must – looking after me and my own.  And the politicians must lead.

Instead of indicative cuts, come back to us with indicative solutions. Look us in the eye when you announce them.  If our eyes light up, you are on to something.  If we howl with laughter, deliver a sharp smack to your powerful mates.

Save time (and cut costs) by spending as much time as you need with each person

#35 March 3rd week by next sentence via FlickrWasting the time public servants

I was talking to someone in one of the many branches of the public service yesterday. “And we get a lot of time-wasters”, he said.

This is a narrative, of course.  It is the way we speak rather than any statement of fact.  But it raises the question, “Why do we regard the public as wasting our time?”

Or is our time wasted by management who are poorly trained?

Sadly, targets are the culprits.

This is the psychology.

  • A target creates a goal.  Yup, that is what was intended.
  • Goals create feedback loops.  Yes, we all know targets distract people from their jobs. We have been complaining for years.
  • And there are two further points I would like to add.
    • Simplifying life slightly, we have fast feedback loops and slow feedback loops.
      • Public servants have infinitely slow feedback loops. Slower than “Mum” who runs a house and who cleans the house today and cooks your dinner, and cleans the house tomorrow, and cooks your dinner.   In short, the work of those who serve is never done.  It is very reactive, too.  In plain English, public servants hang around a lot.   That is their job and it takes a special temperament to be able to do that without fabricating a crises or two for stimulation and entertainment.
      • Slow feedback loops does not mean the work is unskilled.  Slow feedback loops mean the opposite. The work is highly skilled. You have to work “by the book”.  “Mum” cleans the house whether guests are coming or not.  The pilot checks the entire pre-flight checklist whether they anticipate a problem or not.  They do work and they do it without anything changing visibly and without applause or immediate reward. You and I can’t do that. We get bored and become disruptive.
      • Simply, public servants look like they are sitting around but they do “hard work”.  It is hard to know that the workis done well unless you really know what you are doing.
    • The public are not time-wasters.  Well they maybe, but we waste a lot more time angsting about time-wasters.
      • The public aren’t experts in the work done by public servants.  Public servants start to take their skill for granted (as we do) and forget they can make a judgment that we will just get wrong.  We could do with their wisdom.
      • Much of the time, the public is worried they are supposed to be doing something.  Good counsel from a policeman or front-line worker reads the request in context and advises the right course of action. The right course of action might be do nothing (take two aspirin and have a good night’s sleep, etc.) and it is useful to know that.  We rarely think that doing nothing is doing good.  Public servants with with their slow feedback loops are masters of “let events unfold”.  Let them make the call.
      • Rushing people who are worried slows them downWhen we treat each request as seriously as the next or the last, people calm down and our work speeds up.
      • That’s not to say that we don’t do triage.  Triage is part of taking people seriously.  People aren’t cattle queuing up at the slaughter house.  If it is better to take one person ahead of others, just tell them.  When we have a good reason, everyone will understand, particularly if we can estimate when we will see them and give them back some control over their lives.  They calm down and work goes faster.

Successful ways of working with people is often counter-intuitive

It is possible to treat each person as an individual.  But when we go 8 hours/x people makes y minutes.  Suddenly there isn’t enough time.

One. We waste time scheduling.  Try not scheduling and see what happens.  I once went to a doctor who simply gave 10 people an appointment on each hour.  He called them in turn but saw whoever was there.  Isn’t that what we do anyway?  And if we a running late to get there for 9, for example, there is no need to panic, because we are in a buffer.

Two. We have time-wasted between appointments.  I was given an appointment at 9:06 last week.  Admirable precision.  Pity the internal paper-work wasn’t ready for her and her printer wasn’t working.

Three. There is simply a simple rule of management. Make sure management doesn’t cost more than what is being managed.  What would happen if we would remove the management and organization?  Often little but saving time and saving heaps of money?  Of course, skilled management that helps us be more productive would be cool to have particularly when it is inexpensive.

We often get more done by being patient.  I know the arithmetic doesn’t suggest so. But arithmetic is not the right analytical tool for this problem. I am a numbers person but turning everything into “3 men dig a trench . . .” simply tells me your arithmetical training stopped when you were 11.  My that is harsh . . but you asked for it.

Using arithmetic to solve the distribution of public service is a constellation of intellectual errors.  And you know it is wrong because it doesn’t work.  If feels wrong.  Stop repeating yourself and try another way!

Cost-cutting is upside down and inside out

Inverted by mgjefferies via FlickrTwitter culture

Twitter is such a good example of the benefits of distributed, leaderless, co-creation.  Lots of grown-up lol cats like what we are cooking!  Yes, I am serious.

Today, I was working on some tedious table creation in Excel and I dipped in-and-out of Twitter as brain relaxation between chunks of work.  This wasn’t time-wasting, at least not for me, because as any half-decent psychologist knows, we can’t  work much longer than 10 to 15 minutes at  a stretch without taking a mini-break to manage fatigue and to restore a sense of what is woods and what are trees.

Some back and forth between @loudmouthman @freecloud @dt and I soon created the ultimate Twitter experience – the total confusion much decried by Twitter’s critics and the insights to weave together several half-finished conversations that I’ve had while I’ve been buried in Excel.

I resolved to write down why I find the political conversation around the budget cuts so dissatisfying.

Cost control models are no substitute for strategy or leadership

Controlling costs is nonsensical as a leadership strategy.   Accountants out there don’t have a heart attack!  We still want you to count the beans  but the purpose of life is not to control costs.   Remember what Napolean called us : a nation of shopkeepers?  I rather admire shopkeepers and the till must be ‘manned’ ; but a till does not a shop make.

  1. Cost-added models are passe. I am not going to be happy with a teacher or a doctor because they cost more, or they cost less.  I will not buy a Snickers bar either just because it cost you  a shilling or a florin to make.  Let’s wise up.  Cost is not important. Value to the consumer or citizen is important.
  2. Public services aren’t discretionary.  We have public services because we need them.  Public services are not a luxury.  If we cannot afford them  we are done for.  Though the army is the extreme case it makes the point clear.  If we cannot afford to defend ourselves, then we will have to reconstruct our entire nation-model because, in short, someone else will be in charge. The only discussion worth having in the public service is what is essential and why. What do we have to make happen?  When we have agreed on what is essential, we will make it happen.  We aren’t dunces (or at least we aren’t that hopeless).
  3. Cost-focused models assume virtue matters. Since when did the English believe in cause and effect and a grand idea?  (Not sure about the Scots, Welsh and Irish).   The international financiers may like us because we control our cost; and just as easily they might not.  I am betting they won’t because their essential psychology is macho.  Show weakness and you are done for. Show that you are willing to cut your own people off at the knees and your essential bargaining  position is gone.  They know you will agree to anything.  Bad move.  Any cost-cutting should have been done very very quietly.

What is the alternative to government by book-keeping?

So if I take away your cherished dream of a country run of us, by the book-keepers, for the bookkeepers, what is the alternative?

  1. Do the work.  Decide what is essential and do it.
  2. Understand innovation.  Let people get together and thrash out ideas.  1/200 may be worth it.  Budget for 199 being trashed.
  3. Put in good accounting systems so we can pay Ceasar what is due to Ceasar when it is due.  This is not living by cost control.  It is simply having good book-keeping so we can get on with our lives without constant cash flow crises.   A cash flow crisis tells us that we had shoddy book-keeping not that we spent too much money.  Though both may be true, we cannot have a crisis without bad book-keeping. Restore some professionalism in public book-keeping (=make the data public).

The country is just like our house

Conservatives tell us that running a country is no different from running a household or running a shop.  Many of us might challenge that statement but let’s take what we learn from running a household or running a  shop.

  1. Necessities are necessities.  We can’t provide them unless we know what they are and unless they come before everyone’s luxury.  Necessities are necessities.
  2. A day out designed by Mum and Dad will be a day out with whining kids in the back seat bored at the restaurant table. Plan this outing as a family affair using everyone’s ideas.   Good things do not come out of pre-defined criteria. Good things come out of us working together to enjoy our lives.
  3. Budget simply.  The envelope system works fine.  Put money for the rent, electricity and food aside.  People aren’t daft.  They will figure out how to have fun with what’s left in the fun jar.

Twitter is a fine example

And all this for wasting time on Twitter.   No, all this from following some basics.

  • I had set my goals for the day.
  • I am working consistently.
  • I am putting some ease into my day so my mind doesn’t wander and create rubbish that I will have to redo later.
  • I am being creative in breaks from necessity and the “hardness” of rule-bound behavior.
  • I have a list on my pad and I time myself.  My bean counting adds to my life by telling me where I am.  If something very important came up, I could switch my priorities easily.

A week of Excel is a hard week – not unlike a financial crisis.  I’ll get through it better by keeping my goals clear but in their place allowing some ease and respect for the people in my life and what is truly important.

Oh, let me be blunt.  Some people need to stop behaving like pratts.

UK economy watch: Plastic Electronics

Industry: Plastic or Organic Electronics

Market Size

2010 . . .USD2bn (GBP1.3)

2020 . . USD120bn (GNP80.2)

Growth = 60x or 6000% in ten years

Government Subsidies

#1 8 projects to build the supply chain and “overcome barriers to UK exploitation of plastics electronics technology”

GBP7.4m including CBP800K from Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC

#2 5 projects to develop commercial prototypes

GBP1.0m by Technology Strategy Board

Two of the projects

Announcement from  COI

Products

Circuits are printed cheaply onto rigid or flexible surfaces and rival silicon-based electronics in lighting and solar panels.

People

As at July 2010

David Willetts, Universities and Science Minister

Iain Gray, CE of Technology Strategy Board

Websites

PRW.com

Plusplasticelectronics

Technology Strategy Board

Announcement from January 2007

British Interests

Plastic Logic (with Merck in Dresden and management in Mountain View

How much does it cost to create a single job in the UK?

Money by Lee J Hayward via FlickrUnderstanding the economy in basic terms

I am just a lowly psychologist and I don’t have any formal economics education. So, I look out for rules-of-thumb that I can remember. And I also try to remember what it ‘felt’ like when the economy was in a particular state. Knowing what a 3% downturn feels like and what a 7% downturn feels like helped me anticipate what a 5-6% downturn in UK would feel like.

I am puzzled though, that in an economy as advanced as UK, the middle classes aren’t more economically literate.

We hear a lot, for example, of how the government will save 3000 pounds or so in Benefits by packing people off to a job. These statements alone make me cock my head in puzzlement. We are in very deep recession. People are on Benefits because they have lost their job.

What is even more puzzling is that people who claim to know, don’t know what it costs to create a job. Where I have lived before, people knew these numbers.  They had them at their fingertips.

Using US investments to estimate the cost of a job

Let’s record some figures  to show you what I mean.

Obama has just announced a USD2bn subsidy to two solar powered firms. One will create 1500 jobs and the other 1600 permanent jobs and 400 temporary jobs.

Let’s keep this simple because we are talking rules-of-thumb.

3000 into 2bn makes 66 000 660 000 . And that is just the Federal subsidy.

Putting that into British money, 660K is more than 500K pounds, but lets keep it simple. Now we have taken a powerful vacuum cleaner to our economy, we will need 500K to make a job (and this is probably an entry level, repetitive job).

500K is 16 to 17 years of benefits. Governments use benefits to bail out an economy precisely because it is cheaper than making jobs.  Jobs cost money and we should know how much.  These numbers should be at our finger-tips.

Where can we make jobs?

And of course, we can’t make jobs if we don’t even know which industries are viable. I suspect this is the greater problem. Our leaders don’t know enough about what will be the future of our economy so they don’t know where to invest.

But let’s not get off the point. For the moment, until I get better numbers, I’ll use a rule-of-thumb as GBP500K  of investment to create one job.

What happens when we make savage cuts to an organization?

A window on the Cliffs by tostao_meravigliao via FlickrWhat happens when a boss walks into a room and says, we have to make cuts?

Our obvious response is emotional. We are angry. We are scared. We are threatened. We are determined not to get hurt.

But what happens to the organization?

Yesterday, Patrick Butler blogged on the Guardian’s Joe Public blog about the chances that the budget cuts would lead to innovation and creativity. I responded there and have edited my comments below.

My comments about the impact on the organization itself are based on experience and interpreted through lens of the principles of organizational design.  My conclusions are counter-intuitive.  That is, they are not the most obvious things we might think of.  There are good reasons for us expecting organizations to behave differently to what they do but I  won’t go into those reasons here. For the curious, they are to do with hegemony, reification and other similar concepts.  Let me say here that I am not making a prediction about what will happen in the public service in the UK.  I am simply describing what I have seen elsewhere and what might be worth thinking about.

My observations are three fold which may seem contradictory but are not.

  • There are unlimited depths to our creativity
  • The organization will be turned inside out but the leadership won’t acknowledge what they have done and will spend considerable resources covering up what they have done
  • Employees will put their efforts into developing autonomous careers and ‘business units’.

These outcome can be avoided but simply choosing the route of cuts suggests we may see these or similarly dysfunctional effects.  The superiors in an organization are responsible for resourcing an organization.  When they duck this responsibility, the game has begun

We have unlimited depths to our creativity

It is true that the individuals in any job know a multitude of better ways of doing a job.  I could find solid research evidence but let’s just say for now that tt is more than our ‘jobsworth’ to tell anyone.  Bosses don’t take kindly to being out shone. A wise employee does the boss’ way; even if that way is expensive, silly and possibly stupid.

The organization will be turned inside out

In my experience, when cut kick in, people do generate alternative ways of working, because they can.  They know what they are doing.

The difficult that arises is that the boss has now done him (or her) self out of a job.  In a hierarchical organization, it is the boss’ job, to find resources and to supply greater know-how.

When the know-how and resources come from below, the difference between ranks becomes redundant and the chain of command has to acknowledge that leadership is also bottom-up.

This challenge is not often acknowledged and this will be sad consequence. ‘Bosses’ will spend more and more resources having conferences to ‘problem solve’, meeting stakeholders to try to re-assert legitimacy,  and staging confrontations with employees over perceived ‘insubordination’ (by which they mean their sense of inadequacy because the leadership is coming from below), etc.  They will swell their ranks with more managers, experts and consultants (that has already happened in some parts of the public service.)

Ultimately the leadership begins to live in the Pink Floyd or was it U2 world where they watch themselves on closed circuit TV and they are genuinely surprised by reality on the odd occasion they encounter it.

Employees will put their efforts into autonomous careers

At the bottom levels, innovation is now at the discretion of the members of the organization and the key is in the word discretion.

Ordinary employees may be carrying the organization and its mission even to the point of paying their own salaries and part of the organization’s overheads. This may be seem extreme but I’ve seen it more than once and I’ve seen it in the UK.

Employees may also decide to match the effort they put in with their pay. A consultant coined a saying about salaries in Africa. The annual salary may vary a lot. The hourly salary does not.

Many people develop second careers (it seems that has already begun among British police). Businesses are run from work. Businesses are run outside work.  Second houses are another career. Living abroad and arbitraging costs is another version.

In the UK, I’ve seen some online sites and plenty of workplace business models where work is sub-contracted indicating huge rents in the price charged to the customer. Employees don’t take long to work that out the system of rents for themselves and to find ways of owning the outfit which supplies the contractors.

Is the breakdown of organizational legitimacy inevitable?

Depressing? Possibly corrupt?

The key (and the game) is the legitimacy of the organization. In hierarchical organizations, the raison d’etre of rank is to manage and dispense resources and know-how.

When the ‘bosses’ make the statement that they do not have resources to run the organization, both the organization and the managers lose legitimacy.

The organization could, of course, reorganize both its purpose and the way it organizes to execute its purpose.   This is rare though.  After all, if this re-direction was on the cards, it would have taken place to prempt the cuts and the challenge to the managers’ legitimacy.  A much more likely out come is the expenditure of vast sums shoring up the appearance of  managerial legitimacy while the operational business develops a like and mind (many minds) of its own.

It will be good to see leadership that rejuvenates organizations and in the end, what happens is what happens.  This is not science. This is life. What happens is what we decide to do together. And we make our decisions iteratively.  You decide.  I decide.  You revise.  and so on.

Right now, everyone is waiting for the bosses to make the first move. I hope this move is not “tell us what to do”.  I hope even more it is not “do the same work with less resources”.  Either of these moves  is game-over – at least for the hierarchy.

Then a new game begins of what will replace what we once had.  That is another story.

If we don’t find productive enterprises soon, we might find we have another bubble

Pike Market Place by caseyyee via FlickrUnderstand why capitalism is failing

I don’t know how I got to be a good intuitive economist. My formal economics sucks.

So it is good when the economist bloggers catch up with me (:)) and I learn a bit of formal economics too.

Seeking Alpha writes today about the failure of capitalists to do their job as capitalists. OK, we agree. We are angry with ‘capitalists’ in an unfocused, diffuse way of non-experts. This is what the financial economists mean.

  1. A big company makes lots of money out of you and me. (We knew that already.)
  2. Internal looters (otherwise know as managers) pay themselves large salaries and bonuses and sit on the cash.  (We knew about the salaries; we were less conscious about the cash.  Note, even Warren Buffet’s company is sitting on cash.)
  3. The rationale of capitalism is that money acts as a “signal” about what is worth doing.
    1. A firm makes good profits.
    2. Profits tells to invest more money.
    3. The money we invest goes into the infrastructure of the firm (machinery, expansion, training people, research & development).
    4. More money is spent on building the productive base of the economy than on consumption and we all have a better lifestyle.  (We benefit from what the company does and by doing business with the company and using taxes on its larger profits to pay for roads, schools, armies, etc.)
    5. When the business of the company is approaching its “end-by-date”, profits start to fall and we follow our natural instincts to move our money to up-and-coming lines of work that are becoming more profitable (and we help them reach their potential).  There is a bit of a time lag here but we will swap over quite ‘naturally’.
  4. When a company sits on cash, or pays lavish salaries to its employees/managers, we know that putting more money into that business is not worth it. The people in the business know that new machinery won’t help.  New markets won’t help. New R&D won’t help.  The business is saturated.  It has reached its potential.  In strategy terms, it is a ‘cash cow’ that is turning  into a ‘dog’.  (Indeed, HR people will tell you that when salaries are very high, the business is already a dog.  We are bribing managers to stay and effectively end their own careers in a business that is coming to the end of its days and might collapse ignominiously.)
  5. We don’t have one or two companies sitting on cash. That would be normal.  We have lots and far too many companies are sitting on cash which is doing nothing. (See Seeking Alpha.)  The cash is not moving into healthy, growing up-and-coming industries (seemingly because there aren’t any or the powers that be don’t understand them. I suspect the latter.)
  6. Economists will tell you capitalism is failing because the famous hidden hand of the marketing should be waving, beckoning and saying over here, quick, over here, get in on this business while it is young and uncertain and you will make a fortune (and your money will help the prediction come true).  The hidden hand is nowhere to be seen.  (It is staying firmly in the old guard’s pocket . . . .)
  7. We are heading for a crisis of all time because big companies are taking cash out of the economy faster than George Osborne.  Money that should be going into inventing new enterprises suitable for the 21st century is going into personal pensions of a select few.  (This is the same formula as used by third world kleptocrats and does none of them any good because the economy crashes anyway taking their lavish lifestyles with it.)

Where are the industries that should be attracting the money?

Anyway, here is Seeking Alpha setting up the rallying cry – where are the industries that should be attracting the money? I claim to be a good intuitive economist (and a dunce formally) because I have been pestering economists asking them where are these industries?  What should young people be training themselves for?  Green is a bit vague.   Science and languages is a bit broad. Show me the door of these companies.

What will happen if the capitalists don’t start allocating capital soon?

I am not being a pessimist here.  I am just saying that the pundits don’t seem to have a map.  And if the people who say they are good at “allocating capital” (Warren Buffet’s phrase), the stick will come out.  This is what the stick will look like:

  • Taxes on corporate savings . . . if you keep money in the business and don’t invest in plant, machinery, training and R&D, we will take it away and put it into roads, schools, broadband, armies etc.  (Maybe a good idea).
  • Heavy taxes on any business that essentially just plays with money as figures on a spreadsheet (that might include second houses). (The public wants this but they haven’t thought about second houses and other ways they are playing the same game of sit-on-cash.)
  • Putting money into public infrastructure (like broadband, science education . . . oh I do like this part).

Could economists do better?

It’s a funny thing.  When I rewrite sociology, I end up thinking, “is this all?”. When I re-write economics, I think this is a frightfully elaborate system for something so simple.  Our capitalist system developed, as far as I understand it, to finance the big shipping companies that set up UK as a global trading country.  Companies and stock markets were a way of getting people to pool money and back enterprises that would grow the empire (casino trading in its time).

Maybe it is time to consider our place in the world and reconsider commercial law as a tool to our national goals.  I also read William Hague’s first speech yesterday.  I am yet to read critiques from experts. Hague’s strikes me as a good Oxford essay:  a comprehensive overview of what we must do.  I commend it to novices in international relations as a starting point.  At least it is positive.  At least it hints at this crisis in capitalism.  (Marx must dancing a jig in his grave.)

What is our vision of the future economy in the world (the empire-makers started with this question)?  What is the part we want to play?  What commercial structures do we need to play our part?

Don’t watch this space – I am not an economist.  But don’t hold your breath either.  Get involved.  Decisions are being made and you should be where the decisions get made.

What other people have learned about the cuts business

Join the QuEuE by Maldita la hora via FlickrBosses set the agenda

George Osborne has achieved something important.  He has got us talking about the cuts.  What cuts are we going to make?

What is the point of consultation?

We all have an opinion and inevitably, so do I.  But mine is somewhat different and borne out of living through dramatic economic change, not once, but several times elsewhere in the world.  To boot, I was working as a both as a management consultant and a line manager, so I learned a far bit about the “cuts business”.

What is the point of writing blog posts?

I pondered today the point of writing out what I learned.  No one is going to listen. Believe me, that is the first lesson.  We are going to talk a lot and listen little.  I am already doing that as I tune out of the “101 complaints” that are drowning the air waves and Twitter streams.

Then I decided to write after all.  Not because anyone will listen or even that I have anything very important to say.

But simply because I write.  That’s what I do.  I write to organize ideas that swirl around my head as I respond to what I hear in conversation and simultaneously work on other big projects that won’t see the light of day for a while.

What other people have learned about the “cuts business”

So these are the three issues that I will probably write about today:

  • Our general response to being asked to “cut”: bosses who don’t have cheque books big enough to run the organizations they run
  • Using consultants in organizations: managing up-skilling
  • Negotiating with public servants: talk service not money

Crowd-sourcing develops wisdom. It doesn’t find answers

I dream of sunrise by Indy Kethdy via Flickr
I dream of sunrise by Indy Kethdy via Flickr

Zeitgeist of our age

As I dillied-dallied this morning, putting off the moment when I bury myself in an Excel spreadsheet, I pondered the bizarre experience of academics, like myself, teaching management in a classroom, and checked out the twitter chatter on the new crowd sourcing website being offered by government.

Crowd-sourcing is here

People seem willing to consult the populace online but don’t know what to make of the responses they get back.  There was even a spirited interchanged between a Gen Y blogger, whom I follow, and a Gen X geek, whom I also follow.  The Gen Yer was telling the Gen X to take down all his comments and get behind her drum. Hmm . . .

Someone even challenged Nick Clegg on the workability of crowd-sourced consultation. Hat-tip to @DT for this audioboo from Mark Hilary.

We want answers so that we don’t have to engage

I couldn’t quite hear Nick Clegg’s answer but the dilemma seems clear.

People are looking for answers so they can say that’s done – don’t have to talk (to you) any more.

Engagement is ongoing, messy and never ending

Engagement is ongoing – more people, more complexity, rising understanding, defined initiatives in context of a conversation.

Social psychologist, Karl E Weick provides the basic framework for understanding engagement & leadership

I don’t want to turn this into an advert for my own work but by chance, or rather because, I tried to write a plain English a few days ago, I can point you to what Weick wrote in the aftermath of 9/11 – what constitutes leadership when the world shifts abruptly beneath our feet?

What does it take to lead a community when the issues are so widespread that we must get everyone involved to be able to move forward together?

Karl E Weick is a a notoriously difficult read and I am not sure that I simplified his work sufficiently.  So let me have another go here.

  • Basically, the country has moved from the flight-fight reaction to the financial crisis, the initial startle and anger response.
  • We can give this coalition government its due in that they have moved us through the bargaining stage and to a thinking-it out stage (hopefully by-passing depression).

We are in the over-complicating stage of collectively re-thinking our world views

Weick points out that in this stage, our discussion becomes more complicated.  Indeed it becomes overly-complicated.

Over-complication is a process of looking at a problem from many perspectives

But this process of over-complication helps us understand the social context in which we frame initiatives and make small experiments in our own lives.

We gain a deep and wide appreciation of the context, or in other words, the issues as the appear from the perspectives of many people who are different to us.

Wide consultation provides the backdrop for wisdom and judgment

The context provides the backdrop for wisdom and judgment.

With this backdrop, we can take tentative steps in our own lives and in areas of our own responsibility to move forward.

The principle of self-organization and emergence apply

The leaders won’t decide for us.  We will decide just as a flock of birds decides.

  • We fly in roughly the same direction as everyone else.
  • We fly at roughly the same speed as everyone else.
  • We keep a respectable “stopping distance” so we don’t bash into each other.
  • And when the bird “on point” (the leader in human-speak), gets tired, it falls back and someone else flies point.

And note, to know where to go, the bird on point is using an exquisite sense of where the birds behind it are going.  Like all good leaders, it finds out where its followers are going so it can follow them.

So how will crowd-sourcing online help us?

  • We will not get behind one leader and follow them through predefined cause.
  • It will be messy.
  • We will use some technology to vote issues up and down and to cluster through tags.
  • some of us with an academic/journalistic bent will trawl through the data and look for themese.

But it will be messy and the gains go to anyone who is bothered to listen.

The Special Advisors are going to earn their keep reading all the threads and summarizing them. That is their traditional role isn’t it?  That’s what they are taught at uni, isn’t it?

To discern the common threads and brief their principals.

People who have rallied behind one particular cause, like the legitimate marijuana crowd in the States, will be noted.  They will stand out.  But that is not what this is about. This is a listening exercise. This is a develop nuances exercise.  This is involve people who normally would stay quiet exercise.

The essence of crowd-sourcing

This is a an exercise in developing a common appreciation of where we are going together, so we can fly like a flock of birds to where we need to go without bashing into each other, and without assuming any one of us has super-human powers to understand where we are going.

Leaders get people involved.  Leaders get people to listen.  Our common sense of who and what we are will emerge from that process – special interests and all.

Asking questions about life after the recession

Celebs Face_0320 by EDWW day_dae (esteemedhelga) via Flickr5 stages of grief and the recession

By now, everyone has registered that we are in a severe recession.  We have gone through denial, and we have gone through anger. I wonder, though, whether we have arrived at acceptance and action or whether we are currently going through bargaining, and when that fails, have yet to go through depression.

What do I mean?  At the moment, we are still quarreling over the cuts to make. No. We are still quarreling over whether to make cuts.  This is not action. This is bargaining.  We are still hoping to propitiate the gods.

We flood the Gulf of Mexico with oil and we are surprised when ace negotiator, Barack Obama gives us a bill larger than the additional taxes we need to pay to clear up the credit crunch.  We definitely aren’t that far along, are we?

Anticipating life after the recession

That doesn’t stop me trying to anticipate the end game, though.  It struck me today that the essence of much of our debates is a rather abstract question:  what will be the relative roles of our economic and social lives?

Many pundits think our economic lives will become marginal, not because we will be poor but because we simply don’t have to work so hard to meet our basic needs.  (I can hear you tell me to talk for myself!)

But the structure of economic life is the central question we face and within that question is the question of the relative roles of economic and social lives.

Where will work fit into our lives after the recession?

Within this question is the role that economic activity plays in a healthy existence.  We like to work.  We may not always like the conditions of our employment or or relative status, but we like to work.

Poet David Whyte thinks our character is tempered by the fires of work.  We express ourselves through economic exchanges.  We grow through economic exchanges.

Maybe this question should be the starting point of imagining our radically different collective futures.  What kind of economic interchanges do we believe are worth pursuing?