Business and life - "things are not always as they seem!"

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Wednesday, 28 July 2010

BP and Obama – playing the demonisation game

Yes we can!
I shared the world’s excitement at Barack Obama’s accession to the position of “most powerful man in the world”. I like his firm but inclusive and tolerant tone. Whatever the difficulties and trials of his presidency, I feel that overall he will do much good and in due time there is a strong chance that history will judge him well. I really hope so.
Or can we?
Recently however, he has disappointed me by demonstrating that for the sake of populism, even the leading statesman of our time can sink to tactics of demonisation worthy of the redtop press.
When a person or organisation such as BP, or indeed an industry such as banking, is being tagged as “evil” by strident, aggressive accusers, look carefully behind the rhetoric for the real issue from which they are trying to divert your attention or for other underlying motives. Barack Obama’s hammering of BP and demonisation of Tony Hayward raises my suspicions.
What is the president really after?
I have a feeling that demonising hyperbole has a close correlation with the demoniser’s own insecurity, guilt or evading of personal responsibilities. While it may appeal to the rabble and buy a few short term votes or serve another devious smoke-screening purpose, in the long run it only undermines the credibility of the accuser. It seldom stands the test of rational appraisal. Barack, what are you up to?
BP and mistakes
BP made mistakes in the Gulf. Companies and people make mistakes every day. You make mistakes, I make mistakes, property developers, bankers, politicians and even presidents make mistakes, but to turn BP or any of us into public enemy number one is generally way off the mark in terms of fairness or truth. BP is no more or less evil than Exxon; banks, bankers and indeed property developers are no more or less evil than the general populace. Demonisation serves no worthy purpose.
Demonisation and you
In the cut and thrust of your business, by all means argue, by all means criticise where necessary - but never demonise your opponent. As an example, in these cash-strapped times many business owners are unable to raise finance and demonising the banks has been a frequent response. It won’t get you a loan and you are using your intellect and effort in a fruitless unprofitable rant that shows you up in a poor light.
Rational dialogue
Instead, whatever your negotiation, whether with a bank, supplier, customer or competitor, take a rational approach using the following pointers and explore the opportunities in a measured dialogue. Be the calming influence.
Of paramount importance, be aware of how your own past behaviour and circumstance may have contributed to the present state of things,
build confidence on a basis of respect. You are not the only righteous party
take a long view – you have to work with these people in the future,
recognise your counterpart’s own pressures and try to address their problems while solving yours,
focus on building a partner relationship to solve your problem
Confrontation or coalition
In his demonising response to the tragic oil spill in the Gulf, Barack Obama failed BP – and himself - on all these vital points and in due course it could cost him dearly. No matter how strong the temptation, don’t take the same futile demonising response to the business crises that may hit you in these volatile times. Stay rational.
And a word of hope
It is of course early days, but in Britain we are seeing coalition at work between political parties who not so long ago were demonising one another.
As with Barack Obama, whatever the difficulties and trials of their term, I feel that overall they will do much good and in due time there is a strong chance that history will judge them well. I really hope so.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Passionately play to your strengths – Don’t obsess on your weaknesses


Recession biteback 2
Grumpy old Will’s first recommendation in coping with the recession was to encourage imitation, not innovation. Suggestion number 2 is to play passionately to your strengths and broadly ignore your weaknesses.

Feedback
Regular feedback from colleagues, whether informal or in 360 appraisals, can be generally helpful in improving individual performance, but if the results are handled wrongly the process also carries serious dangers.

Reaction
Chief of these is the intuitive and tempting kneejerk reaction to listen to well-meaning advice - perhaps even instruction from your boss - to focus on improving your areas of weakness. But this course is not the way to bite back against recession.

Strengths and weaknesses
By the time we reach mature adulthood, whether through nature, nurture or environmental circumstance, most of us have developed a couple of real strengths or things that we are “very good at”. These distinctive competences are likely to have taken us to whatever is our current level of success; and yes, all of us also have weaknesses which we should certainly acknowledge.

Performance improvement
However, the generally pervasive focus on improving performance by dealing with weaknesses, while helpful to some degree in bringing you up to a level of homogeneous comparability with the struggling masses, never ever produces the marked differentiations and uniquely valuable capabilities that you can attain by enhancing your existing strong points.

Specialise
Don’t aspire to be goodish at everything. There are folks who are highly talented in the areas where you are weak. Leave them to it. Move on and lift yourself out of the pool of satisficing mediocrity by cultivating your distinctive performance strengths.

The way ahead
Aspire, achieve, deliver, study, learn, invest and specialise in your own strongest expert areas. Your boss and colleagues don’t know better this time. Bite back. Stand out from the crowd. Be better – at something! Be yourself and be different.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Recession bite-back - Imitation, not Innovation. Copy, copy, copy

Grumpy old Will is on a mission - the next few blogs are all about recession bite-back through positive action.

First, the gloom
Fall-out from the credit crunch has shaken the economies of formerly strong nations and severely curtailed the confidence and future-view of businesses and citizens around the world. In America and Europe, hundreds of thousands of failed companies and millions of unemployed people are at the sharp end of a universal feeling of gloom.

The reality
Taxes are rising ominously, public services are in line for severe cuts, credit remains tight and the optimism generated by pre-crash years of growth has almost completely evaporated. Individual incomes, living standards and company profits are being savaged. Here in Ireland the recent NAMA announcements demonstrate the truly shocking state of the economy and the years of struggle that lie ahead.

The threat to each one of us
In order to survive, our early ancestors dealt with severe physical threat either by flight or hiding. Fight was the last resort and in that savage environment was seldom successful. The cornered animal will fight back, even against all odds, but will only do so when the other options are unavailable.
Today we all face severe economic threat; as individuals it is here for us in the form of falling living standards; as business executives, managers or employees it is here in the insecure future of our organisations, large or small, public sector or private sector.

Where do we go from here?
The reality is that, in the face of the all-pervading threat, our options for flight or concealement are quite limited. And with the boundless opportunities available to us due to the current massive changes in consumer attitudes worldwide, to hide or run away are pretty spineless responses. So, bite-back and fight!
Now is the time to bite back. And bite back with cool, calculated, aggressive offensives.

Innovation myopia
My first focus subject for bite-back is imitation. Yes, imitation, not innovation. Innovation is rightly being heavily promoted by governments and economic development agencies in the West, but it is being encouraged by these well-meaning cheer-leaders in a form that will lead more to bankruptcies and disappointment than to value-creating activity. Oded Shenkar at Ohio State University says that "Imitation is more valuable than Innovation" and I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Clear-sighted imitation
We need a clear understanding of what innovation for tough times really means in the context of personal, corporate and organisational recovery.
The expensive idealised blue-sky R&D that hopefully produces the next big breakthrough, however worthy, takes far too long and is far too costly.
Much more effective is the thorough, disciplined search for imitative, productive, differentiating change, from the smallest adjustment right up to reinvented business models. In the context of scarce resources it is less rewarding to focus on cash-consuming product innovation breakthroughs than to invest effort in incremental imitative development.

Stigma
Innovation is seen as an honourable positive activity at a polar opposite to imitation, which is stigmatised as somehow unworthy, second-class and an approach taken by unoriginal thinkers. But innovation and imitation are not polar opposites - they are close cousins. Research shows that over 90% of the value generated by innovations is captured not by the innovators but by the despised and reviled copycats.

Scientific research on imitation
Early science regarded imitation as a low-level activity generally associated with child-like or animalistic characteristics. Later experimentation discovered it to be a complex, demanding process requiring a high level of intelligence; in the 1960's Ted Levitt of the Harvard Business School was an advocate of imitation's strategic use as a business discipline on a par with its close relative, innovation.

Mindset
The mindset that largely ignored Levitt's sage advice fifty years ago still exists today. And this applies to individuals as well as organisations. I know of "Directors of innovation" but I have never heard of a "Director of imitation". I have attended many seminars on innovation but I have never encountered a conference on imitation.
Have a rethink; stop trying to innovate your way to improvement and enrichment. Imitate. Bin your innovation strategy and spend your time and money on an imitation strategy.

Copy, copy, copy
Look for existing activities and approaches that work. Tweak and copy. Look at other situations and industries and take what works there for your own use. Copy, copy, copy. Yes, it was wrong at school and you were punished if you did it. But imitation is not stealing. Get down from that ill-informed high faux-moral stance and get real about biting back.
Of course do not infringe patents or steal intellectual property, but that is not much of a restriction as most products, processes, practices and ideas are not protected in any way.
Copy, copy, copy won't win you any awards, but you will bite back at the recession with a strategic response that gives you and your business a much better chance of future success.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

War of Attrition meets War of Aggression

War of Attrition
Michael O'Leary's great Cheltenham performer is set to star on the big stage again at this year's festival. While facing stiff competition and the weakness of advancing age, War of Attrition has delivered in the past and has little left to prove.
As they return from meeting with President Obama on St Patrick's Day, the name of this superb horse is a reminder to the First Ministers in Northern Ireland of the short-term and longer-term pressures they will face in reviving our structurally untenable, long-neglected and currently weakening economy.

Devolution
To the relief of most citizens, the Hillsborough agreement is fully in place and "normal" politics can begin to operate in this region for the benefit of all its people.
That is, the politicians - all of them - must now take responsibility and address the true economic realities facing Northern Ireland.
The War of Attrition against the economic wellbeing of the population arguably started with the havoc of the Troubles. While structural effects have since been repaired and the reputational damage is fading, the legacy is an unbalanced, dependent, essentially insolvent economy with a relatively weak private sector.

Denial
Up to now, despite repeated warnings by economists and commentators, politicians and people have either occupied themselves by focusing on partisan political posturing or thanks to the credit, property and retail boom, underpinned by seemingly reckless government generosity, deluded themselves that life would continue to be financially OK.
But while these delusional diversions should be all over now, denial is still widespread and evident throughout our society. The war of attrition still threatens.

War of Aggression
There is an urgent need to create a completely new paradigm for action to meet this war of attrition facing our economy. Our current approaches, including the Barnett report even if it were fully implemented, only scratch the surface.
The war is real and demands a War of Aggression in response. The First Ministers must give a lead.

Betting
100/1 against the First Ministers and Executive leading the creation of a new War of Aggression initiative.
200/1 against an initiative reaching a conclusion within 2010.
300/1 against a material initiative being implemented by 2012
400/1 against "War of Aggression" ever happening

Sadly, on past form War of Attrition looks like the bet!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Frosty - and I'm not talking about the weather!

Green shoots?
While we are emerging from the grip of the coldest winter conditions seen in many years, our optimism is rising with the appearance of the first signs of Spring.
Now - that could be a cheery analogy for the economic conditions facing Ireland, Britain and Europe. Signs of "green shoots" so loved by politicians, actually becoming a reality for hard-pressed businesses, families and individuals.

Winter in July
But warning signals; against that hopeful if cautiously positive outcome, we are beginning to hear an increasing number of references to the dreaded potential for a "double-dip" recession curve. In other words, things could get very much worse for all of us.
With the nervousness raised by impending British elections, currency fluctuations, market volatility and skittish global sentiment, the "double-dip" is a real possibility; though my ever-optimistic (and sometimes naively irrational) take on life leads me to think it will be narrowly avoided.

Frosty
Whatever the outcome, green shoots and Spring sunshine or double-dip and winter in July, I'm firmly of the opinion that, for the forseeable future, individual and business interests will be best served by our adoption of what I call a frosty - very frosty - approach.
"Frosty" has three dimensions, whether in work or home life - costs, cash and effort.
And despite the stark discipline required for the effective control of these dimensions, a paradox within the frosty attitude is that at the same time as cracking down, we must maintain a positive get-up-and-go upbeat aggression towards improving our personal and business situations.

The Crack Up
As F Scott Fitzgerald put it "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function"

Frosty costs
If you run a business or part of a business, now is the time to have a ruthless rethink of your costs. Yes, you can negotiate harder with your suppliers without affecting your customer service. Yes, you can work with reduced resources and still deliver competitive quality to customers. Be frosty!
In your personal sphere; do not change your car, eat out less often and cheaper, book a less expensive holiday. Be frosty!

Frosty cash
Gurus tell us to crown the customer, because "the customer is King" and I suppose they can make an argument for this rather dubious concept. In the present climate of tight money there is little doubt that for most businesses and individuals cash is not only King, but Emperor, Kaiser and Tsar as well.
Conserve your cash even more parsimoniously than you think you should. Don't spend unless you have to. Be frosty!
Collect money owed to you with more energy than you ever have before. Make those calls. Be frosty!
Don't pay out money more quickly than you have to. Fight for extended credit and payment terms. Be frosty!

Frosty effort
This is one competitive advantage that is open to all. The blunt fact is that if you and your people work harder and longer than your competitors, all else being equal, you will beat them hands down.
Talk to your colleagues, talk to yourself and decide together to work harder. Be frosty!

Popularity
A frosty attitude won't win you any short-term popularity contests either at work or at home, but in the longer term your frosty actions will benefit your colleagues and family no matter whether we see green shoots in Spring or winter in July.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Trust, team performance and termination

"Chelsea torn to shreds"
There are varying opinions on the issue of the breakdown in trust between former friends John Terry and Wayne Bridge. At last weekend's Chelsea v Manchester City game, Bridge came, shook the hand of every Chelsea player but refused the hand of his one-time best friend Terry. That was one show of defiance, the next was for City to achieve an unexpected victory with Chelsea reduced to nine men and Terry in a futile dispute with the referee. As one commentator put it "Chelsea torn to shreds at home"

Team leadership
While the closest most of us will get to the lifestyle of today's multi-millionaire footballers is reading the sports pages, there is a core lesson here for everyone who leads a team; whether in sports, business, or any organisational context that requires groups of talented inter-dependent people to deliver results.

Leadership and trust
The lesson is that, as an effective leader, while managing the inevitable regular conflicts that emerge in the running of any ambitious enterprise, it is one of your key responsibilities to constantly look out for any signs of erosion of trust between members of your top team.

Leadership action
When you see the signs, it is your job to intervene - even if the threat to trust is due to factors external to the business - and confront the parties. Help them to look for resolution. If none is forthcoming then you have to make a hard choice and one or both of them has to go. Too often in organisations, far too often, erosion of trust between senior executives is ignored and neglected by weak leadership.
John Terry lost the captaincy of England; Wayne Bridge lost the opportunity to participate in the World Cup; but the deep tragedy is that both of them lost a "best friendship" when trust was gone. Time to move on.

Your job
Everybody on your team will not be best friends but for the organisation to perform and compete effectively a high level of trust between all parties is vital. It is your job as leader to ensure that such trust is present; there is no doubt that true friendship can be its underpinning.

WB Yeats
"When friends plan and do together, their minds become as one mind and the last secret disappears"
Your core aim as leader is that "their minds become as one mind".

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Gordon Brown - an apology for a Prime Minister

Government apology
Gordon Brown has apologised for the UK's role in sending thousands of children, under the Child Migrants Programme which ended 40 years ago, to former colonies where many ended up in institutions or as labourers on farms. He said he was apologising on behalf of the Government.

Apology.com
Brown certainly has a lot to apologise for, but he and the current Government have no responsibility, no right, no culpability, no need to apologise for something that was done by others in history. It is far too easy for him and his colleagues to appear humble and humane by "apologising" for the sins and wrongs of others, just as it was for his lying predecessor who "apologised" for the slave trade, the Irish famine and goodness knows what else besides.

Real apologies
Such a display of crocodile tears only removes any integrity these people ever had, in the light of their repeated failure to apologise for the current wickednesses for which they personally are glaringly responsible.

Iraq
At the Chilcot enquiry Geoff Hoon refused to apologise, Jack Straw refused to apologise, Tony Blair refused to apologise and in his upcoming appearance, it is highly likely that Gordon Brown will adopt the same unrepentant stance. And the conflict for which they are culpably responsible, as confirmed by Jack Straw himself, has cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

Stafford
Why don't Brown and his henchmen also take the current opportunity and apologise to the families of the 400 people who died through lack of care at Stafford hospital?

I know how this works
This PM "with the moral compass" will never apologise for anything for which he is directly responsible. In 2060 the presiding PM at that time will apologise unreservedly to the Iraqi people and to the British soldiers who were sent to Iraq to fight and die in the early part of the 21st century. Easy peasy.
In 2060 it will be just as empty a gesture as are today's nauseating, maudlin, meaningless, faux-apology displays of Brown and Blair.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

"A future fair for all"

Fair for all?
Am I the only one who feels that their intelligence is being insulted with Labour's campaign theme for the upcoming election?
Maybe it shouldn't matter, because in this neck of the woods of course we cannot vote for them or agin them, but on every news bulletin we will be forced to listen to earnest self-serving expenses cheats lecturing us on how Labour will create this "future fair for all". This is a bit rich coming from the geniuses who created our "past and current free for all" that is currently ruining the competitive capability of Northern Ireland and the wider UK.

All together now!
I have a better idea for their campaign refrain, and this has a much better chance of being delivered. Plus it has a cracking good tune!

"In the Big Rock Candy Mountains
There's a land that's fair and bright
Where the handouts grow on bushes
And you sleep round ev'ry night
Where the workshops are all empty
And the sun shines ev'ry day
Oh, I'm bound to go where there ain't no snow
Where the rain don't fall and the wind don't blow
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Oh, the buzzin' of the bees in the peppermint trees
'Round the soda water fountains
Where the lemonade springs and the bluebird sings
In the Big Rock Candy Mountains"

Whose idea was it to give him that new smile?
I can just see Gordon singing it with that newly manufactured gruesome X -factor smile on his face.

Message to the PM
Gordon, life is not, never has been and never will be "fair". And certainly not "fair for all", because one person's fairness is another person's oppression. For example.

Is it fair that public sector workers are paid 40% more than those in the private sector?
Is it fair that while not all those on benefit are there by choice, many are.
Is it fair that your government colludes with thousands of "economically inactive" shirkers who choose not to work while laying the burden for their support on hard working people?
I could go on and on.

A future fair for all?
Fact - life is not fair. This Labour promise sounds very like "the buzzin of the bees".
The best hope for Gordon, and not an entirely unlikely one at that, is that Cameron's crowd pick an even more unrealistic and patronising theme.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Charisma as your X-factor in Leadership

Charisma and "goodness" - Mandela?
Charisma, or in common parlance the X-factor - a personal attractiveness or interestingness that enables one to influence others - is an attribute we apply to high profile figures like JFK, Barack Obama, Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Nelson Mandela and Meg Whitman, generally with a positive spin.

Charisma and "badness" - Hitler?
But charisma is not the sole preserve of popular individuals. This powerful leadership characteristic is also possessed by controversial figures such as Michael O'Leary, Tony Blair and from earlier times Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. While deeply unpopular in many quarters, they used their powerful charismatic personae in the achievement of resounding leadership successes.

Values and ethics
Charisma, like money, is in itself neither good nor bad; but this powerful X-factor can be used to extraordinary effect by good and bad people towards good or bad ends. The guiding constraint at all times is the set of values and ethics to which the charismatic leader subscribes. By all means be attracted, but always be careful to examine the values before you sign up as a follower.

Born or made?
As most references to charisma are anecdotal and intuitive rather than being based on real science, a myth has grown that charisma is a "divine gift", possessed only by those who are born to lead. If we have not been equipped with it at birth, well, there is no point in trying to aquire it. This is a massive error.

Charisma implants
The truth is that charisma can be learned, aquired and developed. It is a prize worth having, as research consistently shows that charismatic, enthusiastic, exciting team players are generally much more successful in business, political and organisational leadership than mundane low-key plodders.
Those of us who aspire to lead should polish the charismatic skill as carefully as, say, the skill of emotional intelligence. Neglect of this key area does a disservice to those we are charged with leading and under-optimises our personal potential. Is our neglect due to false modesty or laziness?

"Tall poppy" reluctance
For various reasons, many of us are reluctant to admit that we would even consider making any attempt to polish or enhance our charisma. Why?
Aspiration towards greater charisma is often interpreted as crass self-promotion
Training courses in charisma, where they exist at the moment, are widely advertised as "magic" and "fun" and do suffer from more than a flavour of "release the giant within" and walking on hot coals hocus pocus, despite their possible benefit as an enjoyable day out
Leaders such as Hitler, Jim Jones, David Koresh and Charles Manson have misused their charismatic gifts to the great detriment of their followers and mankind in general
Many will identify with my own experience where two of the CEOs for whom I have worked were highly charismatic, but were at the same time manipulative bullies. Absolute horrors on occasion
Some people who think themselves charismatic are really just oleaginous insincere fakers
Currently, training in charisma has no quantitative science at its base, no measurement and no clearly definable business outcomes
Assessment of the attribute is generally superficial and based on unweighted pop-quiz questionnaires.

MIT can now measure the power of charisma
The Harvard Business Review recently reported on MIT Professor Alex Pentland's ground-breaking research on measuring the power of charisma in business dealings.
The MIT Human Dynamics Lab "outfitted executives at a party with devices that recorded data on their social signals - tone of voice, gesticulation, proximity to others, and more. Five days later the same executives presented business plans to a panel of judges in a contest. Without reading or hearing the pitches, Pentland correctly forecasted the winners, using only data collected at the party"

Further research
Now we all know that a business plan, however good, doth not alone a business make; Professor Pentland's further research aims to refine measurements that will enable clearer definition of the social and behavioural attributes required for the enhancement of effective business charisma.
When the work of the MIT Human Dynamics Lab on charisma is fully validated, serious executives will be able to target the specific signals they can develop for the enhancement of their charisma, unique attractiveness and ability to influence all with whom they come in contact.

Dangerous illusions
80% of us think we are above average in driving ability; it may be the case that as business managers we suffer from similar illusions with regard to our personal charismatic X-factor and business effectiveness. This research has enormous possibilities for good in the fields of enterprise and organisational competitive advantage.

Want to know more?
I intend to explore this important research further with MIT. If you would like an update on progress, drop me an email to www.will@linkubator.com and I will keep you posted.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Guilty brothers - A Tale of Two Pities

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"

1. Brothers aged 10 and 11
Two small boys from a troubled background were before a British court last week. They cannot be named.

The crime
The world is shocked by the news of the horrific assault started by these brothers, aged just 10 and 11, in which two boys, aged 11 and nine were lured to secluded woodland on a pretext and subjected to an hour and a half of cruelty, which nearly ended in the deaths of their victims and included torture, extreme violence and sexual abuse.

The inquiry
In court, the elder defendant described how he often watched his father’s pornographic DVDs and horror films such as Child’s Play and Saw. By the age of nine he also had a cigarette habit, drank cider and vodka and smoked cannibis.
The younger brother was more sinister. A child psychiatrist described his behaviour as sadistic and said he was showing signs of becoming a psychopathic offender.

Pity number 1
In the entire investigation of this crime and throughout the court proceedings, neither brother showed any remorse whatsoever. Broken Britain?

2. "Brothers" aged 50 and 51
Two grown men from a privileged background were before the Iraq inquiry last week. They can be named as former Defence Minister Geoff Hoon and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

The crime
The world is shocked by the continuing tragedy of the Iraq war started by these "brothers", aged just 50 and 51, in which nations were lured to Iraq on a pretext and subjected to 6 years, and counting, of death and destruction for their soldiers, including death, torture and abuse of countless Iraqis.

The inquiry
In the inquiry, the elder defendant described how he could have prevented Britain taking part. "If I had refused, the UK's participation in the military action would not in practice have been possible"
The younger "brother" was more sinister. While Secretary of Defence, he was condemned by an international delegation of European MPs for blatantly evading questions about Britain's co-operation with the CIA.

Pity number 2
In the entire investigation of this crime and throughout the enquiry proceedings, neither "brother" showed any remorse whatsoever. Broken Britain.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Copenhagen to Port-au-Prince - An inconvenient truth


Copenhagen charade
The December 2009 Copenhagen world summit illustrated the difficulty, if not futility, of trying to reverse the upward trend in carbon emissions contributing to climate change. Futility, in that a city of 750,000 people is added to the world's energy-consuming infrastructure every single week.
Global warming? Yes, we are causing it. No, we can't reverse it. Nothing significant we can do about it. Mankind must plan for the consequences.

Haiti disaster
And then there are horrendous random events like the Haiti earthquake. It happened and couldn't be stopped either. Mankind is now forced to plan for the consequences.
It must seem totally ridiculous and ironic for the hapless survivors of the awful tragedy in Haiti to reflect on that Copenhagen jamboree. How many of the 16,000 international delegates who wined and dined and whined in Copenhagen will turn up to help in Port-au-Prince this week?

Face reality
Maybe the time has come to accept that from the evidence of history, whilst we don't like it, major changes in many aspects of our total environment, random or progressive, have the inevitable certainty of tidal advance. Recycling, emissions control, renewable energy - all very worthy, creditable and desirable - won't stop the inexorable flow.

Elephants
These green initiatives just give us the warm feeling that we are doing our duty, as we ignore the two elephants in the room. That the only real ways to halt and reverse emissions are; 1. to halt and reverse population growth and 2. to lower general consumer expectations worldwide.
David Attenborough has got it right. The growth junkies have got it wrong. But the two elephants are unlikely to just go away, you know.
Instead of sitting like Canute or posturing like Copenhagen, maybe we should just focus on radically adapting our businesses, politics, lives and aid programmes to cope with the inevitable changes inherent in the new realities of our future.

Contrasts - Third world despair
Those poor people in Haiti were existing in abject poverty before the earthquake and the more fortunate of them are now surviving in smashed and broken abject poverty among the ruins. Tens of thousands are dead and millions badly injured or homeless.
Was there an adequate contingency plan for such a disaster in Haiti? Probably not, if we are to judge by the lack of any earthquake resistant buildings. And in a world of scarce resources it appears clear that more priority is assigned to global expenditure on reducing long-term carbon emissions than creating sustainable economies to alleviate third world hardship.

Contrasts - First world privilege
We in our first world societies have wonderful technology and opportunity for innovative success. Hard-working entrepreneurial companies and ambitious people with positive aggression will flourish in periods of change. We can look forward with hope.
Just reflect on the fact that unlike the poor in Haiti we have the choices and opportunities to adopt positive attitudes in the face of change. We can adapt our already privileged positions in many ways to ensure our future relative comfort and at the same time, assuage our consciences by driving hybrid cars.

Emissions of hope?
I'm certainly not with the flat-earth climate change deniers; nor am I with the naive anti-fossil fuel, anti-nuclear greens. Actually, a strong middle of the road case can be made for the good that is done in this world as a result of emitting carbon! It has delivered immense improvements in western living standards over the past 100 years and allows great comfort to us, together with aspirational hope to people in less developed regions.

A burning question
Now the emerging nations are burning coal to get their share of the goodlife - and burning it at a rate that negates any western efforts to reduce overall emissions.
Can we not see past all this idealistic cant, get real, burn a bit more cheap coal, build fewer windmills, stop trying to fix the climate of 2050? And use the savings to alleviate today's poverty and suffering wherever it exists.
The really tragic inconvenient truth is that renewable energy appears to have a higher western-world profile and priority than safe renewed Haitians.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Endangered species - Polar bears and civil servants

Nota Bene
The following is not an attack on all the hard-working public servants who provide essential services and provide them well. It is however, an undisguised assault on the lazy political mindset that has allowed the proliferation of unnecessary activity and the creation of thousands of 'jobs' in our bloated public sector.
'Jobs' that will have to be culled over the next few years, causing medium term disappointment and hardship for many individuals.
Ultimately, the reduction in public sector expenditure will increase the relative strength of the private sector and the overall economy.

Prospect of doom - £400 million cuts
First, the serious bit from Grumpy Old Will. There are major financially-driven curtailments of lifestyle coming down the track for everybody in Western society - and Northern Ireland may well be hit harder than most. The first signs of potential hardship are here already in the form of Minister Sammy Wilson's £400 million cuts - with more to follow!
Per capita, we have the largest, most expensive public sector in Europe. Systemically unsustainable.
Those in power must act quickly and radically to curtail the devastating effects of the NI economic meltdown.

Reality and the Arctic analogy
Now, the tongue in cheek bit from Grumpy Old Will. The 1.7 million of us in NI are like threatened species on the massive, but shrinking, icecap of Westminster subvention, with no solid ground of our own on which to stand.
But every one of us should play our part in saving the most exotic inhabitant of our Northern habitat; the Polar Bear Civil Servant. (PBCS). Here are a few ideas.

Public sector action
First, these not-so-rare creatures should try to save themselves. I would strongly encourage PBCSs to jump for it and swim to join a private sector zoo as soon as they can before the icecap collapses.

(it's getting really hard to extend this analogy - but here's another go)

The Grumpy Old Will adopt a Polar Bear Civil Servant fund
All we private sector taxpayers should contribute to a fund for the adoption of our own PBCSs.
Polar bears depend on the arctic icecap. PBCSs depend on the Westminster icecap. This is where they hunt, mate and raise their young. But the ice is shrinking and we need to protect them and their subvention habitat.

Make a real difference
You can easily adopt these PBCSs - a group of male and female Polar Bear Civil Servants aged between 20 and 60 years old. They all live in the northern archipelago in the Irish Arctic. And you can keep track of their movements with our special online tracker!

Polar Bear CS adoption pack
When you adopt we'll send you a PBCS adoption pack. This includes:
1. A cuddly toy PBCS for you to snuggle
2. A fact booklet on PBCSs with details of their pensions for you to envy
3. A beautiful PBCS print. See this noble animal in full colour
4. Three issues of our support magazine throughout the year with updates about the mating habits of PBCSs, including MPs and MLAs (now resigned/retired) (Enough bare cheek! Ed.)
5. A "Build a Bear" kit. Stuff your own civil servant!

How you can
make a real
difference
Climate change is the biggest threat facing the PBCS. A reduction in sea ice subvention makes access to prey more difficult and means many cannot put on enough weight to survive. Your money can help us work towards:
Conserving the Northern Irish Arctic region's rich biodiversity and pensions
Maintaining a healthy Northern Irish Arctic environment with undisturbed ecosystems and healthy populations of PBCS residents.

Now, sponsor a Polar Bear Civil Servant
Think of the joy you can derive from preserving this endangered species in its natural habitat for the delight and admiration of future generations.
It is surely a small price to pay, with the prospect of sustaining these magnificent creatures for many years to come, so that they can spend all summer fishing and gambolling in happy contemplative contentment followed by their long, slumbering, winter hibernation.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Eric's story - Child abuse in rural Ireland; 1955

Crime, cruelty and concealment
This is a story of cruel abuse. A day in the life of Eric, a neglected 10 year-old child from a large poverty-stricken family, living in a two room cottage. His father was dead and his poor mother worked long hours for a pittance in a wet, cold, apple-peeling plant.

The Murphy report of 2009 lifted the cover on sexual abuse of children within the Catholic church in Ireland and exposed those who colluded with its concealment. In separate investigations, the church's education system has also been rightly condemned for turning a blind eye to the physical brutality suffered by children at the hands of many Christian Brothers in earlier times.
But it wasn't only a Catholic problem and it wasn't only the bishops who turned a blind eye to such criminal excess. Eric knows. I know.

A silent schoolmate
Over 50 years ago I was a pupil at a small village school in Tyrone where I saw, from time to time, cruelty inflicted on the weakest who had no one to speak up for them. There were many abuses, but one in particular, perpetrated on my friend Eric, has troubled me all my life and always will; because I sat mute when I should have spoken out.

Colluders
I share the rising tide of disgust for churchmen who concealed or ignored the evil within their ranks towards children. I hear and support the calls for resignation and other punishments. These colluders with evil were mature adults.
Not fearful children like me and Eric's classmates who, if we overcame our cowardice and spoke out, were subject to the same brutality as the victim we tried to protect. But nonetheless, the effect of our neglectful collusion was as telling as that of the bishops and allowed the same evil consequences for Eric.

Eric goes to school
Early on a chill winter's morning, it was raining heavily when Eric left home to cycle the 4 miles to school. He had no waterproof clothing. Just a thick wool hand-me-down pullover, short flannel trousers and wee lace-up black boots that I saw him in every day. Eric always had holes in his battered boots and he never looked well washed, clean or cared for. But he was tough and cheerful and one of my pals.

Eric's teachers
For some reason the teachers regularly picked on little scruffy vulnerable Eric, but no matter what happened to him - and he was often beaten at school - he never whimpered or cried. I thought he was so strong.

I was a year ahead of Eric, in the Headmaster's class. The class below that was taught by a severe elderly lady who gave great attention to her favourites from better-off families, left the bulk of us alone, and mercilessly picked on the poorer children.

Eric's 'crime'
As Eric pedalled through the rain on his old heavy bicycle, she overtook him in her car and, according to her, he wobbled because he looked backward at her, causing her to swerve.
The Headmaster's class was just about to start when this teacher brought the shivering soaked boy into the room, the water still running out of his leaking boots. She told her story, following which the Headmaster, a pillar of the local community and leading figure in the Church of Ireland, took a cane to poor wee trembling Eric.

Eric's beating
I knew what was coming and I was sick to my stomach - and silent. With the first 6 on the left hand Eric flinched but was quiet. The next 6 on the right hand brought tears but no cries.
This was worse than I had expected and my own eyes filled with tears. My heart pounded and I almost shouted aloud in protest, but conformance and cowardice choked me and stopped my mouth.
Then he was put out alone to the outside toilets across the yard with two final sadistic cane-slashes at the back of his cold wet bare legs.

'Will, don't tell anybody I cried'
The school carried on.
Ten minutes later I was sent out to bring Eric back to his class. He was shaking with deep racking sobs. He couldn't speak. Swollen hands and seared red weals on his legs. When he could, all he said was, "Will, don't tell anybody I cried".

I washed his face, cleaned him up and he walked pathetically and cowed back to the classroom, showing no signs of crying as a result of his trauma. But he carried the physical marks. Everyone had seen the brutal physical abuse. I alone had seen the beaten, crying, broken, shattered spirit.
That wee boy had no love, no respect, no standing, no protection, no hope. The only thing he had to cling onto for survival was a pathetic inner desperate defiance and determination that nobody should see him cry.
I never told that Eric cried sore. I never told. I never told anything.

Sin of silence
My sin was that I told nobody. My puerile weak defence is that I was only ten years old and anyway, this sort of thing happened all the time. God forgive me. I should have told my parents or somebody in authority.

Like most people, I have had my share of ups and downs in life, but the number of regrets I have are few; very few. Today, neglect in failing to intervene for Eric is my only regret that still has the power to reduce me to tears of shame.
That unhappiest day of my childhood materially influenced the way I have interacted with people ever since.

Who casts the first stone?
When the inflamed mob lifts its missiles of righteous anger to target all abusers and their protectors - with shame I remember my own silent sin. I may not be entitled to cast the first stone.
But when I think of Eric's long-dead tormentors I'll lift and let fly anyway.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Michael O'Leary and Ryanvest NI

(This story is a fantasy, a dream; and perhaps for some, a nightmare)

Early in 2009 when Invest NI, Northern Ireland's economic development agency, was searching for a new Chief Executive, there was a rumour that one of the applicants was Michael O'Leary of Ryanair.
I'm sure this is not true, but there might be something in it, as the informant, formerly close to the great man, has emigrated to Argentina posing as a Nazi war criminal in case O'Leary finds out who he is. He said he would take his chances with the Israeli Mossad.

Before he left he circulated a transcript of Micko's final interview for the job. Apparently, before going into the interview, Michael - with typical arrogance - informed my mole that he intended to use his actual on-the-record media soundbite quotes when he was building the Ryanair empire to answer all questions; changing the context, from the airline industry, to that of economic development but otherwise using the exact words of the original quote.

This is a family blog so I have toned down some of the language. Apart from this, the following is a precise record of the discussion between the distinguished public sector interview panel of Members Undertaking Personnel Profiling for Executive Technical Suitability (MUPPETS) and the applicant (MOL)

MUPPETS Mr O'Leary, with your tremendous success in the private sector with Ryanair, we are delighted at your aspiration to be part of the Invest NI team.
We expect you to work cooperatively through diversity policies, equal opportunity and respect for the rights of individual public sector employees to significant gratuitous sick leave, towards the betterment of Northern Ireland's economic future.
How will you attract loyalty from and positively influence, your partner colleagues - both those inside the organisation and the important external minority stakeholder groups, towards this harmonious end?

MOL I will murder for Ryanvest NI. Geddit? I will go through concrete walls to grow private sector industry in Northern Ireland. I bow down to nobody. I'll stuff every one of them in Europe; we won't be second or third and saying: "didn't we do well?"

I don't give a (very rude word starting with s) if nobody likes me, I am a businessman through and through. I am not a civil servant, I am not an organisationsexual. I don't like state economic support. I never wanted to be a manager like those other platoons of goons who populate the public sector enterprise development industry.
Also, I have no time for that bunch of bearded, sandal-wearing union bosses, not to mention the utterly useless politicians in Stormont and Westminster.

MUPPETS Um..... One of the CEO's responsibilities is to ensure Invest NI's conformance within Europe on regulation and wider issues like climate change. How would you propose to build consensus on these issues?

MOL I fight constantly with governments and idiot Brussels bureaucrats who want to increase regulation, or half-witted environmentalists who can't add two and two.
The sustainable energy group, God help us, is another bunch of lemmings shuffling towards a cliff edge. We also have a Government of lemmings, led by the biggest lemmings of all, who are incapable of making a long-term decision.

We want to annoy the (this is the naughtiest word you can think of and starts with f and ends with ers!) whenever we can. The best thing we can do with environmentalists is shoot them. These headbangers are Luddites marching us back to the 18th century.
The problem with Government and the public sector is it is mostly run by a bunch of spineless nincompoops who acually don't want to stand up to the environmentalists and call them the lying (the script is blurred here. It looks like "bankers", but I'm not sure) that they are.

MUPPETS Er..... OK, and how would you cope with this dreadful economic downturn currently causing all of us such difficulty? We are looking for a CEO who has high concerns on this issue.

MOL Well it doesn't concern me! We need this recession. We have had 10 years of growth. This recession gets rid of crappy high-cost public services and it means we can then grow the private companies.
I would also welcome a good, deep, bloody recession for 12 to 18 months. We need one if we are going to see off some of this environmental nonsense that has become so popular among the chattering classes.

MUPPETS (visibly wilting) How would you describe your personal attributes of diplomacy that prepare you for dealing with important Stormont Ministers and those in high places?

MOL I'm probably just an obnoxious little (starts with b and ends with cks!). Who cares?
I'm disrespectful towards authority. Like I think the prime minister of Ireland is a gobshi...(I'm afraid I have to stop this statement here, as two MUPPETS fainted and a recess was called)

(Interlude for smelling salts and to allow the Members Undertaking Personnel Profiling for Executive Technical Suitability to fill out their expenses claims)

Interview resumes -----

MUPPETS Really, Mr O'Leary. We do not want to appear prudish, but we must ask you to moderate your language.
Now, in Northern Ireland there has in the past been what is described as a "grant culture". How would you deal with undeserving demands for grants?

MOL When I am running Ryanvest NI I won't fall all over myself if they say my granny fell ill and my business is struggling. What part of no grants don't you understand? You are not getting a grant so (the very very very bad word) off!

Also as far as the IDA, Enterprise Ireland and Scottish Enterprise are concerned there is too much: "we really admire our competitors". All (roughly rhymes with rowlocks again). Everyone wants to kick the (excrement?) out of everyone else. We want to beat the (more excrement!) out of them. They mean to kick the (ditto) out of us.

MUPPETS (anxiously trying to mollify MOL or end interview) Now, for a family-friendly work/life balance, we would like to assure you that in accordance of the mood of the times, Invest NI wants parents, fathers and mothers alike to have time to jointly share the pleasures and duties of caring for their families.

MOL Look; when my kids arrived I changed the first nappy in the hospital and, called upon in emergency, I will do another. I'm not one of these people who will be there doing the full-time father lark. I go to the Algarve with the family for two weeks because I have to. I only go to films when I'm dragged there by my wife, just for marriage maintenance reasons.

MUPPETS (now visibly struggling and perspiring) You said you go to the gym for relaxation. What do you like to do there?

MOL Look up and down a slim girl's rear. Sadly there's not that many of them. They're a bunch of old sweaty farts!

MUPPETS Um.....Er...... Finally, without any swearing please, how do you see the future for yourself and your ultimate successor in Invest NI?

MOL OK. I think you need me for the rapid growth and the internal cost reduction initiatives, but once they're all done you then need to hand over to somebody who's a bit more respectful of politicians and bureaucrats, talks about caring about the environment and old people and (worst word again, ends ing!) jungles and fish in the sea and all that (excrement again, I'm afraid. The man is incorrigible!).

At this point the transcript records a mass walkout by the MUPPETS.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Spring Madness in January


In "The Spring Madness of Mr Sermon", R F Delderfield observes that most of us drift through life, never really becoming aware of the chilling fact - that should shock us out of our satisficing dreaming lethargy into new beginnings - we only get one go!

"It is not given to many of us to pinpoint the actual moment of our entry into a world of new beginnings. In any case, most of us don't have new beginnings but spend half our days and nights dreaming of them, of a fresh start, a setting out on a beckoning high-road to adventure and romance, a spiritual and physical rebirth"

Recently I talked with a high-flying international business consultant. A brilliant individual with a blue-chip track record of assignments, working for multinational corporations all over the world.
But despite this stellar success, his fervently stated ambition, his dream, was to start his own business. First, he told me, he would work for a few more years in a major consulting business to make a nestegg of money and then, with that security behind him, he would get the new venture under way.
I wish him well, though I suspect his new beginning will remain a dream, as he drifts on in risk-free disappointed comfort. He needs some Spring Madness decision-making to make his dream a reality.

Not everyone wants to start their own business, but most of us do want to make a difference in our work and life. Maybe your dream is related to your profession or family or leisure time.
Whilst it is likely that this dream represents your chance, maybe your only chance, to do something of significance, you prevaricate until the time is right.
Take careful note of this penetrating statement by Martin Luther King. "There is no wrong time to do the right thing".

Most of us have had setbacks one way or another with the downturn and many advisors are counselling caution. At the start of a New Year in these ongoing difficult circumstances we are faced with a clear choice - drift or decide. Most people will be cautious, do nothing and drift.

I'm not going to advise anybody to drift. I'm an advocate for the world of adventure and romance for 2010.
Here are a couple of thoughts on new beginnings - for you.

1. Decide to articulate your dream and tell somebody about it.
2. Make a forecast - written - of what you need to achieve in 2010 to initiate your new beginning.
3. Create a supporting action plan and make these actions your 2010 New Year resolutions.
4. Share the detail and the excitement with somebody. Record it.
5. Apply MichelAngelo's statement to yourself, "The tragedy for most of us, is not that we aim too high and miss it - but that we aim too low and hit it"
6. Do it. Initiate your new beginnings in a real and tangible way.

If you pinpoint the actual moment and set out on the high-road, like Mr Sermon, some day you too will remember.

"He remembers this and will never forget it, not even when he is an old, old man, dying in some impersonal nursing home, watched by impersonal mutes. And he remembers so well because it was the most stupendous thing that ever happened to him or ever would happen to him, come earthquakes, global convulsions, nuclear wars and landings on the moon"

Stupendous Spring Madness of Mr/Ms ..................???
By the way, it's a great book. Happy New Beginnings!

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