Thursday, 23 June 2011

21st century Bounderby

Charles Dickens wrote novels in the 19th century. He was critical of industrialisation driven by Utilitarianism and greed. In his novels, working people were treated as expendable machines and pushed to the limit.

We recall these descriptions when campaigning against exploitation of workers in the developing world manufacturing clothes for the West by Nike, Primark and Adidas or campaigns by migrant workers in the USA against human trafficking.

In the 1950s manufacturing was transformed by the work of Frederick Taylor using time and motion studies as part of scientific management. Processes were reduced to simple, cost effective movements and overlooked motivation and effort available when people have some control over their work. Companies in the USA were forced to reform manufacturing methods, particularly in the automotive industry in Detroit, when Japan outstripped them in the marketplace with superior quality (though it didn't save industrial Detroit).

Production line processes were replaced by work groups, where staff became responsible for the total building of a car rather than a single repetitive action. Employment by a factory implied that an individual had sold his soul to the company.

The USA has produced entrepreneurs and academics who have revolutionised our thinking about management and leadership. Many of them are represented in this blog and in the Open University Business School MBA programme.

My colleagues and I have become aware of a change in organisations over the last decade. Students and clients tell me their experience of working for equity finance companies or American owned UK companies and some of it reminds me of Dickens. For example, a small company taken over by an American firm may undergo a process of 'sterilisation' where all personal effects and non standard elements are removed from the office (from the way people dress to family photos on their desks.) Others tell me of brief chats over coffee about a night out ending with a drink in the pub, only to be hauled into a meeting with management to investigate possible alcohol addiction. Non work chatter is discouraged. Contracts may be changed to require long days, minimal holidays and weekend working as standard.

Rule by fear seems to be another feature of leadership in such companies. Focus on targets and frequent arbitrary sacking of under performing staff generates a stressful climate that does not foster initiative, enthusiasm, fresh ideas and good will. Little attention seems to be paid to human complexity and motivation and 60 years of management and organisational research may have been wasted. In some cases attempted suicides amongst staff are high.

Basic management tasks, such as performance management, may be poorly handled in these companies. There is scant evidence that harsh treatment and directive management styles lead to greater profitability or fewer mistakes. One production manager told me that the firm was losing money on a par with setting fire to a Ferrari every couple of months, despite reducing manufacturing processes to an 'idiot proof' simplicity. If you reduce the capacity to think and make decisions at work, then it's likely that people will respond by switching off their brains.

Companies that follow this trend rely on high unemployment, reducing wages and conditions across many sectors and increasing threats to the financial system from the prospect of defaults by Greece, Ireland and other countries.

We are part of a global economy and competition comes from across the world, with low waged countries facing fewer regulations competing for market share.

This doesn't justify a retrograde step towards Taylorism and directive management styles. Semco survived tough times in Brazil and is a thriving company. Ricardo Semler holds firmly to the idea of fostering a creative work climate and empowering staff to gain the best from them. 'The Why of Work' presents some telling statistics about the benefits of treating staff well.

When I coach managers who are struggling to perform well under stress, I discourage them from fleeing the current job immediately. If we can broaden their skills to delegate, manage and lead more effectively, boosting resilience and stress management techniques, then they can stay in a familiar role and thrive.

If this is not possible, I take them by the scruff of the neck to prevent them from taking the first new job offer that arrives. Avoid jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Part of my role is to shift their mindset in approaching interviews and job selection. My client is not a beggar offering their body and soul for the chance of work. Job seeking is much more like matchmaking, where the applicant must research whether the organisation is a good fit for their style and skills, not just allowing the company to decide whether or not to offer the job to them.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The Killing

Today's post is NOT about a tv series starring Sofie Gråbøl in a retro jumper.

In a previous post I suggested the Danes have done nothing about low carb/high fat diets. I was completely wrong as Denmark produced one of the pioneers in the field. For Scandinavian readers, here is a lecture given by eminent medical researcher, Uffe Ravnskov. (Somehow Danes seem to be shy about visiting my blog, but a warm welcome to Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Faroe island readers.)

Here he covers similar ground to Dr Malcolm Kendrick in a previous post. Ravnskov has been challenging the lipid hypothesis since he graduated from medical school in 1961 and influenced Kendrick's work.

Where's the crime?

50 years have passed and medical science has still not accepted that research has refuted the lipid hypothesis. Governments and medical associations still promote the low fat, high carbohydrate 'healthy diet' guidelines, which may damage health rather than prevent stroke, diabetes and heart disease:

1 Ancel Keys and trans/hydrogenated fats:

2 Ancel Keys, 'modern science', diabetes, saturated fat:

3 Studies on saturated fat intake and heart attacks:

4 Research and its limitations, cholesterol types, gender and risk:

5 Statins, diabetes, age, cholesterol levels, genetics:

6 Statins, manipulating research statistics, survival rates, lifestyle factors (smoking):

7 Statins, side effects: muscle damage, double vision, impotence, brain effects, statin-side -effect-survivor Dr Duane Graveline, effects on foetus in first 2 months of pregnancy, cancer:

8 Falk's research on heart attacks and coronary plaques, LDL cholesterol function, homocysteine, inflammation effects (irrespective of age), measles, periodontal disease:

For English readers, here are some interviews with Ravnskov: Tom Naughton submitted reader questions. Petro Dobromylskyj reproduces part of an interview on his blog. Barry Groves has a short interview on his website.

Jimmy Moore interviews Ravnskov for his radio show.

Why aren't Ravnskov and colleague making an impact with their work?

Ravnskov explains it simply:

'Most researchers ignore their critics... it's the most effective way of dealing with them.'

'Government people can’t do that (admit that they were misguided) — only the so-called authorities at the American Heart Association and NHLBI could, and I assume that they would rather walk naked on Fifth Avenue than admit that they have been wrong.'


I spoke too soon. Uffe may be doing great things across the Atlantic, but the Danish government has taken a major step to combat the Scandinavian Low Carb/High Fat movement. According to news bulletins Denmark has introduced a Fat Tax. The surcharge is for foods that contain more than 2.3% saturated fat.

Where's the scientific evidence to support this step?

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Golden Oldies

How do you tackle a country that receives billions of dollars of US subsidy to keep it afloat?

How do you withstand a country with the largest, most modern armed forces in the Middle East?

How can you get your voice heard when the opposition has a well oiled PR machine?

How can you make progress when the rest of the world turns away from you?

One way is to take symbolic action and shame world famous musicians who take money from the opposition to perform:

Gaza Island from Albino Squirrel Channel on Vimeo.

Friday, 17 June 2011


Could England win the world cup this year?

World cup, you might ask, in what sport?

Football, in Germany this July. Here's the team:

They were runners up in the 2009 UEFA European Championship.

'The road to Germany
England were unbeaten in qualifying Group 5, dropping just two points and conceding only two goals in eight matches. First place in the group stage took them through to a play-off, where they faced Switzerland. Wins in each leg – 2-0 and 3-2 – gave England a 5-2 aggregate victory and sealed their place at the tournament.'

In the UK we are critical of Saudi Arabia for preventing women from driving and consider that we have come a long way in achieving equal opportunity for women. I've spoken to men about the superior achievements of the England women's team and the guys sneer at the boring game that women play. I haven't met a man who has actually watched them play, but never let such a small detail get in the way of a fixed opinion.

The England women's squad don't earn high salaries or huge sponsorship fees.

'One of the players, Casey Stoney, tells me that when she was at Arsenal Ladies the women were so far below the men in the pecking order, they actually washed the men’s kit. “I used to work in the laundrette. That’s how I used to earn my money. The men, honestly, they have no idea how spoiled they are. They just have it all on a plate.”'

England men's supporters pay high prices for tickets and kit, but are often rewarded by mediocre performances by the players, who may earn much more money off the pitch through sponsorship deals.

The women put energy and effort into a game they love and are definitely not in it for the money.

'Football is the biggest women’s participation sport in Britain now. Twenty years ago there were 10,000 registered players; now there are 157,000. And it is a different game to the men’s. It’s slower and less physical, but it’s also uncorrupted by money. Talking to the women at Lancaster House, they fall about laughing about the idea of earning £75,000 a week. They’re on £16,000 a year. “But I play it because it’s in my heart,” says Dunia Susi, who plays for Birmingham. “I play it for love.”'

It would be interesting to see Hope Powell, the England women's coach, taking a job for a men's club. She sounds like an impressive leader who can motivate her players to deliver a great performance.

Good luck in Germany.


Japan beat USA in the final in a penalty shoot out after a 2-2 tie. France beat England in the quarter finals, which was one stage further than the men in 2010.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


English football fans look back on 1966 as evidence of the calibre of the national team. The team scored a 4-2 win over Germany in the final. Fans felt amazed and frustrated that the England side didn't repeat their victory at World Cups in the following years.

I disagree.

From 1962 onwards I was amazed to watch the contrast in international football styles. Latin players from Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Uruguay could signal, receive and pass a ball in one fluid movement. The ball seemed attached to the players' legs by a combination of velcro and elastic cord. Pele, Eusebio, Torres, Augusto and Rocha were some of the individuals with this ability.

In contrast, English players seemed to take 5 moves to pass a ball: notice that there was a need to pass and signal availability, receive the ball, struggle to gain control of the ball, look around to see who was available, kick the ball.

Other Europeans sides played as teams with a fluid awareness of how to pass the opposition, gaining and maintaining possession of the ball while continuing an inexorable push towards goal. The German and Dutch sides were able to play to each other's strengths and function as a single organism under Beckenbauer and Cruyff.

In contrast, the England side seemed to comprise individuals who wanted to make their mark but couldn't match the fluid units that faced them. England seemed ragged, bitty and weak at the front or back or side or middle. You'd never know this from watching Youtube clips, where fans have lovingly posted the best examples of the England squad in action, omitting those that show the struggles.

Commentators say that the English game is fast and that many overseas players struggle to maintain their original style and strength in the Premier League.

I think things began to change when Terry Venables became England manager in 1994 and money available from broadcasting rights and advertising led to increased import/export of talent. Venables introduced a tighter team approach in the squad with better passing. Many star players had served time abroad and were also used to playing alongside foreign players bought in by Premier League clubs. Other styles of playing and ball skills rubbed off on English players. Players acknowledged his leadership, such as Alan Shearer: 'The best England team I played in was the one under Terry Venables before Euro 96. Terry's knowledge and tactical know-how were spot-on and he knew how to get the best out of us too. We responded to him, believed in him and played some outstanding football in that tournament.'

Venables made another significant contribution in contrast to one of his predecessors, Bobby Robson. Before an international match Robson would talk the team up and predict a walk over for England in interviews with the media. He would work himself into a frenzy of conviction, which would lead to major disappointment when England lost. Venables would manage expectations of the press and fans with a more cautious approach on the lines of: 'We're facing a tough match against Outer Mongolia. They showed great strength last week when they slaughtered the Lithuanian squad. Our side have a lot of work to do tonight to win this match......'

In retrospect, maybe his weakness was to spend too little time preparing for sudden death by penalty shoot outs and psyching up his players to deal with the psychological pressure. Terry displayed a high level of emotional intelligence in managing himself and others. Perhaps he didn't spend enough time developing self management in his squad for this exhausting ordeal at the end of World Cup and Euro matches.

Here's his world cup song. It features some great shots of Ian Wright and Harry Redknapp:

Until Premier League clubs restart comprehensive systems to train youngsters so that they have a pool of talent to draw on from their youth sides, I doubt if the national squad will improve, whoever they pick as manager. As one Arsenal fan said when commenting on Manchester United (in contrast to Chelsea under Abramovich): 'At least they build it instead of buying it.' For all his millions poured into Chelsea, Abramovich has yet to bring home the promised silverware for his investment. He is the king or Chief Executive who doesn't allow his Prime Minister or Operations Manager to get on with the job without interference. Import/export of talent is great, but it does little for the national squad and nurturing young players. Too much pressure is put on the few individuals who come through, such as Theo Walcott.

How Democratic is your government? 2

In my previous post I seemed to suggest that, Giorgi Targamadze, the Opposition leader in the Georgian Parliament stands no chance of winning an election. I also seemed to imply that image is the only thing that matters.

I believe that changes in how we transmit, receive and process information have had a major impact on elections and democracy. Personality is now a bigger component than before in deciding the outcome of a ballot.

In the UK election campaigns have changed. People have little time or inclination to attend election meetings in local church halls (except to question their sitting MP about abuse of expenses). The population has increased and the logistics required to talk to the majority of people face to face are enormous. Politicians rely increasingly on radio, television and the internet to persuade voters. Membership of political parties has fallen and funding has dropped, reducing the resources available to campaign for an election.

People have severals decisions to make: Do I vote for party x or y? Do I bother to vote at all?

What do I vote for? Who do I vote for?

The choice is between various policies and parties (increasingly different individuals).

In the UK politial parties now cluster around the centre ground and there is much less radical difference between policies, but smaller differences in detail. Even the apparent major disagreements seems to converge after a time, such as the question of whether we need to tackle the deficit or not (the deficit deniers have conceded defeat). In the past there were firm allegiances to parties based on class and self identity. Some people continued to vote for the same party as their parents whatever happened, because they could not imagine crossing party and class lines. Margaret Thatcher contributed to a major shift in mindsets by shaping policy to meet the aspirations of working class people who wanted greater opportunity and material rewards.

Mass communication brings new ideas to the population very quickly. Increasingly the party in power seeks to colonise good ideas presented by the Opposition either by incorporating some of the detail in their own work or making a policy announcement that is very similar (even if it is never carried out). Opposition parties are therefore cautious about making too many proposals and providing detail, preferring instead to focus on criticising the government.

The voting public are presented with sound bites, MPs speaking 'on message' with a series of catch phrases designed to appeal to broad swathes of the population in marginal constituencies. This translates to tabloid style headlines rather than lengthy, reasoned discourse. It becomes increasingly difficult to determine exactly what each party and person proposes to do if they gain power. In the past the Party Manifesto was a document shaped at the annual party conference and a pledge for action at the election. It resembled an architect's model of a proposed building scheme. It now seems to be a draft submission equivalent to a few rough sketches made on the back of an envelope.

Politicians are very aware of public reaction to each appearance, speech and policy announcement. Online polls such as YouGov deliver fast feedback which shapes future decisions. Popular blogs are ferocious in holding MPs to account and surfacing embarrassing stories.

Some politicians try to set up staged encounters with members of the public to help them seem more in touch and appreciative of local efforts. Unfortunately this often backfires as human beings want to raise topics that affect them directly. Gordon Brown handled this encounter badly, but made the mistake of criticising the woman, not realising his microphone was still live:

Visual media tend to focus on personalities rather than parties. Politicians look to the USA for ways of appealing to voters and opted to stage a tv debate between the 3 main political leaders. The ability of individuals to seem convincing, to appear to have integrity and to speak directly to people (ie face the camera) and touch on issues of concern to the public made a difference in that election. Nick Clegg was more media savvy in dealing with tv and the proportion of votes for the Liberal Democrats rose. We now have a coalition government. TV debate and media appearances tend to favour Extravert Intuitors (in MBTI terms), who are more at ease talking to a group of people and communicating in broad terms. Gordon Brown, as an Introvert Sensor, is more comfortable talking one to one and dealing with detail. He is not effective speaking spontaneously, but needs time to formulate his thoughts. This doesn't play well with his audience.

Voters consider whether the individual seems to have the right attitude to the main issues of concern. The public assess the competence of each individual to lead the country, tackle tough economic problems and communicate with people at all levels. Voters wonder how far they can trust this person to carry out his/her promises.

Tony Blair was famous for delivering different speeches and ideas to different audiences (sometimes on the same day) and was accused of blowing in the wind rather than holding to a particular position and set of policies. Commentators also say that his speeches were based on a series of Powerpoint slides with 3 points per slide, which was all he could memorise. His heads of Strategy and Implementation would seed new vocabulary that signalled key changes in direction.

Unfortunately for politicians, they may change their stance and claim to have held this view since the beginning, but the internet provides evidence of hypocrisy (in this case Gordon Brown encouraged 'light touch regulation' for the City of London).

Georgian Opposition leader, Giorgi Targamadze, also seems to focus more on detail in his speeches and his audience may not see the wood for the trees in what he says. Voters may also wonder if he, as a former tv anchor, has the capacity to deal with harsh economic reality and the knock-on effect of the collapse of the important Russian market. He works hard to appeal to village women by linking his party to the Georgian Orthodox church. Some people in the city may have reservations about the consequences of linking politics and religion so firmly, particularly in view of some of the Patriarch's pronouncements that overtly attack the effects of government policy on homosexuality. This trend might not help Georgia's application to join the EU.

Monday, 6 June 2011

How democratic is your government?

One characteristic of a democratic country is that there is a credible opposition to the government. In the UK we are in a curious position. 2 of the 3 political parties are in coalition government. The 3rd has difficulty presenting policies or politicians untainted by association with the previous government. They are also running out of money to function, as big party donors desert them. Once again the BBC has stepped in to provide lively debate and challenge the coalition government's policies.

Georgia lacked credible opposition to President Saakashvili until recently. Street demonstrations and encampments can only act as support. True opposition has to engage with the political process. Georgia has rising unemployment (17% in 2009), inflation rate of 14% and needs concerted effort to tackle economic problems. The Georgian economy is bolstered by remittances from Georgians working abroad.

Giorgi Targamadze was in London this week presenting his Christian Democratic Movement.

His new party was blessed by the Patriarch of Georgia, which would be the equivalent of a new Irish political party being blessed by the Pope 5 years ago (before the abuse scandal). This was a clever move, as Saakashvili was often portrayed by critics as the Antichrist in the early years of his Presidency.

Targamadze is a former television journalist who famously announced to viewers that the station was being taken over by force, when riot police closed them down.

He spoke about anti-democratic features of the Georgian government including corruption, lack of strong independent media, biased judicial system, electoral irregularities and suppression of dissent. British members of the audience were well aware of parallels in Britain from MPs' expenses fiddles (exposed by an American journalist), Murdoch's influence on serving Prime Ministers and pressure on the BBC to support the government or lose funding, the current wave of super injunctions granted to the wealthy to suppress information and details of any subsequent court action taken, electoral fraud in some constituencies and famous uses and abuses of the Prevention of Terrorism Act to suppress anti government protest.

He gave an example of someone being imprisoned for stealing a paper worth very little money as an appalling indictment of the judicial system. In the UK, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, a woman was arrested for standing outside 10 Downing Street reciting the names of soldiers killed in Iraq and an elderly man was bundled out of the Labour Party Conference and arrested for heckling the Prime Minister.

Targamadze was clever enough to avoid blaming President Saakashvili for the conflict with Russia and loss of territories by explaining that any politician would have found it difficult to tolerate Russian provocation over Georgian airspace and on Georgian soil in recent years. He did criticise all 3 presidents of Georgia for their relations with Russia and poor handling of diplomacy (without clear specific details of what he might have done differently in their place.)

Targamadze made some interesting points about priorities in tackling the political and economic problems of Georgia, particularly by investing more heavily in agriculture rather than focussing solely on financial services.

It's possible that Targamadze will gain power in Georgia when Saakashvili steps down in 2013. At the moment it seems unlikely. We live in a media driven world where perception and image are more important than facts. Style is more important than substance in gaining support and influence in politics. Targamadze may have been a tele journalist, but he has not mastered the art of focussed communication.

Saakashvili answers questions with concise answers, avoiding repetition and including varied tone and emphasis. He can make an impact during a short radio interview, as he showed on BBC radio during the conflict with Russia. He was filmed over many hours at work for a fly-on-the-wall documentary 'Something about Georgia' and came across very well (much better than Gordon Brown chatting to a potential voter).

Targamadze often sounds as if he is reading a prepared news script or election manifesto and does not connect easily with his audience.

One member of the audience commented that only tough people do well in politics and Targamadze seems too nice. Tony Blair was once described as Bambi, because he seemed boyish, fresh faced and smiled all the time.

That soon changed.

Targamadze may also learn how to manage his image to better advantage.

Here's Thomas de Waal's view of Georgia:

Decolonising the mind

The Kenyan author, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, wrote this book in 1986. He described how African authors wrote in English to reach a wide audience. In the process they were subject to colonial forces represented in the language and transmitted this alientation to readers. He now writes in his native language Gĩkũyũ.

George Orwell presented a regime that sought to control the population and render people passive through censorship, Doublethink and Newspeak in his 1948 dystopian novel 'Nineteen eighty four'. Control was coordinated by the Ministry of Truth. All nuances were removed from the language and simple dichotomies reduced ideas to a child-like black and white representation.

“By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."

Totalitarian regimes of the past have seized control of media outlets and imposed rigorous censorship of news and culture.

Modern, powerful political leaders, such as Berlusconi and Chavez, have exerted control by owning much of the country's media or running their own prime time tv show.

Berlusconi is alleged to have colonised the national psyche by creating a wall-to-wall media promotion of no values or 'nothing matters.' Juvenal described this in Satire X as 'bread and circuses', entertaining, appeasing and distracting the masses to retain their support and compliance.

Chavez hosts a tv show that sometimes runs to 8 hours. Critics say he governs by tv, announcing the hiring and firing of staff first on the show. We're used to UK politicians making policy announcements to the press before presenting them to Parliament, so this seems to be a growing international trend. Chavez presents his fireside chat to give the impression that he is talking directly to his supporters and drawing them in to his confidence. The cult of personality and regular use of tv is reminiscent of George Orwell's Big Brother.

Last week the UK higher education union UCU blocked an attempt to introduce a new definition of anti-semitism amongst college and university staff. This definition has been adopted by some student unions in the UK. It seeks to conflate criticism of Israeli government policy and Zionism with prejudice against Jews and the Jewish faith.

The definition also seeks to prevent people from drawing parallels between what Israel is doing to Arab Israelis, Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza with Hitler and the Third Reich or Apartheid South Africa (even if the reports quote Israeli self descriptions). Presumably the definition might lead to films such as 'The Promise' by Peter Kosminsky being banned.

George Orwell might point to the process of Newspeak that has reduced Semitic peoples from including a range of languages and cultures across the Middle East to now solely representing Jews. A similar process has led to America representing one third of the continent of the Americas ie the USA, omitting Canada and Central and South America.

He might also point to a trend in history to identify the holocaust solely with the death of Jews, forgetting the Communists, trade unionists, gypsies, homosexuals and others killed in the Death Camps of WW2. Curiously holocaust survivors and many who lived through WW2 are critical of Israeli policy (including the actress Miriam Karlin, who died on 3 June).

There are many inconvenient issues in Israeli policy that supporters might seek to hide and suppress. Nuclear weapons and the kidnap of whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu is one. Israel claims to have no nuclear weapons and presses the West to take military action against Iran for beginning to work on a nuclear facility. Another issue is Israel's claim to be the only democracy in the Middle East while appearing to support collapsing dictatorships around them during the Arab Spring. Egypt is one public example. Less well known is the allegation that Israel was funding Libyan mercenaries from Chad and that Saif Gadhafi asked Israel for support against recent insurgents.

Coldplay are releasing a new song to raise money to support Palestinian projects:

There seems to be more vigorous debate in Israel about its policies (including the Knesset) than the West. The pro-Zionist lobby in the USA and UK seems to work behind the scenes to suppress any discussion. Contrast coverage of the Coldplay initiative in a liberal Israeli paper and its US equivalent.

Sue Blackwell, Mike Cushman and colleagues have worked hard to block the new definition. This blog post points out how hypocrital the drive for re-definition has become:

'At a time when the fascist English Defence League demonstrates alongside Zionists in support of Israel and every far right party of significance in Europe, apart from the Hungarian Jobbik Party, supports Israel and Zionism, it is clear that whatever else its purpose, the EUMC definition isn't about anti-Semitism but defending Israel.'

The South African Advertising Standards Authority has issued an interesting ruling. It has thrown out a complaint against an advert that named Israel as an Apartheid state.

Postscript:  In the case of Ronnie Fraser versus the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) the tribunal found in favour of UCU, despite Antony Julius defending the Zionist position.  Another outbreak of common sense in March 2013.