Monday, 16 April 2018

SUMMER IS YCUMEN

It’s going to be summer soon

Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows
Everything that's wonderful is what I feel when we're together
Brighter than a lucky penny
When you're near the rain just disappears, dear
And I feel so fine
Just to know that you are mine


I can’t imagine why this Lesley Gore song of 1965 sprung into my mind. Now like an ear worm it’s stuck there. Irredeemably happy in a slightly irritating way. And it occurred to me that happy clappiness in this slightly angry world is very much in vogue.

After a somewhat uncertain start the “Durrell’s” (rather grandly posing as based on the Gerald Durrell ‘trilogy’. His brother Lawrence wrote trilogies, Gerald just wrote some jolly books) has hit its stride. Not much to do with the original. Just a bunch of fun characters having a ball in Corfu with the delightful Keeley Hawes. Successive episodes have the party atmosphere developing until I swear they are almost -  nudge, nudge - winking at the camera. This must be the happiest shoot ever.


But better still is “Death in Paradise” set in Guadeloupe with a cast that’s grown progressively loopier. First we had the misanthropic Ben Miller, then the erratic buffoon Kris Marshall and now the pantomimic  Ardal O’Hanlon who does a silent  boom-boom after  virtually every line. Against the backcloth of the Caribbean nearly 8 ½ million watch it now making it one of the top TV shows in the UK.


Both shows – the Durrell ’s and Death in Paradise -  are in the realms of fast-food entertainment. The stars are the scenery and the heat. In the dreich days of winter they provide comforting if-only moments for the vitamin D deprived.

And we need them because we live in times as angry as the Enlightenment  was. We are experiencing great discoveries and insights on a constant basis. But we are also encountering the conflict between brute ignorance and reason. Trump versus Obama if you like.


I was watching James Ancaster on ‘Mock the Week’ describing the In-Out Brexit story as an example of classic enlightenment.

He describes how he was offered a cup of tea and asked if he wanted the bag in or out. Not an easy choice. Leave it in and the tea gets stronger but the tea bag itself does not get weaker. Take it out and the tea is weak and the teabag itself gets thrown in the bin.

There. An analogy like Lesley Gore’s lyric “brighter than a lucky penny”.

We need to keep balance between the embrocation and panna cotta of the Durrell’s and Paradise and some hard, angry thinking. Today we seem to be a bit light on the latter. Final point is a question about “Question Time”. Why was the most famous person on the panel  on Thursday night David Dimbleby?  His guests were Jo Johnson, Barry Gardiner, Nicola Horlick, Jonathan Freedland and Kate Andrews. Enough said.

“Everything that’s wonderful is what I feel when we’re together.

Aagghh!

Monday, 9 April 2018

DISTRESSED, STRESSED OUT AND MESSED UP?

My own cheerful optimism is unchanged but I’ve encountered a lot a gloom recently. “The dark side is descending on us” I was told by a ‘scholar of doom’, “you can feel disintegration in the air.” Hmm.


Talking about the Utopia of our current world (only relative to the brutish past) cuts no mustard with such people. Take knife crime and the “epidemic” -  about 40 deaths in London so far this year which is awful but – bloody, great, enormous BUT – in 2002 there were over 1000 murders in the UK and recently it had dropped to just over 550. The London victims are of gangland killings not of a homicidal pandemic.


The NHS “horrors” are largely overstated and dramatized for political purposes. My own recent experience with a close-to-dying close relative were of impressively on-the-ball, confident and charming professionalism. That’s at the Royal Sussex in Brighton which is in special measures with wretched inspectors crawling all over them.

The stress of living in 2018 is created by something a lot closer to home than dark forces or catastrophic institutional incompetence. Because in general we are surrounded by great competence and skill.

But we are also surrounded by breathless fear and unreasonable expectations. We all seem on our bad days to be chasing our tails, trying to keep up, rushing around with a glint of terrified-purpose in our eyes. Many of us are driving cars today which would have served as tanks a century ago. We are surrounded by astounding levels of household debt - £1,630 billion with student loans doubled, credit card debt up 23% since 2012. Put in perspective the average household debt level is around 2.5 times the average annual household income. So I guess a little fear isn’t wholly misplaced.


People sleep badly. I keep hearing this. People are having bad dreams. Why? We live in a civilised world populated by nice people trying to do their best. Maybe we’re just trying too hard. Too hard to keep up. Too hard to be judged as successful. As the rumble of Brexit rolls on I suspect it’s like the Russian Novichok nerve agent the horrors of which whilst real seem not yet, at any rate, mortal.

If as pundits suspect we end up slightly poorer and less important in world terms because of Brexit –Britain rather than Great Britain - maybe that’s going to be OK. Less stress, less mess and a happier bunch of people. Trying to exceed our talents and resources is seldom a great idea.


I found this quote from Jack Nicklaus, the legendary, champion golfer and good guy particularly helpful. I hope you do too:

Every player must find the balance between ambition and insanity. Were major championships my focus? Yes they were. Were they my only focus in life? No. My family always came before that. Could I have worked harder and won more majors.? Probably. Could I have driven myself crazy doing it? Certainly.

 Thanks Jack.





Sunday, 1 April 2018

WINNING ISN'T THE MOST IMPORTANT THING - IT'S THE ONLY THING

This was said by Vince Lombardi coach of the Green Bay Packers, the American Football team.


Since then it’s been used in virtually every management conference, sales meeting or leadership group I’ve ever attended. Jack Welch legendary ex-CEO of GE – then the biggest company in the world, actually wrote a book called “Winning”.  I want you to think locker room; the smell of sweat and tired feet, male banter, nick names like Turd, Ball-boy and Snot-Gobbler and a vocabulary stripped to the minimum – more grunts than words. Underneath a kind of rhythmic chant of “winners, winners, winners…back of the net….” This is a world where a red mist rises, rationality flees and the team bonds in a messy heap of self-belief.


This isn’t going to be another analysis of the already over-analysed ball tampering issue traumatising Australian cricket. Interestingly many Australians and others are already beginning to justify the sandpapering of balls (my wife read this and said “Australians really do that – are they crazy?”) by saying everyone does it. In a post Weinstein world that seems a pretty limp excuse. The idolised Indian cricketer Dravid did it, we do it and even educated fleas do it…but it’s cheating and it’s wrong. Umpires have been lax and cricketers over-paid prima donnas. The Australians made it all worse by lying and being generally very stupid.

I recently read a piece in the paper describing a You Tube video on “How to shoplift in H&M” and on the self service check-outs in supermarkets about which some idiot arrogantly said: “Anyone who pays more than half what they should when doing this is a moron”.


This and the Lombardi quote are the two most moronic things in this blog. Because cheating is catching and if it becomes epidemic we are going to be in deep trouble. I even heard a 9 year old recently saying a certain footballer hadn’t dived “properly” by which he meant theatrically and convincingly enough to be awarded a penalty. Don’t blame the boy, blame the men who have allowed cheating to be OK …”because everybody does it”. Remember Maradonna palming the ball into the net and calling it “the hand of God"?

It happens in business as much as in sport. Auditors like KPMG with Carillion are insufficiently scrupulous to notice or feel it appropriate to notice what is sitting there in plain sight. The sorry story of BHS is one of failure to call out the cheats. Everyone is cheating it seems.

But cheating like graffiti is something that grows exponentially the more the culprits think they can get away with it.


As the daffodils thrust their way up cockily throwing two fingers at the beast from the east we can see how courage, determination and energy work to help nature win.  Winning comes as a consequence of all these characteristics.

But it isn’t the most important thing. Winning well and being a classy role-model is.

Monday, 26 March 2018

DEATH TO DISASTER PANIC ATTACK ON HELPLESS

No, this isn’t a satirical piece about hysterical-fake-news or data-devouring-media – that comes next. It’s an observation that compressed expression whether through tweeting or  newspaper headlines has led to a very short litany of power-words and cogent thoughts.

So if this is the death of anything it’s death to the end of nuance. It’s why we love actors more than politicians. Actors agonise in their silence, anguish and economy of words. I saw a review of “McMafia”  which observed the series lacked sex, drama and violence. Sorry love, that’s life. What made it so good was it alluded to rather than was overt and it understated… like academics conversing with gangsters which is why I loved it.


Saturday’s Times headline was “crackdown on rip-off airline fees” …”rip-off” and “crackdown” are mindless, knockout words. May the airlines quake, protest and rebut – for them it’s game-over as it is in the face-off with Facebook.  Death of, end of,  collapse of, doom and murky worlds (yes, that one;’ about Cambridge Analytica).

Whilst battling through this and the icy winds it’s been hard not to think about those sleeping rough. Ambulances prowl the streets of Brighton in the morning struggling to revive frozen sleepers and today I saw an ultimate misery: a sleeping body breathing shallowly with  poor, bare feet sticking out from under a grubby blanket. There is a word to describe this and our failure to deal with it.


Abject.

Recently I started reading “Utopia for Realists” by Rutger Bregman who’s described as “the Dutch wunderkind of new ideas” . Well actually they’re so new because many of his ideas go back to Plato.


He quotes economist Charles Kenny:

“The big reason poor people are poor is they don’t have enough money, and it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that giving them money is a great way to reduce that problem”

That sounds so simplistic as to be stupid yet when you unravel it, it becomes more subtle.

In various experiments in London with the homeless, in Africa with the starving and in Canada with everyone in the town of Dauphin research shows when cash is given to the poor without condition and enough of it to be meaningful some strange things happen.

(And not this!)


They buy what they need not what someone thinks they need. They buy practical aids like spectacles, hearing aids and education. They even, in Africa, create entrepreneurial little businesses…if you have money you can buy vegetable seeds and food so you are strong enough to plant, water and tend them. The principal beneficiaries of reducing poverty by giving out money are always education and practicality, not alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

In general the left wing dislike the idea of giving out no-strings-attached cash as it’s deemed patronising and reduces their control over poverty as a political argument. And the right wing are fixated on the “don’t work don’t eat” mantra.

Both arguments are as abject as the other.

Have a great week.




















Monday, 19 March 2018

THE GENTLE ART OF MANAGEMENT

I have watched mismanagement played out on a micro and macro stage recently. On a micro level – in businesses I know -  I have watched train crashes develop in slow motion as ill chosen words in e-mails have provoked anger and then irreconcilable differences, resignations and recriminations.


I suspect social media and digital communication may  be responsible for more current catastrophes than anyone realises. Recently exposed e-mails from within Oxfam make the point. Most e-mails are poisonously incautious.

On the bigger world stage it’s fascinating that we seem to have collectively embraced a need for the “smack of firm government” … a concept which seems closer to the relationship of the egregious Jacob Rees-Mogg and his nanny than anything else.

What is it that makes Putin, Erdogan, Macron, Trump, Xi Jinping and yes even Kim Yung Un so appealing to so many? Why do people admire dictators or leaders who, with the exception of Kim Yung who is a ‘monarch’ by inheritance, emerge from nowhere. In a recent TV programme ‘Putin; the New Tsar’ the question is asked how a poor boy from a tiny flat in St Petersburg was transformed into an untouchable dictator and the richest man in the world through breath taking kleptocracy? It didn’t answer that question by the way.


Is it because we’re secretly drawn to nasty people that so many monsters succeed? How did Hitler do it? From the “cowardly pig” corporal that fellow soldiers in the first world war allegedly called him, to Supremo Nazi nightmare. Although apparently he was fond of dogs so he wasn’t all bad then. Putin likes dogs too as he showed by introducing his huge labrador to dog-hating Merkel –nice one Vladimir!

The better news is that such rotters are being ousted – Gadaffi, Sadam Hussein, Mubarak, Robert Mugabe and Jacob Zuma. But the cost of their removal  is considerable.

Jim Collins in a legendary book about leadership “From Good to Great” (2001) wrote about what he called ‘Level Five Leadership’ where humility and fierce resolve triumphs over egocentricity. Leaders who are great listeners and coaches are what we need not loud-mouths.


So do we need more women at the top? Lady Barbara Judge - ironically named following her management misjudgements leading to her departure from the position of Chair of the IOD – suggests not. She sounded tough and rough-talking like most alpha men wielding the managerial mace and chain.

No,  what we need are more good people to run our lives. Kind, well mannered and selfless people. The idea of thieves and thugs being in position of great power may appeal to the students of great dictators like Timur the Lame, Genghis Khan or Bonaparte but is clearly barmy.


Not everything in life is about winning.

It’s about doing things well and collaboratively. And it’s about setting a good example. Nearly all the mistakes in history are made by creating needless offence. Gentleness is a great art. Don’t underestimate it.




Monday, 12 March 2018

WHAT SORT OF WORLD HAVE YOU CREATED FOR ME GRANDAD?

I spend a lot of time nowadays thinking about the future of our grandchildren and great nieces. This is not our world - it’s theirs and we are just looking after it for them for now .

What a bloody awful job we’re mostly doing. Brexit – crash there goes all the china! Trump being voted into office - ouch that’s our dog and cat both run over – fake road kill! The Italians veering to the right – Mussolini tortellini!

We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. We’re the caretakers of a wonderful world  who’ve gone to sleep, woken up woozily and then in a panic made a series of sloppy mistakes so serious that we’re going to go hoarse saying “sorry”.


We’ve created our world of walls that doesn’t listen enough (cover your ears darlings …. la-la-la-la ‘can’t hear you!’) is selfish, unjust and grumbly. Theirs is better. Luckily the youth we’ve let down so badly are here to rescue us.

Airbnb and Uber demonstrate the asset-sharing concept  but are grown so big the values which inspired them have drowned in dollars. Expect there to be new and more socially sensitive versions of ‘sharing’ to emerge. In Copenhagen public transport and car hire with businesses like “Let’s-Go” and “Car2Go” are so easy and cheap (around 30p a km) that no one wants to own a car.


It’s really very simple – friends share their possessions and our next generations will be much friendlier than we ever were.

Pendulums swing back so expect a resurgence of libraries in a modernised form (not those grim council-run places) communal centres of shared learning and inspiration.  Places where you can eat a simple meal, drink a glass of wine and quietly read for an hour in a comfy chair.


We are talking about a simpler less materialistic world with less emphasis on flashy possessions. Not good news for old fashioned retailers and superstores. But great news for foragers of food, fun and fashion. Minimalism sounds a bit too austere for what I have in mind - think Shaker-stylish rather than Puritan-shabby.

I see the arts as becoming more important because making art – poetry, pottery, painting or live performances are just so much fun. I foresee more people abandoning career ambition for a richer lifestyle. Denmark, the happiest country in the world, is happy not least because of its sense of social support, its freedom to make life choices and its culture of generosity.


One other thing will be people seeking is global experience. No longer is there or will there be an attitude of “my home is my castle” but rather “this world is my oyster”. So many 20 + year olds go to Athens, Istanbul or Barcelona for a weekend….less expensive than going to Leeds and more fun.

This will be their world. Why does it sound so much more fun and so simple? Because it will be.  Let’s applaud and help them get there.



Monday, 5 March 2018

GET OVER IT - IT'S JUST A BIT CHILLY

I don’t know if you ever saw “The Day After Tomorrow” a 2004 film about a superstorm that engulfed the Northern Hemisphere in a second ice age.  North America is evacuated  and its population flees south to Mexico which, in delicious irony, closes its borders. Apart from Dennis Quaid the cast is pretty well unknown and looks convincingly chilly…that’s a post- apocalyptic New York below.


I was gripped by the plausibility of the horror when I saw it…at least the first part… as the storm did its work.

Last week I thought about the film again as the Siberian weather swept across Britain in what seemed like a kind of divine punishment for prevarication on Brexit. There was a photograph of the snow clouds hitting London that CGI couldn’t have bettered.


My first pragmatic reactions to all the fuss was to behave like Dennis Quaid – called Jack Hall in the film – a great name for a hero – and get out and teach the beast a lesson.

Life had to go on as usual. But then I slipped on black ice near the house and in a graceless pratfall landed on my head on the tarmac. A real banana skin moment when your life flashes before you accompanied by a symphony of bad language. I limped home to sympathy and a ban on going out until the ice had gone.


So life has slowed down and I’ve been thinking about how much better we’ve got at dealing with disaster. There’s a myth that amongst we overly self-critical  Brits that we can’t cope with a bit of “weather”. Just go to Germany or America when the weather turns nasty. They stay at home apart from the odd intrepid skier. Their world stops. I’ve been impressed by our weather forecasts , by the frequency of updates and by how hard the transport system has tried to keep up with the game.

Maybe we should all take stock.

We are such a miserable bunch sometimes. Yet we are one of the most resourceful and independently minded countries in the world. Let’s use this climatic hiatus to plan what our business will do that’s amazing this summer. Or what painting, poem or novel we’re going to create.

The prospects for tomorrow are so amazing that my head hurts…or maybe that’s just the tarmac speaking to me.

Storm Emma  is on the way and all I can think about is that irritating minx Jane Austen’s heroine Emma Woodhouse whose sickly father Mr Woodhouse is one of my favourite, ghastly, self-obsessed characters in literature. His attitude to alcohol is especially irksome:



… what say you to half a glass of wine? A small half-glass, put into a tumbler of water? I do not think it could disagree with you."

But there isn’t anything that weather can throw at us – we Jack Halls – that we can’t deal with – after all this is just a bit chilly. Nothing to worry about.