Monday, 23 January 2023

I'M ONLY A COCK-EYED OPTIMIST

I believe it’s too easy to take a malignant view of the world. Surprisingly UK has not been the worst off in terms of strikes over the past three years with industrial unrest right across Europe and the rest of the world. 

Thousands strike in France for higher wages

Thus a good friend of mine, whose wisdom I rate, recently said lugubriously 

“There something terribly wrong underlying all this which we haven’t identified yet.”

But hasn’t it always been like this? Isn’t it the fate of humanity to lurch from crisis to crisis and hasn’t it just got too complex for a quick fix? But there’s more to it than that for sure.

I responded to my friend’s comment with this:

“(Maybe) we can no longer afford the world (we thought) we lived in”

Over my lifetime we have graduated from widespread, relative poverty to the opposite. Many of us feel we are owed expensive meals out, astonishingly dear trainers and exotic foreign holidays. 


There’s a sense that the good life is more widely available than ever and we’re entitled to enjoy it. But the development of work ethic has not grown at the same rate as this sense of entitlement.

What is commonplace too is the kind of poverty that was uncomplainingly normal back in the 1950s. There’s a starker division now between the “have nots” and the “haves.” The concept of “levelling up” won’t solve the scale of this problem.

My friend is right. “Something is rotten in the State of Denmark” as Marcellus says in Hamlet. Liz Truss was also curiously right. Without growth the show collapses. But growth alone perpetuates the whole ghastly charade. It’s human nature to want more but it also makes us sick if we consume what we don’t really need.

We can’t and shouldn’t sustain our current level of prosperity because we are living beyond our means and have been for some time now. But telling people to prepare for the poverty they deserve and the country needs by vastly increased taxes is not a vote winner.

The O2 Arena London: Hand Signed Art Print/Poster travel image 1

Last week I had a moment of revelation. I went to the O2 for the first time. Originally known as the Millennium Dome it was built to house the Millennium Experience, a government-backed exhibition celebrating the start of the 21st century.

Governments don’t understand how to mount shows and it was an embarrassing disaster for the Blair government. Today it has been repurposed and transformed to be one of the world’s leading entertainment venues and the ninth-largest building in the world by volume.

I was there for a performance of Young Voices, an annual jamboree of primary school children – some 8,000 of them singing to us and making an extraordinary amount of happy noise.

Young Voices - Whitehouse Primary School

The sheer scale of the place and the lucrative confidence it exhibited was staggering. The repurposed and relaunched Dome is a triumph. Meanwhile the infrastructure of the UK like the Millennium Dome belongs to a previous century. The O2 is of today.

If we could have a strategy to repurpose old UK systems like the NHS or our railways – like they’ve done with London Bridge station and not like HS2 which feels like a vanity project, a kind of transport version of the original Dome, then we might start creating a better world and feel less rotten.

London Bridge station scoops top architecture award

We need to be ambitious for change; to do a national makeover, pay the ill-paid people properly, get busy and plan to use some of the unentitled wealth that exists to make Britain a place of which to be proud. More O2 and less “Oh No.” 


Monday, 16 January 2023

CHOOSING THE RIGHT JOB

Being promoted to a bigger job is not always the right move to make. In modern politics people ill equipped for a given role nonetheless greedily grab it. Because, they say, that’s what you do.

When Graham Potter left Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club where he earned a “meagre” £2 million a year for a £10 million job steering Chelsea to glory, many of us were sceptical. He was in a great position at Brighton inspiring a club he’d nurtured. He joined the lofty unknown of Chelsea. It was also unknown if he could do it, if his limitations might be exposed, if the players would recognise his authority. It was like going from provincial theatre to the West End before you’re quite ready.

Graham Potter says Chelsea manager is the 'hardest job in football' | The  Independent

Knowledgeable pundits said he couldn’t say “no” to this golden opportunity. Events are proving them wrong so far. He’s been “luckless” as the Times has said but also he seems out of his depth and lost. Chelsea isn’t just big it’s monstrous. It’s valued at just under $1 billion. It’s had 10 different managers in the last 10 years including Potter and it has 23 players “earning” over £2 million a year (3 of them over £15M.) It’s potty, Potter, as you’re discovering.

In my own career I was occasionally approached by people from much bigger companies trying to lure me to lead their broken, unwieldy businesses. In saying no I never regretted it because I knew the language they spoke was not my language. 

Jaguar Chauffeur Service London | Wilson Chauffeur

A colleague once took the CEO job at a huge multinational. The perks were great. Vast salary. Chauffeured Jaguar. City-centre skyscraper office. But it was a complete nerve-wracking disaster for him.

Boris Johnson was always self-evidently the wrong man for No.10. Wanting to be the top-dog is not a qualification for getting that job and doing it well. Read “Chums” by Simon Kuper to understand the psyche of this flippant, narcissistic scoundrel. 

Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson are linked by superpower fantasies

It's not easy building a leadership team and true leaders are hard to find. They need time, they need mentoring, they need modesty, the desire to learn, yes -  they also need luck but above all they need to believe they’re really up to the job and are focused on it.

I read about a job description recently for a job in the NHS, a well-paid “Director of Lived Experience” (what on earth is that?) who is “interpersonally talented and a strategic bridge-builder.” It occurred to me that opaque language like this goes a long way to disqualifying people from applying for jobs. But they’d be mighty miserable if they actually got the job and found themselves drowning in a morass of jargon.

Dr Philip Kiszely on Twitter: "Director for Lived Experience. £110K  starting salary. Rising to 115K with…well…lived experience, I suppose.  You're not allowed to question such drivel, BTW - it's 'our' sacred NHS!

I was once interviewed for a job I didn’t really want by people who, soon into the interview, I found I didn’t like. They asked me that dread question – “what do you think you’d bring to this job?” I thought and replied “a touch of levity perhaps”.

The Head of HR (sorry, the People Propagator) looked very shocked and the interview ended.

The mission of any business is to do what it does very well, profitably and to be adept at changing and improving. The leader’s role like the conductor of an orchestra is to recruit the best team, get the best out of them and constantly explore initiatives and new music to excite them, grow them and keep them on their toes.

Orchestra Conductor: What Does An Orchestra Conductor Actually Do?

The one thing a leader, conductor or surgeon shouldn’t be is light on experience. Real leadership is about people’s lives and their dreams. It’s not a game. 

 


Wednesday, 11 January 2023

LEARNING TO READ AGAIN

I keep hearing people say how wonderful Netflix is. Certainly there’s never been so much to choose from. According to research, the number of adult scripted original series in 2021 was 559 across cable, broadcast TV, and streaming services and it grew again last year. Yet I struggle to get excited.

Emily in Paris cast: Meet the stunning new men of Emily in Paris season 2

But I liked Emily in Paris, more because I loved the Parisian scenes and attitudes. If they produce a series of sequels – Emily in Venice, Emily in Oxford, Emily in Symi, I’ll be there looking for my favourite restaurants.

My year started with two decisions. First,  not to have a “Drijan” (which sounds like an unpleasant ailment in the lower body). Dry Januaries account for a great deal of ill humour, in my experience, not least by those who waver; secondly, to become an avid reader again. 

In the past few years my enjoyment of and ability to really read and lose myself in a book has dried up. And I’m not alone. Others have told me they dip into books but can no longer lose themselves in reading. Others say they can’t read fiction any more. I sympathised although I did manage to read the latest Donna Leon just before Christmas. She describes the Venice I know and love with brilliant authenticity. The only other person to capture the feel and smell of the place with such certainty glories in the name Cees Nooteboon (The Lion, the City and the Water.)

Cees Nooteboom Takes a Wintry Ride Through Venice ‹ Literary Hub


This month I devoured a Christmas present in just a few days. It’s Ian McEwan’s latest and possibly his last novel. His last? Here’s what he says himself:

'My last novel? I feel as if I've said as much as I know'.

The book’s called Lessons. It was well reviewed by amongst others the Guardian:

McEwan takes aim at the post-war generation in this old-fashioned but generous and humane portrait of individual indecision against the backdrop of history.

Lessons: the new novel from the author of Atonement: Amazon.co.uk: McEwan,  Ian: 9781787333970: Books

At last a lengthy book into which I disappeared. It tracks through the life of Roland Baines, who’s almost but never quite a loser, from the 1950s through to today. OK, McEwan writes so well he could make a train timetable absorbing but the Guardian is right. The book is generous in spirit and lively in its view of history. It’s length is expressive of Roland’s own indecisions in life. It’s not just good. It’s a magnificent anthem to our world and observant of the political nostrums that never quite work. Nostrum? Good word. Seldom used. 

Chums by Simon Kuper review — the Oxford Tories who rule us | Culture | The  Sunday Times

Was the book really life changing? Possibly not but it’s rebooted my desire and ability to read which at my age is surprising. I thought I was doomed just to write blogs and drink many glasses of wine. Oh, and that’s another thing. As I read it I didn’t drink a drop. I didn’t want anything to impede the extraordinary effect the book was having.

Now I’m crashing through a lightweight book about the grip Oxford graduates have on British politics – Chums by Simon Kuper. By definition it’ll be fun. So far we learn Simon Stevens who used to run the NHS (I use the word “run” in its loosest sense) was adept at busking tutorials and getting by on minimal work. I’ll finish it by the end the day. I’ll then move on to Robert Harris’ latest, Act of Oblivion.

So, reading for me has once more become a passport to living in new worlds. I’ve even started eyeing up Daniel Deronda, regarded by many as George Eliot’s greatest work.

Reading again. What a great start to 2023.

Pile of Library Books – OPEN SHELF


Monday, 2 January 2023

IS IT MAYDAY, LACKADAY, OR HAPPY DAYS?

 Is it Mayday, Lackaday or Happy Days?

Things aren’t going so well in the UK.

We’re getting close to panic which would mean crying “mayday.” We’d prefer to be regretting where we are but putting up with it which would be “lackaday.” But “happy days” are some time in the future I’m afraid.

It’s become something that’s up to us to deal with – you and me - in the absence of the prospect of any kind of strategic leadership from the embattled government and hesitant opposition. We’re in, as I’d call it, a “leadershit crisis”. 

Your deeply held beliefs may just be wrong – 5 essential reads

So what can we do? Get angry, get involved, make a noise, talk to other people about it, meet and quiz our MPs, but, most of all, conduct our businesses and affairs in a much more resolute and positive way. Finally try to ignore all the media because with their short termism and over reaction they get in the way of progress.

Here are my ten personal strategies to consider in making us feel a little better:

  1. Resilience. We need to build our resilience to setbacks. In retrospect the reactions to Covid were excusable as nobody quite knew what we were dealing with. But the lockdowns have had an irreparably negative impact on our behaviour and our response to risk. We seem to try to avoid it totally instead of trying to understand it and manage it. We cannot thrive in a “cottonwool” world. But that’s what we created between 2000 and 2022. We simply  mustn’t do that again.

humans - A society wrapped in cotton wool - Worldbuilding Stack Exchange

               

  1. Optimism and positive thinking. By all means let’s be optimistic. Being upbeat is good, but we shouldn’t get drunk on optimism. Boris Johnson had only one gear which was “boosterism” and self-promotion.  As PM it didn’t work, couldn’t work and he became a shameful figure. He’s given optimism a bad name.  Tough but positive thinking is a more acceptable  way of describing optimism right now.

Boris Johnson is Labour's greatest asset – why not sit back and enjoy the  show? | The Independent

                  

  1. Realism. The journalist Matthew Parris is often wise and his plea that we squarely face up to painful truths about taboo subjects like the NHS, are words of wisdom. We  can still be positive in the face of danger (apart from many politicians who seem terrified of the whips, number 10 and losing votes). Getting to the truth, painful or otherwise, is always our strongest way of solving problems. 

Louis Partridge on becoming Sid Vicious in 'Pistol'

                  

  1. “The people” can be wrong. They were wrong in 1933 in Germany and in the UK in 2016.  The lesson of Brexit was assuming a democratic vote was stronger than truth. Too many of us accepted the will of the people ahead of the lies they were fed. Worse - the issue was too serious for a weak Prime minister to rebut so he didn’t fight the nonsense. We’ve suffered deservedly. But being intelligent and pragmatic we can resolve the issue. Being smarter economic partners of Europe would be a sensible start to recovery despite the crossness that would get from ardent Brexiteers.

350m Brexit claim was 'too low', says Boris Johnson - BBC News

            

  1.  It isn’t easy. Spurn people who offer what I call “superglue solutions,” solutions that work instantly and apparently permanently. When anyone says “it’s very simple, quick and easy to fix” disregard them. My wife says I used to say this a lot. No more. Life is just a little bit too complex now as Ms. Truss discovered to her (and our) cost.

Loctite Original Universal Super Glue – 3g Tube. | Superglue | YPO

  

  1. Momentum is vital. If you’re in business try to create momentum and a sense of movement, news and action for your brand and your company. If you aren’t in business just refuse to get stuck in a rut. In business, momentum is something the big “supertanker” businesses find hard to create. So beware if you’re a big “supertanker” brand or market leader. Watch out for competitive, nimble destroyers, small and agile craft who have less to lose and lots to gain. 

sonic faster faster by XAMOEL on DeviantArt

            

  1. Get to work. I’m currently reading more about our mental health than productivity. Yes, of course mental health matters but so too does productivity. Since lockdowns my sense is we’ve become just a bit lazy. After Covid the people  who were economically inactive grew significantly, many of whom were unlikely to work again. Many of these had long term heath issues but many didn’t. Surely we must all improve our work ethic to make ourselves more successful.  

The 'Work Hard & You'll Succeed' Mantra is NOT a Myth - The STRIVE

              

  1. Your customers – love them. The customers you have or have recently gained are more precious than those you hope to get. Customer loyalty is a prize too many businesses disregard (to their cost). Loyal customers need special attention especially when, as it is now, the going is tough for them - as well as you. Don’t relax your love, care and attention for them. They need you, not just your products. The harder you try to build your relationship with them the more of them you’ll keep. On a more personal level don’t take anyone for granted – your spouse, your relatives or your friends. It’s time to refresh friendships.

Love your customers, more than your products." | ADITYA BHAVSAR

                

  1. Be better not wacky. We hear a lot about the need for innovation nowadays, probably too much talk and not enough action given our collective, dismal track record in investment. But continuous improvement (this is the Japanese concept of Kaizen which stands for continuous improvement through evolution not just innovation) is what we really need. Breakthrough innovation is unusual and often resembles a solution seeking a problem rather than vice versa. Let’s focus on getting better not just getting interestingly different. After all “New Improved” has always been a compelling sales claim.

New Improved Rubber Stamp Royalty Free SVG, Cliparts, Vectors, And Stock  Illustration. Image 68343977.
  1. Make a resolution. 2023 should be our year for breaking the insidious grip of “doom-loop thinkers” with our own tough, positive thinking – “pragmatic optimism” if you like to call it that. It’s not the year to retrench, slow down or seem weak. One of the long term effects of Covid has been to undermine our ambition, make us lose our nerve and leave it to opportunists to make money. Happy Days will come, possibly by 2024 if we manage to be resolute, invest in the future and have self-belief in what we do. And remember pragmatic optimism. Pessimists just hate it. But so do competitors. On the other hand those close to you at work or at home should love it. 

Becoming A Pragmatic Optimist

               

         Happy New Year and remember hard work works.


Monday, 19 December 2022

LET NOTHING YOU DISMAY

This refrain from that hearty carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is all very well but there’s plenty to dismay us right now. An epidemic of strikes by those who never go on strike like nurses. Ambulance workers saying they’ll only attend heart attack and stroke incident emergencies where there’s a “time issue”….I  don’t like the sound of that one little bit.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Lyrics, Hymn Meaning and Story

These are disputatious times, quite unlike the festively, riotous prelude to Christmas I’m used to. Not least it’s very cold. I recall that magical poem of T.S. Eliot “The Journey of the Magi” the story of an endless freezing journey to confront the paradox of the Christian Story – of birth and death - with  that sense of discomfort and cold – surely no wise man would do this:

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”

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I love that “very dead of winter” as I watch the winter-flowering Salvia in our garden giving up the ghost and withering in the face of the very dead of winter. Eliot’s poem is the much needed antidote to the vision of these jolly Kings on their sprightly camels (Eliot’s are galled, sore-footed, refractory.”) Christmas can be horrible – just ask yonder peasant, gathering winter fuel three miles from home – he probably won’t make it back through this cruel frost.

Fireplace With A Blazing Fire. Photo. Stock Photo, Picture And Royalty Free  Image. Image 42137793.

 

Yet there are things which signal the essence of Christmas. A few days ago as the wind howled and the icicles formed I lit the first log fire of the year. It crackled and burst into glorious flame (“Get a peasant to gather more fuel” I shouted before apologising to my wife, not amused at this in the current cost of living crisis.) The sound of Carols – great tunes like Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, Adam Lay Ybounden and the Sussex Carol “On Christmas Night All Christians Sing”. If they did the census in December there’d be new headlines in the press about the shock revival of Christianity in the UK. Somehow the sound, smell and mystery of Christmas binds us all together in a traditional Christmas culture.

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Our houses are festooned with garlands, wreaths, crackers and that special smell of Christmas food. The aroma of ginger and orange peel and the constant appeal of TV chefs advising us on perfect Christmas food because “let’s face it, this is the season of indulgence.” Who otherwise would we eat something like Stollen except now? But sadly this will not be a season of indulgence for quite a lot of people this year. Maybe, unlike many calls to our sense of charity, this Christmas will make more people reflect on things that really matter.

  

A few days ago I saw a thrush feathers pluffed up against the cold. Not a timid bird, no peasant bird, a bruiser, the sort from whom a cat would retreat muttering in feline “Sorry, something to attend to at home.” Like that doughty bird we need to pluff up our feathers and do our best to enjoy and bring joy. King Wenceslas is a good place to start. Or St. Rocco who was the Franciscan sainted for helping plague sufferers, refugees and travellers in Venice in the 14th century. 

Pin on SAINTS TO PRAY TO.....and other prayers we all need.....

In these current years of Covid, pandemics and of refugees I think we should look to see how they both got it so right back then.

 

Have a happy Christmas and, in 2023, a New Year to enjoy.

 

Richard and Kate Hall


Tuesday, 13 December 2022

LIKE PATIENCE ON A MONUMENT

This describes the misery of Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. I‘m not miserable just mildly frustrated that we seem unable nowadays to be patient and wait to see how “things play out.” In a world of instant opinion and overcrowded media, waiting, watching and thinking is seldom the way we behave. It’s a world of yes and no not maybe, yet “maybe” is the seldom used but most useful state to be in when not all the information needed to make a decision is available.

Truth is not an absolute. My truth and your truth will be different. This is what makes it tricky trying to understand where, for instance, the war in the Ukraine will end.

Ukraine war: Fresh strikes, Russia 'a state sponsor of terror', and UK  sends first helicopter | Euronews

But what we can do is mentally assemble the chess pieces and try to see the likely way they’ll move. I’m wondering how the 34 million of Russians 15 -35 years old  are feeling and whether the reported migration of youth from the country represents a real trend.

Mission, Vision and Values - Youth Agenda | Making the Youth Factor count


As we’ve recently just seen in Iran and China youth can help change politics, even in these most autocratic regimes. I suspect how this plays out may be the most significant factor in the removal of and selection of a successor to Putin. I had a conversation with a wise man I’ve known for many years saying I thought this would play out sooner if the Russian military failure deepened. He delved back into history and foresaw a five-year struggle. Rather than fight over who’s right we’re both thinking about it. 

My thinking is that increasingly the young will influence the world and push things in specific directions, helping them “play out” favourably in creating a world in which they’ll be more comfortable. A greener world. A fairer world. A less aggressive world. A world where constant travel and sharing of ideas in a norm. A world of creativity and innovation.

This is not always going to be world I readily and constantly understand but it was ever thus. As a friend said to me recently “you were opinionated and radical once too.” I belonged to a coal-mining world where supermarkets and new restaurants were a novelty. A world where the cold war was the norm and every -ism you can imagine existed and was tolerated. 

The History Girls: FIFTY YEARS ON: The Hang Down your Head and Die Reunion.  by Adèle Geras

This world today is a much better one and the abolition of obscenities like capital and corporal punishment are things we drove away with influential musicals like “Hang down your head and die” and “Oh what a lovely War” -  the products of young minds. Just as the world today is being steadily shaped by new generations.

Social media has taken a bashing recently but not wholly deservedly. Ideas, events and jokes are widely and quickly shared. Big players like Facebook and Snapchat are declining and being usurped by TikTok and We Chat and  new unheard of platforms. Innovation, novelty and surprise are increasingly the currencies that score. 

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Qatar is a famous place now despite many misgivings, but I wonder if the rulers there quite understand what trends could play out there going forward now the toothpaste has left the tube...and other metaphors like this which should be banned...sorry.

But social media has made many of us impatient. We live in a world of trending news. But how we deal with that is up to us. Too much choice doesn’t mean we have to choose everything.

In a world of quite surprisingly violent change  we need patiently to watch and think how things may play out. This is history unfolding, it’s not a race.

2,331 Exhausted Marathon Runners Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free  Images - iStock