Wednesday, 29 August 2012


It’s now August 2012 and too early to make sense of what started in early 2011 and what has come to be known as the Arab Spring.

Having only lived in the Middle East since early 2012, my observations are initial and tentative:

  • For the moment, nobody really knows why it all kicked off and why it spread so quickly or, at the same time, why it has taken so long to kick off
  • Nobody knows where it will lead 
  • The peculiarities of e.g. culture, history and religion are evident in each country where the Arab Spring has had an impact so drawing general conclusions about the region is unwise
  • After 30-40 years of being bottled up, the  jinn is out of the bottle and will never return, in a part of the world where the jinn are influential
  • It has been thrilling to watch the events in Tahrir Square and in Libya; deeply worrying as the events in Syria unfold with the international community either unwilling or unable to intercede; and uplifting to see democracy advance, if only in fits and starts and with results which are not always welcome
  • People are endlessly optimistic but realise that the apparatus of state control and influence will not disappear overnight and may return at any stage
  • The explosion of people power has been felt in the workplace, in schools and universities – it has touched any number of institutions
  • Young people are now more willing to express their views and in general people are less deferential
  • Technology has played an important part in enabling the Arab Spring but also in controlling it and smothering its consequences
  • Normal life appears to continue as huge waves of change take place around us, although the Arab Spring has shaped what people read, what they discuss, where they go on holiday etc
  • It’s not over, even in countries where it has yet to start

My favourite story – a friend is an academic and lecturer; he tells me he had to rewrite his curricula on a daily basis as events unfolded around him; his students are more demanding and more willing to challenge him and the material which is presented to them; but the biggest change is in his family where his position is not as strong as it was and where his children do not afford him complete respect solely because he is their father and head of the house.

The most challenging member of the family is his youngest daughter.

Monday, 27 August 2012


I was told they’d appointed one of these for the British Olympic cyclists. It seems to have worked. A carrot here; an extra half hour in bed there; training till your toes bleed.


 I’m against the exam ethic, this absurd media frenzy about GCSE and A levels. Dumbing down or getting brighter? Well how about both?

A friend who’s very clever and now a lawyer worked out how to “game” GCSE so she came top in the UK in two subjects which she promptly dropped. “It was about working out their vision of the model answers with the right words and in the right order. Like a crossword in a sense”. Now she’s very clever.

But the girl I mentioned in a blog a few weeks back who was told by her school she was a “dunce” was obviously not. Schools with their wide experience can spot obviously “dunces”, people with no talent, people incapable of progressing. She was told she was likely to end up in hairdressing or childcare (being a dunce qualifies you to look after children at their most impressionable learning age? Good heavens). Well she was predicted 2 Fs, 3 Es, 3 Ds and 2 Cs which I have to admit was a bit disappointing.

Her enterprising Godmother picked her up and with her husband over just six months did a bit of intensive 121 coaching on a little girl who started to discover she was actually quite bright (whilst, curiously, the school – and I use this word in the loosest sense - stubbornly stuck to their original assessment). In the event she got 4 ‘A’s, 2 ‘B’s, 3 ‘C’s and an A* in a subject they’d predicted she’d get an F. What are we to make of this?

Primarily I want to focus on an educational system that is self-obsessed and seems to have forgotten how to spot talent and then teach inspiringly and produce not marginal but phenomenal improvements. This was simply a case of neglect. It was incompetence from professionals who’d be fired in any other walk of life. It was luck that two smart people rescued the young lady. Where there is talent however deep it is buried, we need to fan the flames and make is burn brightly. From dunce to super confident girl (“I’m going to get three ‘A’s at A level “– and she will) in six months of loving teaching and encouragement. How many kids with GCSE ‘D’s and ‘E’s out there today could have done the same?

It’s not often I get this angry. Michael Gove, can you hear me? Sort it out.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


An atheist was seated next to a little girl on an airplane and he turned to her and said, "Do you want to talk? Flights go quicker if you strike up a conversation with your fellow passenger."

The little girl, who had just started to read her book, replied to the total stranger, "What would you want to talk about?"

"Oh, I don't know," said the atheist. "How about why there is no God, or no Heaven or Hell, or no life after death?" as he smiled smugly.

"OK," she said. "Those could be interesting topics but let me ask you a question first. A horse, a cow, and a deer all eat the same stuff - grass. Yet a deer excretes little pellets, while a cow turns out a flat patty, but a horse produces clumps. Why do you suppose that is?"

The atheist, visibly surprised by the little girl's intelligence, thinks about it and says, "Hmmm, I have no idea."

To which the little girl replies, "Do you really feel qualified to discuss why there is no God, or no Heaven or Hell, or no life after death, when you don't know shit?"

And then she went back to reading her book.

Monday, 20 August 2012


In Forbes Magazine in April a survey of the worst countries to visit was conducted.

Here were the worst four:

  1. France
  2. Russia
  3. Britain
  4. Germany

From 'The World's Rudest Nations for Travelers'
By Andrew Bender | Forbes – Wed, Apr 4, 2012 12:38 AM EDT

But I bet that’s very different for Britain now.

In fact London’s position for no. 1 city must have been nailed and Britain should have secured a gold medal for customer service following the Olympics.

People who’d seldom been to the “smoke” discovered something wonderful.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


Rachel McBeath has  finished her stint in Brazil but these brief insights give a smell, and glimpse of this economy.
What I take out of it are:
-          Astounding views
-          Sunshine
-          Laughter
-          Bodies very beautiful
-          Resilience
-          A lot to live up to in 2016
Having read her stuff I want to go there….very soon.


Recycling Brazil can do!
Whilst waiting for a bus, I take my last sips of Guarana Antartica; one of Brazil's best selling soft drinks. Before I even have a chance to pin point a bin my can is whisked from my hands by a Carioca and thrown in a bulging black bag overflowing with other colourful tin cans. It's little wonder that Brazil is the the world's leader in aluminium can recycling with a staggering 98% of all sold cans recycled. Can-collecters are peppered around Rio and do a valuable job cleaning up the city and contributing to an eco-friendly Brazil. 

Gym'll fix it!
The beach boulevards are brimming with joggers, skateboarders and cyclists all flaunting their hard earned muscular physiques. Body fat seems totally unacceptable in Rio. Cariocas work hard all day in the office, but work out even harder before and after work. One government initiative which contributes to this is free outdoor gyms or 'gyms with a view'.

A bird's eye view of favelas
Last week I visited Complexo Do Alemao, a complex of favelas in the north of Rio, and the word's longest cable car system. 

From an aerial perspective the shacks in the favelas resemble blocks of Lego stacked on top of each other and perched on the city's steep hillsides. Below my feet, I gazed in amazement at kites floating in the air, children splashing in rooftop paddling pools and people going about their daily lives. Most of the people that use the 152 cable cars in service are residents and very few tourists. The cars cost a mere R$1 and transport thousands of people. It’s inspiring.

Monday, 13 August 2012


Like any aspiring historian I think it’s too soon to make a cool judgement of the Olympics although I fully expect a “was it all really worth it?” backlash soon.

But there have been some surprising bonuses.

We got back the Union Jack from the BNP.

The SNP have been scuppered by seeing Andy, Chris and Michael wrapped in Union Jacks. Sorry Alex Salmond….independence is history.

Our football prowess was firmly put into its second-rate place. Andy Murray showed he was a team player unlike the bemused Swiss (bring on the Davis Cup now). The media, despite itself, has become positive and full of good cheer. Women have been schooled to punch with accuracy and power….no more glass ceilings…whack! Customer service has improved. Britain has learnt to smile. Actually I’d put it more strongly than that. Britain has found an identity that feels right. Maverick. Ironic. Emotional. Post-modern.
Here’s an extract from an e-mail from an Indian friend who is a successful entrepreneur in India and ex- Investment banker from London……

At all events I felt a sense of pride.
I am unbothered about the economy during the games - GDP is myopic and one dimensional. We should focus on keeping this type of planning, execution and friendly attitude (without the American cheesiness) which will allow the UK to get ahead of the rest!”

I love the use of “we” and the genuine positivity. And yes to the dismissal of the antique measurement of GDP. I prefer the CE Index. CE? Sorry. Clint Eastwood.

Do you feel lucky punk?”

Yes. I feel lucky. I think we feel lucky. Lucky to live in this wonderful country…..

But I feel strongly out of step with most of my contemporaries in business, politics and the institutions. Most of all I find myself looking at the leaders of parties in a bemused way and ask if Cameron, Clegg or Miliband are abreast with Britain (maybe in a quirky way Ed is come to think of it.)

The next time you hear one of them being grumpy, negative or shouting at an opponent tell them to bugger off and read my piece on the “Civilised Science of Challenging” (next week) – how to say “no” with a smile on your face…and tell them to remember the Olympics.

Winning really is fun.

Monday, 6 August 2012


Strange isn’t it that two of the biggest and most self-regarding corporations in the world are “Mc” named. McDonalds of Olympic shame and McKinsey the people who according to Malcolm Gladwell helped build Enron, creators of the big whopper – or was it the other way round. Whatever….

Allister Heath, from the paper City AM, reveals  Mckinsey’s study which tells us something we know but we’ve doing nothing about. It shows that  61% of average office workers time’s spent as follows:-
28% staring at their computer screen at e-mails and stuff
19% gathering information
14% collaborating and communicating internally
Then there’s Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus, Linkedin and other sites.

We have gone insane with paying attention to opinion and giving our opinions to a vast  chortling audience.

“Isn’t Jess Ennis great”. Yes. We know. Why share it?

Allister says:
Anyone who’s able to tackle the mad communication overload will be on to a winner”.

It isn’t that hard Allister. It just involves facing up to the truth.

Most of digital is bunk.

And I’m making a pledge.
Today.  Right here.  Right now.

I’m reducing my e-mail traffic to 12% of my working time. I’m ceasing activity on all my Linkedin Groups, stopping Facebook and stopping Twitter. I’m even wondering if this should be my last blog.
I’m changing my office layout, relegating my PC to a corner and going back to thinking on paper on a big lots-of-room-to-work table.

The key word is “thinking”.

I’m going to start trying to do that properly.

And I’m going to walk more, talk more, listen more, read more, look at the world more.
I’m going to work less hard and work much better.
I’m going to value people’s voices and faces much more and spend less time crafting e-mails.

Mostly I’m going to spend less time on networking (or as I call it not-working) because the world is full of people meeting who can do nothing to help each other

I’m tired of hearing how critical IT is. In my recent experience it’s a time waster and something we use to do stuff we could often do quicker and cheaper more simply manually.

Most of all I’m going to simplify. Clear out stuff. Stop wasting time on the internet.
And start using my creativity and my common sense.

Being me. Not a robot.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


Two of my books have just been published in Russia.

Derek Davis an old friend is a fluent Russian speaker and tells me I emerge as offering "splendid [velikolepnaya] presentation" and "splendid marketing".

I much prefer “splendid” to “brilliant”.

Splendid is my new word for 2012.