It’s fascinating to watch the arc of an idea, from the murky origin or “eureka” moment that launches it into the world through the stages where it gets observed and toyed with through the perspectives of groups of people with differing agendas, and on to the stages where the idea flirts with real life, gets mutated a little or has consequences no-one quite predicted. Was iTunes designed as a new way to buy albums, or to destroy the idea of albums by allowing us to buy just the tracks we like and create our own playlists? And was it the keen pricing and instant delivery that drew us in, or was it the novelty or the ego-flattering proposition of being in a position to have a better idea about sequencing a set of 12 songs than the people that wrote and played them? (Games that let us ‘play at god’ always seem to have a following, it seems.)
One of those ideas that’s been out there in the ether is The Death of the CV. I’m not claiming credit, but I remember raising the topic at an HR Unconference last year, having just encountered a group of unemployed graduates with qualifications and abilities a-go-go but a dearth of employment in which to apply it. What struck me at the time was the absurdity:
Tailoring many hundreds of variants (as some of these graduates had done) to submit to recruiters who then read many hundreds of them (or receive a selection filtered through online application processes where score-carding and box-ticking are applied to a highly condensed snapshot of a life) would, I suspect, strike the proverbial visiting Martians as odd. The debate that the idea triggered may have been inconclusive, but it was certainly interesting: most of graduate recruiters’ energies are spent not on recruiting, but on rejecting. And the rejected, who all too frequently receive no explanation or reasoning – if they receive a response at all – are not helped by the process either. We might be forgiven for concluding that the whole process is geared towards keeping people out of work, not in it.” Continue reading
Books that take a big picture theme and attempt to explain it clearly, preferably with a sprinkling of anecdotes, are in vogue. Alain de Botton recently brought us Religion for Atheists, while Sunstein and Thaler brought us Nudge, which proposed a ‘third way’ (while trying not to call it that) between paternalism and libertarianism. Amusing us with tales of insects painted onto urinals to encourage a sense of direction, they also took aim – in a more metaphorical sense – at behavioural economics, explaining how a cheese and wine party hosted by ‘Econs’ might turn out. (Fabulously for those who look primarily for efficiency as the sign of a good party, it would appear.)
Masters of Management, a fairly updated version of the earlier The Witch Doctors (an absolute classic, available from Amazon for £0.01 at time of writing, and still eminently readable), shares this ever-so-slightly-down-the-bridge-of-one’s-nose view of the labouring millions, as one might expect from a writer schooled by The Economist. There are one or two things that the reader has to take for granted -not least that this is a by-product of The Economist, and that free market theories will be politely and eruditely defended while egalitarian tendencies can expect criticism. But a few sacred cows are declared fair game along the way, and if not exactly slaughtered then at the least given quite a public carpeting. And the wider world also makes a welcome intrusion. Though it’s not the kind of book to use such a flippant example, were it to view, say, Cabaret through economists’ eyes, it wouldn’t stop at commenting on the skilful deployment of a low-cost pool of creative labour (the turns), the ironic brand-positioning (the band), and the approach to a potentially hostile demographic (selling drinks and ‘services’ to the SS). It would also point out that the rise of fascism and the advent of war was going to have a disastrous impact on more than just the bar’s P&L account.
When your grandmother – or any other adult demonstrating their infinitely superior wisdom for a moment – told you with an air of conspiring, “Doesn’t ask doesn’t get”, they had a good point. Apart from making a positive change from “Mustn’t grumble”, four well-chosen words communicated more than many a longer screed. Or, more accurately, a nebulous, windy cloud of a question.
There’s a fascinating post at Mark Gould’s Enlightened Tradition blog, Asking better questions, getting better insight, that ponders knowledge as something subject to push and pull. We’ve got quite good at push, albeit in an unfocused sort of way. If we live in an attention economy, it’s least partly because the need to pay attention and to pick your way through tidal waves of ‘information’ is becoming a modern survival technique. And export knowledge abounds, fizzing between the ears of the knowledge workers around us and the whirring on the hard-drives and the cloud stores of our latest gizmos.
But somehow this abundance of know-how manages to co-exist with equally cloudy stores of ignorance. As Mark Gould puts it:
Frequently, however, I see people asking quite open-ended questions in the hope that something useful will pop up. I suspect that what actually happens is that those with the knowledge to assist don’t answer precisely because the question is too vague.” Continue reading
This is a blog posting about innovation, about the balance between values, creativity and commerce, and about the thought processes that underlie radically rethinking the existing common approach. It’s also about a very unusual guitar (sometimes called ‘The Fishbone’ and often rudely compared to an old TV aerial), and a very unusual guitar-maker. But scroll down and watch the video first: it puts the rest into context.
One of the most common musical instruments in the world, guitars are everywhere. A large percentage of homes have one somewhere, either hanging on a wall waiting to be played, or posed on a stand or a sofa in a living room. The electric variety comes in a range of shapes and colours (although the idea that the shape doesn’t influence how they sound is a very contentious one: don’t raise it around serious players or instrument makers and expect a brief or calm response), but the acoustic ones are much of a muchness: neck, curvaceous body with a ‘waist’. And, despite the stereotype of the fashion-conscious, rebellious guitar-player, makers who stray too far from the expected don’t generally make much money. Like most of us, guitar players by and large don’t like that much change. If you want someone who freely embraces the possibilities of technology-driven change, find a keyboard player.
The secret of comedy is timing, they say. Within 60 seconds of each other, I received two emails that seemed to be trying to prove the point:
- An email from a colleague about a Roffley Institute report showing that board level managers think they are rather more respected that those below them would confirm
- A email from dictionary.com, giving the definition of the word ‘mammonism’ (full definition online here).
Among the citations and references for the latter, I spotted an academic study of Dickens. Poking verbal sticks into ‘fat cats’ has a long and venerable history, of course, but it’s subject like so many things to the vagaries of fashion. Dickens’ bicentenary this year will no doubt bring a fresh tidal wave of retrospection to cultural shores already awash with Upstairs Downstairs, Downton Abbey and the like. (Fitfully switching between viewing and dozing in an armchair on Christmas Day last year, the only thing that didn’t feature Regency bonnets a-go-go seemed to be the evening news.) The list of associated words in the definition almost set my pun-loving mind into action (“I thought mammonite was a kind of fossil until I discovered …”) before the thought that nostalgic wallowing can be damaging as well as amusing. The past is another country, but tourism is a better option than emigration.
We are 12 years into the twenty-first century. We’ve walked on the moon, built the World Wide Web, abolished slavery and we have an app for pretty much everything else. On the face of it, a hereditary monarchy should be anachronism, yet we are also in the year of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. And somehow I failed to experience any cognitive dissonance while I found myself ripping some fado CDs to iTunes for my iPad while watching a BBC documentary in which one of best-known historians commented on Her Majesty’s quiet modernisation of the constitutional monarchy.
In last year’s ASK Journal, we profiled 12 leaders who we picked as examples of qualities associated with leadership. Queen Elizabeth II was one of them, and the quality was being wise. Having never granted an interview (which it’s not impossible to argue as an example of wisdom it would have been a relief to see many others follow), quotations from The Queen are not as easy to track down as those from the ‘great men’ of politics and industry. One example shows a humility and wisdom that would also have been welcome from more of her subjects over the last 60 years:
We lost the American colonies because we lacked the statesmanship to know the right time and the manner of yielding what is impossible to keep.”
(The quote also shows an acceptance that authority as a leader is not always undermined by conceding that something must be let go of that would also be a welcome sight if it were more widespread.)
The charisma thing has, it seems, raised its perfectly groomed head once more. The always readable Mervyn Dinnen blogged in response to a Guardian article by Jonathan Freedland, both exploring the apparent gap between the type of leaders we elect or support, and the kind of leaders we might choose if perhaps we put a bit more thought into the process. As is customary in contemporary business blogging circles, lines from a song were quoted. I think this is primarily an attribute of the demographic profile of bloggers, and can only plead guilty. And as songs go, Paul Weller’s Going Underground has retained the lyrical and emotive power it originally had around the time I heard being blasted live from the back of flat-bed trucks at various protests and marches in the early 1980s. Personally, however, I might have chosen a line a few bars further into the song that strikes me as both truer and considerably more cynical: “The public wants what the public gets”.
That’s not a suggestion of subservience, masochism or blind obedience, by the way. I think it’s rather closer to Gareth Jones’ observation, posted as a comment to Mervyn Dinnen’s blog post:
When you live in a bubble, that is all you know. If, for example you have 2 large dogs in your household then you house is likely to smell of dogs. You won’t notice the smell as you will be used to it. Even when you pop out to work or for a night out you won’t notice it when you come back. It’s only when you leave it for an extended period of time that you notice it smells of dogs. However, when someone visits they can smell it but are mostly too polite to mention it.”
Gareth’s point is about being in touch – having sufficient contact with ‘visitors’ that someone eventually has the audacity to mention the dreadful pong and suggest something is done about it. There’s a lot to be said for a breath of fresh air, after all. But Gareth’s point is also that the issue, nebulous as it might be, is systemic.
Another year, another train, another exhibition hall and yes, another trade conference. I was in London’s Olympia for the Learning Technologies and Learning and Skills 2012 Conference. Most ‘industry events’ act, at the most superficial level, as a kind of barometer: the level and enthusiasm of those in the hall can speak volumes, even if you don’t listen to the actual words.
Encouragingly, the event was packed: unless vast droves of the HR and L&D professions are fearing imminent redundancy and are taking any opportunity to network furiously, the implication is that learning has not fallen either from fashion or from organisational budgets. It would, however, be unwise to overlook the ‘jackdaw’ effect of technology. In the learning arena, this effect is arguably doubled – the possibilities of each new technology as a medium for learning (and for quite a wide range of present participles, come to think of it …) brings the possibility of fresh excitement to existing themes, while the possibility of delivering learning (and yes, that does make it sound like milk or groceries) to a large, geographically dispersed audience without travel costs, with fewer trainers and no travel budget understandably brings a rare glint to the usually steely eyes of budget holders.
Kate Tojeiro, one of ASK’s Associates (and whose blog you can read online), recently sent us an article called “Risk is the currency of progress”. It’s a great example of a strapline for our times – Chris Evans made it the title of his Breakfast Show on 11 January, so the phrase is ‘in the air’. Kate was referring to many things – the bravery and charitable efforts of Dakar Team GB, the new experiences in the broadest sense that we can enjoy when we take ‘the leap’, but also “new territories, products, people, ideas, experiences, luck… profits.”
I understand the idea of the risk/reward principle, but I tend to see it as a mindset, a particular lens for viewing life through, or something closer to the rules of a particular game. A game, moreover, often played by people who think of themselves as ‘players’ and see their lives in terms of ‘winning’. Losing is not an option, and all that. It often comes – and no offence is meant to Kate here – with a keen sense of heroics and derring-do.
Although unbuckling might feel appropriate, swashbuckling tends to figure – at the very least metaphorically, so I couldn’t help chuckle when I googled ‘swashbuckling’ and Wikipaedia’s opening line quickly equated it with “rough, noisy and boastful swordsmen”. I know we’ve moved on a bit from rescuing damsels in distress, and nowadays the maidens have an equal right to bear arms. But if my honour – or even my petticoats – were in danger, I’d be tempted to hold for being ‘rescued’ by someone a bit more … well, admirable.