As a species, it seems we often like to simplify challenges – not just as this is the era of the soundbite when complex issues must be reduced to ‘elevator pitches’ to get others to engage, but perhaps because a simple challenge feels easier to dismiss. But it depends what we mean by ‘dismiss’, doesn’t it: do we mean despatch (deal with, send away, render obsolete), or do we mean ‘park in the long grass’ (ie out of sight = out of mind).
When it comes to the issue of women in leadership, and women’s progression in the workplace generally, are we doing the same thing by referring to ‘the glass ceiling’? It makes it sounds as if there’s just a single obstacle, and if we can only find the right hammer and land a powerful blow in the right area of the glass …
Sometimes you find things you weren’t looking for, and aren’t what you expected. In this instance, it was a YouTube video that its posters, Big Think, had given a title you could parse as either intriguing or flamebait: Laura Rittenhouse: A Modern Day Orwell on the FOG of Words.
It may be a hangover from last week’s ‘Everyone Still Hates HR’ bonanza (see here and here), but my reader’s heckles rose swiftly. (I managed to issue a cease and desist notice to my writer’s heckles just in time.) YouTube and modern life being what they are, the haterz – as I believe we’re now spelling them – were in there swiftly. Comparing an investor-relations analyst to Orwell had been simply too much for some people:
Orwell? Really? He wouldn’t participate in a system of financial tyranny. She seems to be using her observations for commercial gain, not for critiquing the system.”
Every discipline has its fetishes – inanimate objects attributed with magical properties. (Analysts have spreadsheets, consultants have models, but creatives? If there’s a consensus – and we are talking about creatives here – it may be Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu deity, patron of arts and sciences and the deva (deity) of intellect and wisdom who is a) principally known as the remover of obstacles, and b) associated particularly with merchants and traders. These two attributes are not entirely unconnected.
If you look back through the online archives of The Guardian’s Writers Room series, you will probably be struck by the individuality of not just the rooms, but the elements that creatives as diverse as David Starkey, Richard Sennett and Will Self choose to stress. Or, as Philip Hensher said:
I’ve never written successfully at a desk – whenever anyone tries to give me a desk, it always fills up immediately with old bits of paper, and, after a week or two, I go back to writing on the end of the dining table, clearing it all up before dinner.”
Beyond their idiosyncrasy, these individuals have little in common beyond perhaps a certain messiness and an occasional tendency to illicit pleasure (Martin Amis says of his writing room that “It’s ideal – you can’t hear the children and you can smoke”, while Richard Sennett – whose The Craftsman we reviewed here previously – confessing to using a 15 year old word processing program about which he confessed “the IT department has decided that it is an “illegitimate” piece of software – which makes for a certain thrill”).
After commenters and interviewees on at least three unrelated topics on Radio 4 mentioned the word ‘authenticity’, I found myself quietly wondering why this abstract quality seems to be such a draw for so many of us. And I can’t be the only one to have noticed the ‘authentic’ angle in so many marketing and branding campaigns. I was fairly confident that the quip “if you can fake that, you’ve got it made” was originally uttered (and I’m almost certainly using the word ‘originally’ very loosely there) as a joke about sincerity. With only the Internet to guide me to the source, I quickly came to the conclusion that if the truth is out there, a search engine might not be the best tool for locating it. And that if the truth isn’t authentically slippery, it’s certainly wearing an awful lot of baby oil.
Until I started digging, I’d believed – or perhaps I should say ‘bought into the idea that’ – that the original source was George Burns, whose preceding words were “The secret of acting is sincerity.” The wily folks at The Quote Investigator have been on the case, however, and it seems likely to have been anonymous, and about honesty rather than sincerity – and about success rather than acting. At which point, I had to suppress my inner cynic, who was bouncing up and down vigorously and saying “Ok, so tell me the difference …”
Almost over, everyone. Just one last demented task and then we get the interviews, where we get to see The Blessed Margaret and Claude rip the grins off the candidates’ faces and feed their ties into the shredding machine. As you can tell, my favourite part of the series, most years. It seems a fitting end to the credibility of some of the candidates, as the series they’re operating in long since parted company with its own. (A viewed shared, incidentally, by The University of Leicester’s Professor Martin Parker, who reels in horror at the image of business it portrays and encourages: Continue reading
It’s 4.30am in Apprenticeland and the phone is ringing. We are treated to the vision of Jason in his stripy jim-jams, being far more polite into a receiver than I might be that early in the day: ah, the transformational power of knowing you’re being watched. If only it lasted …
The ‘everyone hurtling around getting ready’ sequence is its usual regrettable self. Knowing that they’re going to Dubai, Fran (I think) is wondering which of her bikinis to take. Not a garment the locals are big on in the UAE, my dear, but why did you bring a selection of bikinis to The Apprentice in the first place. And in a transparent set-up, we are presented with this week’s evictee from the outset. Zee – who I didn’t feel I needed to know wears a nipple ring – is already crowing about his local knowledge. There’s a watery trap in this series called “This Task Has Got My Name On It”, and Zee’s designer socks are already soaking wet, I fear. More perplexingly, Myles – fully dressed, unusually – is quoting the Bible at Fran in the back of a cab. I’d expect such a metropolitan man of the world to try a smoother line of chat, but life is full of surprises. Even if The Apprentice doesn’t always follow suit. (The relationship between the programme and ‘real life’ is a very odd one on many levels.)
It’s not often that a music review raises a laugh, let alone a complicated one. The first example I remember was of Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me, which she reviewed with a single word. The word was ‘Yes’. (If memory is functioning, the critic was Julie Birchill.) More recently, a Kate Mossman review of a Bon Jovi album in New Statesman also raised a smile, mostly for its opening paragraph:
Here’s a bit of fun: which of the following are US presidential campaign slogans and which are songs by Bon Jovi? Something to Believe in. Believe in America. Made in America. Another Reason to Believe. A Stronger America. Forward. Undivided. The Distance. Change. Taking it Back. Bring it On. We Can Do Better. Yes We Can. Because We Can. What About Now.”
(In case you’re wondering, songs/slogans 1,3, 4, 7, 8, 12 and 13 were Bon Jovi; 2 was Mitt Romney; 5 and 11 were John Kerry; 6, 9 and 13 were Barack Obama; and 12 was JF Kennedy. Perhaps Kerry and Obama have missed vocations as stadium rockers?)
Ms Mossman’s point was that ‘stadium rock employs the same nebulous, inspirational vocab as politics’, although she might well have substituted other nouns for ‘politics’. But my reaction was not, like her, to give recognition to Bon Jovi for ‘infusing John Doe with inspirational sentiment’ but to reflect more on that nagging similarity of vocabulary. And on the way that so many popular songs that, lyrically, expressed one sentiment have been appropriated by causes with different agendas. Although she mentions Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA (a war veteran’s angry rant) being hijacked by Reagan for its air-punching chorus, the phenomenon is not uniquely American. As a BBC news item shows, popular songs have been hijacked – almost invariably without consent – in many countries.
In recent weeks, two leaders have captured headlines by doing something usually thought of as unthinkable for someone in their position: Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands abdicated the throne and – also acting on historic precedence, but a much older on – Pope Benedict XVI resigned.
Although the Catholic church is facing considerable turbulence and the lingering whiff in the aisles is as much potential scandal as incense, there is no current indication that the resignation was either forced or ‘timely’. Nor has Queen Beatrix been a stranger to public criticism and scrutiny, and responded publicly to an extent that the British might find unusual compared to our own monarch. (Surprisingly un-English, the Dutch, as we’ve commented before.)
Although these are departures from office rather than ‘this mortal coil’, another Shakespeare quote – from the Scottish play – sprang to mind:
Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it.
The editors of People Management know a good pull quote when they see one. In a sector of trade publishing more prone than most to ‘attention grabbers’ that leave the reader with a sense that someone nearby will shortly be waving their Buzzword Bingo card aloft and shouting ‘House!’, the following certainly attracted our eyeballs:
Hiding behind your desk in a suit isn’t the answer anymore.”
The speaker is Ricardo Semler, CEO of Brazilian company Semco. People Management describe him as ‘the forgotten business guru’, which seems an odd appellation for a man whose organisation continues to thrive and grow. And the attention that he does receive has tended to focus far more heavily on his divergence from ‘conventional wisdom’ than the success that he has achieved. There’s a ‘why?’ begging to be asked.
In a recent Forbes blog, 10 Traits of Courageous Leaders, Susan Tardanico suggests ten actions leaders can take that will – she argues – have positive benefits for them and for those they lead.
- Confront reality head-on.
- Seek feedback and listen.
- Say what needs to be said.
- Encourage push-back.
- Take action on performance issues.
- Communicate openly and frequently.
- Lead change.
- Make decisions and move forward.
- Give credit to others.
- Hold people (and yourself) accountable.
While Tardanico’s original blog offers explanations and contextualisation for each of these items, her preceding paragraphs offered a broader context of period of a tenuous economy and an environment of workplace stress and anxiety during which many – including leaders – may be strongly tempted to keep their heads down and avoid risk. The remarks and comments it’s invoked, however, cover rather greater ground – and in some cases beg larger questions.