Category Archives: Uncategorized

On the search for identity in a VUCA* world

As I’ve written before, perhaps the greatest joy of my current role is the exposure I get to the fabulous work of some truly inspirational impact entrepreneurs. These people are at the forefront of accelerating progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals, innovating new business models specifically conceived to extend affordable access to essential goods and services (e.g. off-grid energy, clean water, improved sanitation) to households living at the base of the pyramid.

Many of those that EY works with are investees of Acumen, one of the world’s leading impact investors, who are also seeking to cultivate a wider community of change-makers through their +Acumen platform. Having signed up to +Acumen, I get the occasional thought-provoking email from them, and the one I received this morning really stopped me in my tracks.

Citing the following from Amin Maalouf’s writings on identity, it’s striking how relevant these words – written almost 20 years ago – feel today:

[In] the age of globalization and of the ever-accelerating intermingling of elements in which we are all caught up, a new concept of identity is needed, and needed urgently. We cannot be satisfied with forcing billions of bewildered human beings to choose between excessive assertion of their identity and the loss of their identity altogether, between fundamentalism and disintegration. But that is the logical consequence of the prevailing attitude on the subject.

If our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances; if they cannot reconcile their needs for identity with an open and unprejudiced tolerance of other cultures; if they feel as if they need to choose between the denial of self and the denial of the other – then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty madmen.

For it is the way we look at other people that imprisons them within their own narrowest allegiances. And it is also the way we look at them that may set them free.

What do you think?

————

* VUCA = Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous

Advertisements

On our desperate need to teach civics

Getting my caveats in first, I don’t mean for the body of this post to imply that people who voted for Brexit are stupid. Although admittedly fewer in number than Remainers in my acquaintance, I know enough very reasonable and well-reasoning Brexiters not to stoop to that level.

And yet…

For every rational and reasonable Brexiter in my circle of friends – with whom it’s possible to have a sensible discussion – there is at least one other who can be relied upon, like clockwork, to breathe life into the “ignorant Brexiter” caricature by regurgitating Daily Fail-fuelled bile at the very whiff of anything that tickles their “Remoaner” gag reflex.

One guy in particular – my antagonist in this particular exchange and a dozen others like it – appears to come straight out of central casting:

CAPS LOCK on for SHOUTY REPLY? Check!

Inability to master basic spelling and grammar? Check!

Complete reliance on straw men as the basis of argument? Check!

Refusal to engage substantively, deliberately not answering direct questions and/or replying to challenges and counterargument with yet more straw men? Check!

In his mind, and the minds of others like him, there’s only one course of action for “whining liberals” (his epithet of choice for people such as I): to shut the hell up! For him, it’s as if democracy existed for one day and one day only – the day of the referendum – then promptly vanished like a fart in the wind.

It’s exactly this that disturbs me more than anything that Brexit may hold in store for us, and the thought that lends me the title of this post – the quite staggering lack of knowledge about what it means to live in a democracy.

His is a world in which a well-functioning democracy is entirely compatible with judges being branded “enemies of the people” for having the temerity to assert the primacy of Parliament (Erm… isn’t UK parliamentary sovereignty what you said you wanted? Have you ever looked up “separation of powers”?).

It’s a world in which a well-functioning democracy is entirely compatible with ownership of the press by a handful of oligarchs (Erm… have you seen who owns that paper you read? Is it possible their reporting might be, I don’t know, ever-so-slightly biased? Have you ever tried sourcing “news” from multiple sources to get a more balanced view?).

It’s a world in which a well-functioning democracy is entirely compatible with the indefinite suspension of freedom of speech (at least as far as Brexit is concerned).

How much longer must this sort of thing go on before the realisation dawns that no democracy can function effectively, so long as a sizeable number of its subjects remain wilfully ignorant of the rights, duties and responsibilities it entails?

A slightly edited version of the particular exchange that sparked this post – what set yer man off, what he wrote, and what I said in reply to try and set the record straight – is laid out below. At the time of writing this, I haven’t received any further reply and, while the idealist in me would like to think I might actually have broken through this time, my inner realist won’t be placing any bets on it.



Dan Gray:
Retweeted Stephen Harper (@stephenaharper)

Celebrate Brexit day by cancelling your Netflix subscription and attempting to build a VHS player using instructions on the side of a bus.

Brexit bloke:
OR GET OVER IT   AND LABOUR DIDN’T WIN SHAL WE HAVE ANOTHER  GENERAL   ELECTION   I DIDN’T WIN THE LOTTERY   SHALL I DEMAND A REDRAW [sic.]

Dan Gray:
At what point have I ever even implied that I demand another election or referendum? Time to retire that pathetic straw man argument. For the umpteenth time, this time in really short sentences:

  1. Brexit is happening.
  2. I accept this democratic decision.
  3. But I don’t have to like it.
  4. And I’m free to continue to express my dissent.
  5. This is called freedom of speech.
  6. Which is also part of democracy.
  7. Don’t like it? Boo hoo!

If you insist on living in a country without such rights, and where every citizen is forced to agree with the powers-that-be, I hear North Korea’s nice.

 

Happy Now?

This sums up how I feel, pretty much to the letter. Sad. So sad.

Katyboo1's Weblog

It is day four in the Big Brexit house.

I had hoped after Friday’s absolute catastrophe of a day that the country might somehow magically rally over the weekend. I mean, when you plunge your country into possible ruin on the promise of a golden future that will allow it to rise like a phoenix from the flames, you have a plan, right?

As it turns out, you don’t. The only person that seems to have any plan at all, and be acting on it rather than just spouting meaningless Churchillian rhetoric is Nicola Sturgeon, and I can’t even vote for her.

I was distraught and angry on Friday. I had hoped to feel better by today. Instead I am running on barely controlled rage and getting more enraged by the moment.

Here are a few things I am furious about:

Firstly, leave voters telling me to calm down. I’m sorry…

View original post 1,627 more words

The Ryder Cup: It’s about people, Phil, not process

Wow. That American press conference after the Ryder Cup was some car crash, wasn’t it?!

While the first words off every European’s lips were to praise Paul McGinley to the hilt for his exemplary captaincy, Phil Mickelson chose instead to use his to plunge a knife right between Tom Watson’s shoulder blades – a decision that throws the essential and enduring difference between the two teams into sharpest possible relief.

Whereas past US dominance in the tournament was always based on having the world’s best individual players, Europe’s more recent dominance (that’s now 8 victories in the last 10 Ryder Cups) is undoubtedly the result of having the best team dynamic.

Whereas US players (most notably Tiger Woods and Mickelson himself) have typically performed well below par in Ryder Cups, the self same setting seems to encourage the Europeans to play beyond themselves. In stark contrast to Woods in past tournaments, Rory McIlroy looked every inch the world’s best golfer in spanking Ricky Fowler 5&4 and, where Ian Poulter left off in Medinah, Justin Rose picked up at Gleneagles, seemingly reserving the best golf of their lives for this event.

Why is that?

Not for the first time, stories of McGinley’s captaincy remind me of approaches ripped from the playbook of one of the world’s great motivators and man managers – legendary British Lions coach, Sir Ian McGeechan, whose example every Lions coach since has borrowed from heavily.

For example, for Fergie’s team talk with the European team, read wheeling out Lions legend, Willie John McBride, to deliver a stirring speech and hand players their test jerseys. For all the motivational words and imagery in the European team room, read the names of past Lions legends on a plaque above every peg in the dressing room – reminding you of the amazing players who’ve worn that jersey before you, and whose legacy you’re now part of continuing.

Most of all, I’m reminded of McGeechan’s words about Jason Leonard – a man who, despite a world record 114 international caps as a forward, never started a test match for the British Lions. McGeechan spoke of the unwavering support Leonard gave to Paul Wallace – the man who took to the field in his jersey in that epic 1997 series against South Africa. That, said McGeechan, epitomises what it means to be a Lion and is what makes Leonard one of the all-time greats.

So what, you may ask?

This sort of stuff means everything to exceptional team performance, especially in a sporting setting. It taps into deep emotions. It says that what we’re here to do is bigger than you, me and this particular moment in history. It breeds that all-for-one, never-say-die commitment to the cause. It means that when teammates exchange a glance, what that glance says is ‘I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you down’.

In that context, every bit as surprising and significant as the setting of Mickelson’s implicit attack on Watson was the substantive point of his criticism – that the US’ recent failures can be attributed to abandoning the ‘pod’ system put in place by their last successful Ryder Cup captain, Paul Azinger, whereby the team of 12 were split into three groups of 4 who bonded over practice and from whom each player pairing was drawn.

An eminently effective formula this may have proven but, for me, Mickelson’s emphasis on having been “invested in [that] process” – his specific focus on reviving that particular system, rather than the recreating (by whatever means) the feeling of ‘togetherness’ it generated – is to entirely miss the point. (In fact, if you want to fully appreciate the difference between strategy and tactics, that’s a perfect example right there.)

Last time I checked, a process had never holed a clutch putt for a vital half point on the 18th green. It wasn’t a process that stiffed a wedge to within 2 or 3 feet to secure the concession that won this year’s trophy. It was a person. And until the US team figures that out – investing in the broader outcome of team togetherness, rather than arguing the toss over specific methodologies for achieving it – they may continue to find themselves on the wrong end of a drubbing.

On speech writing: Salmond shows true colours?

Beware the significance of every single word you write…

Listening to various leaders, in the wake of Scotland’s verdict in the independence referendum this morning, I couldn’t help but latch onto the very careful and deliberate insertion of the phrase “at this stage” in Alex Salmond’s concession speech – i.e. Scots have chosen not to separate from the rest of the UK “at this stage”.

Clearly he couldn’t help himself and you can’t help but think about what that reveals about the man.

Those three small – and apparently innocuous – words rather undermine all his other rhetoric about taking the ‘No’ vote on the chin and focusing whole-heartedly now on working “constructively in the best interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK.”

At best, the use of such a qualifying phrase makes him sound like a sore loser; at worst completely disingenuous (note also how his earlier assertion that the referendum would settle the independence issue for a “lifetime” has now been downgraded to a “generation”).

Alex, I know you don’t have kids or grandkids, but it’s time to go rent yourself a copy of ‘Frozen’ and sing along with Elsa. C’mon, you know the words…

“Let it go! Let it GO-OOOO!”

Africa’s Century: Defining African Leadership

Are you interested in the future of leadership in Africa?

Given the opportunity to pose questions to an expert panel — including former South African president, F.W. de Klerk, and Dr Nkosana Moyo, founder and executive chair of the Mandela Institute of Development Studies — what would you ask them?

That’s precisely the opportunity I have, thanks to an invitation to attend a private forum, hosted by Ashridge Business School, entitled ‘Africa’s Century: Defining African Leadership’.

So, if you have questions about the topics below, please post a reply, and I’ll do my best to put them to the panel on your behalf:

  • Africa’s economic challenges
  • Strengthening leadership as a strategy for economic development
  • Structure, scalability and sustainability of African business

The ‘Both/And’ Manifesto

Happy New Year, everyone, and here’s wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2014!

If you’re short of a New Year’s resolution, permit me to suggest a quick jaunt over to the Guardian’s Sustainable Business blog. There, once again, Caroline Holtum and the gang have very graciously lent me a platform to spout forth on the huge value to be unlocked by reconnecting business strategy to delivering social progress – this time in the form of my ‘Both/And Manifesto’.

Take a look and, if this feels like a credo you can sign up to, then please spread the word!

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/new-years-resolutions-sustainability-manifesto

PS. A tip o’ the hat to Rob Cameron, Executive Director at SustainAbility, who, when I shared this with him a few weeks back, suggested replacing the ‘thick/thin’ value terminology with ‘deep/shallow’. His reasoning? While the ‘thick/thin’ dichotomy works fine when both concepts are placed in juxtaposition, they’re not terms that are likely to carry a whole lot of meaning if they get used in isolation. I think that’s a great shout. Thanks, Rob!