Philip Whiteley's Blog

September 27, 2016

Are fiction and non-fiction swapping roles?

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:16 am

In my vlog this week I pose the question: are fiction and non-fiction swapping roles? Given the rise of opinion columns, celebrity news, social media and the hashtag, emotional viewpoints dominate the news media. In novels, by contrast, many readers increasingly seek exhaustively researched period pieces.

Whether there is too much research in fiction (the problem lies more in showing the research, than carrying it out), is a matter of taste. The bigger problem is that there is way too little research in journalism.

The huge popularity of historical fiction, for Wolf Hall and First World War dramas in particular, demonstrates that the human desire for detailed, factual knowledge can be considerable. It’s just worrying that there isn’t the same thirst for what is going on around us, right here, right now. I find this extraordinary. When it comes to the Tudor court of the 1540s or the Somme offensive of 1916 there is an insatiable desire for forensic, factual detail. Yet when it comes to the operation of the European single market or single currency, we seem to prefer to follow the headlines and the most eloquent speech, even though these matters directly affect our households and our prospects.

There is a psychological explanation: history is safe, whereas with current affairs we sometimes have a stake. We may not want the facts of the matter, we just want our side to win. To an extent, this is just human nature. But it never helps to be ignorant, to downplay certain inconvenient truths. Because if you only deal in polemics and hate figures, you can depart too far from reality, with consequences that actually harm your own vested interest.

For example, seven years ago the leading centre-left publication in the UK, The Guardian/Observer, ended the regular column of Simon Caulkin, the only reporter who had provided a detailed, thorough analysis of the failing business model that had led to the financial crisis. Yet at the same time, it offered space to comedians and other showbiz stars, and the political coverage became more strident; anti-Tory, yes, but lacking in substance. At the time that Simon’s column was ended, I orchestrated a protest letter signed by over 100 academics from all over the world, many with impeccable left-wing credentials, many of them bemoaning the replacement of serious content by celebrity news. The Guardian/Observer did not even publish the letter! (Though we did get a mention in the satirical magazine Private Eye).

It is notable that, seven years on, the left in Britain has yet to articulate a coherent alternative business and economic model to the Conservative, neo-liberal approach that hit crisis. So indulging in polemic and neglecting the cold hard facts can harm your interest.

For myself, I write fiction that I hope will entertain, and journalism and non-fiction that is based on research. It doesn’t make me fashionable, but I do think it’s the right way around. If you agree with me, please share this blog.

For a novel and independent look at business journalism, have a look at the new Business Hard Talk website.

For more about me, go to: www.pjwhiteley.co.uk

 

September 23, 2016

Let’s abolish the term ‘human resources’

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:42 am

In the past 19 years I have written or co-written eight non-fiction books, hundreds of articles and dozens of blogs about business management. They’re all on the same theme; the link between humane and intelligent people management and better outcomes for the organization, and for society. There’s a huge research base demonstrating the links (there was a pretty good base of evidence back in 1997, when I started in this field). There are practical ways in which you can implement the findings and improve, even transform, your organization. Recently I have been working with Professor Vlatka Hlupic, who has created The Management Shift, and Rod Willis of Assentire, who developed the Innovation Audit.

Yet still, poor management persists. Arguably, it’s even the norm. Why is this? The main barrier we come across in this field is that the inner beliefs of many in senior management are that better leadership is an optional extra, and that ‘really’ you ought to be managing costs, and treating people as a disposable resource, if you want to be profitable. For some, almost no amount of evidence will shake this belief.

The fact that most organizations still have a department called ‘human resources’ or HR, shows just how reluctant the world of business is to modernise. As well as lacking an evidence base, the concept of the ‘human resource’ lacks even basic logic. Because that is not how a real organization operates. In the real world, it is people, as conscious agents, making decisions and using skills, who create an organization. A company uses resources, it doesn’t consist of them.

Using the term and the concept ‘human resources’ is inaccurate as well as dehumanizing. It has failed owners and managers as well as employees and society. Pretending that the company is a collection of resources, and that people are resources, are beliefs that are just wrong. As wrong as believing that the earth is flat or that blood-letting alleviates illness.

So, here’s a challenge. I can even imagine a petition: Let’s abolish the term ‘human resources’, and hopefully, ultimately, the flawed thinking that ever gave rise to this dreadful term, and the miserable working lives, poor returns, frustrated managers, low wages and low profits that have resulted from it.

If you agree, please share this blog!

September 20, 2016

Gringos Can’t Dance

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 4:19 pm

A short story by PJ Whiteley

Her fiancé’s in Brazil ….

Young Johnny Collins accompanies his close friend Pablo, son of a political exile, on a sojourn from their home city of Leeds to Santiago Chile in June 1991, a year after the fall of the dictator Pinochet. The two friends plan to attend a major football cup final, along with the equally sports-mad, feisty and beautiful Rosa, Pablo’s cousin.

Johnny promises to obey his mate’s entreaty not to fall for Rosa, who is engaged to the arrogant Arturo, absent on a foreign posting. But as the young friends become caught up in the chaos of an all-night fiesta that sweeps across the city, Rosa and Johnny’s desire for each other tests their commitments to breaking point. What can they endure more: the regret of a doomed love affair, or the regret of a missed opportunity?

This coming of age drama by PJ Whiteley, prequel to his second novel Marching on Together, portrays a melting pot of clashing cultures and youthful passions, and a sequence of events that will haunt Johnny for many years to come.

To receive your FREE copy of Gringos Can’t Dance, go to the Contact & Book Club page at www.pjwhiteley.co.uk

August 24, 2016

The subtle art of book promotion

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:03 am

Here’s the first of what I hope will be weekly vlogs on my life as a writer. First up, some views on the necessity of self-promotion, and the subtle art of professional book promotion. See the video on the Close of Play FB page (posted 23 August 2016)! More next week.

August 15, 2016

Interview for website launch

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:04 am

The following interview features at the new PJ Whiteley author website, launched today. Go to www.pjwhiteley.co.uk

I strive to be profound, but accessible, alternately funny and serious. I am not keen on the distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘popular’ fiction – I agree the terms apply respectively to James Joyce and Dick Francis, but most writers lie somewhere in between.

I write about the world that I know, because I have so rarely encountered it in fiction and drama, and I think there’s untapped potential. I agree with Toni Morrison’s advice to ‘write the book you would wish to read’. I don’t share the current craze for historical fiction; I mean, look at the momentous times we’re living through! THIS is history, right here, right now. I’ve lived through the Berlin Wall collapsing, the UK voting to quit the European Union, Leeds United being cheated out of the European Cup in 1975.

My characters are complex, and become challenged about how they see the world, themselves and others. I like to explore interests and passions, that may be sporting, political or religious, so that the reader gets to know more about the individuals than just career choices and relationships – there’s some fire that’s burning within.

While I love a great thriller, for example the books of CJ Sansom or James Patterson, I’ve made a conscious decision to avoid baddies and corpses. I am fascinated by characters who strive to be good but find it difficult, like Elizabeth in Close of Play, or who are fundamentally decent but haunted by a terrible act long ago, like Yvonne in Marching on Together.

 

August 8, 2016

Mores of Corinth

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:48 am

Day three of the Olympics, and I’m struggling to become engaged in the swimming, cycling and other contests. Partly, this is a sulk because, unlike in 2012, they’re not being held in London, and partly because my sports-viewing time has been taken up by the gripping Test Match between England and Pakistan; I attended the Friday’s play at Edgbaston, and followed much of the rest on the TV.

Of course, another reason for many folk turning away from the 31st modern Olympiad, the first to be held in South America, is the extent of the doping scandals, especially in athletics. I wish I could say that cricket was a haven from cheating, but match-fixing scandals have blighted the sport in recent years. In the current series Mohammed Amir had just ended a five-year ban. Given that he was only 19 at the time of his involvement in the scandal, and that he went to prison, I think he deserves another chance, but not everyone agrees.

For my forthcoming novel Marching on Together, I’ve been looking into actual and suspected match-rigging in European club football in the 1960s and 1970s. I’ve established only two cases of referees accepting bribes, but some highly suspicious results hint at more, as this 2009 Telegraph article shows. The new opus features a central character for whom the most notorious, but unproven controversy, the European Cup Final of 1975, had momentous repercussions, still affecting her life in August 2014, when the events of the novel take place.

Taken together, however, it is sadly difficult ever to be completely certain that a professional sporting event is clean and fair. The place on the podium seems to be all that matters.

In this context, it is worth dusting off the code of conduct of upper-class British sportsmen from the late 19th Century. It came to be known as the Corinthian Spirit, although there appears to be no explicit  link to the mores of the ancient city of Corinth, nor to St Paul’s letters from the Greek city.

The code, however, was real enough, ensuring that cheating, even in a small way, was utterly taboo and could result in social ostracism. The emphasis was upon the love of the game and fair play. In some amateur football teams in the 19th Century, this even extended to volunteering to retire a member of your own team if the opponents lost a player through injury. The code was strict: You walk when you’re out. You never cheat, even if you could get away with it. You always accept the referee’s decision, even when he’s clearly made an error. You never accept or offer a bribe. You applaud your opponents. You accept there is physical risk and you don’t complain when you’re hurt. You always play to the best of your ability.

Much was lost when the Corinthian spirit became crushed by professionalism and the ‘win at all costs’ mentality took hold. As Brian, the main character in Close of Play, laments:

In England, until around 1960, there was something known as ‘amateur’ status in the counties. Gentlemen who were wealthy enough to play distinguished themselves from the professionals who earned a wage, and considered themselves higher in social status. Until the 1950s you had to be an ‘amateur’ to captain England. At the level of the clubs, especially in the south, there was an emphasis on ‘friendly’ fixtures honouring the amateur ethos and the spirit of the game, rather than leagues where the emphasis was more upon winning and chalking up points. Amateur status introduced an absurd sort of social distinction, so it had to go. But as ever with social progress, the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. Out went the old school tie, class distinction and much nonsense; but also out of fashion was walking when you were out, applauding your opponents, and generally playing to the spirit as well as the letter of the laws of the game.

He goes on to point out the irony that the move towards professionalism and leagues made matters much harder for immigrant and second-generation cricket teams in London, as they could not afford their own ground. More generally, the Corinthians, though mostly colonialist in outlook, were relatively benign compared with the violent and racist regimes of South Africa and the southern USA. On the field of play, different races were equal, enabling West Indian superstars to emerge such as George Headley and Learie Constantine as long ago as the 1920s. The latter became a peer in the British House of Lords in 1969.

There was much about the attitudes of the public school boys who upheld the Corinthian values that seem dated now, but they were more liberal than they’re given credit for, and they upheld some noble values too. We owe them an apology.

July 5, 2016

Appearing at the Margate Book Festival

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:39 am

I’m very pleased to announce that I’ll be a panel member at a session of the Margate Book Festival on the evening of Saturday 20th August. Panel host is my publisher Matthew Smith of Urbane, and the theme is ‘Get Published’. I plan to talk on the theme of perfecting your craft as a writer; creating something special, with a publishing deal as a by-product.

Given that it took me 17 years between starting Close of Play and seeing it in print, I can attest to the value of patience!

The session runs 18.30 til 20.00 and is FREE, but you do have to book a ticket, as space is limited. More details via my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Close-of-Play-430639067061210/ .

I’m also running a summer promotion for Close of Play, which now has over 20 Amazon reviews, and its first print review, in which the Church Times described the book as ‘…well written, but above all well observed’.

June 16, 2016

The four worst arguments in the Brexit debate

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:16 am

Partly by chance, my research and writing work on business and economics in Europe, and employee rights, over the past couple of decades, means I’m in a position to critique some of the points made in the EU referendum debate taking place here in the UK. Four of the recurring arguments are infuriating me. I mean, they’re just wildly misleading, so I feel duty-bound to point out some of the more glaring errors and omissions. There are two on each side, so here goes:

LEAVE

“The people warning of the economic impact of Brexit also warned us that not joining the euro would be disastrous, so we can safely ignore them.”

This is a very weak and illogical argument. The single market and the single currency are very different things. The former was well put together, the latter was not. Being in the single market but not the single currency gives access to 500 million customers tariff free, with the instant price flexibility of a different currency. The statement is not even consistently accurate. Gordon Brown and William Hague did more than anyone to keep Britain out of the euro, but they are now warning of the negative economic impact of Brexit.

“Our rules are set by Brussels/We’re run by Brussels.”

This statement is a huge exaggeration, that contradicts another key element in the Brexit argument. The UK has autonomy over spending priorities, economic policy, the regions, criminal law, its own currency. David Cameron’s deal exempted Britain from ever closer union. Also, the statement ironically undermines another part of the Brexit argument, that the UK is a major economic and diplomatic power that can be independent. If we have zero influence even within Europe, how on earth are we to have even greater influence globally, having just given up a place on the Council of Ministers and annoyed all of our strategic allies? Brexit could lead to less influence, autonomy and status, not more.

REMAIN

“A vote to stay in the EU is essential for workers’ rights.”

The UK has a very strong record on workers’ rights. The right to strike, with immunity from litigation for damages, has existed for more than a century, and was maintained during two World Wars. The Equal Pay Act 1970 pre-dates EU membership. Until 1977, in West Germany, a wife needed her husband’s permission to work; until 1958 a married West German woman’s salary was automatically the property of her husband. Two of the most enlightened UK measures were passed by Conservative Governments: elected trade union leaders and the Living Wage. This argument is a double fail by the Remain camp because it buys into the Brexit myth that we’re “run by Brussels”.

“People who want Brexit are xenophobes.”

There’s a nasty edge creeping in to the Remain camp, which is to insult the other side. The EU has serious flaws: lack of accountability, mass unemployment in the Eurozone, and the groupthink in the Brussels elites that equates more institutional integration with more social integration, leading to poor strategic choices. Brexit could trigger a move to a Federation of Europe that is less institutionally integrated, but more accountable and sustainable. It’s unlikely, in my opinion, but this is a respectable opinion to hold.

Whether we vote Remain or Leave next Thursday, we need to have much, much better conversations.

May 16, 2016

Evidence is not enough

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:15 am

It’s taken for granted, in our scientific democratic age, that public policies, and the settled view on potentially controversial matters, must be ‘evidence based’, in pleasingly rational contrast to beliefs based upon superstition or an established religion.

It sounds like progress, but in recent years I’ve come to learn that the phrase ‘evidence-based’ is not a synomym for ‘honest and scientific’. The problem with evidence is that it’s like statistics: you can use factual evidence to prove any case you wish to promote, if you are selective enough. I have come across PR officers, and even eminent scientists in the pay of a vested interest, who treat evidence rather like a toddler treats a fruit cake studded with sweets: picking it over for their favourite bits.

A couple of years ago, investigating the scandal of an unrecognized industrial illness, I learned that a government inquiry had cleared the sector concerned of any wrong-doing. Mmm, I thought, I bet there’s the phrase ‘no evidence’ in the Executive Summary of the report, and I bet the research had been reverse-engineered to produce this phrase. There was, and it had been. The study hadn’t even been completed, so the ‘no evidence’ bit was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It had been carried out by a perfectly respectable scientific institution, but one sponsored by the industry in question.

The phrase ‘There’s no evidence…’ that one hears frequently from corporations, government departments and the like, in practice is sometimes a code for one of the following statements:

  • ‘There’s only no evidence because we’ve blocked funding for the relevant research.’
  • ‘There’s quite a lot of evidence, but it’s failed to convince me.’
  • ‘There’s quite a lot of evidence, but I’ve chosen to ignore it.’
  • ‘There’s a huge amount of damning evidence contrary to our policy, but we still prefer it anyway, because we fear the consequences of a change in stance.’

This calculated, selective approach contrasts unfavourably with, for example, the discipline for encouraging reliability of evidence in a court case. This is based on Judeo-Christian principles: one is invited to hold the Bible and swear to tell ‘The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.’ The practice of being ‘evidence-based’ typically means dispensing with the latter two elements of the oath.

Evidence needs supplementing by things like examination of conscience; an understanding of the consequences of one’s actions or inactions; a sense of social responsibility. There is an essential role for concepts that are not testable scientifically: wisdom, judgement, responsibility, care and love.  At a very personal level, this means knowing that presenting available evidence in such a highly selective way that it amounts to a deception of the public is morally wrong. You can’t prove this scientifically; it stems from values. As Moses put it (Exodus 23: 1-2 and 6-8):

“You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. … And you shall take no bribe, for a bribe blinds the discerning and perverts the words of the righteous.”

This advice is as relevant to an eminent scientist in an esteemed university or investment banker or politician today, as it was for a trader in pre-Christian Judea. We wouldn’t have had the banking crisis, or other recent scandals, if as a society we’d been more or less following this timeless guidance.

May 13, 2016

The business is people

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 2:14 pm

I’m delighted to be featured this week in the Industrial Print blog, run by my former colleagues at Personnel Today, Marcus Timson and Frazer Chesterman. The interview with Marcus covered the perennial issue of why people management is not more highly valued in the dominant business model, and of the promising signs that some entrenched views are shifting. An excerpt reads:

Companies that treat their people best, perform best. The problem is that companies that attempt to implement a people strategy don’t always commit fully and therefore it doesn’t work that well. I really believe that people management isn’t a part of the business, it is the other way around – business is a part of people management. The organisations that understand this best outperform the others.

Marcus praises my 2002 book Unshrink, co-authored with Dr Max Mckeown, which identified many of the flaws of the mechanistic approach to business strategy years before they became evident in the banking crisis. By coincidence, Max and I are in discussions about an updated version. More soon… we hope.

The full blog can be read on this link.

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