Philip Whiteley's Blog

October 31, 2014

A practical vision

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 11:57 am
While I’ve written books, blogs and articles about the organizational and societal benefits of engaging leadership, one challenge for me personally is that I’m not an executive. I can’t claim: ‘Oh, this is how you change the leadership/teamwork in your organization, starting from next Monday….’
I deal with ideas; important ideas, and I make the case that you can’t separate ideas, beliefs, values, etc, from management decisions, even the smallest ones. But of course you have to be able to join the dots between the ideas and the practice. So I’m delighted to be working this year with Vlatka Hlupic who, as well as sharing my ideology on organizational leadership, can present a proven, practical tool for delivering it – tested at 20 employers, large and small. Her book, The Management Shift, is published today. Here’s the opening:

In business management, there is a problem. There is also an historic opportunity. The problem is that our conventional hierarchical approach, with a senior management operating ‘command and control’, is no longer a credible option for a rapidly changing, unpredictable, global business environment. The opportunity comes from the wealth of evidence and thinking behind an enlightened alternative. In this book I shall describe what I call “The Management Shift”, that focuses on people, their collaboration and sense of purpose.

Read more at: The Management Shift.

October 13, 2014

Time for a romantic interlude

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 3:55 pm

When I quip that my career as a business writer consists of trying to persuade economists that society consists of people, it can be assumed I’m exaggerating. I’m really not. Treating people as ‘resources’ is a conceptual error as well as a demeaning attitude, as I’ve sought to demonstrate with Neela Bettridge in New Normal Radical Shift. I’ll be reprising the message with a talk at the CEDEP school, INSEAD on 17 November, and when hosting the launch of The Management Shift (use of the word ‘shift’ is coincidence, but telling) by the brilliant Vlatka Hlupic later that same week.

It’s delightful to be able to share the burden with people like Vlatka who’ve done so much more research. And sometimes, I seek refuge from this Quixotic task of re-educating the business community. For years, I’ve carried out experiments with fiction, and I’m delighted to announce that my first novel will appear in spring 2015, published by Urbane Publications. Matthew Smith, founder of Urbane, has the excellent idea of co-creating books and the means to promote them in partnership with authors. This is perfect for me, as I’ve long sought an alternative to traditional versus self-publishing. In an interview for the Ivy Moon Press blog, Matthew explains his business philosophy of partnering and cooperation.

Close of Play is a romance with some comedy, and much reflection. Urbane pitch it as ‘a thoughtful, honest story of love and manners, of missed opportunities and a chance at redemption’. Society consists of people, and it’s a rare person who’s uninteresting. My role is, first and foremost, to be a reporter of the times we live through. It’s been fascinating to turn to fiction as an alternative means of conveying stories and ideas (an awful lot more difficult than non-fiction, I’ve discovered). A revised manuscript has just gone to Matthew. I’ll post again when details are available.

Strange new world ….

September 17, 2014

Specialist politicians are inept at politics

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 1:48 pm

Last week I characterized Clegg-Cameron-Miliband as ‘three overgrown schoolboys’. This was insulting. I apologize immediately and unreservedly to schoolboys everywhere. Even I did not expect that they would be quite so clueless, panicky and naïve in their dealings with the canny Alex Salmond. What a mismatch! If it were a boxing match, it would have to have been stopped by now.

They’ve been played. When Mr Salmond spells out plans for independence that are quite deliberately vague and contradictory, I shout at the TV: ‘It’s a trap! Don’t do it! Don’t wade in with dire projections of capital flight, austerity and unemployment!’

Too late. They can’t hear me. Salmond then plays his ‘scaremongering’ card and his support is bolstered. Westminster has ignored Scotland for so long that all his narratives have resonance, the honest ones and the disingenuous ones alike.

Then, without consulting any voters, the party leaders with Gordon Brown decide to offer everything Mr Salmond ever wished: more powers, generous subsidies, keep the pound. The matter is agreed in a back-of-an-envelope deal before the votes are even cast. It would sell out the taxpayers of England, Northern Ireland and Wales (the last of which will probably be hit hardest, and has greater needs than Scotland), although there is no guarantee that they can get it through Parliament.

What should they have done instead? Lay out a positive vision for Scotland in the union. Point out that California did not have to secede from the USA to become an economic powerhouse, and challenge Mr Salmond’s emphasis on oil. The bedrock of lasting prosperity is strong schools and universities, not commodities. Also, they should have started these narratives months ago.

Basic principles for negotiation are: talk calmly, negotiate firmly. Clegg-Cameron-Miliband have done the opposite: insulted and patronized the Scots, but rolled over in the actual negotiations. One explanation is the issue I referred to last week: the insular nature of politicians who’ve only done politics. Their world is one of marketing skills and understanding Westminster: when it’s real lives and economies at stake in actual negotiations, they have little real-world experience. In the old days, a Tory would have actually run a business, and a Labour minister would have actually run a union. They would have known something about how to handle negotiations when the welfare of your firm or your members is at stake. Clegg-Cameron-Miliband, A-grade students with an exaggerated sense of their own control, panic when faced with unexpected events.

The politics of this is now quite scary. The psychology, however, is fascinating.

September 11, 2014

Beware the Caledonian Peronists

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:25 am

When I was eight, my family moved from Yorkshire to north-west Kent. I must have had a strong accent at the time, because one of my abiding memories of the first day in the playground was the cockney kids asking me: ‘Oi, mate, where are you from? Are you Scottish?’ I corrected them, but it didn’t bother me. Peter Lorimer and Billy Bremner are Scottish, I reflected, so it was cool. In the 1970s, I used to support Scotland at the Home Internationals.
Fast forward to a Mexican resort in 2009. A waiter asked Rose and me: “Are you English or Scottish? Last week I asked someone if he was English. It turned out he was Scottish and he was really offended and became angry with me.”
It set me thinking. Why are many Scots folk offended if called ‘English’, when people from Yorkshire or Northumberland are not offended (as far as I’m aware) if an American or a Cockney asks them if they are Scottish (which happens quite a lot, by the way)?
This leads on to the topical question, of momentous import, given the existential choice facing Scottish voters next week: to what extent is the push for Scottish independence a drive for more accountability, a distrust or disillusionment with the governance of Westminster, or an atavistic dislike of the English, to such an extent that it is considered a humiliation to be confused for one?
I think we can observe all these phenomena. We’re entering very dangerous water as nationalism, identity politics and envy come to the surface in the politics of Britain – but that doesn’t mean that all the SNP’s perspectives (or UKIP’s) are without basis.
It’s also the case that, given the opportunity I have had through my travels and research for various books, that I have a perspective that helps understand the dynamics. It certainly gives me a better grasp than the trio Cameron-Clegg-Miliband.
What concerns me is not so much the outcome of the vote – the difference between ‘Devo Max’ and ‘Independence Lite’ is almost non-existent – but the conduct of the politicians and the fairness of the eventual settlement. Above all, this blog is to warn of the dangers of stereotyping and identity politics; and to encourage politicians of every stripe to pay attention to matters that are ultimately more important than borders, flags and constitutions – matters such as governance, education, economic development and management of public services, which we could improve under existing structures, and which do far more to improve quality of life than securing new ‘powers’ from Brussels/London (delete as appropriate).
As I write, we seem to be heading for the worst possible outcome – a close margin, with negative campaigning on both sides. London-based newspapers and Westminster party leaders warn of the economic risks of a split of Britain, often in dire tones, without a compensatory positive vision for Union, or an acknowledgement of the democratic deficits in an unwritten constitution and an unreformed Westminster.
Meanwhile Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon refuse to spell out their monetary strategy, and play the anti-English card when subjected to reasonable questioning on the details. For those who haven’t been following, the dialogue goes like this:
Q: If you want independence, surely that means a Scottish central bank and Scottish currency?
A: We want to share sterling; it’s a shared asset.
Q: Should you at least make contingency plans for a Scottish central bank and currency, as a back-up plan, if you are serious about political independence?
A: How dare the English bully us in that way! They are the ones causing the instability by refusing to have discussions about sharing sterling!
Such passive-aggressive behaviour is indefensible. Look at what they are doing here: responding to perfectly reasonable questions – which would be put to any political leaders planning a new nation – with an emotional accusation, with a dash of sectarian hatred thrown in. It is not ‘bullying’ to point out that the current SNP position has some contradictions, or to dare suggest that Edinburgh might not get all of its demands met all of the time, because it might not be fair on taxpayers in the rest of the sterling area.
And would shared sterling after a Yes vote enhance Scotland’s autonomy? Think about it: loss of representation in Westminster, a new fiscal agreement almost certainly less generous than the Barnett Formula, but monetary policy still set in the hated London!
In my work over the years, I’ve become acquainted with an approach to politics that is common in Latin America and southern Europe, and that is on the rise in Britain, although it is never openly acknowledged here. It is called nationalist-populism. What a nationalist-populist like the Peronists in Argentina, or the Greek socialists/New Democrats require, is access to Other People’s Money and a permanent scapegoat. They ramp up spending, especially just before an election. The money often comes from borrowing, or plundering state pension funds, or by levying huge taxes on the main export earners. The supply of funds doesn’t have to be sustainable, it just has to last as long as the individual political careers of the architects of the splurges, who tend to style themselves as ‘people’s champions’. Every bad thing that happens is blamed on the Yanquis, or the Germans, or ‘The West’ or Brussels, or whichever foreign power is the most distrusted in the popular narratives, even when it is transparently the fault of said ‘champion of the people’. Defaults on government debt are frequent; economic crises are almost permanent – the poorest suffering the most.
It’s worth considering whether Alex Salmond is a statesmanlike social democrat like Willy Brandt, or an unprincipled nationalist-populist. To be fair, you can witness both aspects. He does set out a case for a balanced economy, and has some business support. He has criticized lax fiscal control by Gordon Brown. And the impressive book Blunders of Our Governments by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe praises the Scottish Parliament for sensible law-making, in contrast to many mistakes by the Westminster Parliament and Whitehall.
But I see more evidence of tendencies towards unprincipled populism. His scapegoating of ‘English Tories’ is out of all proportion to their impact – Edinburgh gets a pretty good deal out of the union in terms of both autonomy and financial support, as this article by John Kay in the FT shows. Scotland’s living standards are higher than most of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, under existing arrangements.
The emphasis on sterling and oil are red warning signs. Salmond’s refusal to accept the principle of Scottish taxpayers being responsible for Scottish public spending, even as a Plan C or a Plan D, indicates a worrying fondness for Other People’s Money. Sterling, as a reminder, is not his Plan A, but his Plan B. For years, he wanted to join the euro, but the eurozone crisis intervened, and he witnessed what occurred when Ireland had to comply with the strictures of EU monetary union (Dublin has imposed actual austerity, unlike Coalition Britain). If my hunch about him being a nationalist-populist is correct, then his Plan A was Germany to provide the subsidies, and the English to be the scapegoats. Now we English appear to be in his sights for both roles.
Also, he talks far too much about North Sea oil revenues for my liking, and far too little about universities, skills, technological start-ups and building businesses. An economy heavily reliant on income from commodities is inherently unbalanced and unstable.
I hope I am wrong on this hunch. Which of the two Alex Salmonds becomes dominant – the principled social democrat or the opportunistic nationalist-populist – will have momentous consequences for all of us who earn our living and pay our mortgage repayments in sterling.
Of course, many of these considerations seem to be beyond the ken of Cameron-Clegg-Miliband (though David Cameron made a much better, heartfelt speech yesterday. More of this earlier would have been better). I really don’t understand the recent trend of appointing inexperienced photogenic men, with no experience of the working world outside Westminster, at the head of our main political parties. They are at least supposed to be intelligent and to understand politics – making some of their recent blunders difficult to comprehend. To hand Salmond the ‘Yes’ option was an horrendous own goal. The voting card should have asked you to tick ‘Union’ or ‘Independence’.
But Ed Miliband is the most culpable. By endlessly repeating the ‘evil English Tories’ mantra, he simply echoes the lazy propaganda of the Yes campaign. He might as well be wearing an SNP rosette. He promises to keep the Tories out for five years; Salmond promises to keep them out forever. What Miliband should have done was draw attention to the similarities of the secessionists Alex Salmond and Nigel Farage, with their scapegoating respectively of London and Brussels, and make a positive case for constitutional reform within a democratic union. The Telegraph columnist Dan Hodges illustrates the counter-productive effect of Miliband’s rhetoric here.
It’s still possible to be an optimist. The UK needs a written constitution, a fair balance of subsidies, and elected bodies for each region/country, and the referendum could spur all these reforms. But with these four alpha males in charge – one sectarian opportunist (for the most part) and the three overgrown schoolboys – it’s hard to see where the leadership is going to come from.
There will be extremely difficult negotiations after the vote, whichever way it goes. I hope that the four political leaders can rapidly develop their leadership abilities, and negotiate a fair and democratic settlement, perhaps by drawing in the counsel of wiser souls like Shirley Williams, David Steel and Malcolm Rifkind. The conduct of Britain’s political leaders, and the tone of the debate, now matter more than the outcome of the vote.
• I’ve written about the dangers of economic and business short-termism, and nationalist-populism, in the book New Normal Radical Shift, published by Gower last year. It costs £45. Quite expensive – but a hell of a lot cheaper than having your life savings wiped out by an aggressive nationalist-populist. I really hope I’m wrong about Alex Salmond. Someone give me some evidence, please.

August 26, 2014

Evidence is not enough

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 3:35 pm

We supposedly live in a scientific age; the continual complaint from many spokespeople in the scientific community is that religious belief holds us back from being thoroughly rational and modern.

But how rational are we? By ‘we’, I mean people, generally in society; and more pertinently, decision-makers in government, business and non-profit institutions. In the course of the past 15 years I’ve been writing articles and books on management and business; last winter I researched and advised on a major book on an occupational illness. In all of these inquiries – even when it involved industrial chemistry – I have discovered that absolute proof leading to an incontrovertible conclusion is a vanishingly rare phenomenon. Cognitive biases and cultural influences shape the way in which we prioritize, discuss matters and make decisions.

Ah but, the rationalists counter: by emphasising evidence and reason, at the very least we can minimize the corrosive influence of prejudice and superstition. Well, in practice, not necessarily so; indeed, even the reverse. This ‘rational’ approach is often accompanied by the conceit that we can avoid belief. Refusing to acknowledge tacit beliefs can result in excessive emphasis upon tenuous evidence, and complete refusal to acknowledge the existence of a rival body of knowledge.

In business management, there is now around 75 years of convincing evidence that employee engagement is important. But it has yet to have commensurate influence upon the analysis, reporting and decision-making within businesses, or have any influence at all upon the way in which employment legislation is drafted and debated. This is because of cultural beliefs, which are particularly fervently held by those who pride themselves on a rational devotion to maximizing returns for business.

One of the beliefs, on which I have written at length, (see also this blog) is that the wage cost is the sole or dominant part of the employment cost. In reality, it is dwarfed by the gains and losses of having the right skills, engagement and the best customer experience. This false belief is held on the left and right of politics, and results in wages being very much lower than they can or should be. It led to the absurd decision by a restaurant in the USA recently to put a 35 cent surcharge on bills after the state increased the statutory minimum wage.

So, if you want to be as rational as you can be, best first to understand those unspoken cultural beliefs that we all carry around with us, and look for evidence in unconventional places that might challenge or qualify them. Physician, heal thyself, as Jesus Christ once said. Sorry.

  • I will be involved in the launch of one of the most impressive recent books on enlightened leadership in business, called The Management Shift. The author Professor Vlatka Hlupic brings together all elements: Values, Evidence and Practice, in a comprehensive demonstration that all value ultimately resides in people and the way in which they are led. There is a holding website here – due for development in the next few weeks: www.themanagementshift.com

July 1, 2014

Architect of Cool Britannia

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:48 am

With fans all over the world, some of whom adore his work from decades ago, we are truly honoured to welcome Brian Clemens, legendary screen-writer, creator of The Avengers and The Professionals, at the Ampthill Literary Festival. He will appear in conversation with screenplay writer and fan Simon Michael, co-chair of the festival, this Saturday afternoon at the Parkside Hall.

Second only to The Beatles as THE style icon of Sixties Britain, The Avengers brought wit, intelligence and sexiness to TV thrillers. Fifty years on, it retains a vibrant fan base, especially in the USA. Click here for a reminder of how cool it was and still is.

For Brian Clemens’ The Professionals in the late 70s, Gordon Jackson shed his butler’s uniform for the suits of CI5, British Intelligence, supervising agents Bodie and Doyle . Click on this You Tube link to see them at their dynamic best.

Of course, Brian Clemens’ credits extend much further than these two series, in an illustrious and award-winning career. His writing has a global reach and has stood the test of time.There are only a few tickets left, so if you want to listen to his fascinating anecdotes and insights, click here to buy.

June 27, 2014

First Ghost

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:39 am

Those with the means, who are struggling to complete their cherished book, typically turn to Andrew Crofts for help. He is probably the UK’s leading ghostwriter, and is a speaker and panellist at the inaugural Ampthill Literary Festival, appearing on Saturday 5 July. Although many of his ghostwriting clients remain anonymous beneath strict confidentiality agreements, there’s no secret about how the process works, as you can read on Andrew’s website.

He received the ultimate accolade of having his guide to ghostwriting quoted at the start of every chapter of Robert Harris’ The Ghost, a brilliant political thriller turned into a movie starring Ewan McGregor and Pierce Brosnan.

Andrew is also an established author of fiction and non-fiction in his own name. His 2013 novel, Secrets of the Italian Gardener, is a thriller set in the Arab Spring. Like the Robert Harris book, it describes the dilemmas facing the hired writer of a biography of a political leader, in this case featuring struggles of conscience as a desperate need for a better income for his family tempts him into deep and turbulent political waters – all the time haunted by a personal secret too painful to bear.

The title Confessions of a Ghostwriter, by Andrew Crofts, is published by Harper Collins in August. A chapter from Confessions will appear in the Festival Yearbook, to be published later this year.

If you want to hear Andrew and the other speakers – Gavin Esler, Nadine Dorries, Brian Clemens, Natasha Desborough, Amy Sparkes and Judi Sutherland, on Saturday 5th July, there are still a few tickets left. Click here to purchase.

June 25, 2014

A literary constituency

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:55 am

It was always going to be controversial to invite the well-known local MP Nadine Dorries to speak at the inaugural Ampthill Literary Festival. She’s appearing as a first-time author, of the Liverpool-based drama The Four Streets, not as a politician. The line between ‘literature’ and ‘politics’ is sometimes hazy, of course, especially as Nadine describes social problems in her book. But we’re confident we can keep the discussion to books and writing, and not stray into economic policy or the possibility of an EU referendum!

There’s no doubting the success of The Four Streets – it’s been a big seller, especially in its Kindle format. The tale is a family saga, containing some remarkably graphic descriptions of poverty among dock-workers’ families in Liverpool in the 1960s, and of child abuse. To say more runs the risk of giving spoilers to the action-filled plot – so to find out more, and to meet the author in person, come along to our event on Saturday 5th July. There are still some day tickets available.

For full details on the Festival, go to www.amplitfest.co.uk

June 9, 2014

Tales of world leaders come to Ampthill

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 12:52 pm

The most successful leaders in business and politics, you would think, have the best strategy and the most intelligent analysis. Well, they may be good at either, but what really causes them to stand out is their ability at story-telling. That is the conclusion of experienced author and BBC journalist Gavin Esler, headline speaker at the inaugural Ampthill Literary Festival, taking place on the afternoon of Saturday 5th July. He will be talking about his 2012 publication Lessons from the Top, as well as his works of fiction.

“During my years of travelling around the world, when I met Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter, prime ministers and presidents, even monarchs like Queen Elizabeth II and King Abdullah II of Jordan, people would always ask me the same question: what is he, or she, really like? Generally they would not be asking about policies or ideas. Instead, they wanted to hear stories that captured the ‘real’ leader; his or her ‘character’.”

He has found that the most effective leaders have a compelling story in answer to three core questions that is demanded of them: Who am I? Who are we? And Where will my leadership take us?

Quite disturbingly, he notes that the story does not have to be true; it just has to be convincing. We human beings are less sophisticated than we think! We cannot help but think in stories – it’s how we make sense of the world. I’ve come to the same conclusion in 15 years of writing about business and business leaders. Gavin Esler concludes:

“We are all storytellers, all followers, and often we are leaders in some way, or we aspire to lead.”

And he offers fascinating details of the little stories, as well as the big narratives, the most effective leaders tell. He tells us how, in one example, President Reagan made a point of going over to a relatively junior media employee, a cameraman, because he had heard that he also liked dogs. They bonded over their pets and the President handed over a signed photograph of his own. Now, you could be admiring of President Reagan’s personal touch, or you could be cynical, arguing that this gesture was made precisely so that it would create a positive story that would spread on the grapevine to boost a politician’s image. Gavin Esler makes the more fundamental point: President Reagan understood the power of the story.

  • Tickets are still available for the main session at the Ampthill Literary Festival, which takes place 13.00-17.00 on Saturday 5th July. They can be purchased via this link.
    Gavin Esler will be speaking approximately between 15.30 and 16.15 (see schedule below).
  • Blogs highlighting the work of other speakers: Nadine Dorries, Andrew Crofts and Brian Clemens, will be featured between now and the event.
  • For those who live in or near central Bedfordshire, tickets can also be purchased at the Waitrose store, Bedford Street. I will be giving a talk at the first ‘Beer and Books’ free event at The Albion pub, Dunstable Street, 8pm on Thursday 12th June.

 

13.00 – 13.10 Opening remarks by Philip Whiteley

13.10 – 13.15 Literary Festival formally opened by Nadine Dorries

13.15 – 13.45 Nadine reads from and speaks about her first novel The Four Streets, a tale of growing up in a Catholic family in post-war Liverpool.

13.45 – 14.30 Andrew Crofts – Reads from his political thriller Secrets of the Italian Gardener, and his forthcoming Confessions of a Ghostwriter

14.30 – 14,45 Tea/coffee break

14.45 – 15.30 Brian Clemens, writer of the world-famous Avengers and Professionals series in conversation. Brian talks about his life as a screen writer.

15.30 – 16.15 Gavin Esler – BBC news-reader reads from his non-fiction works and political thrillers.

16.15 – 17.00 Panel Discussion

Gavin Esler, Andrew Crofts, Nadine Dorries and Judi Sutherland

May 7, 2014

The web encourages literature

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 2:14 pm

On Saturday 5 July I will be chairing the main event at the inaugural Ampthill Literary Festival. It’s been quite a few months’ dedicated effort by a fantastic committee to get us this far, and we’re delighted to have a top line-up in the first year, with Gavin Esler, Nadine Dorries and Brian Clemens all appearing.

With the rise of social media, many doomsters predict declining social interactions that are face-to-face, and fewer people reading proper books. I take an optimistic, alternative view. I think that the web puts people with similar interests in touch with one another, encourages the reading and publication of books, and means that more people are writing than ever before. Online interactions are a supplement to social activity and live events, not a replacement. There are certainly more music festivals in the UK compared with when I was young, and probably more book clubs and book festivals too.

Publicising our event has been easier through the web than it would have been otherwise, and ticket sales can be automated!

We have judged the children’s writing competition and there are some excellent entries in different categories, especially poetry. The love of literature is alive and flourishing.

  • There is a limited number of tickets available for the Ampthill Literary Festival. To be sure of your place, go to this link: http://amplitfest.wordpress.com/
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