Philip Whiteley's Blog

January 19, 2015

Ten habits for good writing (I think)

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 7:30 pm

Motivated by this Guardian article, where different writers offer their ’10 rules for writing’, here are mine:
1. Read, and read great books. Love them.
2. Write the world that you know about – write the book you would want to read.
3. Be bold. Adopt the phrase ‘My book, my rules.’
4. Show, don’t tell – except for the rare occasions on which telling the reader will surprise and delight them. Learning good judgement on this takes about 35 years unless you’re Charlotte Brontë.
5. Learn poetry by heart.
6. Learn another language. It helps you appreciate your own and how to use it.
7. Edit in your mind, especially when walking. Having a dog helps.
8. Be aware of your soul, and your consciousness, and complexity. Life is full of paradox and so is a great book. Understand your beliefs and nurture them. You cannot escape belief.
9. Be curious and unprejudiced. If you don’t like religion, learn about a religion. If you don’t like secularism, learn about humanism. Show respect.
10. Imagine you have some of the world’s best actors sat round your dining table for a read-through (Kevin Spacey, Sheridan Smith, Tamsin Greig, Samantha Bond….). They’re going to read the dialogue that you have written. How confident do you feel, handing out the scripts?

The unofficial eleventh is – don’t be too sure of yourself. Some of the above may not be quite right, or may not work for everyone, except obviously the first and the tenth.

November 20, 2014

A Management Shift starts here

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 7:00 pm

Notes for my talk at Vlatka Hlupic’s historic book launch, 20 November 2014 follow, due to appear as I give my short introductory talk. I’ll probably ad lib a little, but the drafted content is:

Welcome to San Francisco, to media and others joining on line, live here from London, Britain.

My name’s Philip Whiteley. I’m just the warm-up act before the star arrives. When it comes to talks, often the recommendation is: start with a joke. Then again, many people say to me: you’re a management writer, what do you know about comedy? And I reply – you’ve gotta be kidding? The world of management offers great material. Do you know, they refer to people as ‘resources’? When they talk about ‘blue sky’, they’re not talking about the sky. Or the colour blue.

When I quip that my day job consists of trying to convince economists and business schools that society consists of people, some folk think it’s satire. But it really is the problem. These absurd metaphors that the company is a structure and that people are ‘resources’. And it’s not an accident – it comes from bad ideological choices.

There have been many books making this point. By 1999 Jeffrey Pfeffer was able to describe a substantial and sophisticated body of evidence demonstrating how high-performance cultures generate superior returns. We’ve had progress since, but the kind of progress in 15 years that I had hoped for in five. I’ve gone grey working for this breakthrough. I wish that were a metaphor.

The explanation for this slowness is that evidence is not enough. If it was, the case would have been won years ago. That’s why our star guest this evening Vlatka Hlupic talks about a movement as well as a business case. It’s about narratives and hearts and minds, as well as empirical evidence and case studies.

The Management Shift is not the first textbook making this case, it won’t be the last. It is probably, however, the most comprehensive. I’m proud to have independently reached many of the same conclusions as Vlatka, but I’m not able to say to a busy executive: “Here’s a practical tool that will help you transform your business; you can begin tomorrow.”

Vlatka can do that – based on years of applied research.

We live in a time of technological change, but frustrating slowness in modernisation of business models. Many firms are investing heavily in Big Data, artificial intelligence etc, but how well are they managing their people? Given these intelligent, communicative sentient beings called human, business models treat them as resources. Then, given a machine efficient at data manipulation, there is effort to turn them into sentient beings. We treat people like robots and robots like people.

Highly engaged, well-led teams in organizations remain the exception – and Vlatka will produce some stats illustrating this. In a rational world, it would be the other way around: the dysfunctional or command and control employers would be a rogue few.

So while the talk is of 21st century technology and ‘progress’, our governance and reporting and management approaches are positively Mediaeval.

Remember, people are not only the most important asset. They create all the others!! (Where else do you think they come from?) That’s how it works. A company creates and deploys resources, it doesn’t consist of them.

So, sometimes, I think it’s funny to talk about nonsensical mechanistic metaphors of the old approach to business. But sometimes I get angry. Because it really is harmful for people working in business, and for their customers – “held in a queue and you will be answered shortly” – and ultimately for their owners. There is an enlightened alternative, as Vlatka will now demonstrate. It works in theory. It works in practice. That doesn’t guarantee it’ll become mainstream, but it absolutely deserves to and I hope you’ll give her the maximum support you can in spreading this vital message.

For more on the Management Shift, go to:

Today’s the day …

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:49 am

Earlier this week, I gave a speech at the CEDEP school, INSEAD, in Fontainebleau, on the theme of cultural archetypes and how they affect business. It produced a rich discussion among delegates, who comprised senior executives from across Europe. Next week, I hope to be able to make further announcements about a new partnership to produce a book and possibly related products on the theme of cognitive biases in business.

Today I’m off to chair the launch of The Management Shift, by Vlatka Hlupic. Text of my short speech scheduled to appear at 19.00 UK time.

  • Tweets at @Felipewh and @ManagementShift. Hashtag: #TMSGlobal

November 14, 2014

A mid-November mini-tour

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 12:36 pm

Next week I go on tour. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ll be giving two talks to international business audiences on the theme of renewing the business model. On Monday I have the opportunity to address a group of executives attending a ‘Humanizing the Corporation’ two-day course at the CEDEP school, INSEAD in Fontainebleau near Paris. It’s based largely on the book Meet the New Boss, and I’ll be discussing wider cultural influences on the world of work. An excerpt reads:

The theme for this two-day event is ‘Humanizing the Corporation’. This begs the questions: how and why did we come to dehumanize it? What purpose has that served, what ideas shaped that approach? How do we counter it? I have given this matter a lot of thought over the past 15 years, and I have discussed the many influences on management practice in the books that I’ve published. I think that it has a lot to do with the stories we grow up with – and my conclusion is that most of them come from outside business, which makes my perspective rather different. So this evening I’d like to invite you to tip-toe outside the corporate tent and see what we find in the way of stories that shape how we view the managerial task.

On Thursday, I’ll be hosting the launch event of The Management Shift, by Vlatka Hlupic, connecting via video with a San Francisco event hosted by CollabWorks. I’ll say something on the following lines:

Remember, people are not only the most important asset. They create all the others!! Where else do you think they come from? A company creates and deploys resources, it doesn’t consist of them. So, sometimes, I think it’s funny to talk about nonsensical mechanistic metaphors of the old approach to business. But sometimes I get angry. Because it really is harmful for people working in business, and for their customers, and ultimately for their owners. There is an enlightened alternative, as Vlatka will demonstrate. It works in theory. It works in practice.

Now to rehearse the speeches …

November 6, 2014

What kind of revolution do we want?

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 9:19 am

Yesterday evening, I was honoured to be an invited guest at an over-subscribed meeting in the Grand Committee Room of the House of Commons. It was 5th November, and the atmosphere could not have been more electrifying. Anti-capitalist protesters from the Anonymous group outside were chanting and setting off fireworks. They were clearly audible inside the hall as we listened to the hosts, Rehman Chishti the Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, and Professor Vlatka Hlupic, whose ideas I wrote about earlier this week.

Vlatka referred to the recent financial crisis, and pointed out that the collapse of major institutions such as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Northern Rock were not accidents, but the results of deeply flawed approaches to governance and management: too much greed, short-termism, neglect of people and an autocratic management style. There is a proven alternative, based on engagement of workers and respect for society, and she presented her formidable evidence base to back this up. A questioner said that this knowledge is not new – and asked her what can change to make it mainstream. She struck an optimistic and personal note:

This is my life’s work; I have connected with like-minded thinkers: the shift has occurred at many organizations. We use slightly different language but we’re all working towards the same goal. We are confident we are approaching a tipping point. It’s a matter of education; raising awareness. If you talk to CEOs and show them the figures; show them the research, it just makes sense.

Back outside, amid the protestors with their Guido Fawkes masks (some capitalists in the injection-moulding plastics business are doing well out of the crisis) I was struck by the naive simplicity of their current slogan: “One solution: revolution.” It’s a strikingly unambitious vision – revolutions tend to be the start of complex, messy processes, not the culmination. It’s also ironically similar to the naive simplicity of the business process re-engineering brigade, who often claim that this or that IT system or restructure is a ‘solution’. As Vlatka understands, if you neglect people you never get a good result.

So I think the truly radical message was heard inside the Palace of Westminster, not outside. But the protestors outside lend a certain urgency, and pose a question: What kind of revolution do we want? A revolution in mindset, away from exploitation, neglect of people, greed, excessive debt and rampant ecological destruction towards better governance and responsible management in corporations and the public sector? Or the more violent, unpredictable revolution that increasingly threatens from the margins?

November 4, 2014

Time for a new shift

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:08 am

It is coincidence that the word ‘shift’ appears in my 2013 book on business and leadership; and in the new opus by Professor Vlatka Hlupic, with whom I am working this autumn. A coincidence, but a telling one.

One of the challenges that I’ve come across is the same that Vlatka has encountered: the dominant approach to business management in the past few decades – encompassing governance, leadership and people management – is so fundamentally flawed that there is a need for more than just a change in tactics and approaches, but a more deep-rooted shift in perceptions and concepts.

So, New Normal Radical Shift, Gower Publishing 2013, by Philip Whiteley and Neela Bettridge; and The Management Shift, Palgrave Macmillan 2014 by Vlatka Hlupic, pick up different elements in this huge quest: finally to convince the MBA schools and related worlds that the company is behavioural, and that people management really really matters. It’s a shift, or a quantum leap; whichever metaphor you prefer. What it is not is just referring in a token way to ‘the people side’ of management etc etc – because our insight reveals that ultimately there is no other side.

Consider the dreadful, unhelpful, inaccurate metaphors that come from the recently trendy belief that the company is just a revenue-maximizing machine:

  • Human resources
  • Agency theory
  • Maximizing shareholder value
  • Business process re-engineering

They’re not simply dehumanizing, they’re plain wrong. A company creates and deploys resources, it doesn’t consist of them. People are not just one of the assets – they’re the ones that create all the others. And so on.

In the Anglo Saxon world people tend to believe that we don’t have beliefs, so they take these damaging beliefs for granted. Challenging them is doubly difficult. But there are grounds for optimism. Come along and listen at a free event in London and San Francisco, with video link, on the evening/morning of Thursday 20th November, where we’ll both be speaking. Email me for more information

There’s more on my book at

More on Vlatka’s at

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.

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