Philip Whiteley's Blog

April 2, 2015

Men don’t ‘do’ romantic drama. Or do we?

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 10:00 am

Recently, I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association. As expected, there are rather more women than men. I thought that the ratio might be 85-15 or 90-10. In fact, it’s more like 99-1, and a few of the male card-carrying members use female pseudonyms. There is a similar story in the readership profile. The extent to which the cover and other aspects of marketing of my first novel Close of Play, a romantic comedy, have been tilted towards the expected female audience has been a fascinating learning experience, as my publisher applies the finishing touches.

If you read the mini-biographies on the Romantic Novelists Association’s site, many relate how they grew up as bookworms, typically devoted to fantasy tales and romantic melodrama. My CV is very different. I didn’t read Jane Austen or Jean Plaidy as a boy. I played sport, read about sport, made Airfix kits and watched war movies. The books I enjoyed usually had a male lead figure and a fair amount of sport or danger. So it was a long and very indirect route by which I came to pen a romantic novel in my early 50s. My childhood influences can hardly have had any impact at all.

Or so it would seem. But if one uses an expanded definition of romantic drama, my early years were filled with the most heart-rending, achingly emotional tales, often rendered by alpha males. Their names included Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and John Lennon. There were a lot of tears and much insecurity; probably more direct soul-baring than any female scribe would dare, until Alanis Morrissette came along. Above all, these and other singers expressed an intense longing; this desire really to know a woman as well as love her.

So what is it about songs that gives blokes permission to get in touch with our inner feelings (or any other feelings, for that matter)? And why do we struggle when it’s on the printed page or at the pictures?

I’m afraid I can’t provide definitive answers, only a few observations. There is something about the ‘will they/won’t they’ drama that struggles to hold the male attention as the main or sole story arc; especially in a movie featuring Kate Hudson or Reese Witherspoon because, of course, we know they will in the end, after a break-up 20 minutes from full time as she discovers the secret that he had kept hidden (I still enjoy them, mind – guilty pleasure).

Humour helps. I might not have struggled with Far From the Madding Crowd at O-Level if Gabriel Oak hadn’t been so dour and earnest. Or a bit of political intrigue or philosophical depth. Or at least a car chase. Somehow, the question: ‘Is he The One for me?’ is not enough to hold our interest for 90 minutes or 288 pages. But for three and a half minutes, with a soaring chorus, and a macho guitar solo to come, we can give our passion a full-throated roar. We do have a romantic heartbeat, but it’s detected in different ways.

Close of Play has many ‘romcom’ features. I make no apology. It has a slightly different slant in that it’s from the man’s point of view. The two main male characters have been a bit sniffy towards love n romance n girly stuff in their early adult years. They prefer playing cricket and drinking beer. But each of them aches for the woman they really, really want, and fear that it might all be too late. I hope the female readers will be touched by their longing and forgive them their mistakes. And maybe, just maybe, the occasional bloke will read it, disguised inside GQ magazine, as he listens to Blood on the Tracks via his headphones.

PJ Whiteley, March 2015.

/ends

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: www.themanagementshift.com

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 phil@whiteleywords.com

There’s more on my book at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/isbn/9781409455745

More on Vlatka’s at http://www.themanagementshift.com/

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.

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