what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

"What am I good at/for?" - a SWOT approach

Readers know that one of the few blogs I regularly check is the contrarian one of another Scot who worked in Uzbekistan (as British Ambassador) just after I had left my 3 –year assignment there in 2001 -  the blog of Craig Murray. He has been a thorn in the flesh of not only the British, Uzbek and American Governments - for his early revelations of Uzbek torture condoned by the Brits and continued by the Yanks. These cost him his position but he was subsequently vindicated (by no less a body than the US Senate Intelligence Committee - a misnomer if ever there was one!!!).
But his beloved Scottish Nationalist party then lacked the guts (and intelligence) to accept him as an official candidate for the 2015 General election – despite his sterling (!) work for them………

He poses on today’s post the most critical question any man can ask -
I am confused as to what I might usefully do with my life. I suppose the question I have been pondering is, what good am I?
Anyone who reaches his/her late 50s and has had the sort of rich work experience enjoyed by many born in the immediate post-war period; good health; and reasonable and accessible capital should have been asking Craig’s question for the past decade…..

Fifteen years ago, in a similar mood, I posed not one but five questions in a short paper called A Draft Guide for the Perplexed -
- why I was pessimistic about the future and so unhappy with what the French then  called “La Pensee Unique”, the post 1989 “Washington consensus”
- who were the organisations and people I felt were fighting for a better world
- what they were achieving - and what not
- how these gaps could be reduced
- how with my resources I could help that process

The paper has been updated every few years until its latest version

Craig asks the blunt question of What good he is - which is a slightly disparaging way of putting things. A more useful question is “What am I good FOR?” In other words, to what purpose should someone of my age, experience and resources (time, networks, money etc) turn this latter stage of his life?
We all admire older people who have resisted the temptation to rest on their laurels and have turned their experience and energies to serve a larger purpose – eg Stephane Hessel,

- Initially I thought I might leave some money to a Trust Fund to honour my father’s memory as a West of Scotland public man; or to celebrate the sort of community enterprise I’ve been associated with. But my family has no claim to fame – and such ventures tend to peter out after the initial years of enthusiasm. 
- So, in 2009, I started this blog and also a website with some of my papers with no less a purpose than leaving behind a record of how one 20th century man thought of the world he had been lucky enough to experience…… 
- Then, with a newfound passion for Bulgarian painting (and one foot now in Romania and another in Bulgaria), I briefly entertained the notion of organising a summer painting retreat to help break down the barrier of indifference which seems to exist between these two nations.   
- At one stage I became so desperate about the rise of corporate greed that I actually contemplated launching the idea of a geriatric kamikaze mission to target the financial class - on the Mintzberg argument that the vanishing "people power" of trade unions and voters needed some strengthening to ensure the "rebalancing of society". But I quickly realised that this would merely further strengthen the repressive power of the "security state" which has replaced our mixed economies and liberal democracies....
- Last year I launched a second, specially designed, website with a larger capacity – Mapping the Common Ground - as a resource for those who share my concerns and want to do some sharing…...On to it I uploaded not only my own books and essays but more than a hundred books which I thought would be helpful to others struggling with my questions…… But, after six years of the blog and one year of the website, I have to confess there’s not been much response.

Craig’s question is a good one since it forces us to do a SWOT analysis – and to try to craft a strategy for this phase of our life on its results. I know that when I first did the Belbin test about team roles about 15 years ago, I had expected to come out as a “leader”. But I was not altogether surprised to discover that I was more of a “resource person”. There’s not much point setting out to build an orphanage if you don’t like children!

I’ve been lucky enough to have been “my own man” for most of my life – an academic of a sort for 17 years but able to devote more time to a role as an (influential) elected official; maintaining a senior position for 22 years through a dozen  elections by colleagues; since 1990 a maverick consultant who has challenged the conventional wisdom.

What good am I? Bluntly expressed - just reading, writing and looking/exploring!
What do I offer the world?
- The results of broad and deep reading over 50 years about social science matters 
- The practice of thinking out aloud since 1970 - in short papers about the work in which I was involved (see “lessons learned” on the new website for those from the past 20 years; “E-books” for almost a dozen of that genre)
- More than 1000 mini-essays with almost 10,000 hyperlinks – on the blog Balkan and Carpathian Musings
- the results of pretty intensive net-surfing for relevant writing over the past decade -available in Mapping the Common Ground’s library

Of course that still doesn’t answer the question which has been nagging me for the past 15 years – of where I should be putting my experience and resources…….!!

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