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, March 14, 2017

Memorable Messages

I’ve set myself a rather challenging task – to sift through the 200 plus books which have popped up on my blogposts over the past eight years which relate to what we, rather egocentrically, call “the global crisis”; and to identify those which I would recommend to those members of the younger generation struggling tomake sense of the mess….
It’s challenging because I’m finding that I was too hasty in my reading the first time round – or, if I’m totally frank, that I was too lazy or distracted to do much more than flick the pages….But a trawl like this offers the great advantage of ……."compare and contrast"…

Plus .....I now know (or think I know!) what I’m looking for. A previous post set out some of the prerequisites I now look for in any book and, the more I skim the material I’ve collected, the more ruthless I feel about exploring the question of whether a book has the qualities required to change the way the reader looks at the world…..  
Bear in mind that I bring to the task no fewer than 60 years of quite intensive reading while trying to make sense of (those bits of) the world (I feel I should be making an effort to understand)…..When we do these lists of the century’s “key books”, I often wonder how many the compilers have included from a sense of duty – rather than from a sense of its felt impact…..
And so I did a little test – I asked myself which books had actually so impressed me that I had given them as presents to others or used in my project work of the past 25 years …..The common factor in the resulting list was "typologies" - the books all had a way of simplifying the complexity which faces us...

The typology
Author; source
Further detail
3 incentive types
Etzioni (1971)

Carrots, sticks, norm compliance

8 Roles in any effective team

Belbin (1981)
Plant, resource investigator, coordinator, shaper, monitor, teamworker, implementer, finisher, specialist
10 Rules to stifle innovation

Rosabeth Kantor (in her 1983 book “The Change Masters”
See later
7 Habits of Effective People
Stephen Covey (1989)
See later
Full book available on internet
4 Gods of Management
Charles Handy/Roger Harrison in Gods of Management (1984)

Zeus (boss culture); Appollo ((hierarchy - role culture); Athena (task culture); Dionysus (individual professional)
4 basic interpretive stances

Mary Douglas grid-group theory (1970s); Chris Hood’s “The State of the State”  (2000)

Hierarchical, individualist, egalitarian, fatalist
48 ways to gain power

Robert Greene in “The 48 Laws of Power” (1998)

Link gives access to entire book
6 global threats to capitalism
Susan George in “The Lugano Report – on preserving capitalism in the 21st century” (1999) – a powerful critique in the form of a spoof report produced by consultants for the global elite
Strongly recommend the new Introduction she wrote – accessible on the googlebook link

In one of my blogs I referred to the pleasures of the lists – the Seven Deadly Sins; Seven Habits of Effective People (Covey); Ten Commandments (God); and Ten rules for stifling innovation (Kanter) seem just about manageable. When I was working in Central Europe in the 1990s I used to buy multiple copies of the Covey book in the local language - Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian – since it was one of the few books I knew in English which was also available in the local language and was useful as a means of professional conversation. I know that the book is rather frowned upon in intellectual circles but I still think it's got something.....including the famous sketch of a woman which demonstrates so powerfully our disparate perceptions.....
The principles were/are -
- be proactive
- begin with the end in mind
- put first things first
- think win/win
- seek first to understand : then to be understood
- synergise
- "sharpen the saw" - ie keep mentally and physically fit

When I moved to Central Asia and Caucasus in 1999, I found that presentation of Rosabeth Kanter’s “Ten rules for stifling innovation” was a marvellous way to liven up a workshop with middle-ranking officials. 
She had concocted this prescription as a satiric comment on the way she discovered from her research that senior executives in US commercial giants like IBM, General Motors were continuing to act in the old centralised ways despite changed structures and rhetoric.

1. regard any new idea from below with suspicion - because it's new, and it's from below
2. insist that people who need your approval to act first go through several other layers of management to get their signatures
3. Ask departments or individuals to challenge and criticise each other's proposals (That saves you the job of deciding : you just pick the survivor)
4. Express your criticisms freely - and withhold your praise (that keeps people on their toes). Let them know they can be fired at any time
5. Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage people from letting you know when something in their area is not working
6. Control everything carefully. Make sure people count anything that can be counted, frequently.
7. Make decisions to reorganise or change policies in secret, and spring them on people unexpectedly (that also keeps them on their toes)
8. Make sure that requests for information are fully justified, and make sure that it is not given to managers freely
9. Assign to lower-level managers, in the name of delegation and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut back, lay off, move around, or otherwise implement threatening decisions you have made. And get them to do it quickly.
10. And above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already know everything important about this business.

“Any of this strike you as similar?” I would cheekily ask my Uzbek and Azeri officials.

Robert Greene’s 24 ways to seduce; 33 ways to conduct war; and 48 Laws of power are, also, tongue in cheek. The first to hit the market was the 48 Laws of power and I enjoyed partly because it so thoroughly challenged in its spirit the gung-ho (and unrealistic) naivety of the preaching which characterised so many of the management books of the time – and partly for the way historical examples are woven into the text. I’ve selected a few to give the reader a sense of the spirit of the book
• Never put too much trust in friends; learn how to use enemies
• Conceal your intentions
• always say less than necessary
• Guard your reputation with your life
• Court attention at all costs
• Get others to do the work, but always take the credit
• Make other people come to you
• Win through your actions, never through argument
• Use selective honesty and generosity to disarm your victims

I found a Russian translation of the book in Baku and gave it as a leaving gift to the Azeri lawyer in the Presidential Office with whom I had worked closely for 2 years on the project to help implement the Civil Service Law. He obviouly made good use of it as 3 months later he was appointed as Head(Ministerial level)of the new Civil Service Agency my work had helped inspire!

Luther’s 95 theses on the wall of the Wittenberg church may seem excessive – but, given the success of his mission, perhaps contain a lesson for the media advisers who tell us that the public can absorb a limited number of messages only!

Sarah Bakewell suggests in How to Live – or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty attempts at an Answer that Montaigne’s life can usefully be encapsulated in 20 injunctions –
• Don’t worry about death
• Read a lot, forget most of it – and be slow-witted
• Survive love and loss
• Use little tricks
• Question everything
• Keep a private room behind the shop
• Be convivial; live with others
• Wake from the sleep of habit
• Do something no one has done before
• Do a good job – but not too good a job
• Reflect on everything; regret nothing
• Give up control

At the very least, when I see such lists, it suggests we're in for some fun!

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