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!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Know Thyself?

The late 1960s was supposedly the period when narcissism and the celebration of the self got underway but this was more in the US – for people of my education and age, reason still predominated in europe at the end of the 20th century. Organisational failures we attributed to inappropriate structures or management skills - not so much to malign intent. Certainly the books I read took little account of the irrationality and emotional confusion of managers – and their effect on organisational health and achievement.
The depression I had in the late 1980s admittedly made me (all too briefly) aware that there was another side to human nature – but it was another decade before I started to read books about personal development. 
Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence - which introduced us to that concept - came out only in 1995  For me personally, one of the most helpful books of its time  was Cleese and Skynner’s  Life - and how to survive it (1994)  - with a therapist and leading British comic (!) having a Socratic dialogue about the principles of healthy relationships and then using these to explore the preconditions for healthy organisations and societies: viz–
-       valuing and respecting others
-       ability to communicate
-       willingness to wield authority firmly but always for the general welfare and with as much consultation as possible (while handing power back when the crisis is over)
-       capacity to face reality squarely
-       flexibility and willingness to change
-       belief in values above and beyond the personal or considerations of party

When I was working in Central Europe in the early 1990s I used to buy multiple copies of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) by Stephen Covey in the local language - Hungarian, Slovak and Romanian – since it was about the only book of its sort I knew and respected which had already been translated into these languages and therefore useful as a means of finding some common ground. The principles are - 
- be proactive (don't blame others; take responsibility)
- begin with the end in mind; 
- put first things first; 
- think win/win; 
- seek first to understand - then to be understood; 
- synergise; and, finally 
- "sharpen the saw" - ie keep mentally and physically fit.

I was well aware that, as an American self-help book, it would strike most of my audiences (who had just emerged from communism) as hopelessly optimistic if not naïve - but still felt that some of its messages – eg the one about important change coming from within ourselves rather than thro' manipulation of others – were sufficiently powerful to have a chance of sticking with at least a few people. How naïve I was in those days! Some 20 years on I’ve been looking at the book again - and have to say that it still makes for an important and worthwhile read 

As the new millennium dawned, I started to use a book on “Behaviour in organisations” in my project work – it was indeed only through the Belbin team role test and strategic thinking exercises that I began to understand that we all look at (and think about) the world in different ways. 
Postmodernity tended to pass me by – although I was aware of Gareth Morgan’s Images of Organisation (1986) and Baumon’s Post Modernity and its discontents (1997)….
Of course, as we get older, we do tend to go beyond systems and look to the personal. As I tried, a couple of decades ago, to repair the huge deficiencies in my understanding of the personal world, I  noted the different ways our behaviour was classified viz -
  • age
  • gender
  • culture
  • psychological type
  • socio-economic position
  • politico religious values
How different writers try to explain our behaviour -
Defining Variable
Classification system
The crude message
The deeper message
1. Age
W. Bridges
Gail Sheehy
Ronnie Lessem
7 stages
4 stages
Young and old inhabit different planets
Each stage of life brings its own crisis – which we should see as a learning opportunity
2. Gender
John Gray
binary! – represented by Venus and Mars planets
Men and women are from different planets
time and effort needed to understand and show respect for others
3. Culture

F Trompenaars
4 - Points of compass

Societies will never understand one another
People from different countries value things differently from us.
4. Psychological


Introvert - extrovert
9 team roles

We have internal dispositions to behave in very different ways.
The world works because each of us can potentially complement the other. We should not try to mould people in our image
5. Socio-economic position
A Maslow

C Handy?
Hierarchy of need (5 levels)

4 organ types
Those with basic needs are selfish and aggressive
Do not expect those poorer and richer than us to see the world the way we do
6. Values
A. Etzioni


R Ingelhart

Theory X and theory Y
World values
Some of us are kinder than others
What we think will work in society depends on the assumptions we make about people
7. Organisational metaphor
Gareth Morgan (Images of Organisation)
9 (unconscious) ways we all think about organisations – like a physical body; brain; prison;
Nothing is real! Everything is in our minds!
What we think will work in an organisation depends on the images we have in our mind

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Human Nature

Human nature is something we talk about as if affected only other people – but not us!
Robert Greene is one of these authors – like Alain de Botton – many people are reluctant to admit to reading. They write well and often thoughtfully – but they’re popular damn it!
You can read Greene for yourself via this post from a couple of years ago about his book on the “48 Laws of Power”.
He does, admittedly, use a basic formulae for all his books – find some historical characters to illustrate your theme; select one incident and/or characteristic; generalize; and draw out some lessons for the reader’s own behavior. In that sense his books can be placed in the “Self-help” category – never a serious one! But they come beautifully designed with red text in the margin summarizing the basic incidents and lessons.

His latest book, The Laws of Human Nature, (he offers 18) notes how often we are disappointed and undermined by the behaviour of colleagues and bosses; offers us early warning signs to identify – as well as tactics for dealing with perverse behavior. It starts with a typical story about Pericles to illustrate a point about irrationality and ends with a couple of important explorations of generational differences and the fear of death which I’ve excluded from this table.

The Behaviour

Historical example
Many people tend to focus on and admire themselves more than others. This hinders their success when interacting with others
You need to transform self-love into empathy. This will make you more successful in your group
Role playing
People tend to wear the mask that shows them in the best possible light. They hide their true personality.

Milton Ericksonan American psychiatrist and psychologist of 20th centurywas paralysed when he was young and became a master reader of people;s body language.
Master the body language by transforming yourself into a superior reader of men and women. At the same time you must learn how to present the best front
Compulsive behavior
People never do something just once. They will inevitably repeat their bad behavior
Train yourself to look deep within people and see their character. Always gravitate toward those who display signs of strength, and avoid the many toxic types out there.
Coco Chanela French fashion designer and business womanbecame so successful by understanding that people desire what they don’t have and creating an air of mystery around her work.
Become an elusive object of desire
People tend to overreact to present circumstances
The South Sea Companya British joint-stock company founded in 1711became known as the South Sea Bubble.
Think both near and long-term future
People don’t like when someone is trying to change their opinion.
Lyndon Johnsonthe 36th president of the United Statesgained his influence and power by focusing on others, letting them do the talking, letting them be the stars of the show.
Soften people’s resistance by confirming their self-opinion.


Self Sabotage
Our attitude determines much of what happens in our life.
Anton Chekhova Russian playwright and short-story writerhad a tough childhood but in spite of that was able to change his life by changing his view of the world from negative to positive.
Change your attitude
People are rarely who they seem to be. Lurking beneath their polite, affable exterior is inevitably a dark, shadow side consisting of insecurities and aggressive, selfish impulses 
Richard Nixon had a positive image in the public. Everything changed after the Watergate scandal which revealed his hidden personality.
Be aware of your dark side
Mary Shelleyauthor of the novel Frankensteinwas betrayed by her close friend who envied her.

Learn to deflect envy by drawing attention away from yourself. Develop your sense of self-worth from internal standards and not incessant comparisons.
Even a small measure of success can give us an unrealistic sense of superiority. This can make us lose contact with reality and make irrational decisions.

Michael Eisner had to resign from the CEO position of The Walt Disney Company. In the author’s opinion the cause is Eisner’s grandiosity elevated by previous successes.

Counteract the pull of grandiosity by maintaining a realistic assessment of yourself and your limits. Tie any feelings of greatness to your work, your achievements, and your contributions to society.
Gender rigidity

Caterina Sforza was a powerful an Italian noblewoman whose masculine qualities helped her to achieve her influence.
You must become aware of lost masculine or feminine traits and slowly reconnect to them, 
People become most successful when they have a sense of purpose in their life
Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. His calling directed his actions and helped him go through many failures in his life.

In the group setting, we unconsciously imitate what others are saying and doing. We feel different emotions, infected by the group mood. We are more prone to taking risks, to acting irrationally, because everyone else is.
Mao’s Cultural revolution
Gao Yuan tells a story in his book Born Red showed that people in groups behave emotional and excited. They don’t engage in nuanced thinking and deep analysis.

Develop self-awareness and a superior understanding of the changes that occur in us in groups. With such intelligence, we can become superior social actors, able to outwardly fit in and cooperate with others on a high level, while retaining our independence and rationality.
People are always ambivalent about rulers
Elizabeth IQueen of England and Ireland in 16th centuryhad to constantly prove herself as the leader of the country. She never relied on her royal blood for this.

Authority is the delicate art of creating the appearance of power, legitimacy, and fairness while getting people to identify with you as a leader who is in their service. If you want to lead, you must master this art from early on in your life.

John D. RockefellerAmerican oil industry business magnateused aggressive strategies to gain power and control.

The dangerous types depend on making you emotionalafraid, angryand unable to think straight. Do not give them this power. When it comes to your own aggressive energy, learn to tame and channel it for productive purposes

Generational Myopia
You are born into a generation that defines who you are more than you can imagine. Your generation wants to separate itself from the previous one and set a new tone for the world. In the process, it forms certain tastes, values, and ways of thinking that you as an individual internalize. As you get older, these generational values and ideas tend to close you off from other points of view, constraining your mind.
Awareness of this will free your mind from the mental constraints placed on you by your generation, and you will become more of the individual you imagine yourself to be, with all the power that freedom will bring you.

Fear of Death
The inevitability of death should be continually on our minds. Understanding the shortness of life fills us with a sense of purpose and urgency to realize our goals. Training ourselves to confront and accept this reality makes it easier to manage the inevitable setbacks, separations, and crises in life. It gives us a sense of proportion, of what really matters in this brief existence of ours. Most people continually look for ways to separate themselves from others and feel superior. Instead, we must see the mortality in everyone, how it equalizes and connects us all. By becoming deeply aware of our mortality, we intensify our experience of every aspect of life.

By way of comparison here’s a very short little article on “the 10 essential virtues


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reading Week - part III

The second full category of books in my library are those which I have read but which need to be read and reread for their full value to be extracted. There are a lot in this category – but let me select the two which have so far made it onto my desk -
Political Order and Political Decay; Francis Fukuyama (2014) is the second volume of magnum opus of 1,300 pages and is one of these rare books of which I keep duplicate copies – although it can be freely downloaded in full from the internet.
Its introduction summarises the first volume and the opening chapter set out his framework -  showing the link between economic, social and political development; and how ideas about legitimacy have shaped our understanding of the three basic building blocks of “modern” government – “the state”, “rule of law” and “democratic accountability” (see the figure at p43)
This first chapter spells out how very different social conditions and traditions in the various continents have affected the shape and integrity of government systems (The sequencing of bureaucracy and challenge to political power is of particular interest)

Doughnut economics – 7 ways to think like a 21st century economist by Kate Raworth (2017) is another example of a book benefiting from a reread. She’s an Oxford economist whose book has made quite an impact. Indeed it’s one of a fairly short list of books I recommended last year for people wanting a different approach to economics.
Right from the start her text engages – with an explanation of how she was put off by the subject initially but came back to it almost 2 decades later….And then a rare exploration of the importance not only of “framing” but of diagrams and visuals – and how diagrams were used by Paul Samuelson in 1948 in the first popular economics textbook to plant false perceptions in student minds.  

Chapter one – “Change the Goal” - discusses how the measurement of an economy as know it today (GNP) was invented only in the late 1930s and how it was subsequently used by Roosevelt to measure the impact of the New Deal; and to prepare the US for war. Also how its inventor (Simon Kuznets) came quickly to see the crudities and deficiencies of the measure but remained a prophet in the wilderness. The rest of the chapter reminds us of the things which are left out of this metric – and the recent history of the attempts to bring in more suitable metrics  

The doughnut is her metaphor for the point we humans have reached – with us exposed on its outer rim to the limits of 9 planetary boundaries with climate change; land conversion; biodiversity loss; and nitrogen and phosphorous loading have already reached its limits….
The doughnut’s inner rim is composed of what she calls the “social foundation which includes not only food, water and housing but gender equality and political voice…   

The book devotes a chapter apiece to the seven ways she offers for changing the way we think about economics – but with headings which lack punch and clarity. Her second chapter “Seeing the Big Picture” draws a brilliant parallel between the Economics narrative, on the one hand, and a play/film on the other. Each has its plot, goodies and baddies….There’s a good interview with her here

The early pages of Raworth’s book alerted me to a great book which, some 8 years ago, identified and explored this issue of our being taken over by a new ideology – what the French used to call “La Pensee Unique”, It is Monoculture – how one story is changing everything by FS Michaels and makes a fitting fanfare for the next post which will explore the world of books freely downloadable from the internet