Everyday you learn something new

Everyday I learn something new.

Today, I learnt 2 things.  First how to share somebody else’s work on my website. This piece below was written by a colleague of mine, Carolin Gourlay, who is an exception business psycologist.  Not only does she know her stuff but she can also explain it in simple terms to us lesser mortals.

The second thing I learnt was about VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Personally, I detest the world of buzzwords but VUCA is worth getting your head round because, whether you like it or not, its heading your way.

Forget the headline and just read the article, you will learn something.

Source: What can the American military teach us about business?

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I am not Charlie

Je suis Charlie was the rallying call that resounded in France following the murderous attacks in Paris in January this year. The French made a clear statement when four million people took to the streets: “we will not be cowed by these attacks on our right to free speech, nous sommes Charlie, we are free people.”

I, in common with most of you, had never heard of Charlie Hebdo before the attacks.

I now know that it’s a left wing, anti-religious, anti-racist, in fact anti-almost-everything satirical weekly publication. Its cartoons are hard hitting and spare no blushes; some made me laugh while almost all were very close to the knuckle.

At the heart of the French response was the declaration that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was an attack on our fundamental right to free speech. By implication, the vicious satire of Charlie Hebdo spoke for everyone who believes in free speech, which makes me uneasy.

Free speech is a great gift from the time when Europe broke free from absolutism. It enabled public debate that fermented revolutions in Britain, America and France. It broke the bonds of the Christian theocracy that dominated Europe. It generated ideas and innovation that expanded knowledge and science.

It was the bridge that enabled Europeans to move from the Inquisition condemning Galileo for heresy to the age of scientific and philosophical enlightenment under the likes of Descartes and Newton. It is now one of the four pillars of a democratic state.

Free speech is a principle intended to generate debate with the application tempered by legislation relating to harm, offence, hate, lawlessness. In reality none of us truly practise free speech because we are aware of the potential for an emotional backlash.

lepen-cartoons

Published Charlie Hebdo

Satire is the tool of free speech. Its object is to ridicule the vices, follies, abuses and short comings of individuals, corporations, governments, or society with the intent of shaming it into improvement. The great Frenchman Voltaire was renowned for his brilliantly funny and popular diatribes aimed at the great and corrupt. In modern times the British television programme “Spitting Images” cut to the heart of Mrs Thatcher’s politics.

The problem with satire is that it is supposed to cause offence. It is designed to reflect the uncomplimentary view that others have of the target. It works brilliantly when the audience is in tune with the joke and can enjoy the offence it causes to the target, but when it is misunderstood by the audience it becomes insulting, demeaning or humiliating.

This leads to a perceived attack on self-esteem which in turn can engender an emotional response, often leading to a violent reproach. Satire, like dynamite, is a tool that should be handled carefully.

All the more so when it is targeted against religious belief. True religious belief must be strongly held. The need for faith is paramount which makes religious belief one of our most deeply held values. Attacking religious beliefs will inevitably cause deep offence among believers.

Published Charlie Hebdo

Published Charlie Hebdo

We are used to this in the West. We went through our own religious reformation and the subsequent Enlightenment that ushered in the age of reason and science. We understand that everything should be challenged, whether it causes offence or not, to drive change and innovation. We value free speech and the debate it enables, however offensive, as a means of keeping our society fresh.

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Raif Badawi – Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison.

Conversely, free speech and open debate is forbidden in many parts of the World. The Islamic religion has yet to go through its own reformation. Arab nations remain deeply suspicious of the West. It is, therefore, unsurprising that our use of satire is easily promoted as a deliberate insult against their religion.

All of this provides ammunition for the murderous revisionists who seek to turn back the clock in the name of Islam. The cartoons of the central spiritual characters of Islam simply pour petrol on the flames of conflict, and for that reason Charlie Hebdo does not speak for me and many others – I am not Charlie.

The irony is that satire can open up debate and in doing so play a role in helping to defeat the revisionists’ repressive and repulsive ideology that fuelled the attacks in Paris. But it needs to have the right target and right audience.

Satirists must deliver material that will enable the moderate Muslims to support their reformation. That means material designed to ridicule and mock those that prosper under repression – the absolute rulers, the theocracies and their associated clergy, the secret and religious police, and the hypocrites – those that preach and practise one thing in their own country but another when abroard. There is no shortage of targets to entertain and amuse.

At the same time satirists must avoid attacking the central spiritual characters of Islam. These characters cannot defend themselves or change their words. Ridculing them serves no purpose, does no good and risks alienating the very group who will eventually drive change.

If the deaths at Charlie Hebdo are to mean anything, they should mean this:

  • We must assist the repressed to start their own open debate and develop free speech.
  • Satirists can do this by providing material to the moderates that targets the extremists at the heart of repressive regimes, while avoiding the emotive spiritual nerve that will alienate moderate believers en mass.

I doubt that I will ever be a reader of Charlie Hebdo but if that happens, I might become Charlie.

Published Charlie Hebdo

Published Charlie Hebdo

Scotland sails into stormy waters

Some years ago I discussed the nature of democracy with one of my American colleagues. The question of Scottish independence was on the political horizon, so I asked him how the USA would react if the Southern States decided to break away from their Union. “Well they tried it once and we fought them, if they try it again we will fight them again”.

The United Kingdom has agreed scotland-independence scissorsto the most forward leaning demonstration of democracy in the world – the breakup of a 300 year political, economic and cultural union that had brought stability and prosperity, in the interests of the betterment of a single nation. It’s an interesting experiment for academic observers but for the people of Scotland it is the start of a voyage into stormy waters.

We should be under no illusions about the impact of the referendum, regardless of the outcome. It’s about change on a grand scale with uncertain outcomes and it’s already generating considerable conflict.

Most people liken change to turning a supertanker. It might take time but if you hold the course long enough you will accomplish your goals. Unfortunately it is simply not that easy. Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development indicates that only 30 – 40% of changes in business achieve their stated goals. Those that fail usually result in loss of market position, removal of senior management, loss of stakeholder credibility, loss of key employees and decreased motivation of staff. Business is one thing but changing a nation will be much, much harder.

Bristol_Riots_of_1831

Bristol riots of 1832 following the rejection of the Reform Bill

The fundamental problem for those seeking change is that human beings hate it. Change unsettles them and threatens their values. Aside from the purely practical issues, change is a deeply emotional matter. Just ask somebody who has moved house or changed schools recently.

People forget that the decision to change direction is only the first step on a challenging road. The change must be planned, implemented and consolidated to ensure a smooth transition. You force through change at your peril as illustrated by the continuing In/Out debate about Europe, 30 years after the UK’s last referendum.

The Scottish Referendum is the starting point and in itself will not guarantee a successful outcome. It will, however, open fault lines within Scotland. The problem is that a referendum is an adversarial contest. Its about argument rather than debate, positioning rather than consensual agreement. Someone will win and someone will lose.

We all know how we feel when we back a party that loses an election – disbelief, denial, anger and finally acceptance with the rationale that it’s only 5 years. However, this referendum is for something permanent, something with which future generations will have to live.Change-Curve 02In these circumstances it is quite possible that those who lose will never make the The Pit of Despairconversion from anger to acceptance but might remain trapped in what is best described as the “pit of despair”. If this happens Scottish politics could well be redrawn on separatist and unionist lines, splitting communities and families in a bitter political war that would make the miners’ strike look like child’s play.

The second issue is the complexity of the arguments.  Few people are able to work their way through the various effects of independence with both sides producing visions of future sunlit uplands. How do we know what is right, if those people who look at these issues for a living cannot agree amongst themselves?

Laurence Brunton, landlord of the Castle Hotel on Dunbar High Street still has to make up his own mind on the referendum question. “I keep swithering, and I think a lot of people are the same. Are you better with the devil you know? One side says you’ll be this much better off, the other says this amount worse off. It’s a gamble.”

pg-1-halmond-gettyBased on the most recent polls the 30% of undecided voters hold the key to independence and how they vote on the day will be crucial. Persuade enough of them and Alex Salmond will achieve his life’s work. It must be a tempting thought to promise people the world to attain the political dream.

Politicians on both sides of the argument must remember that the voting will be emotional, more emotional than in any previous election in Scotland. Any failure to deliver on expectations and promises will result in a catastrophic backlash. A referendum won on the basis of broken promises or unfulfilled expectations will be regarded as betrayal and as I have written previously, betrayal is the worst sin.

So, will Scotland’s southern neighbour fight to prevent separation? No, absolutely not, but the Scots may well fight amongst themselves unless there is good, honest leadership. Unfortunately, as we have all come to realise over the last two decades, these attributes are rare commodities in modern politicians.

Good luck to you all and mind how you go. It’s going to be stormy out there.Ship in a storm 1977 (13)

 

Women in Battle: Progress or Retrograde Step

Last week the US Secretary of State for Defence announced that the US armed forces would allow women to serve in small group combat units, which President Obama and many other commentators have welcomed as a “historic step”. There is no doubt that this is a historic step, but does it move humanity forwards or backwards?

The subsequent discussion in the British media focused on the familiar topics of equal rights across the genders, of which this is just another facet, physical issues and effects of group cohesiveness of women serving alongside men in combat.

A senior journalist dismissed anyone who disagreed with the step as a stegosaurus, but there is more to the discussion than simple gender equality. There is the whole aspect of the development of civilisation.

The facts are these. British women already serve on the front line, many have engaged the enemy with their weapons, some have been wounded and a few have died.

British soldiers in Afghanistan

British soldiers in Afghanistan

Women live alongside men and share the hardship in Afghanistan. Women have mental endurance and act with comparable courage; some have received medals in recognition of their gallantry in the face of the enemy.

Women deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated that they can hack it with the men.

However, women are hampered by a weaker physique and were identified, in an Army

British infantrymen on patrol in Afghanistan

British infantrymen on patrol in Afghanistan

study in 2002, as being more prone to muscular-skeletal injuries than their male counter parts. This would be exacerbated by service in the infantry where typical fighting loads are in excess of 60 lbs per man; a weight that has remained fairly consistent since the days of Marius’s Mules in the first century BC.

That said, I have no doubt that there would be a cohort of women who would have the physique and durability to serve alongside men in combat units. The question is, should they?

In addressing this, it is important to understand that women serving in the front line would be stepping into very different territory when they take up close combat roles.  Currently women, along with 60% of the men, serve in roles that support combat – signallers, artillery, intelligence, engineers and  logistics.

British engineers building a bridge in Afghanistan

British engineers building a bridge in Afghanistan

Although their primary role may be in front line, they are usually one step removed from the killing; engineers building a bridge will only fight to enable them to complete their task. This is fundamentally different from the combat – infantry and armoured – units whose raison d’être is to seek out the enemy and kill them as efficiently as possible.

This is brutal and dehumanising work, as described by Captain Doug Beattie * “I heard the detonation and sprinted forward following the path of the grenade. Engulfed by dust and smoke I opened fire spraying all round the room…..I could just make out the prone body of a Taliban fighter….I leant forward and thrust my bayonet towards the body as hard as I could…..There was barely any resistance, the sharpened blade sliding deeper, quickly disappearing.” Savage work indeed, but this is the stark reality of infantry work and few who are involved in it are left unaffected.

British infantrymen fighting at close quarters

British infantrymen fighting at close quarters

Since the First World War Britain has done much, in the interests of humanity and efficiency, to reduce the pool of manpower exposed to close combat.  We no longer deploy youngsters below the age of 18 on operational tours nor do we deliberately expose older individuals to close combat. It is highly improbable that Boy Cornwell ** and Lieutenant Colonel Douglas-Hamilton *** would get an opportunity to win a Victoria Cross in today’s forces.

This brings me back to women, who have been exempted from close combat by culture and tradition. Is it right to draw them into this trade where the emphasis is on killing, when we have taken such steps to narrow the parameters of service in response to social advances?  Is this a step forward for civilisation or is it a retrograde step for society in the name of gender equality?

Many intelligent and ambitious young women will argue hard that in the interests of equality, women should have the right to take their place alongside men if they are able to do so. They will point out that we have already crossed the Rubicon with women fighter pilots and Apache crews but these activities lack the intimacy of close combat and may be easier to rationalise.

Apache helicopter on patrol

Apache helicopter on patrol

The issue may turn out to be a side show with service in combat units a niche calling for women. However, it is an issue that needs more thought than just rolling out the mantra of equality.  Women need to consider whether they want to be XX equal or XY light. The debate needs to be about where we move humanity – forwards or backwards.

I will leave you with a litmus test. Consider how you would react when your daughter, sister or niece announces that she wishes to follow a career in a close combat unit. I know what I would say.

* Captain Doug Beattie served with the Royal Irish Regiment and was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in Afghanistan.  He recorded his exploits in his book An Ordinary Soldier.

 ** Boy Cornwell was a 16 year old sailor who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

 *** Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas-Hamilton was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for leading his battalion at the Battle of Loos in 1915. He was 52 years old.

I am still struggling with the technology of the site. Comments can be left at the bottom of the page but the Follow button pops up on the About page. I look forward to hearing from you.

The Falkland Islands Scab

As a young lad, I rode my bicycle at high speed. A consequence of this was that I inadvertently parted company with it and badly cut my right elbow. As the scar healed my mother beseeched me not to pick at it, which I ignored to my detriment. This episode taught me that a picked scab takes a lot longer to heal.

These thoughts came back to me as I read of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s advertisement to assert Argentina’s claim over the Falkland Islands. This is just one of a long running series of stunts that have characterised Argentina’s approach to sovereignty claims since the 1960s.

Falklands Cathedral

Christ Church Cathedral, Port Stanly, with its iconic whalebone arch

The modern stunts, which include the Argentine Olympic hopeful Fernando Zylberberg filming himself for YouTube outside the Globe Tavern in Port Stanley, are tame compared to the more sinister hijacking, hostage taking, gun boat attacks and covert military landings that preceded them. However, they do continue to be a source of irritation, which does nothing to make the Falkland Islanders want a closer association with Argentina.

President Kirchner’s claim is that 180 years ago, Argentina was stripped of the Falkland Islands by the British. As many commentators have already pointed out, that this is not strictly correct. The ebb and flow of 18th and 19th century expansion meant that the islands were settled by various European power, whalers, sealers, German settlers from the United Provinces of the River Plate, American pirates and a penal settlement.

Falklands mountains

Desolate, razor backed mountains outside Port Stanly

None of these settlements were sustained, although most of them placed flags and plaques claiming the territory for one nation or another. It was reported that the German settlers “appeared greatly rejoiced at the opportunity thus presented of removing with their families from a desolate region where the climate is always cold and cheerless” when the USS Lexington destroyed Luis Vernet’s settlement in 1831on grounds of piracy.

The British reappeared in strength in 1833 to re-establish a military outpost, followed by a sustainable colony in 1840 and stayed.

What is clear from all this is that the Falkland Islands were inhospitable and sufficiently distant from any nation to warrant significant interest or investment. However, the British settlers endured and learnt how to survive on this very edge of the habitable world.

They developed their own culture and way of life, which I have witnessed during numerous visits to the islands over a 10 year period. They became Falkland Islanders, just as the other British settlers in the New World colonies became American or Canadian or Newfoundlanders.

International lawyers will no doubt make a good living arguing over the principles of self- determination and territorial integrity in years to come but the fact is that 180 years of unbroken settlement is a pretty definitive claim. I remember the US Bicentennial in 1976 and I don’t recall the UN debating the American legitimacy of occupation.

President Kirchner knows that her country missed its opportunity to acquire the Falkland Islands during the late 1960s and 1970s when the British government behaved like a seasoned matron as it did its utmost to push its wallflower daughter into an arranged marriage.

Argentina, unable to comprehend the long game, failed to seduce, despite it being the country of the tango, and instead sought to impose its will on the islanders. The macho Latin culture collided with the ‘kith and kin” Anglo-Saxon culture and the marriage of convenience was never consummated.

Falklands mine field

Daily reminders of the Argentine invasion of 1982

The Argentine “smash and grab” attempt in 1982 changed everything. There is no turning back to what might have been possible beforehand. The British public became aware of the Falkland Islands, through its champion The Sun newspaper.

The opportunity to pass the islands quietly to Argentina was lost. The islanders were granted full British citizenship and increased protection, which involved the building and maintenance of a significant military base on the Islands.

Since then the Falkland Islanders, despite Argentina’s best efforts to hinder them, have developed a thriving and sustainable economy. They are a self-governing British Overseas Territory and are comfortable with their relationship with Britain, as Barry Elsby, a member of the Falklands Islands Assembly, states.

“We are not a colony,” he says. “Our relationship with the United Kingdom is by choice.”

They have no reason to join with Argentina, so why would they want to?

The reality is that President Kirchner knows that she will not see the Falkland Islands peacefully integrated into Argentina during her life time. It is, however, a convenient rallying call for her own political ends and follows the well-worn tactics of previous Argentine rulers when things are difficult at home.

It is a short term strategy that sours neighbourly relations and increases the odds against any future partnership between the Islanders and their Latin neighbours.

My advice to President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is to stop picking the Falklands scab and in two, maybe three generations a meaning relationship might be developed with the islanders that could enable Argentina to benefit from the Falklands Islands oil bonanza.Falklands-seal