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.

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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.

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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)