August 10, 2007

Why we can't turn them away

August 10, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 15, 2007

Be your own star of CCTV

I wasn't going to do another CCTV post, but then noticed this on the BBC website (say what you like about prime time - there is more at the Beeb worth looking at...)

An Austrian filmmaker has come up with a novel way of avoiding the costs of creating a movie - by making her film entirely from images of real life captured by CCTV cameras

May 15, 2007 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 29, 2004

Disorganising carts and horses

Organisations must ‘loosen up’ according to Demos this week. In Disorganisation – a new pamphlet written by Paul Miller and Paul Skidmore – they argue that organisations are being drawn in two directions: hyperorganisation and disorganisation.

The former is painted as Frederick Taylor’s management theories taken to their ultimate conclusions: ruthless, heartless efficiency squeezing the life out of staff who want more than the dedicated pursuit of shareholder gain. The latter is the easy-going, come-as-you-are, creative, hip kind of enterprise personified in the press by those loveable scamps at Innocent Drinks (the of the post dotcom crash business world).

Needless to say the distinction is not as clear in most businesses as it is painted here. One speaker at the launch noted that most CEOs for ‘hyperorganisations’ would be happy accommodating many elements of disorganisation.

My sense is that in the inevitable excitement around the pithy idea that big business should be disorganised (something that has unsurprisingly caught the eyes of both the Times and the Telegraph) the real point is not given enough space to breathe – even though alluded to on the cover of the pamphlet:

There is a pressure growing within organisations. People now want their work to be more aligned with their human values. [my emphasis]

This is really about purpose. The word is used three times in this context throughout the report, and yet I feel it should be centre-stage. The question that never quite seems to be asked is ‘what is an organisation for?’.

The economist John Kay recently used the term ‘obliquity’ to describe unexpected consequences, arguing that businesses who set a high shareprice as their overriding objective suffered as a result and that the business with a range of objectives beyond pure profit did better.

In fact the popular perception that a company’s prime objective is profit is a curiously modern one. As Economist writers, John Micklethwaite and Adrian Wooldridge explain in the generally excellent The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea companies were often created with social purposes. Still today, the European social model of business assigns a much greater social responsibility to companies than the seemingly predominant Anglo-American model. This, you might extrapolate, suggests that profit is a more successful objective than woolly liberal social objectives that build hospitals for workers and fund their families through university.

Yet, if Miller and Skidmore – armed with research from NOP and MORI – are correct, employees want to do more that is (for want of a better word) good, not necessarily expect more from their companies in terms of traditional benefits. In essence, they want purpose and the scope to deliver on it. More opportunities to put in, not so much take out.

This is where the disorganisation comes in. In fact, what I draw from their useful pamphlet is: allow people to realise a sense of purpose and you have a happier, more productive workforce.

Take a traditional bank. The thought of ‘disorganising’ a high street bank is enough to give a director an aneurism. Think purpose, though, and the challenge seems less unpleasant: disorganisation for its own sake would be a disaster, but as a means for realising shared social purpose it might be more attractive. The bank’s purpose is making money, but much more than that it is providing financial services to customers, building and maintaining relationships and potentially to do all this in ways which strengthen and benefit society. And employees who can see that they can do this, are doing this, and are being rewarded for it are less likely to leave citing ethical differences.

Look at each of the case studies presented in the pamphlet and the common theme is purpose – realising a shared objective. This report is yet more ammunition for those of us working in corporate responsibility and sustainability. Sustainability in its broadest sense is one area in which employees get a sense of purpose: working with communities, making positive contributions to the environment, etc. The authors quote the figure of 48% of business leaders expecting their employees to increasingly ask to be involved in CSR. The potential purpose is there, organisations need to apply it.

So then: I've no problem with the theory of disorganising, but beware lest the cart is put before the horse - purpose is the key.

PS Liked the launch. Bill Morris must make an excellent afterdinner speaker, I should think.

November 29, 2004 in Current Affairs, Observations | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 24, 2004

More from Ukraine

More from Ukraine. Louise Ferguson posts a letter from a Ukrainian academic that includes the rather chilling sentence:

I couldn't remember such things even during the period of Soviet regime.

Well worth a read.

November 24, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 23, 2004

Blogging marches on

Yet more evidence rolls in that blogging is subtly reshaping current affairs.

First of all, the Guardian in the UK has led with a verbatim copy of a blog post by cameraman and journalist Kevin Sites. Sites made the news by recording a US marine shooting an Iraqi. I suspect it is the first time a mainstream national newspaper has led on its front page with such a source (though I am willing to be corrected).

Next up there is Fistful of Euros' coverage of the election crisis in Ukraine that provides an excellent digest of what is going on. Best of all, the assorted bloggers at FfoE link to Veronica Khokhlova:

You should've seen the crowd walking past our windows, along Khreshchatyk and towards the Central Election Commission... This is a wonderful time here in Kyiv.

Like Salam Pax before her, in Khokhlova you have a talented writer on the ground who knows the issues and, because they are linked to from a trusted source (FfoE) they are treated with greater respect by the likes of me, who have little time to trawl the net for a decent Ukrainian viewpoint.

November 23, 2004 in Current Affairs, Observations, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 18, 2004

Trudeau gathers no moss

Doonesbury_-_RS_954_article_image_200x240.6294681A while back I wrote about a current storyline in the Doonesbury strip that moved and shocked me and many others around the world. The strip's creator Garry Trudeau rarely does interviews but is in the current issue of Rolling Stone (his character, BD, makes the cover), making it a must read. Most poignantly he says:

I was talking to a soldier in the hospital, and I said, "I draw this comic strip, and I have this character named B.D. who lost his leg." The soldier's eyes widened: "B.D. lost his leg?!" Here's this mangled, broken hero lying in his bed, and he's concerned that this character he knows had such a terrible thing happen to him. It was very moving.

July 18, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

May 21, 2004

Lies, damn lies and statistics

As Benjamin Disraeli is attributed to have said: 'There are three kinds of lie: lies, damn lies and statistics.' The attribution is by Mark Twain, curiously.

A fine example from Jason Schulz, also picked up by BoingBoing.

NB I like Schulz's categorisation 'Bush vs. The World'

May 21, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

May 20, 2004

Is Michael Moore a new kind of politician?

moore_and_wilkes...asks Jackie Ashley in today's Guardian. I would suggest not. However, you have to go back a long way to find perhaps his most similar antecedent: John Wilkes (1727-97) - publisher, member of parliament, cause celebre, rabble rouser, satirist and poster-boy for opponents of the American war.

John Wilkes is barely known today, but his demogoguery was infamous in Britain (and particularly London) during the mid-to-late 18th century. There are many similarities that are worth looking at more closely. Not only because I think Wilkes ought to be much better known in his home country, but also because it may shed a bit of light on Moore and the reaction he gets.

Starting perhaps with the aesthetics and ambition, take Ashley on Moore:

He's huge. Huge personally - a great big hairy doughball of a man. He's huge commercially. He's huge on the web. And he's huge in the scale of his ambition - he is determined to bring down George Bush.

Wilkes was also famous for his idiosyncratic looks and grand sweeping intentions. The artist, William Hogarth, made the defining record of Wilkes and he didn't like him. Not a bit. The eyes are crossed, the grin leering and his back hunched..

Wilkes was bent on bringing down the government of the day. The king, George III, had installed his former tutor, the Scottish Earl of Bute, as Prime Minister. The government was seen as favouring Scots' special interests to the detriment of the English. Much perhaps as the current Bush administration's ties to the oil industry feature so heavily in Moore's forthcoming Fahrenheit 9/11.

Like Moore, Wilkes understood the power of the media. His response to Bute was the North Briton: a regular, popular newspaper, satirically named for the Scotsman. When Wilkes lampooned the King's speech in issue 45, the censors struck with libel writs. Wilkes, then a member of Parliament, was expelled from the House of Commons. The action backfired though. Wilkes became more popular than ever, Londoners graffitiing '45' in chalk all over the city in solidarity.

Moore has used Disney's ban on distributing Farenheit 9/11 most adoitly. Ashley again:

The resulting row has made headlines round the world, thrown Disney on the defensive and given Moore yet another cause connected to a traditional American issue - free speech. The New York Times accused Disney of craven censorship and awarded the company "the gold medal for cowardice". According to film critics who have seen it, the movie makes strong points about links between the Bin Laden and Bush families, and about US behaviour in Iraq. It is not as damaging as the torture pictures from Abu Ghraib: yet, thanks to Disney, it has taken the Moore phenomenon to a new level.

The North Briton was the epitome of popular media in its day. It was as close to the web we have today as you could get, supported by song sheets, popular prints (this was the era of Gilray and Richardson). His direct, humorous and easily understood approach had what you might call today 'stickiness'. Hogarth's caricature may not of been a kind one but the artist was a shrewd businessman: his print sold 4,000 copies to the benefit of Wilkes too. Like Wilkes, Moore has benefitted from media that feeds off itself:

...he is media-shrewd. Bowling for Columbine was brilliantly cut through with cartoons, and its humour appealed to the Simpsons generation: at my son's school it became an instant cult among 14- and 15-year-olds, some of whom now subscribe to the Michael Moore website and exchange news about his escapades. That website has become a place where facts, arguments and the latest gossip about Bush are gathered, as well as a selling point for Moore's books, DVDs and videos. (And, inevitably, the right is counter-attacking; there is a major anti-Michael Moore website, too.)
It all links together; the staged confrontations create controversy, so mainstream papers and news programmes do a lot of his work for him. Then the web picks it all up and develops it further. Moore uses every multiplication system the modern media world offers. As a result, he reaches the parts other political polemicists can't reach.

Of course let us not get carried away with the analogy. Wilkes was an elected politician (if only in a pre-reformed parliament), a notorious rake and hellraiser (a member of the Hellfire Club no less). He also duelled (though perhaps this is a link: Bowling for Westminster, anyone?). However, as a model he offers a perspective on where politics today is taking us. As has been said time and again, the web is changing society. Whether it is moblogging from Iraq or, the change in media means a change in politics. We are returning, I suggest, to the politics of the people - messy, at times violent, often funny; this is a kind of politics where party has no ideology and instead has social faction. This is a kind of politics where the mob erupts over single issues – often dissonant and even contradictory. This is a kind of politics where the likes of Wilkes and Moore thrive.

Ashley concludes with a commendation that could be applied to either of them:

This man has courage and conviction. He knows what he thinks: and it is amazing, even in a political system dominated by awesome fundraising and cynical political science, how impressive that can be.

May 20, 2004 in Current Affairs, Observations, Politics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 05, 2004

Indirect effects

According to Raj Persaud in today's Independent newspaper, 'More people died trying to avoid the fate of the 9/11 passengers than died on the four crashed planes'

He cites research by Prof. Gerd Gigerenzer of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development that suggests an increase in road fatalities in the US could be directly linked with a change in behaviour intended to reduce the chance of being killed in a hijacked plane: driving instead of flying.

Professor Gigerenzer demonstrates that, as a direct result of this switch, the number of fatal car crashes increased significantly in the last three months of 2001 compared with the same period in the year before. Because of the extra road traffic, 353 more people died in traffic accidents than would have done, a rise of 8 per cent.

For the full article see The Independent

April 5, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 19, 2004

Not the end of civilisation but...

...when a computer virus really strikes you it sometimes feels like it.

The work network is a mess and I'm off to NY tomorrow for a week starting to wonder if anything I was hoping to do by 5pm will be done. We cannot use Outlook or even webmail - I am on a Mac so there shouldn't be a problem, but just in case, I've been asked not to. Come back MyDoom, all is forgiven...

In the meantime I am browsing. Paul Krugman's OpEds in the NYTimes (requires free registration) are only ever going to reinforce my view of the Bush administration but his penetrating and pithy analysis is always a great way to get the teeth grinding in the morning:

"Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." So George Bush declared on Sept. 20, 2001. But what was he saying? Surely he didn't mean that everyone was obliged to support all of his policies, that if you opposed him on anything you were aiding terrorists.

Now we know that he meant just that.

March 19, 2004 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack