Monday, February 27, 2017

Justice is the Translation of Love

One of the great pleasures of American current affairs television is its principled partisanship. Fox is right wing for those who think that way. For a lot of the mostly East Coast-based national media, liberalism remains at its core, which is why Trump chafes so much. An outstanding double-header comes on PBS, with the avuncular Charlie Rose on at 11pm from New York, leading in to Tavis Smiley at midnight from Los Angeles. Tavis is a generous host and he’s in the conversation, not just moderating it. His dialogue with Dick Van Dyke, all of 90 and still brimming, about seeing Mussolini in the cinema newsreels in the 30s intoning “I alone can fix this,” echoes to the present day.

A riveting guest a week or so ago was Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University, and described as “one of America’s premier public intellectuals.” In his most recent text Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America Dyson argues that if we are to make real racial progress we must face difficult truths, including being honest about how black grievance has been ignored, dismissed, or discounted. With the gifts of a preacher, Dyson said that “Justice is the translation of love. You can’t have love without justice.”

The conversation is a must see. See it here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Manchester McMansion

Manchester is the nearest big city to my Grasmere hideaway. It’s home to my beloved Manchester City and to Lancashire County Cricket Club. The Red Rose County where I was born.

And it’s under attack from two ex Manchester United footballers, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville who, backed by Singaporean and Chinese interests want to build two dung coloured towers of 31 and 21 storeys height, right behind the glorious gothic Grade I listed Town Hall. Two ‘big pointy shiny erections’ full of luxury penthouses, a fancy hotel, flashy bars – towers for Footballers WAGs.

And this £200 million development will lay waste to a police station, a synagogue and a great pub –The Sir Ralph Abercromby, the only remaining building that witnessed the 1819 Peterloo Massacre – a piece of Manchester history that should never be erased.

I hear Manchester’s planning committee will bless this abomination – although 7,000 Mancunians have signed a petition of protest.

A conservation area of local history desecrated.

Bugger.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Risky Business

Is a life without risk worth living? Looking at the recent “adrenaline-themed” issue of lifestyle magazine Kinfolk, I came across a joint interview between sociologists Stephen Lyng and Jeff Ferrell that resonated with me deeply. In their conversation, the two professors talk the reader through the psychology of risk-taking, which they’ve dubbed “edgework,” taking the word from Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism classic, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

After meeting as graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin in the mid-1970s, the two sociologists and thrill seekers began finding ways to merge their academic work with daredevil pursuits like skydiving and motorcycle racing. In the 40-odd years since, they’ve managed to develop a renowned social theory surrounding “voluntary risk-taking” activities (everything from acts of physical courage such as BASE-jumping to emotionally and intellectually daring deeds like telling your boss to piss off!).

“We learned about edgework from people doing it—we didn’t so much invent the concept as were given the concept by the people who already engaged in it,” Ferrell explains about looking at the concept of thrill-seeking from an academic perspective. “We realized the better our skills got, the more risks we could take and the more adrenaline we could pump into our systems. Theory was living in our bodies as well as our heads, and those motorcycles and the skydiving were literal embodiments of the theories we were coming up with in the library.”

As the two friends, colleagues, and adrenaline junkies make clear, they see a profound connection between risk and living life to one’s fullest, comparing a life without risk to Disneyland. “I love the idea of the consequential edge—it could be your body and your life on the line, or it could be your career, your reputation or your relationship,” Ferrell says. “If there are no consequences at stake, then there’s no possibility of edgework. . . I’ve always been much more afraid of dying of boredom than dying in a motorcycle wreck or jumping off a building.”

All this risky business could have a biological imperative, too. One of my favorite scientific theories comes from Stephen Jay Gould, who suggested that substantive change always happen at the edges, the margins, the fringes of a species. Gould’s theory of “punctuated equilibrium” explains how evolution doesn’t take place on a predictable, linear path but with unpredictable and dramatic bursts coming from the outer reaches of the species. Not incidentally, the edge also explains why New Zealand is the future.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

In Praise of Gut Feeling

Mr. Spock vs. Captain Kirk. Sherlock Holmes vs. Dirty Harry. Obama vs. Trump. Readers of this column over the years have seen me write about IQ vs. EQ, strictly rational decision-making vs. the importance of going with one’s gut, especially when it comes to business.

As if by intuition, flipping through a new favorite publication—Kinfolk, a “slow lifestyle magazine” published in Denmark, printed in Portland, Oregon—I came across a book excerpt about this very phenomenon. In Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious (2007, Viking), noted German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer explains the phenomenon of how “following our hunches can help us make better choices than dutifully weighing up the pros and cons.”

Almost everyone has had this experience, where more thinking and information—about that term paper or final exam, that sales brief, that now-or-never decision about one’s love life—can be crippling. Whatever term you choose—going with one’s gut, following a hunch, using the sixth sense—intuition is the handmaiden of rational thought. Without it, no one would ever fall in love, place a bet on a team or a stock, uproot themselves from their home, or consider leaving one job for the next.

In Gut Feelings, Gigerenzer—whose research Malcolm Gladwell used to fuel his book Blink, about the power of snap decisions—shows how our higher-level intelligence frequently works without our conscious thought. He argues that intuition is more than impulse and caprice, however, but follows its own rationale. “There are two ways to understand the nature of gut feelings,” Gigerenzer writes. “One is derived from logical principles and assumes intuition solves a complex problem with a complex strategy. The other involves psychological principles, which bet on simplicity and take advantage of our evolved brain.”

In my experience intuition honors our unconscious lives, and the complexity of a world that is not always governable by logic alone. Intuition is not antithetical to reason, but another form of reasoning. If ever faced with a dilemma whose pros and cons can’t be worked out on a spreadsheet, my advice? Go with your gut.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Crazies Leading in London

London Stock Exchange – March 10 – I’ll be opening the London Leadership Summit for Conqa, a global consulting, event management and sports entertainment organization that focuses within the elite sports industry. My theme – no surprise – Leadership in a Crazy World. My fellow crazies on the speaking roster are as impressive as they are eclectic.

There’s Paddy Upton, one of the most innovative leaders in world cricket. Paddy is head coach of the Delhi Daredevils in India, and the Sydney Thunder, 2016 league winners. He played a pivotal role in leading the Indian Cricket Team to the #1 test team, as well as the world champions in 2011. As the Performance Director of Cricket South Africa, he was a key player in taking Cricket South Africa to the first ever team to hold the number 1 status in all three formats (T20, 50 over & Test). Paddy will provide insight into how he managed to get weak, demotivated and under-performing teams, and turn them around to world-class high achievers. For him, the success is in the culture and he will explain how to get it right.

Tom Bird is author of the best-selling book "Brilliant Selling" and "The Leader's Guide to Presenting." He has spent his entire career in business and sales. His topic is “Influencing,” which he says is a key skill for today's leaders. A recent study showed that we spend on average 23 minutes of every hour trying to influence, but how long have we spent thinking about how we engage with a skill that we are using almost half of our working day applying?”

Lorne Sulcas is seriously crazy. He spent seven years as a game ranger, tracker, observer and photographer on Africa's Big Cats. From the summit blurb: “In the fiercely competitive world, it's eat or be eaten, and only the very best can stay at the top end of the food chain. As apex predators, Africa's Big Three Cats thrive through strategies and behaviors honed over millennia to get exceptional results in a challenging, changing and brutally competitive environments. Lorne will share the powerful similarities between the real and the ‘concrete’ jungles, and how these potent leadership lessons can help you and your organization thrives in the face of change and competition.”

And Gary Noesner deals with crazies. He is a 30 year veteran and former chief negotiator for the FBI. “In high pressure situations, leaders remain calm while everyone around them descends into panic. Many talk of big match temperament (BMT) as if it were a condition you either have or don't have. But what if it was a learnable skill? Gary will teach you how to remain calm, build influence and get on top in high pressure situations.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Reality Check #2: Where the killing comes from

The motivation behind the presidential order to reject people seeking to enter the US from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days was said to be keeping American people from “bad people with bad intentions.” Here are some facts.

Over half the 911 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, which was not subject to the travel ban.

The presence of NRA head Wayne LaPierre sitting next to the President at the White House last week gives me little optimism for sanity on American gun safety.