Never forget

Reichstag

Reichstag building wrapped by the artist Christo

On this day in 1933 Adolf Hitler managed to push “The Enabling Act” through the Reichstag in Germany.

This gave him the position of Dictator, and gave the minority Nazi party effective control of Germany.  Democracy was sacrificed to expedience.  The confusion of coalition government was replaced by the clarity, direction and strength of single minded purpose.  See where that ended up?

Democracy is hard.  Government is a messy process.  It is dirty, political, flawed, frustrating, time-consuming and downright annoying.  The Germans swept all that away in favour of simple solutions.

Beware politicians who seem to offer simple solutions to complex problems.  Remember the Enabling Act.  If you don’t know what it is, inform yourself.  This stuff is important to know!

Epic: by Patrick Kavanagh

I have lived in important places, times
When great events were decided, who owned
That half a rood of rock, a no-man’s land
Surrounded by our pitchfork-armed claims.

I heard the Duffys shouting “Damn your soul!”
And old McCabe stripped to the waist, seen
Step the plot defying blue cast-steel –
“Here is the march along these iron stones.”

That was the year of the Munich bother. Which
Was more important? I inclined
To lose my faith in Ballyrush and Gortin
Till Homer’s ghost came whispering to my mind.

He said: I made the Iliad from such
A local row. Gods make their own importance.

 

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War and Peas

Catgun

I’ve declared war.  I am arming up and gathering reinforcements.  As soon as the logistics are in place we march to battle.

In general I am against war and violence.  But all attempts at diplomatic solutions have failed.  I am not about to become some modern day Neville Chamberlain, kowtowing to a rodent Hitler in his quest for increasing Lebensraum.  I do not want peace at any price.  I do want peas.

Yes, this is a war of peas.  I plant them, the rabbits eat the shoots.  Seemingly pea shoots are delicious.  Especially to rabbits.  Now, on top of the pea issue there is the burrow issue.  They seem to think my courgette patch would make a nice new home.  They want to move in on a semi-permanent basis.

Initially I thought we could shoo them away.  Just chase them off.  But they kept coming.

Then I thought the foxes would see to them.  No such luck.

Lately I have taken to carrying a bow and arrow around the garden.  When I encounter them unarmed they stand their ground and try to stare me down.  The moment they spot the bow in my hand they melt into the long grass.  They seem to know somehow that the bow spells danger.  Maybe it’s my body language.  Not that I have a hope in hell of hitting them with an arrow if I do get a shot off.  Rabbits are small and they move fast.  Still, it feels as though I am doing something to stem the tide of invasion.

The long term solution is cats.  A couple of young rescue cats from the local rescue centre.  That will sort them out.  Anyone who knows me well knows my attitude to cats.  I feel like I am signing a pact with Stalin to defeat Hitler.  Cats have taken over the internet.  Now they are taking over the world.

MACAVITY, THE MYSTERY CAT; by T.S. Eliot

Macavity’s a Mystery Cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw –
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
He’s broken every human law, he breaks the law of gravity.
His powers of levitation would make a fakir stare,
And when you reach the scene of crime – Macavity’s not there!
You may seek him in the basement, you may look up in the air –
But I tell you once and once again, Macavity’s not there!

Macavity’s a ginger cat, he’s very tall and thin;
You would know him if you saw him, for his eyes are sunken in.
His brow is deeply lined with thought, his head is highly domed;
His coat is dusty from neglect, his whiskers are uncombed.
He sways his head from side to side, with movements like a snake;
And when you think he’s half asleep, he’s always wide awake.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
For he’s a fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.
You may meet him in a by-street, you may see him in the square –
But when a crime’s discovered, then Macavity’s not there!

He’s outwardly respectable. (They say he cheats at cards.)
And his footprints are not found in any file of Scotland Yard’s.
And when the larder’s looted, or the jewel-case is rifled,
Or when the milk is missing, or another Peke’s been stifled,
Or the greenhouse glass is broken, and the trellis past repair –
Ay, there’s the wonder of the thing! Macavity’s not there!

And when the Foreign Office find a Treaty’s gone astray,
Or the Admiralty lose some plans and drawings by the way,
There may be a scrap of paper in the hall or on the stair –
But it’s useless to investigate – Macavity’s not there!
And when the loss has been disclosed, the Secret Service say:
‘It must have been Macavity!’ – but he’s a mile away.
You’ll be sure to find him resting, or a-licking of his thumbs,
Or engaged in doing complicated long division sums.

Macavity, Macavity, there’s no one like Macavity,
There never was a Cat of such deceitfulness and suavity.
He always has an alibi, and one or two to spare:
At whatever time the deed took place – MACAVITY WASN’T THERE!
And they say that all the Cats whose wicked deeds are widely known,
(I might mention Mungojerrie, I might mention Griddlebone)
Are nothing more than agents for the Cat who all the time
Just controls their operations: the Napoleon of Crime.

When clients go bad.

BTlady

For anyone with their head in the sand, the Scottish Independence campaign reached a new height this week with a poll showing the Yes and No vote running neck and neck.

The big swing away from the No to the Yes campaign was on the back of a Twitterstorm from the Women of Scotland who roundly rejected the “Better Together” campaign video “The woman who made up her mind”.  Have a look here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLAewTVmkAU

The Yes campaign dubbed it the “PatronisingBTLady” and you can track the resentment on twitter by searching #patronisingbtlady

I wondered what it would be like to be on of the advertising team who made the ad, in a meeting with Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign.

I reckon the meeting might go something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tm0KYL5_wNU

The magic touch in Business

Image

How do you protect businesses from the brilliant decision makers who end up getting it all wrong?

The human mind is a pattern recognition engine.  It is an excellent learning tool.  When you spot a situation you have been in before, the mind tells you “oh yeah, I know this, here is how we moved through this situation the last time”.

There are positives to this, and also negatives.

The positives are that we learn rapidly from each other.  Spend an afternoon trying to learn a video game on your own, and then try it with your 14 year old son beside you.  With the benefit of his experience, and his bank of knowledge, built from games played by his social network, you very quickly pick up the things you need to know, and learn the distractions that you can safely ignore.

In business it is vital to have people in the room who have been there before, who saw the situation before, and can tell the strategies they used to work through it.  That is not to say you should slavishly follow an old strategy.  Remember, the competition also have a guy in the room who was there last time around.  If they lost the last “match” chances are they are going to adjust strategy this time round.  But the starting point is to know what happened in the last war.

The biggest danger in the “pattern recognition” engine is the way it craves order in chaos.  The human mind abhors uncertainty.  When faced with pure chaos it scrambles for anything that might make sense.  Derren Brown, the UK “magician”, illustrated this with a very funny episode “Trick or Treat” where he wired a sensor to a goldfish tank.  Each time the goldfish swam past the sensor a counter added a score.

In a separate room he assembled a group of people, who were told they could win an amount of money if they managed to get the counter to 100 in a given time.  They did not realise that they had no control over the counter.  They jumped, shouted, ran about, organised themselves, disorganised themselves, and sometimes it seemed to work.  The counter moved.  So they would repeat what they did, and fail.  Their brains were trying to make order out of chaos.

It is this struggle to make order from chaos that has led to some of the worst episodes in human history.  When things are at their worst, the pressure to find an answer is more acute, and we do some really bad things or make some really bad decisions.  Aztecs harvesting thousands of heads, Celts burning people in wicker men, burning witches, self immolation, sacrificing virgins, anything that might work.

Then into this space you get people with an agenda, who see that the time is right to lay blame on a section of the community.  God is displeased with us because we tolerated  Jews/Gays/Irish/Blacks/Dancers/Gamblers/Alcohol whatever.  Now the time is rife to rid ourselves of this evil and set ourselves straight with some made up divinity who seems to have a pretty nasty and narrow minded agenda.

Of course this would never happen in the business world.  When we operate in the workplace we make rational decisions, based on logical analysis of events, and we don’t allow demagogues to hijack the agenda and drive us collectively to construct a new tower of Babel…..do we?  Well, sadly we do.  We see success and we see the guy who causes the success and we assume that he must have the “secret”.  OK he isn’t slicing off heads and rolling them down the front steps, but he may be doing the business equivalent.  Look at Enron, Nick Leeson in Barings Bank, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, securitization of sub-prime mortgages, contracts for difference.  The truth is, the more confusing a derivative is, the more magical it seems to those who cannot understand how it works.  Many senior managers in banks failed to spot the magic tricks for what they were, because they were working at first.

In World War 2 both Churchill and Hitler interfered with military strategy.  The lucky thing for the British was that some of Churchill’s early interventions were disasters, and he bowed to sound military analysis later in the war.  The unlucky thing for the Germans was that all of Hitler’s early interventions were successful.  His cabinet believed that he had a magic touch, and his interference became more pervasive and more damaging

In the workplace if you have senior managers who are seen as having a magic touch, that in itself should be a warning sign.  These managers should be subject to MORE monitoring and analysis to ensure they are making commercially sound decisions.  Instead the opposite holds true.  The manager who delivers a big win is given more latitude than his non-performing counterparts.  He may buy into the belief that he has that bit of magic, and he may carry out less and less analysis on his own decisions.  He is given more and more resources to “gamble” on the next big move.  If he is given enough rope he will ultimately make the bad decision that costs the company dearly.

A worse situation is that the manager is someone with an agenda.  His agenda is not aligned with the corporate goals.  His decisions are being made to line his own pocket, at the ultimate expense of the business itself.  The greater the flux in the market, the greater the uncertainty, the easier it is for this person to make the call that can collapse the business.

In Ancient Rome a triumphant general was made up to look like a God for the day of his triumph.  He rode through the city in a chariot at the head of his army.  A priest in the chariot had the job of repeating constantly, in his ear, “Remember, you are only a mortal”.  In business we need those kinds of priests.

 

What can we do to protect businesses?

  1.  Operate the same decision control procedures for all managers.
  2. Ensure that charismatic “stars” have grounded detail analysts on their teams.
  3. Make sure everyone understands how an investment works, there is no magic money.
  4. A solicitor on the decision team to ask “is this legal?”
  5. Post-decision analysis.  Something that appears in every textbook, but seldom exists in reality.  We are all focused on the next big thing and it seems wasteful to analyse what is over.  We should bring in a cold resource, from outside the decision team, who will demonstrate what elements of the success were due to team decisions, and what elements were down to general market movements.  The winning teams hate these guys, but they can separate the myth from the reality, and greatly change the way you will approach the next opportunity.