Friday, 23 December 2011

Truly inspiring: J K Rowling speaks at Harvard

My friend and colleague Marylou Lousvet recommended this video to me some months ago and I have only got around to watching it now. I should not have waited!

Here are 20 minutes of gems from J K Rowling as she speaks to the graduates of Harvard in 2008 about the importance of failure and imagination.

Truly uplifting.

Go on - treat yourself to 20 minutes of a writer who has inspired millions

(Thanks Marylou)

Leadership 2012

2011 has been a tumultuous year where we have had the Arab Spring (ongoing), Eurozone crisis (ongoing) Fukushima (ongoing), not to mention riots on the streets of several UK cities, the end of several despots and far too many disasters, the impacts of which are still also ongoing*

2012 is likely to be equally challenging. As this is the time of year when people assemble lists - here is my list for what public service and business leaders need to be focussing on over the next 12 months:
  • Innovate, create, do something different
  • Take risks, be bold, encourage others to do likewise
  • Get involved in social media
  • Delight in diversity - in all of its diversity
  • Harness transparency
  • Expect compliance to come from the inside
  • Lead the future
What would be your top seven?

(*And if you want to make a donation to aid people who are affected by the severe drought in East Africa, please click this link).

Thursday, 22 December 2011

New Years Eve: just schmaltz or something deeper?

The first film I saw last night was New Year's Eve. It is a lot (a lot..) better than the comparable film Valentine's Day which was panned a while back. But I can be more positive than that! NYE was a warm pastiche of some delightful moments (especially the speech by the Tess Byrne character) and although very predictable in the main - sometimes predictable is good. But I am an old romantic who can happily watch Love Actually if I stumble across it on ITV4.

But back to the theme of this blog - leadership and change (etc) - are there any lessons for leaders in this film? (I have the beginning of a plan to watch movies in 2012 and critique them from a leadership and organisation development viewpoint... watch this space - and see previous post as well)

I think the film is ultimately about keeping your promises. I don't want to spoil the movie for you - but I would argue that this is a theme which underpins nearly all of the vignettes on show. Whilst the consequences of breaking a promise here or there are shown, the story centres on several characters moving heaven and earth (and eating some very humble pie) to fulfil a promise that they made.

As leaders, we must keep our promises. If we think we will not be able to keep a promise then I would say we should not make it. A long time ago, I worked for a firm which had a very clear set of value statements. One of these was 'do as you say you are going to do'. That has stuck with me every since. It is a principle that guides me.

Good leaders keep their promises. 

Of course people do break their promises and explain why it was necessary. But observers know. We know when an explanation is just a rationalisation. (And we do know when the explanation is authentic too.)

As leaders, we know when we keep our promises. But how do we distinguish an authentic explanation from a rationalisation when we may be driven to break a promise?

How do you know when to make a promise.. and when you must break it? 

Sherlock Holmes: predicting your shadow moves

I treated myself to a couple of movies last night. The second one I saw was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (still showing at a picture house near you I expect). I set myself a challenge: what insight into leadership does this film display?

Firstly I would say it is a cracking film with Guy Ritchie showing off his trade that the public first appreciated in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Game of Shadows was fast moving, mildly humorous and had some edge of the seat moments where I was aware that the whole audience were holding their collective breath. I could say more, of course, but the point of this blog is not to write a review of the film, there are plenty of other people who have done that (here and here for example).

There is no spoiler here, but there are a number of occasions (usually in the fight scenes) in the film where Sherlock runs through his assessment of what is about to happen  in his mind's eye and then maps out how he will be victorious. It is as if he is acting on the basis of premonition or as (as probably the character would contend) deduction from the facts of the situation. And I got to wondering how many organisations or leaders do that successfully? How many strategies are carefully crafted from the known facts and then played out in such a way as to achieve the results needed?

In my experience, and I am being a tad cynical here I know, many (perhaps even most) strategies are derived post hoc. Something is achieved and then people get to be clever in linking that result with a logical interpretation of what was done. Strategies that do not work are carefully forgotten or condemned by an incoming new manager / board / government... It is as if strategies always work.

Of course Mr Holmes' strategies always work in the film. The question for me is how many strategies really work in real life? If they are going to work, I would propose a number of conditions that need to be present. Drawing on the film as a source of inspiration, these are:
  • Clarity about the desired outcome
  • Awareness (perhaps a hyper-awareness) the factors that will hinder and help
  • Non attachment to past ways (what worked then may not work now)
  • Understanding of human behaviour and how that might change the plans
  • Creativity and using resources in very innovative ways
  • Preparedness to risk (almost) all
  • Openness to other ideas but also the confidence to stop listening at times
What else would you add?

(And if you see the film, have I summed up the character's approach adequately?)

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What is your perspective on 2012?


Well here we are again! Where did 2011 go? It may well be that I am getting older – but this year has gone by at breakneck speed for me. My theory is that because we are aware now of so much happening (perhaps more is happening or just that technology brings more of it into our vista), it is like being on a train where the near objects whistle past. Objects further away drift past more slowly. But now it seems as if everything is close – and fast –now.

And in this flurry and buzzing change – to what do we now have to look forward? Certainly I am thrilled to be living near London where the Olympics are happening next year – even though I will probably watch them through my TV screen. Whilst I am no Royalist, I am looking forward to the diamond jubilee festivities when I hope that communities will come together in celebration and warm friendship. (Why not organise a Big Lunch?)

But on the wider economic stage, this is likely to be a very harsh year. Although someone once said that the reason we have astrologers is to make economists look scientific, I think their gloomy predictions for 2012 could be true. This is not an email in which to get political. I will only say that it is my earnest hope that all those who can, will mitigate the damage that 2012 is likely to inflict upon people, especially those who are already hugely disadvantaged. I genuinely hope it is not as bad as I fear. Maybe when I come to write to you next year, I will be saying ‘there we are – it wasn’t all that bad!’.

So I have been pondering what word to adopt this year. I thought what do we need above all else as we pitch into 2012? I concluded that what we all need is perspective – a belief in a horizon that extends beyond the last few and the next few years. An outlook that will help see these times from a bit further away – a perspective that doesn’t lose sight of the fact that we are brilliant, creative, resourceful and caring people, able to collaborate to achieve remarkable things. No matter how bad things might get, we have the spirit that keeps us moving on, keeps us looking after each other, keeps us... human.

This is my word, my perspective, for 2012. What is yours?

In the meantime, I will hope that you find some good time to be with friends and family over the Christmas period, and that all your dreams and ambitions for the coming year are fulfilled.

My very best wishes