Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Amazing Lego

I am guessing that everyone reading this blog has played with Lego at some point in their lives, perhaps even very recently. It is a toy that has both imaginative and aesthetic appeal. In this fast, chaotic world where, it often seems, more things go wrong than right, having some bricks & pieces which snap together with satisfying clicks is comforting. And so thus is The Lego Movie, which has a reassuring, funny and (at times) deeply philosophical narrative. At times, the pieces of the story are all over the place but they do eventually come together to form a clever and enjoyable film.

The film is peppered with cinematic allusions and ironic twists which will deserve a second or even third look, one day. I saw it in 3D (by mistake) which worked fine. But apart from Avatar and Gravity, I have yet to see the point of this screen technology. It is a sumptuous roller coaster movie to be enjoyed with or without small children. Go see it!

There are several leadership themes in the film including ‘be all you can be’, ‘have courage’, ‘make plans’ and ‘know and be at ease with yourself’. But the one I will focus upon is ‘design your future’. And I do this very consciously as I am currently sitting opposite the Design Council about to facilitate a day on Applying Design Principles to the Public Services. (You might ask: what are design principles and ‘design thinking’? Here is a good accessible explanation.)

So, how do leaders design their future? The first thing to do is to commit to the view that the future is not already predetermined: futures should be made not suffered. Secondly, you need to decide what future you want. I often refer to what I call the ‘South Pacific School of Business Management’ and its approach to strategic leadership: ‘if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna make that dream come true’. (There is more on this DREAM approach here.)

And thirdly, just like in the movie, you have to know what pieces you have at your disposal. To be a ‘master builder’ (leader), means knowing the capability of the organisation you are leading – not just the current capability but the potential capability as well.

What Lego pieces are in your organisational box?


This is the fifteenth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Trust, leadership & Her

As someone who has spent considerable periods online (probably only matched by the amount of time I spent on space invader machines in the late 70s), going to see Her was irresistible. In fact it would have been futile to resist. This film strokes the audience like a mouse, gradually enveloping you in a future where everyone is so connected all of the time, that frankly I am amazed they have time to eat. The main character, Theodore Twombly (2Mb loves you?), recovering from a relationship split, finds love in his computer’s operating system. It is a story reminiscent of The Big Bang episode where Raj dates Siri but as a poignant tragedy not a raucous comedy.

The film extends your view of what a relationship can be and just what the components are in good one. Indeed, were such an operating system to exist, I can imagine a good many psychoanalysts going out of business. The characters are believable and weirdly, so is the narrative: it is barely set in the future. This film deserves to be more popular and if it becomes so (as it well might on DVD), I suspect its core storyline will soon creep into common metaphorical reference (like When Harry Met Sally). Go see it (and remember to turn your smart phone off as it will get jealous).

Recently I have become a little caught up in a social media controversy over the suspension of a police officer’s twitter account. (You can read the background here.) It would appear that an honest, intelligent, committed and thoroughly decent copper, whose blogs about mental health have received wide acclaim, has fallen foul of his employer’s social media policy. Nobody knows exactly what has happened (publicly), but many are waiting for matters to be resolved satisfactorily.

I mention this here as the story of Her reminded me of what social media can do to anxious corporate control freaks. Essentially, social media has a vibrant, messy life and a heuristic vortex all of its own and eats control freakery for breakfast. Just like the operating system in Her. This non-conformist energy is not easily moderated by a policy (no matter how well written). Leaders try to control social media at their peril, in my opinion. And even if they manage to do so (through dedicating considerable resources to diligent monitoring) they are seriously missing the point of social media. The clue is in the name. Social interactions need to be spontaneous, authentic and honest otherwise you may just as well fragment the corporate newsletter into a set of 140 character messages. The public / customers / citizens will know the difference though. And then see how many followers that account assembles…

Leadership is about trust. Leadership is about setting a direction but not about carving out the grooves to follow. Instead it is about trusting people to find their own paths.

Who do you trust?

This is the fourteenth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Love conquers all?

SPOILER Alert: do not read this if you have not yet seen Robocop (2014) (and plan to...)

It has been a very long time since I saw the original Robocop, so I came to the 2014 version reasonably fresh. That said, as is often the case these days, you see almost the whole movie cut down for the trailers. So I was 'freshish' and waiting to be entertained / entranced / possibly frightened of the future. And I was: all three. This is a very tightly directed film with the kind of seamless special effects that filmmakers couldn't even dream of in the 1980s.

The story plays out a standard trajectory of how large corporations will stop at nothing, even murder, to add more money to the bottom line. (Do you remember Rollerball? This was where this narrative first came to my attention.) And do the good (& ethical) guys win in this year's Robocop? What do you think...! The acting is nothing to write home about: I felt both Keaton & Oldman were a tad too restrained, but then maybe my Beetle Juice / Fifth Element overdrive was kicking in. This is a slick & subtle SciFi movie with more ethical dilemmas than many. A film worth seeing.

Of course, Robocop faces the ultimate challenge as his wife is threatened: can he override his programming to protect the woman he loves or not? (I won't spoil it for you, but I think you probably know the answer...) And it is this point I will use as springboard for reflecting on leadership: what is the role of love in leadership?

And so now I am going to spoil it for you: Robocop shows that love is the ultimate & irresistible motivation for him. Likewise, all good leaders need to know what is their ultimate motivation. Understanding what a leader truly loves is the first step to understanding her/his leadership.

It is also the first step in understanding our own.... in the context of your leadership, who/what do you truly love?

This is the thirteenth  of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Turning green shoots into hardy growth

Economic optimism is on the rise as the UK begins to show an extended upturn in GDP. Many businesses (but by no means all) are beginning to benefit from these ‘green shoots’. The task now is how to turn these green shoots into robust and hardy business growth.

To this end, two business colleagues and I have decided to convene a day on this very subject:

What actions can we take to ensure steady and lasting improvement in our businesses, in these (still very) challenging times?

If you would like to join us and shape the agenda for the day, please sign up at our EventBrite site. This will be a highly interactive day where you will have the opportunity to address the core question and have conversations with fellow business directors, owners, freelancers and senior managers about the business development ideas that matter.

The date is 10 April and the location is the historic town of Buckingham and we start at 0945.

This will be a ‘SpeakEasy Moot’ where everyone is a speaker and contributor, shaping the day around the issues that concern you. If you would like to find out more about SpeakEasy Moots, please investigate our LinkedIn Group. If you are not already a member, you are most welcome to join.

We look forward to seeing you there. (Whether you can make it or not, please feel free to let others know, who might also be interested. Thanks)

Jon with Paul Evans & Justin Willett

Sunday, 9 February 2014

If you think your family is dysfunctional...

I was half expecting Jeremy Kyle to feature in August: Osage County as this is a family that collect more secrets than most and express their feelings in somewhat dramatic ways. I am aware that this film has attracted some criticism for being just too darn contrived to win a set of Oscars. For me that is churlish and possibly misogynist: there are performances here by the main characters that rivet you to your cinema seat. This is a powerful movie of an extraordinary play, which will leave you spinning and catching up on the breaths you forgot to take during the film.

In my head, I connect the film to Secrets and Lies (one of my all time favourite movies), which is also about how family secrets and lies destroy families. Go and see August: Osage County (if only for the song played by Benedict Cumberbatch's character towards the end of the movie).

Critical to the story is the 'truth tellin' by Meryl Streep's character which tears emotional strips of her nearest and dearest. This got me to wondering what kind of 'truth tellin' leaders should engage in.

Should leaders tell the truth? Of course.

The whole truth and nothing but the truth? Possibly so in the end, but otherwise strategically and deliberately. The unvarnished truth is a powerful elixir to be administered with great care in case its medicinal properties turn to poison by dint of bad timing and quantity.

As a leader, under what conditions do you tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? And under what conditions do you hold back? Why?

This is the twelfth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Are we all just hustlers?

I went to see American Hustle last night. Along with Gravity it leads the Oscar nominations (10) with 9 going to 12 Years a Slave. I am not entirely clear why. But it is still packing in the people several weeks after it release. At two and half hours long it is certainly gripping and apart from the fact that none the of the car parking meters outside the cinema were working (which gave me a small nodule of anxiety throughout), the time just slipped by. It tells an engrossing story: I really cared about the characters. Oddly, given the events, I had huge sympathy for the mayor but maybe that is because I am local politician too!

The acting is top notch and the late 70's setting, very well done. The art of the comb-over is fully explored as are dresses that appear to defy physics. But somehow, it did not quite pass muster. I guess I was hoping for a more elaborate and convoluted story that would leave me scratching my head for days, in the same way as The Usual Suspects did. But it did not and I was not surprised by the ending. So overall, not a film I would recommend for the cinema: but do see it when it comes to the small screen.

At one point in the movie, one of the characters says that everyone is a hustler, just trying to sell themselves, sell an idea or indeed sell a con. I left the cinema pondering on this. It is not a new idea: after all the world is but a stage, and we the players. Are we all engaged in subterfuge and merely acting to get our points across. Is this what leaders are good at? Are leaders not much more than hustlers of ideas: new objectives, new aims, new ways of working?

I think it all depends on how real we are to other people and indeed to ourselves. The character played by Jennifer Lawrence is achingly real, as you can see from the picture above. Her plaintive character plays it straight.

So I think this is the choice that leaders have: you can play it straight, real and authentic or not. If you choose not then you probably are a hustler and you may well succeed on many levels. But if you choose the path that can be raw, real, and vulnerable, you will need to keep an eye on yourself but you will not lose your ethical integrity.

How real are you?

... I cannot write this blog today without just recording my great sadness at the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was a great actor. My thoughts are with his family and friends. 


This is the eleventh of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.