As The Sun Goes Down On Democracy

Over a beer with my brother last weekend he told me that, unlike some of his chums, he doesn’t put political stuff on facebook, as all it would do is alienate the half of his friends that don’t agree with him.  Sadly, that’s probably true for all of us.  It doesn’t have to be that way though.  We all want pretty much the same things: to be happy, to have the freedom to do what we want, not to have our ability to do this infringed upon by others, etc.

One might have thought we could get our heads together as we might if working together as part of a pub quiz team.  The reality is that political stuff is more complex.  It is more difficult to present a convincing argument as to which is the best way forward.  This doesn’t stop us from thinking we have the answer though.  We are all too inclined to huddle in groups of people who think like we do, or shout at each other across a sea of shifting opinion, clinging gamely to the loosely tied planks that make up the raft of our political convictions.

Before Brexit, pressing political issues came and went.  Talking heads appeared briefly to tell us what they thought on a matter and then away they went.  Laws and policies changed and, for better or worse, were enforced, ignored or repealed.  Brexit has been different.  As it has lingered in the cross hairs of our attention we, and the politicians that represent us, have been given the opportunity to really get to grips with the issues: explore the various options and possibilities and come to a much clearer understanding of the best way forward.  An opportunity that sadly has not been taken.

I am an apparently rare beast.  I care about Brexit but I was not and am not convinced that either Leave or Remain offer an obviously better way forward.  I don’t have any sympathy with the stereotypical Leaver who wants to send Johnny foreigner home and rebuild the Britain of Albion and Empire.  The arc of history described by ever advancing information technology points toward a destination in which national barriers and the divided interests they protect will be dissolved as we come together to cooperate more effectively for the purposes of trade and the management of our shared environment.  Similarly, I don’t have much sympathy with the naïve ‘better together’ beliefs of many Remainers either.  Yes, we are better cooperating, but how we do this is very important.  Attempting to enforce cooperation by tying nations together before they are politically, economically and culturally in step increases the risk of conflict, just as surely as if we were participants in a three-legged race being dragged back and forward by straps that cut into our ankles.

Only two things matter: the facts and our values. Here are what I believe to be the most important facts.

In 1975 the British electorate voted 67:33 in favour of remaining part of the Common Market.  Since then the European Union has sought ever greater political union.  While Britain has gone along with this in many ways, it has sought to retain greater independence than others; notably by deciding not to abandon the pound in favour of the euro, so enabling it to retain greater control over its economic policy.

Dissatisfaction with the political direction of travel in the EU led many opponents of Britain’s EU membership to call for another referendum.  In 1995 James Goldsmith formed the Referendum Party to promote this cause.  In 2007 The Liberal Democrat Party also started calling for a referendum on continued EU membership.  Their commitment to an in/our referendum was restated in their 2010 and 2015 manifestos.  In the wake of the Referendum Party, support for UKIP gradually increased to the point where it was perceived to be significantly influencing the outcomes of constituency (and therefore national) elections.  In 2013 David Cameron made a commitment to hold such a referendum.

In 2015 all but SNP MPs voted in favour of an in/out referendum.  While, from a legal perspective, the Referendum Bill made the outcome advisory rather than legally binding, it was publicly declared that parliament would do the will of the people.  I do not recall being told at the time by any politician or commentator that the result would not necessarily be binding. Given that 80% of MPs voted to remain, it is apparent that the failure to point this out was not a consequence of Leavers hedging their bets should they have lost.

After an exceptionally high voter turnout, in June 2016 Britain voted 52:48 in favour of leaving the EU.  Given the wildly emotional response of ardent Remainer MPs such as Anna Soubry on the morning after, and the absence of any formal wriggling from MPs on the matter ever since, parliament has not explicitly sought to use this technicality to substantiate a desire to avoid abiding by the outcome.  MPs were given an opportunity to reject the outcome when they voted on whether to serve the Article 50 notice of intent to leave.  80% of Labour MPs voted with the government in favour.  Kenneth Clark was the sole Conservative who voted with the 20% of Labour MPs, the SNP, 7 Lib Dems and 9 others.

Before the referendum I do not recall any mention of a ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ Brexit.  While the precise nature of what would happen in the event of a Leave outcome was never clear, the inference of the campaign slogans was.  ‘Better together’ implied we should remain bound to the EU, while ‘Take back control’ implied that we should be in control of our political and economic decision-making, not the EU.  In the words of the popular press, the next step was to negotiate the ‘divorce bill’ – i.e. the terms of departure.  Divorce seemed to an apt metaphor since, like a disgruntled spouse, Britain had decided it was not ‘better together’ and so had decided to ‘take back control’.  Just as being married and divorced are mutually exclusive states, the introduction of the terms hard and soft to describe Brexit seemed confusing.  Perhaps a ‘hard’ divorce might involve much rancour and dispute, while a ‘soft’ one might be more along the lines of Chris Martin and Gwynneth Paltrow’s ‘conscious uncoupling’.  Either way, divorce is divorce, and once complete, other than dealing with obligations concerning children and property, neither party is subject to any direct, ongoing obligation to the other.  They choose of their own freewill whether to have each other over for dinner and help each other out in times of need, send abusive messages or pretend the other no longer exists.  Divorce is never so ‘soft’ that one party remains bound to observe the rules the other imposed when they were still married.

This subdivision of Brexit into soft and hard was not a Leaver initiative.  It appears to be a device by which Remainers have sought to split the 52% so as to invoke an effective majority by combining ‘soft’ Leavers with Remainers.  While non-specific, the key ingredient of a ‘soft’ Brexit appears to be remaining in the Customs Union so as to have unfettered access to the Common Market.  Given that this would prevent Britain from entering into the free trade deals and independent legislation that were key features of the Leave campaign and of ‘taking back control’, a soft Brexit is as much Leaving as not wearing one’s wedding ring amounts to being divorced.  Yet this is the definition of Brexit the Labour Party prefers.  It is on this basis that Labour MPs say they will negotiate a ‘better’ deal with the EU.  ‘Better’ presumably because, in their view, Remaining is better than Leaving.  Having negotiated this deal they will put it to the country in a referendum that will effectively present the following choice to the people: do you want (A) to remain in the EU as a fully paid up member, or (B) just remain bound by EU legislation as a ‘county member’?  In this referendum, having negotiated this ‘better deal’ they will campaign for you to reject it.

Kier Starmer was asked by both ITV and BBC during their breakfast TV programmes how he would be able to negotiate the better deal the Labour Party are promising should they win the election.  His response was that he knew all the folks at the EU very well having worked with them over the last three years.  The implication behind the question was that a better deal would be a harder to negotiate.  Neither the ITV or BBC interviewers challenged what was ‘better’ about this deal.  My understanding is it will ‘better’ because it will protect workers’ rights and trade relationships by leaving things as they are; i.e. by accepting and enforcing the regulations of the EU; i.e. by not ‘taking back control.  Even the ineptest (or complete absence of a) negotiator could achieve this outcome.

Labour may believe that the Tories will dilute workers’ rights, but that is not a reason to object to the deal Boris has reached.  The deal simply allows Britain the freedom to do what it thinks is in its best interests.  Should the Labour Party so desire it can campaign for even ‘better’ workers’ rights, and under the terms of the Boris deal would be free to put them in place.  All the ‘better’ deal Sir Kier advocates would do is tie the hands of the British government so prevent it from meeting any future democratic preferences of the British electorate.

The Liberal Democrats, having been the first major party to call for a referendum, only to call for another one after the first one didn’t turn out as they hoped, are now effectively saying ‘to hell with referenda, leaving is madness and so we are going to rescind Article 50’. Lib Dem Sir Ed Davey has described Liberal Democrat policy as ‘clear and consistent’.  

The debacle of the last three years since the referendum result has had us witness Remain MPs telling us that ‘now the British public knows what Leaving entails many will have changed their minds’ and ‘no deal has to be taken off the table before any further negotiations can proceed’.  Away from the imaginary world these MPs seem to live in, the British public do not know what leaving will be like because we haven’t done it.  They know what not leaving when we voted to leave is like.  It’s purgatory.  Businesses can’t plan for the future, and so our economy is hobbled.  Any member of the public who has ever negotiated anything will also know that you can’t negotiate successfully if the other party knows you cannot walk away.  When you want to buy a house or car, hire an employee or get a job, while the possibility of not doing so may be a source of frustration and have bad consequences, it is unavoidable in the real world.  If parties can’t reach agreement, they must be able to walk away.  If not, the party least in need will exploit this to their own advantage.

Some Remainers claim the promise of cash for the NHS printed on the Leave bus was a lie that undermined the outcome of the referendum.  It was certainly misleading, but so were the claims that Brexit would inevitably be a disastrous.  How influential it was in swinging the campaign though is a moot point.  I only ever saw the slogan on the side of the bus when it was featured on the TV news.  Each time it was either described as ‘misleading’ by a journalist - because most of the money supposedly ‘sent’ ‘comes back’ in the form of a rebate - or a ‘lie’ by a Remainer.  Controversial?  Yes.  Headline grabbing?  Yes.  Persuasive?

The Conservative Party has not had my vote for thirty years or more.  I am no Brexiteer, but I am a democrat.  For all Boris’s shortcomings, he has succeeded in negotiating a deal that is broadly in line with what Leavers voted for and which the EU said it would not negotiate.  It is one that provides a practical alternative to the Irish backstop that would most likely have effectively prevented anything but the softest of soft (i.e. non-) Brexits.  There is little doubt that the possibility Britain might leave without a deal, and the disruption this would cause, was material in his ability to get the EU to open the deal that it had repeatedly said was closed.

When one looks back over the past few years, it is apparent that MPs have failed to honour the outcome of the referendum.  Rather than honestly state they should not have voted for a referendum or for the Article 50 notice to be served, Remain MPs have instead laid a succession of barriers that their erstwhile political opponents in their 80% majority have not been motivated to remove.  Without need for a formal conspiracy it has been convenient for them to drag their feet in the hope that someone else will get the blame and eventually someone will call the whole thing off.

It is this more than anything that incurs my ire.  My values are such that I think we should prize honesty and democracy above all other considerations.  Those MPs who now wish to ignore the referendum result say we have a parliamentary democracy.  Some say 'dictator' Boris, backed by his wicked advisor Dominic Cummins – who is so evil that he thinks our political system (reliant on unqualified MPs with short-term, personal and ideological agendas rather than experts) is not fit for purpose - has been trying to undermine our treasured parliamentary democracy.  This parliamentary democracy voted of its own freewill to give the people the say in a simple IN/OUT referendum and said they would abide by the decision.  This being the case, the continuing argument of whether leaving is a good idea or not is irrelevant.  I am of the opinion that decisions such as this, which involve constitutional change and have far-reaching implications, should not be decided by a simple majority in referenda.  Because the public are not the best informed and public opinion fluctuates, I would have thought a 60:40 majority would be a more sensible basis for change.  But my opinion on this is also irrelevant, because that’s not what parliament decided.

The events of the past three years have further diminished trust in and respect for MPs and the news media that scrutinizes them on our behalves.  Should the outcome of the forthcoming election, which will effectively pass judgement on the activities of MPs over the last three years, be that Britain does not leave the EU, or ‘softly’ leaves so as to remain in the room but not at the table, we might as well openly declare that democracy is dead.  I say this not as a Leaver – I did not vote for either side and am not convinced that one way or the other is necessarily better – but as someone who believes that, while imperfect, democracy is important.  To make it work better we need greater openness, honesty and education.  We need to be less susceptible to the whims of power-driven politicians and voters who assert their largely ignorant views as if they were experts.  The realities of the real world in which Brexit plays out are infinitely complex.  The fields of politics and economics, which are prominent in this arena, are built upon the complex interactions between psychology and deeper physical science.  Few politicians, voters or even specialist experts have a firm and full grasp on these matters, which is why economic forecasts tend to be as reliable as long-range weather forecasts and why, sometimes, we just have to bend to the wisdom of the crowd.

Of the people, by the people for the people?

The cheering that met Theresa May's warning that there may be "no Brexit at all" last night seemed to confirm what should have been obvious; i.e. that sufficient numbers of MPs (80% of whom voted to remain) are so intent on frustrating the referendum decision that this is likely to happen. But, rather than come straight out and say this, and then have to explain why they agreed to the referendum in the first place, they prefer to subject the country to more of the same: lies, incomprehensible logic, uncertainty and confusion, presumably, in the hope that they can eventually achieve the same end by wearing the nation into a state of such weariness that eventually we'll agree to anything that ends the misery. Given that it seems unlikely all these folks are sadists and masochists, the unstated rationale seems more likely to be that they think 'leaving will be disastrous, the people who voted for it are idiots, we are not, and therefore we can't let that happen'.

What differentiates democracy from dictatorship is a willingness to do what the people want rather than what the people in power want. It makes little difference whether the people in power are elected MPs, a family dynasty or an individual crack pot. If MPs didn't want to give the people the choice, they needn't have done so. They may have thought, as I did, that allowing a decision such as this to be decided on anything less than a 60:40 margin was ill advised, but since they voted en-masse to accept the decision of the nation, even if it was carried by a majority of one individual, they now face the choice of walking the talk or further undermining the very democracy on which their positions of authority depend.

Those who are so confident they are right, and that the risks of defying the referendum decision are worth taking, might like to consider the following. We make decisions using the two following modes of thought: system 1 (fast intuitive) and system 2 (slow rational). We vastly prefer system 1 and only resort to system 2 when all else fails. Complex challenges, such as what the consequences of Britain staying or leaving the EU will be, that require much information to be gathered and processed, are among those most likely to be dealt with by system 1. System 1 involves information being filtered and processed in accordance with our values and judged according to the emotional responses arising from the interaction of the remaining externally derived information and our internally generated values. In the research Song has been sponsoring with Royal Holloway and Bournemouth Universities, the following simple challenge has been presented to over a thousand people, predominantly university students and highly qualified professionals; i.e. people probably as smart as MPs.

A deadly disease has infected 1% of the people in the population. As part of a national screening campaign you have been tested for infection. The test is 99% accurate. You receive a letter from the screening centre telling you that you have tested positive for the disease. What is the likelihood you have the disease?

This is not a trick question. All the information required to answer it correctly are provided. Despite this, in our research, less than 10% of people answered this question correctly. The best performing group, by far, were people belonging to the MD values type - i.e. those with values conflicts that make it more difficult for them to deal with challenges intuitively according to a consistent pattern of values-related biases. If you, like the objecting MPs, are certain of the rightness of your position regarding Brexit, that rightness can only be ascertained by carrying out research that would gather information more than a million times as large and complex as that contained in the above scenario, and then processing it thoroughly and faultlessly with system 2. If you did this you should immediately be able to recite the tariffs currently being charged by the EU on all goods entering the EU and those being imposed on the EU and all other countries, and by all other trading nations. You will also be able to tell me comprehensive detail regarding the economic standings of all the EU nations (debt, productivity, unemployment, working hours, etc.). That's just for starters. I'm guessing that, like me, you know little of these things. This being the case, your opinion on Brexit is little more than a hunch based on very little information; much of which may well be wrong. Your opinion, and your visceral, emotional attachment to that position, is the product of system 1 decision-making. Given that less than 10% of people answered the above question correctly, how likely is it that you have the correct answer in regard of Brexit. Even faced with a 50/50 shot on an in/out decision I would suggest that 50/50 is probably about right. My personal opinion is that, in order to ignore the democratic decision of the people, a minimum threshold of 100% certainty is required. Given that I recently thought I was 100% right that the voice being played in a pub quiz was not Ray Winstone (it was), and the complexity and uncertainty of the factors relating to Brexit are such that 100% certainty is impossible, the current behaviour of our MPs appears extraordinarily reckless.

I am not in possession of all the facts and I am not faultlessly logical, however, I have listened to MPs on both sides of the Brexit 'debate' state opinions based on 'facts' that are simply wrong. That the logic they then apply to draw conclusions (from the interaction of these 'facts' with others in the vastly complex scheme of things) seems flawed, simply adds to my sense of exasperation. MPs may get it wrong. Voters may get it wrong. Business people may get it wrong. However, one of the shared benefits of democracy and free market competition is that we get the chance to learn from our mistakes and go again. The politician with a political vision that falls flat can be removed at the next election, just as the business with a poor product can be shunned by consumers. The 'people' decided to leave, so I would have thought we must leave. If in five/ten years time this proves to have been the wrong decision, Britain could rejoin. If Brexit proves to be a success, the decision will have been shown to be good one.

The current direction of travel in parliament seems to be pointing toward a failure of the democratic process, which cannot be corrected by simply voting for another party at the next election, since all parties have been at least partially responsible for the failure. It is not so much that democracy has failed, but that our MPs have failed democracy. Until we better understand the nature of our irrationality, and the role our values play in frustrating or empowering our rational capabilities, I fear we can expect more of the same.

Leaders and Fallen Gods

Leaders are very important to the success of any enterprise. It is very difficult to be a good leader, which is why they are few and far between. That's why they earn the big bucks. Mortals can only look on and marvel at their super-human powers and capabilities. When a new opportunity arises, when there is a vacant seat up there in the clouds above Mount Olympus, we must look to one of the established gods to take it up. Leadership is not for ordinary people.

This, of course, is complete and utter nonsense. Nevertheless, it is a myth that many of those charged with the responsibility of appointing leaders seem to believe in.

I have long considered football to present an excellent paradigm for business and leadership. The basic ingredients are the same: (1) success is judged on how one organisation/team competes with others in relation to the achievement of easily defined targets - goals scored in matches and points accumulated in a season for football, sales and profit over a year in business, and (2) success is contingent on the coordinated efforts of many individuals implementing a broad strategy in ways that are capable of adapting to circumstances. Football is easier in that only 11 people actually do the work on the field and reliance on technology is minimal. However, while large businesses may involve thousands of 'players' who may be dependent on many types of technology, they generally do not have to compete directly against opponents capable of adapting their strategies on a minute by minute basis so as to outsmart them, and their teams are coordinated such that each person probably only has to deal directly with a similar number of people to football players. Also, businesses are only trying to please customers and clients, and while their needs may change over time, they remain sufficiently stable that organisations can implement strategies that make far fewer demands on individuals in terms of their creativity and problem solving abilities.

As a means by which to examine the role of leadership and team performance, the great advantages of football are its transparency and the uninterrupted view of its machinations it offers to analytical spectators. All players are visible to each other and spectators at all times; there is nowhere to hide from eagle eyed observers and TV cameras. Also, results are there for all to see. There is no scope for creative accounting. A win is a win, a loss is a loss and a draw is a draw. Where some businesses may advertise their success by booking future profits before they arise, the points accumulated by football teams at the end of a season fairly represent their success.

Less transparent is the exact role played by football managers. Even when cameras are permitted inside the dressing room to see managers in action, it is not entirely clear how effective their contributions are. Much like the hidden world of corporate CEOs, success is judged less on personal terms than the success of the whole operation. On this basis managers such as Jose 'the special one' Mourinho have been vaunted as if they were footballing deities. Having enjoyed success at a succession of 'big clubs', Jose is now something of a fallen god. Pep is currently the god of gods, with an unblemished track record of success at 'big clubs'. Given that football puts the gods into battle with each other, clearly not all can come out on top all the time. This would presumably explain why big clubs are still prepared to take any old 'top manager' to fill empty managerial seats rather than consider outsiders. But, if one looks a little closer at the records of the footballing gods and other 'top managers', one might be excused for thinking that all this smacks of the Emporer's New Clothes.

Scientific studies of the efficacy of things thought to possess special abilities, such as drugs, demand that they do what they say on the tin and that all other possible explanations for their apparent efficacy are eliminated. This usually requires many tests be carried out in a range of circumstances, on a even playing field against a control such as, in the case of drugs, a placebo. In many people's eyes the greatest manager of this age is Sir Alex Ferguson. His record is impressive: under his stewardship Scottish club St.Mirren went from the second division to become first division champions in three years; then at Aberdeen he saw his club push past Celtic and Rangers to become not only the dominant club in Scottish football but also to achieve unprecedented success in European competitions; then followed success with Manchester United that was sustained over twenty years. That the clubs he managed were less successful before and after his periods of tenure suggests that perhaps he was highly influential in his clubs' successes. The current god of management is perhaps Pep Guardiola. He has enjoyed success at the highest level with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. A run of three is pretty good, but Barcelona and Bayern Munich are, and always have been, dominant clubs in their countries. They were before Pep and they were after Pep. Manchester City are becoming the most successful they have ever been, but they are now backed by the richest owners in world football. As far as substantiating Pep's godlike qualities is concerned, this evidence falls far short of the standards required by science.

Before Pep, Jose was the top god, but having been unable to sustain the level of success he enjoyed with his first few appointments, and subsequent disastrous periods at Chelsea and Manchester United, in which things got worse during his time in office and improved substantially thereafter, any faith anyone could have had in his god like genius should have evaporated. He now joins the ranks of hundreds of other 'top managers' who have enjoyed success and failure in equal measure. For these 'top managers', success might as well be determined by rolling dice.

Now we have Olly Gunnar Solskjaer. Appointed as a caretaker manager after it became apparent that Jose's continued presence at Old Trafford was as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. He was appointed in a rush because: (a) Manchester United's season was already effectively over, (b) he had some managerial experience, (c) as a former player, he was part of the Manchester United family, and (d) he would be happy to keep the seat warm for a few months while the club looked for a proper 'top manager'. What has followed has been extraordinary. A team that had formerly looked as though it might struggle in a Sunday league is now almost unbeatable. Its players are playing with an exuberant joy and a passionate desire to win that was entirely absent a couple of months ago. The team's record over the short period since his arrival has been good enough to make Alex Ferguson envious. The apparent certainty of a mid-table finish has gone and now the team looks likely to qualify for the European Champions League next year - either by finishing in the top four or, after a miraculous come back against Paris St. Germain, by winning the Champions League trophy this year.

Is Olly a new managerial god? Is he the footballing equivalent of Steve Jobs? His past track record suggests this is unlikely. Is it possible that the success of the club is not due to his managerial genius but to the fact that he is a caretaker - albeit one that loves the club, was successful with the club as a player and behaves as if he would be playing on the field if his age permitted it. Rather than imposing 'his way of doing things' to 'shape the team' so that it plays like a 'Solskjaer team', is it possible that, by simply being 'one of the lads' and encouraging highly skilled footballers to just go out and do their thing, he has freed them from the reigns of imposed leadership. These players are among the best in the world. As children they shone in the playground, before shining in local teams, before shining in academies, before shining in youth teams and then shining in the teams of top clubs. They know what they are doing. Is it possible that, left to their own devices and supported by a manager who encourages an esprit de corps that they have no need of a 'leader' - i.e. a traditional, CEO type of leader?

Football managers, like the CEOs of large companies, are paid very well. A 'true' god such as Pep earns around £15m pa, as did the fallen god Jose. Further down the slopes of Mount Olympus one encounters managers who have had, and continue to endure, their share of failure, earning more than £2m pa. Whether many of these lesser, fallen gods would inspire the teams in their charge to any greater success than actual caretakers - i.e. janitors - is uncertain. In the world of football, as in business, this doesn't seem to matter. Status is all. People aren't appointed because they can present a rational case for why they would be good for the club, they are appointed because they have the right status. Either they were top players expected to become top managers - like Pep - or they have had some success managing a club of comparable status. This effectively makes the managerial appointment business a closed shop. This is the value of power at work - making irrational decisions on the basis of status: the status of the appointee and the fear of loss of status for the people making the appointment; fear that should they rely on personal, rational judgement of potential appointee's strategic plans and capabilities they will look like idiots when things go wrong. Who could be blamed for appointing a god?

The same thing takes place in most large companies. Multi-million pound remuneration packages are paid out to those who have the right status. Is this more justifiable for large businesses than it is for football clubs? I would argue it isn't. The success of established businesses are not and should not be reliant on the genius of one individual, or even on a team of such individuals. Much of the work that is needed from CEOs can be written down in a manual. It is not rocket science nor is it the stuff of creative inspiration. The job of a CEO is capable of being learned in ways that playing football at the highest level cannot. The jobs of those under the CEO, from other board members to janitors, also require little in the way of genius. The keys to a successful organisation have more in common with those of a bee colony than a football team: routine mechanisms more than adaptive processes and inspirational initiative taking. When the queen bee dies, or a new colony is set up, bees do not seek to recruit other queen bees with eye-watering remuneration packages; an existing worker simply steps up to take her place. This being the case, one wonders why this doesn't happen more often in large organizations; why being just another cog in a large machine that was running before and will run after justifies remuneration packages measured in millions of pounds. Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that most CEOs and aspiring directors in large companies are (in values terms) power-driven; i.e. are those that most desperately want to have power over others and make decisions based on status.

Increasingly, in an ever faster evolving business environment, organisations will have to become more like football teams than bee colonies. They need to be adaptive and have dispersed initiative taking capabilities. In values terms these are particularly demanding of self-direction and universalism. Because football is a relatively simple game played in a well-defined space according to strict rules, the complete knowledge associated with universalism and the confidence that supports self-directed decision-making can be acquired by players regardless of their values. In large organisations operating across multiple markets and employing thousands of people, the type of open, supportive and collaborative leadership associated with these values has to come from people with appropriate value priorities. In order to secure their services or develop these values in others, organisations need to abandon the protective and blinkered attitudes of the closed shop that sustain the ineffective styles of leadership employed by many of today's CEOs and football's fallen gods alike.

The Song Remains The Same

Recovering from Christmas with the Channel 4 documentary on the collapse of Carillion, I found myself reliving Groundhog Day.  All the familiar ingredients were there: a 'strong' leader who ruled by fear, too many negligent or willing accomplices, a system geared toward the pursuit of narrowly-framed goals that harm the wider system, activities monitored by self-serving private interests and toothless regulators, all sponsored by a government that is seemingly incompetent, corrupt or negligent - possibly all three.  

As ever, in the posthumous hand-wringing, there will be attempts to vilify the prominent culprits - finance director Richard Adam and CEO Richard Howson - but when the dust has settled we can expect nothing much to have changed.  The problem is endemic and it is a consequence of common evolutionary pressures on organisations, their relationship with the primary motivators of individuals (as reflected in their values) and the cognitive biases associated with these.  Large organisations, whether they be casualties like Enron, Lehman's and Carillion, or viable concerns such as Tesco, VW and Facebook, are prone to suffer from the same thing: a need to maintain and improve their status, out-compete others and do so quickly.  In this they have much in common with political parties.  This need corresponds to the personal values of power and achievement. 

Consequently, often the people most attractive to large organizations appear to be those most driven by power and achievement; i.e. those that put competition before cooperation, who put self-interest before those of others, and who believe that somehow they drag the rest of society behind them so that they too can pick up pieces of gold that would otherwise have been denied them.  Those who tend to migrate to the top of such organisations are those most driven by power and achievement; those who are the most focused and uncompromising in their pursuit of narrowly-defined goals.  For such people, long-term benefits may as well be invisible, while some short-term benefits prove too difficult to resist.  Consequently, while few of the leaders of large organisations would regard the strategies they pursue as amounting to Ponzi schemes, sometimes this is what they are.  In the case of Carillion this was (transparently for those who cared to look) the most important corporate strategy of a company which, in 2017, had the 10th most bought shares in the UK. 

That few could see the problem until it was too late, including its directors, its government sponsors and its auditors KPMG, resonates with the old maxim that 'there are none so blind as those who will not see'.  Those who will not see tend to be those driven by the values of conformity, because they don't feel able to question, security, because they follow the rules blindly, and power, because they have their noses in the trough and don't want to interrupt their meal.  While organisations continue to play lip service to values, ethics and long-term concerns, this is often just so much baloney; deemed to be an essential component of their personal and corporate brand-building.

As those with an IQ above 50 and sufficient curiosity to look beyond their next bonus already know, it is cooperation not competition that is most responsible for generating efficiency, innovation and performance.  Competition serves only as a form of waste-disposal: getting rid of the least cooperative entities.  Until large organisations realise that real, personal values (rather than espoused BS) are the key to corporate performance, so the cycle of deception and collapse will proceed. 

If your organisation would like to have its values and those of its employees audited, and learn how they can develop cultures based on values that support transformational leadership and organisational agility, please let me know.  I am currently carrying out research with Royal Holloway and Bournemouth Universities into decision-making biases and as a thank you to participants we are offering a free profiling service.           

Sticks & Stones

As neither a Remainer nor a Brexiteer, my frustration with our government and the antics surrounding Brexit relate more to general concerns about our democracy than any perceived threat to a particular desired outcome.  I state this up front because most readers have a partisan axe to grind and treat the words of perceived opponents as treasonous.

"Traitor" and "Nazi" are two of the words protesters have shouted at MP Anna Soubry.  It can't be very pleasant to have people you have never met before shouting angrily at you.  Anna has complained that the police should be doing more to protect MPs from such abuse.  Sympathetic voices have been heard to murmur support from both sides of the House of Commons and the name of Jo Cox has ominously cropped up in news coverage.

I would prefer that people expressed themselves reasonably and avoided confrontations such as this, but unfortunately Anna is her own worst enemy in this regard.  Does she deserve to be labelled a Nazi or a traitor?  Technically no, but in the world of barely elevated playground insults and vacuous soundbites that Anna and too many of her fellow MPs inhabit, then it could be argued these insults are as justifiable as their own output, and closer in spirit to their own behaviour than to that of the psychopath that murdered Jo Cox.

My first recollection of seeing Anna in action dates from the morning of the referendum result .  She described it as one of the worst days of her life and that it was dreadful.  Since then she has been one of the voices consistently campaigning to rule out the possibility of leaving the EU without a deal, because to do so would be 'catastrophic', and vehemently disagreeing with May's (now transparently hollow) assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal.  Having been one of a majority of voices expressing such a view in the house, many of whom have traveled to Brussels to ensure EU negotiators are aware of their influence, Anna has been instrumental, not only in hobbling the UK's negotiation position, but in frustrating the 'will of the people'.

Over the more than two years and too-numerous-to-count appearances on TV since the referendum, Anna has repeatedly stated that Brexit will be catastrophic, yet offered little to substantiate this.  Similarly, I have heard no rationale to support her assertion that no deal could never be better than a bad deal.  The former is disappointing, because there are compelling arguments for leaving and staying.  The latter is less disappointing than inevitable.

Imagine that Britain's involvement in the EU is represented by a number of tins of hearty nosh being displayed in a large pyramid shaped structure in an old fashioned grocer's shop window.  Imagine that our chief negotiator is a child being sent in by its parents to negotiate with the shop-keeper (Michel Barnier) to recover these tins.  The parents (Parliament) stand at the shop door and, in full earshot of the shop-keeper, tell their child that leaving the shop without a deal on the tins is not possible - they literally won't let him come back without a deal.  The shop-keeper doesn't really want to hand the tins back, as it will mean his display will have to be rebuilt.  He also happens to know that the parents don't really want the tins back in any case - they just feel they must ask because a majority of the people in their village want them back.  Accordingly, the shop-keeper knows he can ask for whatever he likes.  He asks for the sun, moon and stars and a signed picture of David Beckham.  The child says he only has £20 and doesn't know David Beckham.  The shop-keeper is unmoved.  The child looks nervously at his parents.  They angrily shout at him "you can't leave the shop without a deal" and eventually at each other: "unless you fix this I am going to find myself a new husband/wife who can be a better parent - one that can get their child to negotiate properly - or go back to the villagers and ask them to reconsider their decision".

If Anna approached all her negotiations according to this strategy she would likely be very poor indeed, receive very poor service and have a house full of shoddy goods.  The competition that the Conservative party believes is so important to business is dependent on choice.  The alternatives to competition, monopolies, deprive consumers of choice - the deal they offer is the only one available and 'no deal' is unacceptable to customers when the goods or services offered are essential.  Anna presumably believes this, otherwise her political leanings would position her somewhat to the left of Jeremy Corbyn.  If so, it would seem reasonable to conclude that her stance is motivated not by Conservative economic policy, justice or a love of democracy, but an unwavering commitment to her belief that Britain should not leave the EU.  She asserts her beliefs by passionately decrying Brexit as a 'catastrophe' at every opportunity, as if the referendum had not yet taken place, and rallying others to use their positions of power to frustrate the ability of the UK government to leave the EU.

The success of any commercial business or social contract (such as marriage) is founded on the knowledge that people have the option of 'no deal'.  In order to secure a desired deal they need to offer the best deal or their potential customer/suitor will go elsewhere.  'No deal' is therefore an essential consideration in any negotiation.  Given that MPs voted to allow the referendum and to respect its result, the government should have informed the EU that Britain would be leaving regardless of whether a deal with it was agreed before departure, and should have planned accordingly.  Ultimately, the best deals for Britain, the EU and all other countries with whom we do business will be reached after a 'no deal' departure because we all benefit from mutual trade and cooperation.  As with most transactions, short-term costs are inevitable and long-term benefits have to be imagined, but when there are two or more parties with a vested interest in doing business with each other, it would be unduly pessimistic to rule out the possibility of making new and possibly better transactions.

So far so obvious.  Of the greatest concern to me is that our politicians have failed to observe the obvious and conduct themselves accordingly.  It would appear to me that they have acted, and continue to act as if power - control and influence - was their sole motivator.  The referendum was proposed either because the Conservative party wanted the people to have their say or because it was leaking votes to UKIP that were considered critical to its prospects for holding on to power.  MPs voted 544 to 53 in favour of the referendum (all parties but the SNP).  They did so either because they genuinely wanted the public to have a say or because they feared appearing undemocratic to potential voters.  80% of MPs voted to remain, but 52% of the electorate voted to leave.  If there was no intention to honour the result, MPs should not have voted for the referendum.  If there was an intention to honour the result, MPs should have supported the possibility of leaving with no deal and the government should have negotiated with this in mind and prepared accordingly.  MPs in the government, and without, have done no such thing.  For the most part they, like the protesters who abuse Anna, have instead pursued strategies associated with the personal value of power;  based not on reason but on who can shout the loudest, form the biggest gang or intimidate the vulnerable.  Frequent invitations to appear on TV give Anna the luxury of being able to 'shout' without raising her voice.  The protesters that surround her, lacking her position of power, make the best of what they have.

A lamentable and easily avoidable disgrace.

For Crying Out Loud

And so it goes on. First a referendum campaign light on facts and adult discussion but heavy on divisive rhetoric and (frankly) bullshit, then similarly afflicted Brexit negotiations; all attracting mainstream press coverage apparently guided by the broadcast assumption that viewers are too stupid to process anything more complex than divisive rhetoric, or form judgements on the basis of anything more than shared prejudice.

It would seem those involved in the negotiations attach rather too much importance to personal status, personal beliefs and competing with each other to assert their status and beliefs, as well as those of the organisations they represent. In doing so they appear to have lost sight of whose interests they are ultimately representing. These are problems associated with personal values; particularly the cognitive biases associated with the competitive, self-enhancing values that tend to be of the greatest importance to those who aspire to hold positions of power.  

Philip Hammond speaks of 'the enemy'. Whether he meant it as a good natured cricketing reference or not, the message is clear: the negotiations are a competition which both sides want to win. Michel Barnier said he was going to teach the British people what leaving the EU means. This implies we are ignorant. That we are ignorant may be true, but surely no more so now than when we voted 'in' in the 1970s. Whether we voted to join the EU not knowing what was involved, or subsequent changes have been imposed without our knowledge, his words can effectively be taken to mean 'you have no idea what you have gotten yourselves into, but now I'm going to teach you'.

Barnier speaks directly for the EU as an organisation, and theoretically for the governments of its member states, who in turn theoretically represent their citizens. If the EU truly existed to represent the best interests of all its citizens, wouldn't it be happy to see them leave if they so chose? As Sting once wisely sang 'if you love someone, set them free'. Instead we are told that Britain needs to made example of to stop other nations leaving.

When a company loses a customer, by law, it is not allowed to make an example of them. Indeed it would ultimately be counterproductive to do so. The same applies to nations. Only dictatorships prevent their citizens leaving. The market operates in such a way that organisations compete to be nice to (i.e. cooperate with) their customers. When they lose customers they respond by improving their services in the hope of winning them back. The type of loyalty a company like Apple inspires is built on the quality of its offer, not on the threat of making things difficult for those who switch to Samsung. There is a political free market too but, if the conduct of its negotiators is anything to go by, it would seem the EU has more sympathy with the Tony Soprano approach to business than one might hope.

In common with the worst business leaders, what all these folks seem to have misunderstood is that cooperation not competition is the real driver of innovation and progressive social change. Companies compete with each other to cooperate with potential customers. Those who are the least cooperative tend to go out of business. Every inward looking selfish indulgence of an employee, boss or politician reduces the efficiency with which they and their organisation can help their customers or electorates. The most selfish and inward looking eventually go out of business; whether they work for the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Conservative Party or the EU. 

The EU's representatives seem to have lost sight of the fact that the EU exists only to serve the interests of 'the people'; even those of a member country which voted to leave. The British are not the enemy, even if that's how 'remainer' Hammond now seems to see us. While this resonates with evidence showing how people can become viciously tribal even when the tribes they have been allocated to are transparently arbitrary, one might have hoped that those paid to represent us would be able rise above such primal instincts.

I have gathered so little of what the issues are obstructing negotiations that I am too ignorant to comment authoritatively, but the following seems plausible. Britain has contractual obligations to the EU, and of course we should be bound to fulfil these. However, my guess is that these are so badly worded that their meaning is unclear, and so they are unenforceable; leaving each side to either demand the earth or threaten to walk away paying nothing. This being the case, how should we deal with previously agreed rewards and responsibilities that now extend beyond the date of Brexit?  I would have thought this necessitates that trade negotiations and all other relevant issues must be dealt with at the same time: i.e. the full range of rewards and responsibilities we will continue to share as citizens of the same planet after Brexit, all of which are contingent on each other. The cooperative approach would be for both sides to start from the shared position of 'how can we make this turn out in the best interests of everyone'. 

Perhaps this is what the negotiators think they are doing, but they are not. Their views are biased by notions of personal and institutional power that incline them to the view that 'what is in the best interests of me and my institution/party will be in the best interests of everyone else'. This is the competitive/self-enhancing view of life. The less popular but more constructive view is 'what is in the best interests of everyone is ultimately in my best interest too'; regardless of short-term effects on personal status and longer term effects on the institution or party one represents.

Every innovation that makes the lives of millions better, and so makes millions of pounds or dollars for the innovator, arose not because of the competitive zeal of one individual, but as a consequence of the thousands of years of accumulated and shared information they were able to draw upon and connect. The blinkered thinking of power-driven, competitive minds may be able to sort the metaphorical wheat from the chaff or sharpen the point of a metaphorical pencil but it is not capable of inventing anything: be it new forms of agriculture or better ways of communicating. Cooperation is about joining the dots. Competition concerns rubbing out the least well connected dots. Now, more than ever, in the world of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un and massed ranks of conservative, follow-my-leader half-wits, we need leaders who want to connect dots rather than rub them out; whether we are 'in' or 'out'.        


Hallowed be thy name

It is interesting to observe the comical manifestations of the value of power: that which drives us to raise and protect our status, to influence others and have others think well of us.

No sooner had I stopped rubbing my eyes with disbelief that the president of the United States felt it necessary, desirable and not at all repugnant, or worthy of a Spitting Image sketch, to have a table full of senior advisors thank him for the honour of letting them serve his greatness and praise his all round magnificence than I was confronted with Nile Rodgers advertising his insecurities at Glastonbury.

Perhaps in tribute to Enfield and Whitehouse's Smashy & Nicey, Nile had already drawn our attention to the charity work he 'doesn't like to talk about' by recounting the anecdote of his getting right off the plane to help the poor folks out at Grenfell Tower, and also remind us about the many number one hit singles he has had, when his drummer further delighted the crowd by telling them and the viewing millions how many millions of records his boss had sold and what an all round genius the guy was. How we applauded. Surely only then did we realise what a kind and talented man he was. 

One might have thought that successful people would be happy for their works to speak for themselves. Donald, you may have the IQ of a walnut but hey: you're rich beyond most people's wildest dreams and you managed to get yourself elected president of the United States. You've done alright. More people like you than like me, so sit back in your throne like gold chair in one of your many eponymously branded luxury tower blocks and relax. Nile, you may not be in your twenties any longer, but you have had a long and successful career, you've produced some fairly memorable tunes, Daft Punk were keen to work with you, you are alive and well, and thousands of people at Glastonbury were happily dancing to your tunes. Give yourself a break.

It would seem Donald and Nile lack the gifts of self-awareness and objectivity. Would either of them be impressed by others behaving as they do or witnessing choreographed brown nosing? It seems unlikely, but as in so many areas of the power-driven person's life, the rules that apply to others are deemed irrelevant to themselves  

For the power driven there is no pot of emotional gold at the end of the rainbow, just the emptiness of the Midas touch, and the relentless yearning for acceptance. As Maslow rightly observed such behaviour is rooted in deficit needs: the stuff of psychopathology.

As such, a rampant power drive needs treatment not indulgence.   


It’s not you it’s me

While the people of North Korea are starved of resources Kim Jong-un is able to find what he needs to fund nuclear arms development and to keep a smartly dressed army goosestepping to his tune.

In Venezuela, a county rich in natural resources, hospitals have little medicine, poor equipment, unpaid doctors and people die for want of simple care provision. Yet the president, Nicolas Maduro, still manages to find the funds to keep an army equipped and at the ready.

It seems unlikely the people of either country are in need of defending themselves against impending invasion. The primary purpose these armies serve is to keep their leaders safely in office.

Tin pot dictatorships and threadbare democracies, don't you just love 'em!  We are so lucky to be living in a mature democracy where our precious national resources are invested solely for the good of the people.

But hold on. What's that going on there? Is that Theresa May giving over a billion pounds to the DUP, that party of reality deniers, to spend as they see fit in Northern Ireland? Had the government got it's sums wrong before and inadvertently shortchanged the good people of Northern Ireland?  No, apparently Theresa and her party felt it was OK to divert public funds away from the rest of the British Isles just in order that she could stay in office and get her policies through the House of Commons regardless of what others think of them.

What criticism there has been of this has concentrated on how the government is now in the pocket of the DUP, and therefore cannot act as fair broker in its dealings with Sinn Fein in respect of the Northern Irish Assembly. It seems everyone just acknowledges that in the real world of politics deals have to be done if progress is to be made. So rather than having to rely on one's policies being reasonable and acceptable to a majority of people, it is better to do deal deals that mean you don't have to listen too carefully to dissonant voices. This I guess is an opinion shared by Kim and Nicolas: you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours. Admittedly things are a bit different in North Korea, where failure to scratch the leader's back will almost certainly result in a knife in your own, but the whiff of injustice remains. 

I would have thought that public money should only be spent in the public's interest. The primary motivation for most leaders is that provided by the value of power: which relates to a need for status and influence. This is not always how it is realised in the minds of the power driven however. As far as they are concerned they always act in the best interests of others, and when others disagree it's largely because they don't know what's good for them. As with parents and children this means there has to be a differentiation between reward and responsibility, and when there is a danger that order might break down one has to be strong in meting out discipline. For Theresa, and for other politicians who have done similar things, giving the DUP a billion is the equivalent of raiding the kid's store of sweets at the end of a trying day: "one just has to do what one has to do, and in the end everyone will benefit because what's best for me is ultimately best for everyone."

It's not of course. 

Referendums, Real Talk & Agility

Everyone likes a good referendum!  Maybe. Nicola Sturgeon evidently can’t get enough of them. However, Richard Dawkins, isn’t so keen. In his Viewsnight video he tells it like it is. 

The points Richard makes are sensible: issues of this type are complex; we are largely ignorant of the issues involved; people’s views do change; a 2:1 majority in favour would provide a more compelling reason to make changes of this magnitude.

Given it is not long since the last Scottish referendum, it begs the question how often could we hold such referendums?  If this next one goes ahead and Scotland votes 51% for independence and 49% against should Scotland then be independent for ever?  What if Brexit turns out pretty well and the EU heads into crisis?  Could there then be separate referendums in Scotland and Britain in 2021 to reunite?

Nicola Sturgeon wants Scotland to be independent of Britain so that it can interact more directly with the EU.  The Leave campaign wanted Britain to be independent of the EU so it could better interact directly with the wider world.  Both wanted to ‘take back control’ so we could gain the freedom to represent ourselves directly on a wider stage.  Even Nigel Farage stated this was UKIP’s aim.  Only some aspects of UKIP’s backstory and their ‘river of brown faces’ poster suggested they were also happy appealing to reactionary racists and isolationists.

There is no dichotomy between ‘taking back control’ and being ‘better together’.  All the innovations that have revolutionised our understanding of the universe or eased our ability to tackle disease, improve food production, communicate or lighten our collective load have been built on the twin foundations of independence and cooperation.  They are also the reasons why language evolves.

Einstein was famously independent, yet the fruits of his genius grew from seeds given freely to him by others: Newton and Maxwell to name just two.  His work was freely shared with the rest of the global community, and in turn sowed the seeds for quantum mechanics, nuclear power, lasers and a host of other innovations. 

Agile thinking is assisted by independence of thought, just as agile movement is assisted by independence of body.  Like starlings in murmurations, independence affords us the ability to change direction in an instant, yet move as one with others if we so choose. 

If we are tied together we lose both agility and freedom.  Like participants in a three/twenty-eight legged race we may all too easily fall out of step, trip and fall.  This is what happens if we attempt to enforce cooperation between independent entities. 

As Richard Dawkins would tell you, natural selection favours cooperation because cooperative systems are more efficient; outcompeting those that waste resources in unnecessary conflict.  Cooperation occurs when individual organisms (or components thereof) have shared aims.  In nature this arises in three ways: (1) individual organisms collaborate when it suits them, but remain individual – like monkeys and starlings; (2) individuals are programmed to operate as if they are more like cells of a larger organism – like bees and ants; and (3) individual cells sharing an identical programme are bound together in a single organism – like all multicellular organisms: including us.

The key to organisational agility is effective cooperation.  Whether for a group of nations, a commercial company or a local community group, this arises when the following values come together to dominate all others:

  • Self-direction – independent thought and action
  • Universalism – wisdom: an understanding of and association with the system of which one is a part – the opposite of ignorance
  • Benevolence – altruism: the desire to help others.

As recent research has shown, not only are these the personal values that promote transformational leadership, they are among the values least likely to be represented at senior levels of large, established organisations; of which the EU, national governments and multi-nationals are all examples.  Leaders in these organisations tend to have value systems predisposed to the competitive pursuit of self-interest and transactional leadership.  This means they are inclined toward the view that what is in their best personal interests is probably also in the best interests of everyone else that matters.  As for challenges: they are best tackled in a common sense fashion one by one.

I found myself unable to vote in the referendum.  On the basis of the information made available to me, I decided I was too ignorant to properly assess how the costs and benefits of ‘in’ and ‘out’ would stack up.  There are costs involved in most changes.  Leaving the EU will give rise to significant financial costs in reorganisation, but also emotional costs.  People fear change generally and some clearly think they/we will lose out in this change.  What is less clear is what the costs of remaining would have been. The EU is no flock of starlings, hive of bees or organism with a single mind.  It is a large bureaucratic organisation seeking to maximise its influence with governments likely headed up by transactional leaders keen to advance their own personal interests, who in turn represent culturally diverse nations.  Research has shown the EU includes nations at opposite ends of the cooperative/self-enhancing cultural spectrum: namely Sweden and Greece

The benefits of membership we have seen, but perhaps we are not able to evaluate them objectively.  We are certainly not able to compare them with reliable data on the benefits of independence.  This will emerge once we see how the decisions of those inside and outside of the government play out.  

In ignorance we march forward, but not necessarily toward catastrophe.  In the evolution of complex adaptive systems, such as the world we live in, it has been established that occasional random shocks are necessary if higher peaks in a fitness landscape (equivalent to a measure of productivity and well-being) are to be reached.  That said, wisdom provides better guidance than ignorance, and we really do need to develop our values if we want to avoid playing Russian Roulette one too many times.