Let the seller beware

caveat venditor – let the seller beware

There have been some notable u-turns this week and last. U-Turns by institutions normally too big to be easily persuaded to redirect based upon public opinion. We have Mars joining Coco-Cola and McDonalds in creating distance from Russia. We had an apology from Shell for buying cheap Russian oil. We had FIFA and the Olympic committee bending to challenge to their neutrality. At Westminster we have a government in constant repositioning as lack-lustre responses expose inability to sense the mood or recover lost faith.

There is new uncertainty causing false moves and ill-judged decisions by boards, executive function and high political office. In the next few months I think we are going to see many more.

The real power of the consumer is at work here. Namely the ability to make a choice. It is a cause of fear and indecision as old power priorities become incompatible with precious corporate reputation that is hard won and easily lost. When reputation is at risk, this threat brings new priorities to decision-making. Old priorities relegated and recategorised as acceptable collateral damage. Particularly when precious share value (or electoral support) is rushing to the door.

I predict more pressure on institutions is on the way. Based upon the change of attitudes of us, the general public, in face of increased uncertainty. We are becoming more attentive and suspicious of motives. This is infectious. Institutions should expect the seeds of doubt to grow.

v | b | t explaining this increased variance to change

Here are some brief reflections of what I think is going on.

v | b | trust

Reputation is the preservation of trust we the consumer/user have in the seller/provider. Do we trust their values and ethics to align with our own? As individuals we are able to revisit our values and expectations quickly. We are fickle. We are sometimes irrational. Unlike the institution however, we as individuals are each capable of reframing. We may change group affiliations, or sit in more than one camp. Each one of us resetting towards higher norms of human decency when distracted from our more selfish localised cause. This fragile belief or perception (i.e., that others share these higher values) can be quickly eroded. This reassessment can be applied equally to a single entity within an industry, an entire industry, a group, a government, a nation, a whole corner of the globe.

visibility | b | t

In moments of increased uncertainty, it is natural to seek more information. The more profoundly different the circumstances, the more motivated we are to take more time to look. We may have seen leaders turning a blind-eye. Secretly we may have turned a blind-eye to that too. But when those justifications for our disinterest are inconsistent with new threat, we are blind no more.

v | behaviour | t

This is a change to our behaviour. Redirecting peripheral interests towards central attention. Assessing others behaviour with more critical interest. Seeking to know better the attributes and bias of another. This is an increased openness to revisit and change our modelled understanding of how we relate to the other entity. This is reappraisal of action as indications of, or arising from, factors such as attitudes, motivations, beliefs. Ultimately this is the prompt to readjust and make choices anew.

v | b | t – Boristas beware

Dare I dream that in these moments of heightened uncertainty we may all begin asking more probing questions? Trusting less and demanding more?

This is what I see with Shell’s nervous apology this week. We are watching their purchase decisions of cheap Russian oil, and the excuses on Friday did not hold. It would normally not have caught our attention. This is McDonalds and Coca-Cola taking positions on Russia that a week ago would simply not have been entertained. Again, we are now watching and potentially making significant life choices, if another’s actions reflect values we do not hold.

This is also the spin of politics at Westminster. Wavering and spluttering as more pertinent questions are posed. In my house this is now a standing joke of the self-serving. The Boristas in high-office serving us Johnsonian truths daily, now finding life increasingly hard. Their servings shown to be insipid and cold.

Form follows function

Dare I dream this increased uncertainty of what is otherwise taken for granted is going to provoke necessary change in response. The critical controls of decision-efficacy challenged anew, structures of wider governance required to change too. If we all ask more searching questions, we eventually look at the forms serving the functions we expect, and ask if maybe they have to change too.

The bigger question now approaching is what new primary function is now emerging? The functional forms to better reflect these changing wants and needs of the global village. And what forms can retain their use as this unfolds?

The 2020s have not finished with us yet…

Learning where to disagree

In defence of discourse

I love a discussion. Even if it requires a debate. Particularly one where I find my perspectives opposed. I am drawn towards people who are operating at levels beyond my ability. Much as I was once in sports, or in strategic games like chess. It is only by being beaten that I feel most tested, improved, or simply reformed. Unlike in sport however, my fifty-year-old brain may yet have better days to unfold.

A new place to learn – Heterodox

Yesterday, I was therefore thrilled to learn that my application to join Heterodox Academy (hxa) has been approved. This is an affiliation of 5,400 academically inclined professionals, primarily in the US but also represented by fellow members in 65 countries. The affiliation of members range from professors and post doctorate researchers, to postgraduate and undergraduate students. Most are from disciplines of the social sciences – psychology, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, economics and politics. All subjects I follow with interacting interest.

Heterodox refers to a non-conforming or unorthodox ways or beliefs. Per hxa’s website, all members are “committed to enhancing the quality of research and education by promoting open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in institutions of higher learning”. In this regard, one is expected to support robust discussion and critical examination of truth. This appeals to me. It is an ideal that certainly seems unorthodox when all around we engage as polarised and divided interlocuters, caring only to take a debate towards our corner. This affiliation believes in seeking out the better truth, by supporting the quality of the discourse not the skill in debate.

The hxa-way

I now make a declaration. One that I am to repeat regularly.

“I support open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement in research and education.”

The Heterodox Academy pledge

At its core, this is the preservation of constructive production and dissemination of knowledge, The hxa-way holds to these simple ideals:

  • providing evidence based argument
  • seeking out the strongest opposing position
  • retaining a humility, and a willingness to be wrong
  • being constructive, rather than simply seeking to win
  • standing as oneself, not as an institutional representative

I like to think I live to these ideals. Whether in lively debate on LinkedIn, entering into professional discussion with clients, or writing for myself.

Work in progress – hubris beware

I am however in a state of transition as I seek to communicate more academically but plainly. Twice this week I have been reminded of the difficulty faced. Firstly, I was asked by a client to remove the McKinsey type language from my analysis. Secondly, an examiner marked a “densely packed” essay down to 65% for falling short in essay form, “please write grammatically correct sentences…this is not twitter.” [And I be like, WTF? I know, right!].

My journey continues. As do my attempts to bridge industry interest and applied academic precision.

About Me

In psychology we are required to look beneath the mask. This blog series is attempting to unmask some hidden parts of projects to engender a more collaborative way.

Find my professional mask here:


Too much, too Jung

I had a therapy session today. First for a while. A tough week prompted a revisit with someone who knows my psychology well. All is fine, just a mental MOT.

Plenty in the news to take in. All testing my resolve as I approach two years in full lockdown. My psychology MSc also made for some interesting things to discuss. Exams passed – a few challenges to the academic process – all ending in smiles.

Principally, the therapy discussion enabled a comparison of teaching vs practice. The psychology I am studying almost completely ignores psycho-analytics, and the works of the likes of Jung and Freud. They will feature at some point, but they have historical interest rather than contemporary lessons to teach. Yet as soon as I need to reset and relate, these are the taught lessons and schema that help me the most. I see commonality between some of the analysis and explanations, for example Jungian archetypes have some level of connection to the typology of brain types currently being argued by the likes of Simon Baron-Cohen. Not that he will thank me for connecting the two.

I am delighted I get to think in such diverse terms. And that my reading invites wider perspective beyond. It is my moments of greatest inner dissonance that I find myself thinking with the most lateral connection. Offering my greatest challenge to whatever system of cognitive schema I am temporarily most reliant upon. It is also when my reading becomes most diverse. All aligning to a questioning of everything. Thankfully, that is no longer a source of self-doubt.

My learning advises me that people who regularly manage depression are amongst those most able to rebuild mental schema. With the most desire to challenge what may otherwise be accepted as true. This is primarily because a depressed state requires heightened awareness of what may not quite be so. Whether that is true or not, I find myself grateful of these moments. It means I get to regularly revisit, reform, and refine.

Appraisals of leadership

Weaponised words

I found myself living angrily this week. Angry at the realities of leadership that is evidently serving itself.

I try hard to maintain a network diverse enough not to be an echo chamber. I now find myself doubting whether my LinkedIn commentary this week has been constructive. Particularly that aimed directly at leadership. However, there were plenty others doing the same. Those voicing concern at direction – not the personal attacks that some feel free to share.

From my own filtered view, this social media showing of public mood seems to have been a persuasive factor in international diplomacy. A weight of sentiment, acting as a straw poll. Certainly the discourse rattled my own thoughts enough to draw some conclusions. And then call foul on leadership seemingly content to rattle sabres whilst quietly cashing in Russian cheques.

v | b | trust

This is low trust – the deceit of leadership. This is trustworthiness at its lowest ebb. Based upon remembered past bad experience of the individual. Or less helpfully, the bias and social stereotypes we each bestow upon out-groups, whilst we pretend we and our in-group stand tall.

visibility | b | t

This is increased visibility being sought. Increased uncertainty requiring closer examination. More regular checking. More questioning of response. Higher trust would curb some enquiry. But this is following discovery of falsehoods by our servants of government. Having been let down before and therefore wanting to see more. Seeing statements like “we will be decisive” meaning “we are being hesitant”. Still seeing the old characters in the spotlight. Smirks. Arrogance. Contrite. I’m alright.

v | behaviour | t

This is poor behaviour. This is Vladimir Putin receiving all manor of dignitaries in the last two weeks in order to reinforce a duplicity of assurance and intent. This too is the international responses that have since been slow to act – privately gauging public mood – whilst offering strong language to Ukrainian counterparts, in need of action not words.

On the other hand this is a speech from a comedy actor, turned premier. Speech amidst action. Leading by example. All capturing the attention of a wider world because it highlights the flaccid response from the rest. Words lead from the front in direct action, not cosy intentions or promises pretending to be more.

Other poor behaviour in leadership this week. This is Grant Shapps merrily posting on LinkedIn that he has set a TfL budget and that he now expects others to carry the blame. Delegation with no interest in ongoing influence or control. This is the Post Office scandal – a board and their lawyers allegedly attempting to hush up a litany of errors and concealing the collateral damage they knowingly caused. This is Carillion and it’s auditors now under investigation for what I can only assume to be – at the very least – contemptible apathy by all. In all cases this is leadership by proxy. A defensive decision-making attitude that exposes a willingness to see failure on their watch – conditional only upon ensuring failure is permitted to pass by with blame attached. Delegated blame, intended to ensure protection of a party, a corporation, or (more cynically) individual interests that can be thereafter restored.

A side note here is the caveat we all hold. The attempt to distinguish behaviour, by its intention. The white lie for good reason. Any parent or friend or mediator will know that – what is justified, half-said, or left out. In positions of influence or power, such intention inevitably becomes selective toward self-interest. The goodly compromise, that erodes morality; becoming the compromised, via self-declared moral cause. We are all human, after all.

visibility | behaviour | trust

What I conclude here is that I have been heuristically seeing these evolving situations with the tool improvisation anyone does when in a hurry. Returning to quick and peripheral judgements. I have sought more closely to assess what I think are hidden motivations and self-serving attitudes, based on a low level of trust in those I observe.

The sting in this tail

A final point is one I have had to ponder. Because I truly wish to reflect upon truth. This low trust in leadership I hold is recurring. It is sometimes one bordering on anti-establishment sentiment from within the establishment that keeps me safe. At some level it is a projection. If I am honest, one drawn from wondering if I would fair any better in face of such challenge of my own leadership. Or more squarely, my aversion to it’s sting.

In of itself, this is much the same assessment possible via a truth outlined via my own visibility | behaviour | trust. I am angry at leadership that does not serve, because the temptation is ever present to be just the same. We are all human, after all. But that’s the challenge, not the excuse.

Leading by example

Winning hearts and minds

We are about to turn a European country into a guerrilla buffer zone. That seems to be the (lack of) plan. Pretty despicable by all sides, and the worst-case outcome for Putin who I assume still favours that outcome to an overt NATO alliance war.

SWIFT may be a symbollic gesture. It is still a more meaningful gesture than the symbollic words and bluster offered so far. All nationalities weighing up economic priorities are sharing the shameful hesitation that Putin was counting on. And denying the early moral support “swift” action would have offered to the people of Ukraine.

This is the overt and globally supported economic action. Whatever is covert as forces and weapons on the ground is not what is putting hope into hearts and minds. SWIFT is the tangible actions that fearful Ukrainian people can see. Ironically slow is this response.

Enough of the powderpuff words that us armchair patriots desire. Time to test the hypobole of contingent planning, not just the rhetoric of resolve.

Original LinkedIn comment here

History repeating

Standing up for truth

My heart hurts for the innocent this evening. But if I’m honest, what I think I really feel is fear. Anxiety based upon a bursting of assumption. Assumption that tragedy of war only befalls distant shores.

I’m in awe of the bravery of the peoples of Ukraine tonight. And those in Russia prepared to stand up and break a silence upon what now unfolds.

As World War Two was becoming history, Karl Jaspers wrote his classic book “The origin and goal of history”. Publish in 1953. A monumental piece of philosophical discourse. He asserts that the human project only has 6,000 years of history, because to have history requires means to remember. He writes, “only with history did man become truly human” (Jaspers 1953, pp57). He is making the case that with history comes potentiality as well as substance; our transitory nature becomes a conscious reality and with it an ever-present awareness of our time and mortality; calling the individual to action amidst a historical perspective; this dependently acquired set of beliefs.

I read this book over Christmas, thinking how powerful his insights. Coming as they did, so soon after the Second World War. I also read his work thinking he was writing in a very different age. This week, we seem to be dragged back a little closer to that time again.

Karl Jaspers was a Swiss-German. He was a psychotherapist, turned scholar of philosophy. Brilliant, but without a philosophical position of his own, his name is less well known than other Germans of this time. Most notably Martin Heidegger, who infamously took to Nazism. Jaspers, married to a Jew, and generally regarded as the better human being than Heidegger became, is inevitably less well remembered.

In this same era – the era of propaganda and mass communication owing to the availability of radio – another psychological perspective was published in 1953. This was Carl Hovland and Yale University who explained persuasion inspired by the effectiveness of messaging in World War Two. The Hovland/Yale model, remains the prominent means to explain the critical importance of “who says what to whom”. It explains our susceptibility to propaganda. This model became the foundation stone of sales, marketing, and what we know to be the power of persuasion.

These insights came from moments of heightened uncertainty. Where a disdain to historic reality had prevailed. By those seeking to own truth, rather than speak it.

Today this same owned truth, is heard once more, in its insidious glory. Abroad. But also at home. What must prevail is the demand that we judge leadership that takes care for truth. And through that lens we must call out all who dare lead by weaponising truth. For it is they few alone, who are dealing out this new despair. In the name of owned truth.

Is less, more?

Measures, posts, and perspectives

I find myself writing offline with some regularity in early 2022. My daily blogging habit was intentionally broken over Christmas, but the faltering return was less planned. I have instead taken to being more active on LinkedIn again, or taking an idea from a discussion or lecture or journal and committing the thought to notes on my iPhone, maybe never to be seen again.

Daily visits to this website have fallen as a result. But my engagement and discussions have increased. So, I content myself with less blogs and less traffic as an acceptable loss to gain insight from discourse. Less of me, more of you. Being influenced whilst influencing.

So which is better? The habit and regularity. Predictability of output. Or the discourse and discussion with less committed but more explored?

Sound familiar? Because I contend that this is precisely the mistake early project commitment without room for discourse becomes. Sponsors responding to deadlines. Surrounding themselves by lawyers and bean-counters and procurement tacticians. Driven to move on and direct. Inform and commit. Instead of reframing, responding, and listening to what needs to be next.

There is no single right answer. But there are plenty of wrong reasons to either commit early, or dither without decisions ever being made. Sometimes its simply a matter of perspective or the inappropriate hidden influences elsewhere.

Are we gambling everything?

Hiding in plain sight

Superbowl Sunday is here. Or get up early Monday, as it is in my house. I’ll have watched it in 45 minutes by 7am tomorrow.

The name Warren Sharp meant nothing to me until ten minutes ago {here}, but as an infamous name in punditry, gambling, and – as reported by the NYer – with legitimate links as both poacher and gamekeeper in the worlds of professional sport and gambling, I suspect I will be seeing his name again. Or at least his pseudonym.

Visibility | Behaviour | Trust

My heuristic toolbox rattled as that revelation was read. A man too keen to keep a lid closed. High visibility but defensive in identity is a behaviour that gives reason to not immediately offer much trust. When new information offers reason to trust less, it is our own behaviours that necessarily change. We need to step closer and see more. Much as with our home grown current truth dodging politics. We see the lies, we more closely attend to the suspicious behaviour, as reduced trust is replaced by wider sources of information and intervention.

I’m sure Warren Sharp’s real name is less interesting than the mystery. But there is a wider point here. Gambling visibility is on the increase. Be it betting online, bingo on our phones, charities advertising weekly lotteries (in the name of their benevolent cause). How has this more overt behaviour that is aimed at playing on gambling habits been allowed? With the revelations of who is propping up political interests – maybe something is beginning to look more covert through another lens. Maybe my comparison of politics and gambling is more than just analogous.

And if visibility | behaviour | trust is nothing more than my heuristic warning light, it’s on full alert as the biggest gamblers of all in the pyramid builder crypto-currency world prepare to engulf the Superbowl tonight.

700 days…

No big blog. Just a note for my diary.

1.918 years. 23 months. 100 weeks. 700 days. With my better half now recipient of a fourth attempt at vaccination, we can but hope we are not counting days of lockdown for much more.

Next milestone is 2 years. 13th March 2020-2022. Another season will be upon us, and a hope we can soon spring back into externally relevant action then.

lockdown learning

Day 699…

Tomorrow is perhaps a more poignant number to observe. But 699 is a more interesting number. An odd composite. A multiple of two distinct primes (3 and 233).

799 is also a composite prime. But I do hope I’m not contemplating the approach of another hundred day milestone after this one, but who knows what Covid treat is coming next.

Day 700 of lockdown tomorrow. Two years on 13th March.

To be continued…