Posts tagged ‘policy’


Open the shop and strip away the jargon

05.01.2014

I’ve been reading this Grauniad interview with Rory Stewart, MP, referred by Jordan McCluskey. I’m told that Stewart, and Labour’s Frank Field are the two worth listening to these days in British politics. On Stewart, someone who can speak with a Scots accent and has lived in Hong Kong must be a good bloke.
   Two quotations resonated from this interview, which I posted on Tumblr this morning.

Our entire conceptual framework was mad. All these theories—counterinsurgency warfare, state building—were actually complete abstract madness. They were like very weird religious systems, because they always break down into three principles, 10 functions, seven this or that. So they’re reminiscent of Buddhists who say: ‘These are the four paths,’ or of Christians who say: ‘These are the seven deadly sins.’ They’re sort of theologies, essentially, made by people like Buddhist monks in the eighth century—people who have a fundamental faith, which is probably, in the end, itself completely delusional.

And:

We have to create a thousand little city states, and give the power right down to all the bright, energetic people everywhere who just feel superfluous.

   The second is familiar to anyone who follows this blog: my belief that people are connected to their cities and their communities, probably as a counterpoint to how easily we can reach all corners of the world through the internet. We want that local fix and to make a contribution. Power should be decentralizing in the early 21st century—which is why I thought it odd that the majority of my opponents in the mayoral election took the line of, ‘We should cosy up and further the cause of statism,’ even if they did not express it quite that way. In every speech. Yes, a city should work with central government, but we do different things and, being closer to the action, we can find ways of doing it more effectively and quickly. With statism being an aim, then the regular entrepreneurs—or even as Stewart says, ‘bright, energetic people’—came further down the list. For me, they were always at the top.
   But the first quotation is more interesting. In my work, especially in brand consulting, I’ve harboured a dislike for the manuals that get done but are never referred to. Better that a lot of work goes into a 15 pp. report than scant work going into a 150 pp. one. The former might not look impressive but if every word in there is filled with substance, then it can help get an organization into high gear. And the shorter one is usually harder to write because more preparation goes into it.
   In short: take out the wank.
   Strip out the wank and you can see the truths for what they are. And if they don’t apply, then try to find ones that do.
   Yet to make ourselves look smart—remember, I did law, and that area is filled with a lot of it—we bury things in jargon so that we keep everything a closed shop. Every profession has such a tendency. However, when things are actually revealed in plain language, does it make the specialist look superfluous? On the contrary, it makes them able to connect with an audience who come to appreciate their expertise. (On a side note, in terms of car repair, this is why I go to That Car Place.)
   So when we start dealing in international geopolitics, we want to keep the power among a closed shop. The words that Stewart used served to highlight the gulf of the occident in its dealings in Afghanistan—that is the context of his remark—and it connects with a story I remember about a certain US policy institute when I was studying law. Our lecturer said the failure of the institute in the countries it went to was its expectation that a US solution could be imposed, whereby everything would then be all right. Use enough jargon to make it all sound legitimate to the casual observer. The consequence of this (whether this was his conclusion or mine, I do not recall): blame them when it doesn’t work.
   Without understanding the cultural context of why things are the way they are in a given system—and lacking the knowledge to analyse it and quickly localizing your knowledge and gaining the context—make for a disadvantage. It must be said that even some within a system don’t realize the context! But you can strip away the mystery by simplifying the language, removing the jargon, and understanding things the way they are. Progress comes from understanding, not from creating mysteries—and Stewart is wise to have come to the conclusions he has, thanks in no small part from a global, well travelled context.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, culture, globalization, Hong Kong, leadership, New Zealand, politics, UK, USA, Wellington | No Comments »


Cities are, or at least should be, driving globalization

06.06.2013

My friend and colleague William Shepherd directed me to a piece at Quartz by Michele Acuto and Parag Khanna, on how cities are driving globalization more than nations—a theme I touched upon on this blog in March 2010. As he said, I had called it three years ago, though admittedly Acuto and Khanna have fleshed things out far better.
   It’s not just the fact that cities elicit less pluralistic feelings among the population—Wellingtonians felt pretty strongly when PM John Key made his comment that our city was ‘dying’—but there are practical reasons for cities to lead the way.
   First, we can’t afford to wait for central government to take the lead on a lot of policies. When it comes to economic development, cities should be able to mobilize a lot more quickly. The idea is that cities are leaner, flatter and more responsive to change. The reality is that some are mired in bureaucracy, and if voters agree that that has to change, then I would love to see that reflected in this year’s local body elections. Based on what I’ve seen, you won’t find the agent for change within politics, however—they have had more than enough opportunity to voice this very view. This has to come from outside politics, from people who understand what cities are truly capable of, especially when they engage and realize their potential.
   Acuto and Khanna cite several examples where cities have had to go above and beyond what their national governments have provided, in the areas of security, climate change and academia. Even stock exchanges are merging between cities:

Stock exchange mergers testify to this changing geography of influence: the popularized link between New York and Frankfurt via the 2011 talks on the NYSE Euronext and Deutsche Boerse merger only hinted at a wider trend that, in the past two years alone, has seen negotiations between London’s and Toronto’s stock exchanges, and similar discussions between Sydney and Singapore, Chicago and Sao Paulo, Dubai and Mumbai or the Shenzhen–Hong Kong–Shanghai triangle, all of which indicate how global finance networks are being redrawn through emerging global cities.

   In my discussions with MBIE, the New Zealand Government has been aware of this trend, but other than the discussions about regional reform, very little of it has surfaced in Wellington. Yet the government has a focus on Auckland, and Christchurch will be state of the art once its rebuilding is completed. We have a perfect opportunity to use our inherent agility, if only we had our eyes on the prize, and moved forward rather than played politics, stuck with “think local, act local” thinking.
   Secondly, cities should find the task of marketing themselves less confusing. A nation-branding exercise, for example, hits a snag early on. When I quizzed Wally Olins about this many years ago, he identified a very obvious problem: which government department pays for it? Is this the province of tourism, internal affairs, foreign affairs, trade, or something else? A city should be able to establish sufficient channels of communications between its organizations and trust in one—in Wellington’s case, tourism—to handle it. If these channels are broken, again, it’s going to take some new blood and real change to fix them and inspire a spirit of cooperation. There’s a pressing enough need to do so, with a vision that can be readily shared. We need to think differently in the 2010s.
   Thirdly, cities can foster offshore relationships more effectively. New Zealand, as a country, has not done as well as it should in promoting itself in various Asian cities, for instance. In one major city, I have had feedback that New Zealand stands out for the wrong reasons, in not having its chief diplomat join other countries in celebrating a particular national holiday. We seem to be on auto-pilot, not being as active as we should. Yet, as Acuto and Khanna point out, almost all global economic activity is being driven by 400 cities. Wellington, especially, should be able to take the initiative and head to the world’s major cities, promoting ourselves and ensuring that the innovators and enterprises here can hook up with others. We can establish trade and cultural links more quickly if we go to the source. Many cities and provinces even have their own economic offices, so they expect such approaches: they want to work at the city level.
   And if we head offshore to promote our own, then we should expect that foreign direct investment can flow more effectively inward, too, having established that relationship.
   This all makes sense if you consider how democratization has changed the world we live in. On so many things already, we cut out the middle man: in printing, we no longer need to go to typesetters or plate-makers; online publishing has meant our words can go to the public on blogs; social media have allowed us greater access to companies and politicians. Air travel is more affordable than it was 30 years ago. Cities have the resources to engage with citizens and learn about their needs. Offshore relationships can be maintained between trips using Skype and other digital resources. The nation-state will remain relevant for some time, but cities can deliver more relevant, more specialized and more customized programmes in a more timely fashion. Now, do we have the courage to declare that we no longer want “politics as usual” this year?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, culture, globalization, internet, leadership, marketing, New Zealand, politics, technology, Wellington | 1 Comment »


The UK doesn’t look good as it pursues Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy

21.08.2012

I missed Julian Assange’s statement on the day (catching up on work after being out) but who would have thought we would see a situation where Ecuador would be seen to be upholding a foreign national’s press freedoms (never mind what it does at home) and the Vienna Convention, while Britain would be making diplomatic threats?
   I realize the UK has sent Ecuador a letter citing its own law, giving it authority to ‘take action’ against the embassy. Here is some of that letter:

   As we have previously set out, we must meet our legal obligations under the European Arrest Warrant Framework Decision and the Extradition Act 2003, to arrest Mr Assange and extradite him to Sweden. We remain committed to working with you amicably to resolve this matter. But we must be absolutely clear this means that should we receive a request for safe passage for Mr Assange, after granting asylum, this would be refused, in line with our legal obligations …
   We have to reiterate that we consider continued use of diplomatic premises in this way, to be incompatible with the VCDR (Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations) and not sustainable, and that we have already made clear to you the serious implications for our diplomatic relations.
   You should be aware that there is a legal basis in the UK—the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act—which would allow us to take action to arrest Mr Assange in the current premises of the Embassy.
   We very much hope not to get this point, but if you cannot resolve the issue of Mr Assange’s presence on your premises, this route is open to us.

   My memory of the conventions, which the UK has ratified, is that the embassy remains foreign soil. There are provisions under various criminal acts which allow prosecution of diplomatic and consular staff. The Diplomatic and Consular Premises Act 1987 could see the embassy’s consular status revoked, something which the letter hints at.
   This is where the UK has to think twice. If the UK is willing to do revoke the status of the mission, then its desire to be seen as a sovereign nation that respects public international law will be damaged. The DCPA was created for very different purposes: it was developed in the wake of the murder of a police officer, Yvonne Fletcher, during the Libyan Embassy siege, on April 17, 1984, and the attempted abduction of Umaru Dikko on July 5, 1984. The Act was subject to huge scrunity, but it was developed to give the UK the right to go in to the Embassy in extraordinary circumstances, such as the pursuit of suspected murderers if the Fletcher situation recurred, or, as Baroness Young told the House of Lords in 1987, in cases of terrorism.
   This time, the UK wishes to invoke the Act over the breaching of bail conditions—a very different matter altogether.
   In the world of diplomacy, usually veiled with political-speak and niceties, such strongly worded correspondence is rightly construed as a threat, never mind what William Hague says in denying that the letter hints at the UK storming the mission. It also gives the state greater powers in determining how to remove inviolability before it takes action against the premises—but it could also be quickly challenged by Ecuador and it would be up to the courts to decide.
   Where things get muddied is that Assange is an Australian, and he doesn’t fear prosecution from his own country—usually the way through which someone claims asylum. He fears it from another country altogether, and most likely argues that his own country has failed to protect him. Assange has good grounds to believe that, since it has come from the Prime Minister herself:

   It’s within living memory for a lot of people how the international community frowned on Iran during the 1979 revolution and the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran. While one could argue there was no host nation at that point—the Shah had left town, so to speak—it sealed in many people’s memories just how sacrosanct diplomatic missions’ soil is. In Britain, Fletcher’s murder in 1984 again pointed to the inviolability of foreign missions’ soil—and just how extraordinary the circumstances have to be for DCPA provisions over revocation to come into force.
   It’s not hard to see why—if you look at my Facebook feed—the UK is getting criticized on its handling of the affair. It appears to be doing others’ bidding, using an extraordinary piece of legislation to pursue someone who had breached the bail conditions of another European country. It’s not the first time one law has been bent to suit unrelated purposes, and it won’t be the last—but in this case, a lot more people are watching the UK’s conduct.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in media, politics, publishing, Sweden, TV, UK | No Comments »


What we need from leaders in the new decade: creativity leads the list

22.06.2010

My friend and colleague at the Medinge Group, Ava Hakim, passed on a few papers from her day job at IBM. The first is the latest edition of a biennial global CEO survey, while the second asks the next generation of leaders—Generation Y. The aim: to find out what these groups think about the challenges and goals for CEOs.
   Unsurprisingly, both studies (involving thousands of respondents) had commonalities, though Generation Y placed global awareness and sustainability more highly on their list.
   Creativity, however, is ranked as the most valuable leadership trait. What society doesn’t need, they tell us, is the same-again thinking if we are to make progress in the 2010s. The old top values of ‘operational excellence’ or ‘engineering big deals’ no longer come up top in this new decade.
   Or, as I heard from one gentleman yesterday, we can’t afford to have the sort of ‘experience’ certain people tout, for they do not have 25 years’ experience—they just have one year’s experience, over and over again, 25 times.
   You know I’m going to say it, so I might as well: this sounds like the sort of ‘experience’ some of my political opponents have had, day in, day out. Groundhog Day comes to mind.
   Indeed, the studies indicate that we have a far more complex world, and same-again thinking isn’t going to cut it.
   In the first study (emphasis in original):

Creativity is the most important leadership quality, according to CEOs. Standouts practice and encourage experimentation and innovation throughout their organizations. Creative leaders expect to make deeper business model changes to realize their strategies. To succeed, they take more calculated risks, find new ideas, and keep innovating in how they lead and communicate.

The most successful organizations co-create products and services with customers, and integrate customers into core processes. They are adopting new channels to engage and stay in tune with customers. By drawing more insight from the available data, successful CEOs make customer intimacy their number-one priority.

Later:

Facing a world becoming dramatically more complex, it is interesting that CEOs selected creativity as the most important leadership attribute. Creative leaders invite disruptive innovation, encourage others to drop outdated approaches and take balanced risks. They are open-minded and inventive in expanding their management and communication styles, particularly to engage with a new generation of employees, partners and customers.

And:

Creative leaders consider previously unheard-of ways to drastically change the enterprise for the better, setting the stage for innovation that helps them engage more effectively with today’s customers, partners and employees.

The study also highlights an increase in globalization, especially in developing markets, leading to greater complexity. It also says the most successful leaders are prepared to change the business models under which they operate.
   In fact, the world we now live in demands that our leaders are globally aware, and see the need to compete in a global market-place.
   The implications for this city are that Wellington can no longer afford to see itself as merely the capital of New Zealand or the geographic centre. It is one of many cities that must compete for attention and resources at a global level—which means creating world-class centres of excellence for our industries. Creating such clusters can even help them stay domestically owned.
   The study indicates that the style of leadership is going to be, necessarily, internationalist—which means we can’t afford to have leaders who are monocultural, and fake multiculturalism. This, like any aspect of a brand, must be embodied for real. It doesn’t mean giving up what ‘being a New Zealander’ is; it does, however, mean that we have to be able to communicate with other nations and cultures, seeking advantages for ourselves.
   Innovation is a driver both in terms of internal processes and as a core competence—so leaders had better be prepared to do this. And being closer and more transparent with customers—or in the case of a city, citizens—is something practised by the most successful leaders, says the study. It reminds me of the topics in the first book I contributed to, Beyond Branding—where integrity and transparency were at the core.
   When it comes to the Generation Y study, the results were similar. This table summarizes the two quite well, and notes how the two groups differ:

   I don’t want to be giving the impression that the second study is less important, but realize that some of you are sorely tempted to see me wrap up this post.
   I will say, quickly, that the lessons are clear: the next generation expects leaders to be globally minded and sustainable.
   Chinese respondents in the second study, in fact, valued global thinking ahead of creativity. This perhaps highlights where the People’s Republic, above the other Chinese territories, is heading: looking outwardly first and delivering what customers in export markets want.
   As creativity is naturally a trait among Wellington businesses, it’s nice to know that many are already prepared for the challenges of the 2010s. And some of our most successful names would not have got to where they are without global thinking, even if some have been acquired by overseas companies: 42 Below, Weta, and Silverstripe come to mind.
   However, I can’t see these traits being reflected in politics—and that’s something I hope we can change in the local body elections, for starters.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in branding, business, China, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, politics, social responsibility, Wellington | 1 Comment »