Thursday, January 12, 2017

5 VUCA Books

Here's a guest KR Connect post from Michael Davies, a Lancaster Royal Grammar School history teacher and winner of the 2015 Mary Soames History Prize by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for his work on competing historical narratives of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Michael is currently on leave from the school working in New York with a software developer on new web/video resources for schools that address the difficulty of teaching the history of the conflict. "People are so afraid of saying the wrong thing that often they say nothing at all. My objective isn't to bring both sides together to create a unified history, but to encourage people to take a peek over the wall and see what the other side is saying." He has secured funding and endorsements from a range of Jewish and Muslim supporters in the UK and the USA to undertake the project. Here's Michael...

Kevin and I were talking about what business leaders could learn from history and he asked me to come up with my five best books as preparation for a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous world.

#1: The Fall of Constantinople by Steven Runciman. The punchline here is that Constantinople (or Byzantium) was besieged and captured by the Ottomans in 1453, but the really interesting story is how did this eastern half of the old Roman Empire last 1000 years. Part of the answer is the rather unfashionable truth that it had a complex bureaucracy and very sophisticated diplomatic service at a time when its enemies were successful warlords, here today and gone tomorrow.

#2: 1929 A Year of Conflict by Hillel Cohen examines the causes of the rioting that broke out in Palestine in 1929, which might seem a rather narrow incident but Cohen's bigger idea is that "all history is constructed" - which is why there's a Jewish version and an Arab version of what happened. What he brilliantly shows us is how those two parallel but competing narratives have been created - useful for anyone who has to weigh up competing arguments and make a decision.

#3: Russian Voices by Tony Parker. In 1990 Parker visited the USSR as it crumbled and interviewed a wide range of ordinary people about their uncertain future. Well, thirty years on we know. Uncertainty created opportunities of enormous wealth to a few who grabbed the chance, but for the great majority they exchanged too much certainty for too little certainty. There are lessons here about managing change.

#4: The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg is her account of her life as an English woman married to a German bringing up three children in Berlin in WWII, and what happens when her husband is arrested by the Gestapo after the July bomb plot. It's about surviving and playing the cards that are dealt you, even if it looks like a losing hand.

#5: Ill Fares the Land by the late great Tony Judt. Published in 2010, this a historically-based argument that the economy should be run for society, not society run for the economy. This truth that resonated this year in the former industrial towns of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

2017 Predictions #4: Sporting Victories

  • The Six Nations will be the most hotly contested and unpredictable series of games for years. Four teams can all beat each other (sorry Wales and Italy), England are not quite yet the finished article, Scotland are resurgent, Ireland could go all the way and France, well they’re France.
  • The British and Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand will be the best tour since 1971 when Carwyn James’ heroes won the series vs the All Blacks 2.1. The squad will be strong, the coaches are a formidable experienced crew, and they’ll play for an Inspirational Captain (Rory Best). Against the best team in the world. Mouth watering.
  • 3 Manchester/Liverpool teams will finish in the top 4 of the Premier League… only 1 London team will.
  • Manchester City will win the Premier League and the Champions League (Manchester United certainly won’t).

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2017 Predictions #3: Siriously Alexa

Of all the AI, VR, TMT and HOT innovation acronyms, STI will make the biggest impact. For decades computer scientists have wrestled with perfecting Speech to Instruction (my term) technology – the ability to speak to your device and give it instructions that it understands. Perfection is required. “Now” and No” could be mistaken and the results disastrous. Apple’s Siri and Amazon Alexa - the star of 2017 CES - are the first in a wave of voice-instructed helping aids that tech is bringing us. More than ever, people will spend more time talking to their devices than to other people.

Monday, January 9, 2017

2017 Predictions #2: Trump Will Triumph

He won. The transition appointments show his intention for a muscular America, bristling with generals and billionaires: make things happen people. It’s said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. The Donald’s poetry – three word slogans ‘Lock Her Up,’ ‘Build the Wall’ and ‘Drain the Swamp’ got through to three year olds. A commentator noted there are no professors and intellectuals in the cabinet. Precisely. Trump will be unpredictable, surprising, perplexing, dangerous, brutish, but I believe he will initiate a thing or two that will have a lasting and positive impact on America and the world. Henry Kissinger believes Trump will shake things up by asking a lot of unfamiliar questions. Holding office – not campaigning for it –will bring great accountability. He will be judged not on bluster but on performance. And we must give him the opportunity to deliver. Ride ‘em cowboy.

Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Predictions #1

If you thought last year was crazy, put on your seat belts for 2017. Here are three predictions for the year ahead… and a few sporting hopes.

2016 was about the 3 P’s – Protectionism, Prejudice and Patriotism. It was also the Year of the 4th P… The Populist… and a 5th… Putin. Enough with the P words!

2017 will be a year of fairness, reason and generosity. A year where moderates and optimists regroup. (This is frankly more a wish than a prediction but we live in Hope).

4 predictions: #1 - Britain Won’t Brexit


Not for a while, at least. A CNN poll in mid-December affirmed the original Brexit vote – more Britons want the UK to leave the EU than want to remain. That a simple YES/NO question can result in the cacophony of chaos that is going to ensue in the Cabinet, Parliament, and Whitehall in 2017 and for years hence, is unbelievable. Reducing the future of the UK, Europe and possibly the world to a binary choice seems to have been a ludicrous strategy on the part of David Cameron. More responsibility should have been put on voters to make a more complex decision than YES/NO allowed. 

Extricating the UK from the EU is mind-bogglingly complex, and there is collateral damage coming from both uncertainty and seismic financial and logistical events. I look at the EU as a tired bloated institution and understand why people voted to leave, but as a radical optimist – and a globalist – my instinct is to fix things first. I have written before that the only option for Britons to progress during the political and bureaucratic quagmire, is to double-down on personal purpose, business purpose, and national purpose. “Winning the world from the edge” is my New Zealand mantra. And now my British one.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

PT Prophet podcast

Hayden Wilson is an Aussie, based in Melbourne, who has created an influential network of personal trainers and business owners dedicated to fitness. He says that “because the world needs more nice” he created the “be nice” movement – and fittingly, he sent me a nice note inviting me to be on his podcast PTProphet. We had a great hour long talk yesterday and his podcast is posted here. We talked about dreams, purpose, execution, making happy choices, no regrets, making an impact, living in a VUCA world, visualization, being creative. And the machine gun story. Enjoy.