SMART PHONES AND DUMB PEOPLE

I do like a good lyric poem, which the dictionary defines as “a poem expressing personal (often emotional) feelings and are traditionally spoken in the present tense. Modern examples often have specific rhyming schemes and are sometimes also set to music or to a beat.”

I recently came across a modern version which comes complete with music and video called “Smart phones and dumb people” which resonated with me, and if you haven’t already seen it (tens of thousands have), I highly recommend it.

It starts with “I have 422 friends yet I am lonely” which is something that has been in my thoughts, and which I have found perplexing, for some time now (see “Fourth secret of success” posted November 4, 2010). Many people seem to be replacing real life and real relationships with social media friends and relationships (see “Who needs real life” posted February 17, 2011), and this short video and lyric poem covers exactly this situation today.

Author:  	彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: 彭家杰 (own work); GNU GPL, CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It really came home to me on my last trip to Singapore, when my wife and I sat in a coffee shop waiting for our kids and grandkids to turn up so that we could take them exploring through some of the wonders of our old stomping ground. We sat there amused that we were surrounded by young people (the coffee shop seemed to be a bit of a meeting place), and the fact that as soon as they had briefly greeted their friends, they immediately became fixated on their smartphones rather than each other. We were especially fascinated by a young attractive couple sitting near us who, in the more than 30 minutes we were there, barely exchanged a sentence with each other but instead spent the entire time playing games like “candy crush saga” (I sneaked a look when I went to get the drinks when our family arrived).

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: wayne lee; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


At the same I have also long been fascinated by the fact that we seem to be becoming obsessed with abbreviation, and as such we seem to be losing our ability to focus on anything that requires our attention or focus for more than a very short amount of time (see “Abbreviation is gr8ly changing our world” posted April 16, 2012), which has even set the standard expected size of a blog post at about 800 words. I have even had some people comment on the fact that my own posts are a bit long as they tend to be between 1000-1200 words, and as such these readers find it hard to do more than just skim through them.

I therefore started to wonder whether people are still reading books … I mean real books rather than pamphlets with large print like “The one minute manager” and “Who moved my cheese”.

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine; via Wikimedia Commons


When flying back home from Singapore to France I wandered around the plane a few times as I was interested to see how many people were actually reading a book (tablets and kindles etc., included) and saw that there were actually very few. It seemed to me that that we had given up on books as a source of information, knowledge, entertainment and enlightenment, and this bothered me as I wondered whether people who stop reading will eventually stop thinking. I was therefore interested recently to come across some information that suggests that books (in all their guises), are not only surviving but are actually doing well, with an increasing number of titles being published each year.

The question that then arises is whether these books are actually being read. It appears that the simple answer is that they are not generally being read from cover to cover in many cases.

A Gallup Poll some time back found that there were many more people who said that they were reading a book or novel than did people a decade ago, but fewer people than before could say that they had actually finished a book in the last week. It appears that many books today are purchased to be skimmed or consulted, rather than to be fully read. It also appears that many more books are started than are finished, and I have to admit that I am also guilty of this, something my wife finds unacceptable as she insists on finishing any book that she opens. I stopped reading Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”, after being about half way through, because I then went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation in London, and therefore felt no need to keep reading it afterwards. I also gave up on “The Luminaries” after about 200 pages, another Man Booker prize winner, despite loving the stunningly beautiful use of language, because I realised that I would struggle with its 834 pages of stunningly beautiful use of language.

Maybe one of the reasons that book sales are increasing is that books do seem to have replaced ties and socks as the gift of choice. I am amazed that every time I visit Australia or New Zealand people give me local picture books as gifts, necessitating my having to pack them into suitcases already at bursting point, and dangerously close to airline weight limits, to get them home. They are lovely coffee table books, but hardly books that I will ever feel the need to open after the obligatory flick through in front of the gift giver. I was the guest at a Bar-mitzvah in Melbourne a few years ago when the officiating Rabbi gave the 13 year old a bible and an umbrella as a gift on the lad having reached religious manhood in his faith, with the statement that at least the umbrella had a reasonable chance of being opened sometime.

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mhhossein (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I never stop reading in a normal day, but I have to sadly admit that it is less and less real books that I read rather than the writings of some management guru’s article or blog. I also spend a lot of time on my PC and tablet searching for opinions and information on the needed topics for my own blogs, lectures and speeches, but I do read fewer books than I did a decade ago.

All the information that I need is at my fingertips and easy to find with a few keystrokes, but I do wonder whether this easy access to information is actually making me more immediately knowledgeable but actually less smart in the long term. I too seem to have become a victim of my smarter phone.

HOW MUCH SHOULD WE RELY ON INTUITION ?

The dictionary defines intuition as “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence: a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why.”

This definition of intuition actually bothers me a bit, based as it is on a “natural ability or power”. Many people do seem to think of intuition as being some sort of sixth sense, or as some sort of magical power, but our “gut feels” are generally formed out of our experiences, skills and knowledge. This means that intuition alone is unlikely to always result in good decision making, but it does mean that we should not write it off completely as a way of supporting the decision making process, as long as it matches our true areas of expertise.

Author: Dennis Jarvis; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Dennis Jarvis; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The problem with using intuition as a decision tool is that it is based on “experiences, skills and knowledge”, and as writer, actor and tall person John Cleese points out in a must-see 40 second short video, which you can find on YouTube by searching on “John Cleese Stupidity”, to know how good you are at something requires the same skills that are needed to be good at that thing, so if you are absolutely hopeless at something, you lack exactly those skills to know that you are hopeless at it.

Author: John_Cleese_2008.jpg: Paul Boxley; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: John_Cleese_2008.jpg: Paul Boxley; CC BY-SA 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


This means that not all “gut-feel” is necessarily good “gut-feel”, and that intuition can only be truly worthwhile in an area where we have some domain specific experience, skills and knowledge.

I have met some people who are very intuitive about one thing, such as wind patterns for hot air ballooning or diagnosing medical illness, but I have not yet met anyone who is obviously intuitive about a broad range of experiences. One cannot assume that someone who is highly intuitive about the best yachting maneuvers (like Ben Ainslie for example), is also likely to be highly intuitive about any other element of his/her life. If intuition is to be a highly honed skill, it needs to be based on a considerable amount of practice, as ultimately intuition is about our ability to recognize certain recurring patterns. The more experience that we have in a particular area of expertise, such as diagnosing tropical illnesses, the more familiar we become at recognizing the patterns, and the faster can we make decisions about what these patterns mean.

Photo taken by Joe DeShon; CC BY 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Photo taken by Joe DeShon; CC BY 2.5 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Yet, I have met many people who have told me that they are “highly intuitive” … about life. I always try and get them to be more specific about which part of life it is that they are claiming to be highly intuitive about, but generally with little success at getting them to pinpoint their true area of intuitive expertise. They just have an intuition that they possess this 6th sense magical power.

I also find it highly bewildering that there are people who have written books that people buy, and who also run training programmes that people seem to readily attend on the topic of “… how to create success in any area by using your brain in unique and compelling ways so that your innate intuition can propel you ahead to successful solutions …”. These include, but are not limited to, losing weight, knowing how to spot your perfect mate, building better relationships with your children, and making better investment and business decisions” … and one can achieve all these in one life-time, and supposedly with little real experience, skill or knowledge in any of these subjects.

My intuition tells me that these books and courses are focused on attracting some very gullible people.

I also struggle with people who rely mostly on intuition as the main driver in their ability to sum up people, for example in the recruitment process, and I am surprised when people tell me that they can decide in the first few minutes of an interview whether they will hire someone. Whilst one can, to some degree and in a short time, understand a range of the visible personality traits, such as how assertive or extroverted someone is or how relaxed and confident they are, it is hard to understand their attitudes to work, life and the meaning of the universe without delving more deeply, and I have long believed that one should hire for attitude even more than for skills, as skills can be enhanced but attitudes are hard to change.

I have found that people who tend to hire based on “gut feel” tend to hire people who are mostly just like them, and so tend to hire people who most closely match their own image, which is fine if your goal is to protect the status quo and to change very little, but does not do much in terms of driving change, and the ability to drive change is one of the few constants in business life and success. I tend to believe that gut-feel hiring is more about expediency as defined by American writer Rita Mae Brown who said “Intuition is a suspension of logic due to impatience.”

I have also come across people who believe that investment decisions can be made using intuition and gut feel rather than some deeper analyses of what they are considering as an investment platform, whilst remembering the fact that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. My investment counsellor at Barclays Bank in Bordeaux waxed lyrical about Bernie Madoff, based on the sole fact that his gut told him that someone who had been the head of the Nasdaq must know what he was doing. Madoff knew exactly what he was doing … it just wasn’t to the benefit of anyone other than himself. I didn’t buy the story, based mainly on the fact that anyone committing to a 12% annual return on investment didn’t fit with my own intuition about investment returns, and I therefore didn’t invest and also quickly changed my investment counsellor.

Author: Smerus (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Smerus (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


American psychologist Robert Heller summed it up well with “Never ignore a gut feeling, but never believe that it is enough.”

WHEN DID EVERYONE BECOME A LEADER ?

“Life isn’t easy, and leadership is harder still.”
Bard College Professor Walter Russell Mead

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Chatham House; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I can remember a time when the term “leader” was used to describe the most senior person in any human run entity, such as the CEO of a large company, a President or Prime Minister of a country that actually had a seat at the United Nations, or even the head of any religious organisation that needed more than one minibus to take all its adherents to the annual sausage sizzle. (See “Management or Leadership” posted March 7, 2011).

This does not seem to be the case today, when we appear willing to accord a leadership title to all.

It is as though words like “specialist”, supervisor” and even “manager” have all been discarded from our business lexicon.

Project Managers have been replaced by Project Leads and Team Leaders, even if the entire team consists of 2-3 people, Senior Maths Teachers in schools are now The Maths Leader, and Shift Leader has replaced Shift Supervisor even in small factories.

My first promotion in 1968 was from the position of Computer Programmer to the role of being in charge of a 6-man programming team, which carried the exalted title of Senior Programmer. Today that title is more likely to be Leader Software Development, just as the person who is responsible for looking after the elevator staff at Harrods Department Store in London will no doubt be carrying the title of Leader Vertical Displacement Services.

Even my next promotion carried the title of Supervisor, and it took me another two years to actually get to a position that carried the word “Manager” in the title. We had a leader … he was the CEO.

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}

via Wikimedia Commons; {{PD-US}}


I find that it is very rare these days that anyone even talks about management training, as people who are seen as being of management potential are now sent on Leadership Development Programmes rather than management training, despite the fact that statistics tell us that most will never get beyond a first level management position. Even Primary school teachers today go on leadership development courses even if most don’t/won’t/can’t become a school principal, and just want to be able to teach young children, and to do it well.

Is it just a question of time before we replace the increasingly more humbly titled MBA with the more importantly sounding MLA (Mater of Leadership Attainment), as business schools finally come to the realisation that this is a whole new gravy train?

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license

via Wikimedia Commons; PD-TEXT license


I was recently asked to come and talk about leadership at an annual company event that brings together all staff that are in any “people responsible” roles (to be somewhat cautious in my use of language) for a 2-day talk fest to kick off the new business year. In discussing the remit with my host, I innocently asked whether, as my session would be on the topic of Leadership, I could assume that I would be addressing the senior executive team. It turned out that I would actually be presenting to everyone except their “Top-100” senior managers, being the 1000 or so first and middle level management.

When I asked whether, based on the audience, discussing “management rather than leadership” would not be more appropriate, I was told that the company had decided to run a programme that was planned to make everyone “a leader in their role”, and that this was all part of the key messaging of this year’s kick-off meeting. My suggestion that what he was describing was surely more about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” rather than being about “leadership” almost lost me the assignment.

However, as it was an existing client, and it was a good fee, I titled my session, as they had suggested, “We are all leaders” and spoke about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way”.

I do wonder however, whether we have come to a point where the word “leadership” has become so overused that it is losing its true meaning, just like the word “cloud” is today in the tech industry where everything is now labelled as being cloud, when much of it is really just smoke.

Are we trying to give everyone the title of leader as this then removes the need for senior management to actually do something about “empowerment, engagement, taking responsibility, initiative, autonomy and showing the way” ? By making everyone a leader does that just conveniently shift this responsibility from the top of the pyramid down to the individual ? Despite the changes in titles I have not seen the commensurate increases in authority and levels of freedom that one would normally associate with someone in a leadership role.

I salute the whole idea of giving people more freedom, fewer barriers, more responsibility, the right to manage themselves and how they do their job, as I have long believed that when we remove the shackles from people, many will take the opportunity to soar rather than just make do.

I am also not questioning that people can take up a temporary leadership role dependant on the situation being faced at the time, like one team member being quiet during a team discussion on technology, but leading the discussion when the topic switches to sales and marketing.

But I don’t think that this makes them a leader. It can, however, make them a liberated employee who is committed to making a serious contribution to the company in areas where they have subject matter expertise, and as such we should treat them with respect, hear what they have to say, and make sure that we nurture them as one day, in the right environment, they may actually become a true leader.

If we really want to build leaders, we need to give people the culture and the freedom to act, to learn and to grow, rather than to just give them a title with the word “leader” embedded in it.

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Arquivo/ABr; CC BY 3.0 BR license; via Wikimedia Commons


“Leaders aren’t born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work and time. And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal.” American Football Coach Vince Lombardi (1913-1970).

BUSYNESS OR BUSINESS … THAT IS THE QUESTION

“Some people can look so busy doing nothing that they seem indispensable”.
American cartoonist and journalist Kin Hubbard (1868-1930)

I was interested to read recently that Goldman Sachs has announced that it will lessen the workload for its banking staff and in particular for its junior bankers in acknowledgement that interns can be asked to work 100+ hour weeks and under tremendous pressure. Goldman has sent a memo to its executives that all staff must not enter the office between 9.00pm on Friday and 9.00am on Sunday, declaring as well that “work should not shift from office to home”, and that staff are “strongly encouraged to take three weeks holiday a year”. However, the memo does go on to say that despite all this “… junior bankers are still expected to check their blackberries on a regular basis over the weekend”.

This may well have been driven by the death of a 21 year old London finance student who died after completing a highly competitive Bank of America summer internship. It is believed that Moritz Erhardt died of an epileptic seizure after working for 3 nights straight with no sleep. Following the Goldman Sachs lead, a number of other banks on Wall Street are now also considering similar changes to their entry level programs.

Author: Alex Proimos; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Alex Proimos; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I found this all to be extremely fascinating.

At 100 hours, if one works a full 6 days per week, this translates to about 16 hours per day, leaving scant time even just for travel to and from the office, minimal sleep, some siphoning up of some fast food as nourishment, and the development of what appears to be the obligatory drug habit. Even at 7 days per week this needs about 14 hour work days, which still leaves little spare time to plan what one will be able to do with all that money that they will earn, and that will enable them to win the title of “The richest person in the cemetery”.

I have no real issue with hard work, nor with working extended hours, having had my own 60-80 hour work habits over my 40 year career. I also have no problem with the idea of pulling the occasional all-nighter, which happened to me even when I was a junior programmer in the 1960s and I became obsessed with a particularly fascinating problem that I was working on. In fact I am even a very vocal critic of the French obsession with the 35 hour work week.

However, even in the most demanding parts of my career, I still made sure that I had enough time available to shower and eat regularly, to pursue some interesting pastimes, to spend time with friends, and despite all the pressures, even found the time to woo and win my wife of now 34 years. I cannot see how one can do any of these things when working 100 hours per week when we only have available to us a total of 168 hours.

One key thing I did learn along the way was that “business” and “busyness” were not synonyms, and that one did not necessarily translate into the other.

In fact, I have regularly found that the busiest people were rarely the most effective, in the same way that the people who told me how hard they were working, usually were not. The most successful people were the ones who had built a plan to achieve their goals, and who worked steadily and systematically towards execution of the plan. This did not mean that they spent an inordinate amount of time developing a plan that was something beautiful to behold and to be worshipped by all who saw it. The best plans were the ones that could be well executed by the plan owner, with recognition of the support that s/he would need to ensure its successful outcome. The more complex and convoluted was the plan, the less likely was it to succeed, and I have never seen a plan that worked well where its success was predicated by the need to work 100+ hours per week.

Author: KVDP; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: KVDP; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have always believed that the whole work-life balance discussion has little real meaning if we are doing something we really love to do, as work needs to be an integral part of life, and the work we apply our passion and energy to is ultimately a part of the definition of who we are as a human being. However, I strongly believe that working 100+ hours per week over a protracted period of time, not only threatens our health, but also diminishes the richness of our humanity, even though it may grow our bank balance.

Over 100 years ago, before the banking industry took over the role of defining the meaning of life, American inventor and businessman Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) understood this when he said “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.

How can anyone truly believe that working 100 hour weeks will generate the quality that is needed to do anything well ?

Sadly, I now have an image in my mind of the world financial system being brought to its knees in 2008, not just by the greed that we now understand drives much of the banking sector, but also by a horde of drug-addled, coffee-driven, sleep-deprived, un-showered, unshaven, fast food-poisoned bankers, who made decisions that affected us all when using the only handful of brain cells that were still able to function.

Author: Reginald gray; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Reginald gray; via Wikimedia Commons


Sadly, it appears that American athlete Vernon Law was right when he said “Some people are so busy learning the tricks of the trade that they never learn the trade”.

POLITICIANS ARE THE LAST PEOPLE WE SHOULD ALLOW TO RUN A COUNTRY

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character then give him power”.
The 16th President of the United States Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865).

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/; via Wikimedia Commons


I have long bemoaned the low quality of leadership that we have to tolerate with our politicians (see “We get the leaders we deserve” posted February 2, 2011), and in the 2 years since I wrote this piece, it has hardly improved.

In France, Francois Hollande replaced Nicolas Sarkozy as President of the Republic in May 2012, becoming only the second ever Socialist President. As the first one was Francois Mitterand who served 1981-1995, it begs the question as to whether the selection process used for leadership of the French Socialist Party is as much based on the “prenom” as it is on actual leadership capabilities. This is somewhat supported by the fact that President Hollande has managed to barely stumble along in his term thus far, attracting the worst approval ratings of any French President in recorded history. This currently stands at 22%, but it is interesting to note that it hovered around 20% for a long time, rising 2% when the French Press recently announced that he may have actually been having an affair with an attractive French actress. For someone with the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” (Mister Pudding), he does definitely manage to involve himself with attractive women in affairs of state.

As I have only ever considered Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore (and Nelson Mandela of South Africa) as having exhibited true leadership qualities (rather than just political power), I have spent some time thinking about why these are so rare in our politicians.

Source: P051912PS-1096, the White House; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: P051912PS-1096, the White House; via Wikimedia Commons


In doing so, I have now come to the conclusion that “leadership”, as we think of it say in a business or military context, is actually beyond the reach of politicians, and that I have probably been wrong in believing that we can expect true leadership from any of them.

Even the generally accepted definitions are different.

Leadership is defined as “… a process of influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task …”.

Political Leadership is defined as “… responsibility for the public administration, civil aspects and policy making for a body politic (country, state, local body), as distinguished from the law or the military.

I believe that the biggest difference that exists is the ability to define and control the environment that they have to work within.

A leader has a vision of what can be achieved and then creates the environment needed to do so. This can be as mighty as wanting to conquer the known world as evinced by Alexander the Great, who by the age of 30 had created one of the greatest empires of the ancient world stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas. No-one of his ilk followed in his footsteps, as after his death a series of civil wars tore his empire apart. The true leader has the ability and charisma to inspire others that are needed for success to buy-in to the vision, and to be part of its execution. There is no question that a leader has to also work with the stakeholders that can affect his ability to lead. A CEO needs to convince his board, his shareholders and his ecosystem of his vision for the future and the benefits that will accrue to all involved, but once s/he has garnered their support has the ability to forge ahead, with review but little interruption. However, a leader can also exist at a much more micro level such as someone stepping in to solve a problem in a business process, or a senior teacher taking upon themselves the driving of new curricula. However, even this level of leadership still needs to exhibit the same leadership characteristics that are needed in the larger leadership roles.

Source: http://galleryhistoricalfigures.com/; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: http://galleryhistoricalfigures.com/; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


On the other hand, political leaders are basically legislators and policy makers who have to work within established areas, and whose main objectives are around their ability to make small tweaks to the status quo that are acceptable to their supporters, and that are not too antagonistic to their opponents, thereby hoping that they can stay in their position of elected power. They may have a vision for the future, being whatever ideology or –ism that they subscribe to, but have little ability to achieve it fully under modern political environments. Mohamed Morsi, the fifth President of Egypt, found this out recently when he tried to drive Egypt towards the doctrines of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was subsequently removed by the military after mass protests.

I have realised that it is possible for a leader to be a politician and conversely a politician can also be a leader, but that this combination of both done well in the same person is very rare, as their basic mind-sets, driving forces and core characteristics are totally different.

I have therefore decided to stop looking for leadership from our politicians. I have accepted that politicians can make adjustments to the conditions that exist, and that in doing so they can deeply impact where I choose to live and how I am able to live there, but that I will be unlikely to have the privilege of living under a political regime that will inspire me to want to follow them.

As said by French General and President General Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) “Politics is too serious a matter to be left to politicians”.

General Charles De Gaulle; via Wikimedia Commons

General Charles De Gaulle; via Wikimedia Commons


BUILD RITUALS RATHER THAN SET PERSONAL GOALS

“May all your troubles last as long as your New Year resolutions”.
American comedian Joey Adams (1911-1999).

It’s that time of year again when many people are thinking through, and even committing to paper, their resolutions for driving change in their lives by setting their personal goals for 2014.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


I believe that for most people this is an absolute waste of time.

(See “I resolve to stop making New Year’s resolutions” posted January 9, 2012).

If making New Year resolutions actually did work, then very few of us would have personal goals such as “Lose the same 10 kgs that I had on the list last year … and the year before that …”.

A 2007 study at the University of Bristol involving 3000 people showed that almost 90% of those who set New Year resolutions fail, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were seriously confident of success at the beginning of the study.

But many of us keep going through this same process every year, making the same sort of commitments to ourselves that we have made in the past, in the mistaken belief that this year things will be different.

They won’t !

According to the BBC, the top-10 resolutions for 2014 are:

1. Lose weight
2. Get organised
3. Spend less money, save more
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy
6. Learn something new
7. Quit smoking
8. Help others
9. Fall in love
10. Spend more family time

Not surprisingly, the top-10 in 2013 were:

1. Lose weight
2. Drink less
3. Learn something new
4. Quit smoking
5. Better work/life balance
6. Volunteer to help others
7. Save money
8. Get organised
9. Read more
10. Finish personal “to-do” lists

There is really not a lot of point in looking at prior years as there is, not surprisingly, little change.

The first problem with setting personal goals like “lose weight” is that they are judgemental. It is a way of saying that we are not happy with ourselves and will not be so until we lose those 10 kgs, and I believe that this is the wrong way to start any change process. To have any chance of success in driving change, it is a far better starting point if we feel good about ourselves and therefore can feel confident of being able to make change happen.

Author: Frank C. Müller; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Frank C. Müller; via Wikimedia Commons


The second problem is that setting personal goals is actually at odds with long term success. We all know many people who successfully worked at losing those 10kgs, only to put them back on again afterwards. This is because the focus is totally on achieving the goal, and once the goal is reached we can feel good about having done so, pat ourselves on the back and just go back to all our old habits.

A better way is to build rituals and to focus on those rather than on the ultimate goal.

I have long been of the belief that if you can get a dog, early on, to do something 10 times in a row without deviation, the dog will be well on the way to building this into a habitual behaviour. Stopping a new puppy from jumping up on the sofa 10 times in a row, and picking it up each time it tries and putting it down on its own bean bag, will quickly ensure that the puppy gets the message, and it will then carry that behaviour on as an adult dog. However, if after just 4 or 5 times you relent just once and let them snuggle up next to you, you have broken the cycle of building the required behaviour, and will need to go back to square one.

Author: Edralis; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Edralis; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


The same is true of humans when it comes to building rituals.

For example, rather than set a goal to lose weight or get fit, it is much more effective to build a ritual such as “For at least the first month of this new year, I will do 30 minutes of treadmill/rowing-machine/walk/weights/yoga (whatever you like to do most) and I will not look at my email before I have done so”.

The same is true with weight loss. Rather than just having a goal of “Lose 10 kgs” , it is much more effective to build a ritual such as “For at least one month, on every Monday and Thursday I will have sugar, carbohydrate and alcohol free days”, or whatever else works best for you.

Committing to just one month (or even just 2 weeks) to get started, does not seem like setting oneself an overly onerous task, and does get us past the “10-times” rule, which will make it easier to keep going after the initial time period has been met.

In my own experiences, building a ritual is significantly more effective than setting a personal goal.

At the beginning of last year, if I had set a goal for myself of writing a book, I would have faced this with an incredible amount of trepidation, and would have found it very hard to get started, let alone to achieve the goal.

The reality is that an average book has about 50,000-60,000 words, and as I post my blog with about 1000 words every Monday, I have actually published my book for this last year.

Apart for a few short breaks for vacations during the year, I have created a ritual (actually built over the last 3 years) of a new blog post every Monday, and I feel quite discontented with myself on the few Mondays that I have not done this while on vacation, as it has become an integral part of my behaviour. Now after more than 200 posts, I have actually written enough for 3 books, without having ever set myself the unachievable goal of doing so.

As summarised by Charlie Brown “You know how I always dread the whole year? Well, this time I am only going to dread one day at a time.”

Author: Kevin Dooley; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Kevin Dooley; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


IS SOCIAL MEDIA ROBBING THE WORLD OF GREAT LEADERSHIP ?

I have become increasingly more of the opinion that social media, aided with a less forgiving press, is robbing us of better political leadership.

Up until the 1960s, the western press tended to believe that the private lives of public figures were off limits for them to report on, and hence many of the leaders at the time did not have their peculiarities and peccadilloes exposed to public scrutiny until after their deaths.

The most famous example is of course American President John F. Kennedy whose life, 50 years later, is still described by many in Camelot mythology terms. The reality now coming to light is of a man whose sexual appetites knew no boundaries, and who disregarded any and all restrictions of security or proprietary in satisfying them, having had relationships with Danish journalist Inge Arvad (suspected of Nazi connections), Judith Exner Campbell (an intimate of Mafia bosses) and Mariella Novotny (who was involved in the Profumo affair in Britain and was also intimate with the Soviet Naval attaché at the time). Despite repeated warnings from the FBI and the American security services, JFK persisted and continued to be reckless in his personal life. He was well protected, as when the press threatened to publish his links to the Profumo affair, suggesting that he too was involved in the vice scandal, his brother, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, intervened to stop the newspapers from publishing any details.

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; via Wikimedia Commons


Compare this situation with the rather childish, though weird and immature, transgression of Anthony Weiner, the former member of the United States House of Representatives from New York City, whose hobby appears to be the sending of photos of himself in a state of arousal to young women. In 2011, he was caught out sending a link of a sexually explicit photo of himself, over Twitter, to a young woman in Seattle, ultimately resulting in his resignation. He tried to resurrect his political career in 2013, running for Mayor of New York, when more pictures and “sexting” came to light released by the website “The Dirty”. He refused to retire from the race, but gained less than 5% of the vote, despite his photographic skills.

Author: Thomas Good / NLN; GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Thomas Good / NLN; GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons


The point is that it took only a few weeks from the announcement of his intention to run in the New York Mayoral race to this latest set of “selfies” going viral across the internet via twitter, Facebook and the Blogosphere.

Today, our lives, private and public are so open to scrutiny that I wonder why anyone in their right mind would consider running for public office, with the understanding that not only will all their skeletons come out of the closet into bright sunshine, but that social media today has the ability to ensure that these skeletons can get widespread global airing in times measured in milliseconds.

Author: ZyMOS-Bot; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: ZyMOS-Bot; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I believe that there are probably some potentially great people out there who could make a significant contribution to the betterment of their city, their country, the world and mankind, who are just not prepared to step into an arena of public scrutiny that will ensure that they are stripped bare of all cover. I don’t blame them as I am sure that very few of us have nothing, or even very little, to hide ?

This may help to explain why we seem to have such a lame and lacklustre bunch of politicians running the place today.

Francois Hollande, current President of France is a really good example of this current state. He has long had the nickname of “Monsieur Flanby” after a pudding in France which is soft both on the inside and outside, and in his first year of office has shown that he can live up to his nickname by flip-flopping on many issues from immigration to taxes.

Author: Garitan; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Garitan; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Sadly it is not much different in the UK and Germany being the other major European powers. No one could accuse David Cameron or Angela Merkel of being exciting or of being game changers. The nicest thing we can say about them is that they have never done anything significantly wrong, and that sadly they also haven’t done anything very right, very different or very exciting.

What these three current country leader examples have in common is that they are bland, and have very little in their pasts that would make interesting reading in any form of media, the most exciting viral post about Angela Merkel having been a series of photographs showing her wearing exactly the same business-style suit in about 40 slightly differing colours. Be still my heart !

Just when we need some serious leadership, we seem to be getting the “white bread choices” because the “onion and cheese poppy seed roll” politicians that are needed are keeping away from the social spotlights that can bring out all imperfections in their glow. We are therefore being presented with second and third rate candidates to choose from, and are thus just ending up with national leaders that are merely the best of what is on offer … or so we hope. (see “We get the Leaders we deserve” posted February 2nd, 2011).

Or the world gets the fools like Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, who has recently admitted to smoking crack cocaine, but excused his drug taking as he was always in a drunken stupor whenever he did, so he cannot be held accountable for his actions.

With the death of Nelson Mandela this last week we may have seen the last of the great leaders who went ahead and did what was needed to fight for his beliefs, without fear or hesitation of the polls or of how the media might interpret his actions either public or private. He was no saint, but he dramatically changed the part of the world he lived in, and in doing so changed all of us in different ways.

In Mandela’s own words “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living”.

Author: South Africa The Good News/www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license

Author: South Africa The Good News/www.sagoodnews.co.za; CC BY 2.0 license


I would rather have some passionate world leaders with imperfections, than have a world run by the bland “flanbys” with none.