Joined-up thinking, not

Simon Caulkin hits the spot again:
“Whatever happended to joined-up government? One of New Labour’s favourite mantras when it came to power, it dropped out of the lexicon in the second term. This is perhaps understandable, since there is precious little of it about. But that, too, is not surprising, because the management methods the government favours make joined-up anything almost impossible to achieve.”
In his article he looks at Education, the NHS and Pensions and shows how a focus on micro-mamanagement and targets inevitably leads to unintended consequences. For example:
“… according to a Nuffield Review, students going to university increasingly struggle with work that requires them to think independently or make connections between narrow areas of study – when called upon to show joined-up thinking, in other words. Because of excessive emphasis on modular courses, results and league tables, students are taught to pass exams, not to think for themselves.
‘Learners who may have achieved academic success by such means at A-level… are increasingly coming into higher education expecting to be told the answers,’ the review says. Passing exams has become the unspoken purpose of the system. Ministers boast that results are improving but ignore the purpose of the system as a whole: preparing students for adult life as thinking, connecting beings.”

Read the rest of the article and weep.

Who wants to be planted on ground?

In my last post I linked to the delightful autobiography Amartya Sen produced to accompany his acceptance speach for his Nobel prize in economics. The whole thing is worth a read but I particularly liked two quotes that brought a smile to my face.
The first is from his early years at Rabindranath Tagore‘s school, where as he says, “my educational attitudes were formed.” and goes on to explain:
“This was a co-educational school, with many progressive features. The emphasis was on fostering curiosity rather than competitive excellence, and any kind of interest in examination performance and grades was severely discouraged. (“She is quite a serious thinker,” I remember one of my teachers telling me about a fellow student, “even though her grades are very good.”) Since I was, I have to confess, a reasonably good student, I had to do my best to efface that stigma.”
The second is his concluding paragraph:
“I end this essay where I began – at a university campus. It is not quite the same at 65 as it was at 5. But it is not so bad even at an older age (especially, as Maurice Chevalier has observed, “considering the alternative” ). Nor are university campuses quite as far removed from life as is often presumed. Robert Goheen has remarked, “if you feel that you have both feet planted on level ground, then the university has failed you.” Right on. But then who wants to be planted on ground? There are places to go.”

Against Plural Monoculturalism

Amartya Sen is one of my favourite economists, because he comes across as being a thoughtful and humane man, committed to human freedom. His latest focus of attention, express in a recent article in The Guardian is on the dangers what he calls Plural Monoculturalism:
“What grates on Sen is the idea that individuals should be ushered like sheep into pens according to their religious faith, a mode of classification that too often trumps all others and ignores the fact that people are always complex, multi-faceted individuals who choose their identities from a wide range of economic, cultural and ideological alternatives. “Being defined by one group identity over all others,” he says, “overlooking whether you’re working class or capitalist, left or right, what your language group is and your literary tastes are, all that interferes with people’s freedom to make their own choices.”
What begins by giving people room to express themselves, he argues, may force people into an identity chosen by the authorities. “That is what is happening now, here,” he says, a little indignantly. “I think there is a real tyranny there. It doesn’t look like tyranny – it looks like giving freedom and tolerance – but it ends up being a denial of individual freedom. The individual belongs to many different groups and it is up to him or her to decide which of those groups he or she would like to give priority.””

As he argued in an article in the FT (reproduced here):
“Multiculturalism can be understood in terms of making it possible for people to have cultural choice and freedom, which is the very opposite of insisting that a person’s basic identity must be simply defined by the religious community in which he or she is born, ignoring all other priorities and affiliations.”

The more taboos and inhibitions there are

“You govern a kingdom by normal rules;

You fight a war by exceptional moves;

But you win the world by letting alone.

How do I know that this is so?

By what is within me!
The more taboos and inhibitions there are in the world,

The poorer the people become.

The sharper the weapons the people possess,

The greater confusion reigns in the realm.

The more clever and crafty the men,

The oftener strange things happen.

The more articulate the laws and ordinances,

The more robbers and thieves arise.
Therefore, the Sage says:

I do not make any fuss, and the people transform


I love quietude, and the people settle down in their

regular grooves.

I do not engage myself in anything, and the people

grow rich.

I have no desires, and the people return to


Lao Tzu

What a relief

I have a very long list of things that I failed to do, so it was with an enormous sense of relief that I read Lucy Kellaway’s column in the FT that begins:
“Every day I do a lot of things. Every day I avoid doing a lot more. I avoid replying to e-mails, I avoid researching any articles that do not need writing immediately.
I avoid ringing my bank to cancel a standing order for a subscription to some internet computer game that my sons no longer play. I avoid trying to find a builder to rebuild my garden wall. I avoid opening bills.
In fact, I avoid opening my mail altogether. (I used to open letters from friends, but now that friends no longer seem to write letters the official envelopes pile up in the hall.) I avoid making phone calls, and above all I avoid doing my tax return.”

(Sadly, this one is subscription only)

A Corporate Muse?

I read Robert Cringely’s on-line column every week. I don’t always agree with what he says, but invariably he gives me something to think about. In a recent column he poses the intriguing idea, “What if, instead of having to accept the board presence of Steve Jobs as a cost of getting Pixar’s animation talent and film library, Disney actually views the transaction as buying Pixar TO GET Steve Jobs and then gaining the animation bits as a bonus?”

To find why he thinks that Robert Iger, CEO of Disney wants Jobs so badly you have to go to the end of the piece where he says:
“For the entertainment industries, the next 10 years will be the most revolutionary in a century. Broadcast TV as we knew it is going away, replaced by a Chinese entertainment menu of such complexity that even knowing what’s “on” tonight will be beyond the abilities of most viewers. At some point, too, movies will be subsumed into television and recorded music will find its own new place with new rules. This will be Steve Jobs’s world and we’ll all just be visitors. It’s obvious to me and, evidently, to Iger, too.”

Before that, after admitting that he is no great fan of Steve Jobs, having called him a sociopath in print and still holding that position , Cringely goes on to argue that after reading a piece by film historian Neal Gabler on Walt Disney he believes that:
“… Disney and Jobs have a lot in common. Both were iconoclasts and loners, driven by creative visions and always a bit out of sync with their peers. Both were dreamers, but dreamers who for the most part realized their dreams. Both believed that the purpose of being in business was to create a unique product that came to define an experience for customers. Rod Canion and Michael Dell and Ted Waitt never talked about user experience, but Jobs and Disney did, right from the beginning of their careers.”

“… Disney is in the film, TV, sports, publishing, and hospitality industries, but none of its major competitors — none — are run by people who come to their positions with anything like an artistic drive or a real sense of what their customers want. Does Sumner Redstone understand MTV? Does GE have an artistic molecule in its “lop off the bottom 10 percent” corporate culture? Does Rupert Murdoch really understand his own success and its ultimate cost? Does ever-imploding Sony even know what to do with its music and movie empires? No, no, no, and no.
If Robert Iger creates a miracle at Disney, which I think he will, that miracle is Steve Jobs. We’re in a new century with new realities, but we haven’t yet found a new archetype for enlightened corporate power. Bill Gates? Give me a break! What we have are people in power who have no muse and wouldn’t recognize one if they could even hear her. Steve Jobs knows his muse.”