Captain Cook

I read a Shane Warne article in The Telegraph this morning it is about the building leadership crisis in English cricket, where the captain, Alastair Cook, is under pressure after a string of bad results.

I haven’t actually got to see much of the cricket so far this summer. I have heard a few spells of TMS. The results aren’t good and there are always rumblings.

While writing this I was also chatting to @FridayFood about leadership. A dangerous subject, another one of those words that’s so dense and complicated, you ought to need a certificate to be allowed to use it. See also culture, strategy and love. 

Anyway, the tiny sliver of leadership we’re discussing is about (because it’s not all about anything) the creation of safe environments. The odd thing about safe environments, where trust and interdependence are high, is that we use them to take risks, do exciting new things, make new friends and in lots of ways, win.

I don’t think Cook feels safe, so he takes fewer and fewer risks. The rest of the side are waiting for it to go bang on his desk so also take no risk, doubtless wasting energy on gossip instead of supporting each other and getting better at what they do together. The result is a low risk approach to the game, oddly, a safe one, and that’s not good enough in the competitive heat of top class sport (or a fast moving business). The worst thing that’s happened to England recently is beating Australia by accident last summer.

Over all I think he should step down, likely take a break so as to come roaring back for what he is. One of the THE BEST batsmen in the world.

As to who’d replace him, I haven’t a clue.  As we’ve seen recently in several top sporting contexts, the intense heat leaves little room for the necessary ambiguity and risk of effective succession. But that’s another story.


The Relentless Pursuit of Having Nothing To Do

I got involved in a conversation recently about what the point management is and what makes a good manager. That this conversation took place at all was something of a worry. It is one of those stories that will have to wait for a few years so as to protect the guilty.

I asked a few people that I trust for their perspectives on the important skills and character traits of managers. Someone insisted it was, “all about”, some fad or other, which of course it isnt’t.  Another, rightly, gently told me off for making silly lists and pigeon holing people at the expense of variety, my current favourite theme.  She was right, and this was born out in the range of responses. While there was some overlap, each varied considerably.

Anyway, while we can make and debate such lists, I’ve concluded that managers who are always trying to work themselves out of a job, rather than render themselves indespensible are the best ones, at least in rapidly changing environments.  

I might even be so bold as to say that good management is the relentless pursuit of having nothing to do, while getting a lot done and getting it done well. A good manager takes this gamble in the certain kowledge that they will probably never get there and that whenever they get close they’ll be given other things to do anyway.

People like that also get to have interesting working lives and make a lot of friends in the process. I know a very few. I’m starting to wonder if the corporate world has forgotten that management is quite important.


We had to let Kelvin go, it was a dreadful business.  It turns out he was a terrible gossip.  We’d told him what we liked best for dinner, he’d noticed who we had round most often and what they liked as well.  It turns out that not only did he tell Fortnum & Mason all that, but they went and told Harrods, for a small consideration. How terribly vulgar. Now my mother is being bombarded with offers for Buckfast Tonic Wine and The Greyhound when frankly we’d hoped to keep that tawdry business to ourselves.   

The replacement is a huge improvement however.  Carson is not so much a smart fridge as a clever fridge, we can trust him. We’ve told him what and who we like too, but he keeps it to himself.  He knows when I am busy, tired or have carelessly joined mother in one or more Buckies than was advisable, and makes me beans on toast, chicken soup or a fry up served with ice cold Coke as required.  The rest of the time he provides a tremendous variety which he gets from all sorts of places. Still F&M, who are excellent in all departments bar their dreadful fridges, just not all the time.   

When we have friends round he knows what they like too, who to sit next to who and to hide the Bucky from sight. We always have a spendid time.  On holiday he knows the quirky personal places to go where the most interesting people are to be found in the most beautiful but empty spots.  We’ve made some amazing new friends and enjoy the most splendid variety of food. As far as I can tell, that is because Carson sorts out the basics and points us at the interesting, so we can play in the time he has saved us.

It’s the last time I am buying a fridge from F&M, I should have known better than to trust a bargain. We have to pay Carson a bit more, but you get what you pay for.


I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, he is called Kelvin, he is a smart fridge.  My coffee cups, while all different, have one thing in common, they don’t like Kelvin, he is simply a bit dull.  When he arrived he was terribly cool, he is after all, a fridge, but he is also part of the Internet of Everything or IoE.   It turns out that Kelvin and all his friends, who are also called Kelvin, are only available in beige.

Kelvin is every bit as dull as he sounds.  Once Kelvin was connected to the rest of the supply chain, so that the supermarkets knew, not just what we bought, but what we had or were about to run out of, the variety in my diet diminished as habit took over.  Supply chains love predictability. Kelvin helps by asking me if I want more of the same. I’m busy, of course I do.

Some terribly clever company whose core competence is supply chain management, will some time soon, gladly give us a Kelvin (who I made up) at cost, or less, if it can talk to their clever systems.  Does all this sound a little familiar? Low cost gadgets in exchange for data and undiluted access to your custom?  That’s all a Kindle is, except its a smart book shelf not a fridge, obviously. 

Once I have a Kelvin, the contents of my fridge can then restore themselves as I waddle off to an increasingly beige, featureless future in which I only ever eat and drink things I already eat and drink.  Perhaps when I go on holiday I can avoid all that dreadful foriegn food by logging on to the Kelvin at my destination before I even get there, and it can furnish my bland habits, sparing me from the terror of variety.  Better still, I can buy a Kelvin for an aged relative and, safe in the knowledge that they won’t starve, drop by a little less often. 

I’ve read some heartening stuff recently about the resurgence of vinyl, of independent book shops and even the Swiss watch industry. Thing is though, I am not that bothered whether my book is electronic or paper, my music digital or analogue or my watch driven by a battery or a spring.  Frankly, in each case, the digital approach has some pretty serious advantages. I am bothered about whether my life is primarily defined by interactions between me and a machine or me and other people.

There are a few definitions of the Internet of Everythinf kicking about,  here is one from Cisco,
“The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data, and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before — turning information into actions that create new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented economic opportunity for businesses, individuals, and countries.”

While this definition mentions people, when I read about their role in the IoE. the tone still assumes that corporations will control and exploit the data.  I am also sure that it will be presented as terribly cool, but result in my interacting with people a lot less, my being a little less human and experiencing a lot less variety, the thing that spices up my life.

Can we have an internet of people please?

Fearless, Not Reckless

About a decade ago  I learnt to sail and ski.  Not at the same time, obviously.

Shortly after, I was able to teach my son to ride a bike from scratch in less than 8 minutes in the local park.

I had previously taught my daughter to ride a bike, but this had taken me several weeks.  She is just as capable as my son.  As her teacher, I was missing a vital piece of knowledge.  I hadn’t worked out why riding a bike is hard at first, but then remains a skill for the rest of your life.  Riding a bike is easy.  It is the fear off falling off that makes it seem hard.

The day I taught my son, I wondered how to do this quickly.  I thought we might play cricket as well while we were at the park.

I thought on what I’d been taught when learning to sail and ski.  In both cases the answer was the same.  I had been taught how to stop.  How to take control, remove the fear and so then learn the rest and enjoy the undiluted exhilaration that accompanies both activities. 

When teaching my son, we didn’t go for the, ride for longer and longer and eventually not notice when dad lets go, approach.  We did a rapid sequence of 50-75cm roll, brake, feet down routines, over and over again for 7 minutes, during which I never once let go.  Then I said, “See if you can ride your bike.”.  Minute 8 involved my son riding right across the playing field and back again, braking, stopping and putting his feet down.

Minute 9 was mostly about agreeing who would bat first, an odd conversation conducted with a child riding round in circles on his bike.

The theory is simple.  Skiing is terrifying, twisted knees, broken bones and expensive helicopter rides beckon. Sailing, likewise, invites lost fingers, unplanned swims and the humiliation of rescue, if you are lucky.  After the naming of parts, before you are allowed out, the first thing you are taught on the piste and on the water is how to stop, and you are drilled on it over and over again. 

Creating safe environments, knowing how to stop, wearing the right clothes on mountains and so on, helps me to be fearless but not reckless.  I have so much more fun when I remember that.

Do You Pass The Turing Test ?

Mildly topical, I thought I’d lazily dig it out.

Joining The Dots

I have just read, ‘You Are Not a Gadget”, by Jaron Lanier. It is a polemic about how the various design features and philosophies of the internet and web 2.0 applications are locking us into behaviours that are damaging us spiritually, morally, culturally and financially.

The book contains some challenging ideas and led me to a shocking revelation. I am going to leave the challenging ideas for another day and stick to the shocking revelation:

I see people online who fail the Turing Test. Yes, I do know that that is the wrong way around.

As a bizarre result, a computer might now be able to finally pass the test, because many of our interactions are becoming so diluted and predictable that a computer could easily now match them.

(Click here if you like this, don’t worry about the infinite rainbow of human emotion, just like it and say something…

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The Hogging Economy

Like many I am drawn to the sharing economy, it feels liberating and likely adds variety to our lives (where choice and variety are not the same thing). It challenges the big corporations and vested interests with their blandness and beigeness. AirBnB is of particular interest, I must confess I loath the corporate sleep factories masquerading as hotels that I stay in on business trips.

Most corporate sectors are protected by barriers to entry, regulation, “the knowledge” and so on.  The sharing economy breaks those barriers down and disrupts cosy industries. How refreshing.

But then most of us work for those same corporations. As a result we get to be sick, grow old and have kids with some security. Perhaps that is a deal we might not wish to throw away too hastily.  I am not sure that singing for our supper (and breakfast and lunch, every day) is really what we have in mind.

Try this excellent interview with Jaron Lanier for a deeper perspective

Then we must also remember that pioneers of the sharing economy are global. Let’s take AirBnB, like many other web plays that kick off with a whiff of libertarianism, it looks like pulling off the global winner takes all trick, yet again controlling a huge share of the entire global supply of some commodity, in this case shared accommodation for travellers.  See also Uber et al.  In each case the market does actully contain a handful of players, but it is a tiny handful sucking in supply globally.

I don’t think that is really what we have in mind either is it? 

Well done AirBnB and Uber, you’ve created a new market, based on new de facto standards that you have brilliantly realised.  But you can’t have it all, sorry. It is time to take those standards and make them open.

Amazon, the same goes for you, come on, hand over the Kindle, the content standards and the market platform. Well done, but that’s enough thank you.

And so on.

What do you think ?