Monday, December 31, 2018


I started writing this blog in March 2010 and have written 283 articles over the nine years since then. 

I’m going to take a break from writing in 2019/2020 as I focus on a LLM – Masters in Laws – something I’ve always wanted to study. 

I’m so grateful to my followers who have stuck with me over the years; and wish you the very best for 2019 and beyond. 

I’ll be back writing again soon. 

Best wishes 


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Year in Review: 2018

The cryptocurrency industry hit a peak in January 2018, having since lost more than $670 billion in capital. For years, predictions about the role of cryptocurrencies and Bitcoin, specifically, have been made, the latter's value changing regularly.
The US government saw not one but two shutdowns in 2018, separated by just two and a half weeks in January and February. Causing the twin shutdowns were disagreements between Republicans and Democrats on several issues, including immigration, healthcare, and President Donald Trump's proposed border wall. The first lasted three days, while the second lasted less than two hours.
Seventeen people were killed when a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, entered the school on February 14 and opened fire on teachers and students. The shooting was one of the deadliest in US history. In the aftermath of the shooting, several student survivors helped ignite a national debate over gun violence in the US, with many of them demanding stricter gun-control laws.
The 2018 Winter Olympics took place in Pyeongchang, South Korea, from February 9 to February 25. Norway won the overall medal count with 39, while it tied Germany with 14 gold medals apiece.
Data firm Cambridge Analytica accessed data from 50 million Facebook users during the 2016 US presidential campaign without the users' permission, but this didn't come to light until March 2018. Though Facebook said Cambridge Analytica activities were removed from its site in 2015, founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April 2018 and said, "It was my mistake, and I'm sorry."
England's Prince Harry wed American actress Meghan Markle (now known as the Duchess of Sussex) on May 19. Television viewership of the wedding was higher than that of Prince William and Kate Middleton's, with more than 29 million people in the United States tuning in to watch Harry and Meghan get hitched, compared to William and Kate's 23 million. The combined number of British and US viewers surpassed 50 million.
During a June 2018 summit in Singapore, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un announced that he wanted to end the nuclear tension between his country and the United States by signing an agreement with President Trump including the denuclearization of his country.
The two drew worldwide criticism, however, for not offering any specific plan, outline, or proof of said denuclearization. Professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, South Korea, Andrei Lankov said the agreement had "zero practical value."  Others are also doubtful as to whether or not Kim Jong Un intends to keep his promise.
In June, NASA spotted a continent-size dust storm on Mars that blocked enough sun to effectively turn day into night on the red planet. It eventually grew to cover the entire planet. NASA called it one of the most intense Martian dust storms ever observed. While the storm crippled one Mars rover, another managed to snap a selfie.
In summer 2018, a 12-boy soccer team (the Wild Boars) and their coach were celebrating a teammate's birthday when they made a routine trip into the Tham Luang cave in the Chiang Rai province of Thailand. Shortly after they entered, however,  heavy rains that showered the region for the past few days flooded the cave and trapped them all inside.
After a week without contact, British divers found the group in early July. An international crew of rescuers resolved to rescue the boys before the next monsoon just days away. During those few days, the world watched as all 13 were pulled to safety from the cave and immediately rushed to the hospital.
It's no surprise the FIFA World Cup generated a bigger Google search spike than any other news event in 2018. Nearly half the world's population — 3.4 billion people— tuned in to the world's premier soccer tournament in June and July. The month long, 32-team tournament culminated with France's 4-2 victory over Croatia.
In August Apple Inc. becomes the world's first public company to achieve a market capitalization of $1 trillion.
In October the IPCC released its Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5ÂșC, warning that "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" are needed to ensure that global warming is kept below 1.5 °C
In November Chinese scientist He Jiankui, at a public conference in Hong Kong, announces that he has altered the DNA of twin human girls born earlier in the month to try to make them resistant to infection with the HIV virus; he also reveals the possible second pregnancy of another gene-modified baby.
In December the U.N.'s International Telecommunication Union reports that, by the end of 2018, more than half - a full 51.2 percent - of the world's population are now using the Internet.
2018 was a year for the hearts — at least on Instagram. In the year in review shared on Thursday, December 13, Instagram shared that the heart emoji was used more than 14 million times on the platform, while the Heart Eyes filter appeared in the most Stories.
And sadly let’s remember some of those who left us during 2018;
Connie Sawyer died on January 21 aged 105. One of the oldest working actresses of Hollywood, Sawyer died at her home in California. Having over 140 film and TV credits, she was best known for her roles in "The Pineapple Express" and "When Harry Met Sally…." She was also seen in a number of TV shows including "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Murder, She Wrote," "Will & Grace," "ER" and "How I Met Your Mother."
Hugh Masekela died on January 23 aged 78. Known as "the father of South African jazz," the legendary trumpeter died after a long struggle with prostate cancer. He was well known for his anti-apartheid compositions such as "Soweto Blues" and "Bring Him Back Home."
Ingvar Kamprad died on January 27 aged 91. The Swedish business magnate, one of the country's biggest entrepreneurs, founded IKEA in 1943 when he was just 17.
Vic Damone died on February 11 aged 89. Known for hit singles such as "You're Breaking My Heart," "On the Street Where You Live" and "My Heart Cries For You," the traditional pop and big band singer died from complications of a respiratory illness. Aside from his singing career, Damone also acted in a number of films including "Rich, Young and Pretty" and "Deep in My Heart."
Billy Graham died on February 21 aged 99. Dubbed "America's Pastor" by former President George W. Bush, Reverend Billy Graham passed away of natural causes at his home in North Carolina. One of the most influential preachers of the 20th century, he hosted the annual "Billy Graham Crusades" on TV, from 1947 to 2005. He also provided spiritual counsel to every president, from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.
Sridevi died on February 24 aged 54. The Bollywood superstar known for her pan-Indian appeal died due to accidental drowning. A popular leading lady of the 80s and 90s of films such as "Mr. India" (1987), "Chandni" (1989) and "Judaai" (1997), she became known for playing strong female leads in the latter part of her career. She was awarded a Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2013 – the fourth highest civilian honour.
Roger Bannister died on March 4 aged 88. The British athlete who became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes. In May 1954, Bannister made history by completing the distance within three minutes and 59.4 seconds. He retired in 1954 to pursue medicine and became a neurologist. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2011.
John Sulston died on March 6 aged 75. The Nobel Prize-winning British biologist who helped decode the human genome. His work on the development and division of cells of a nematode worm is considered one of his most important contributions. He was made a Companion of Honour by the Queen in the 2017 Birthday Honours.
Stephen Hawking died on March 14 aged 76. The English physicist and mathematician, who made significant contributions to cosmology. Despite suffering from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a rare and life-threatening condition, he made major contributions to his field of work. He once said, ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.
Linda Brown died on March 26. Brown, who was a schoolgirl at the center of the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case which rejected racial segregation in the country's schools, died at 75, as confirmed by sister Cheryl Brown Henderson. The case aimed at eradicating federal education laws which condoned segregated schools for black and white students. When Brown's father Oliver, an assistant pastor, tried to enrol her at the Sumner School in Topeka, Kansas, U.S., the all-white elementary school rejected her application, leading to the lawsuit.
Barbara Bush died on April 17 aged 93. The former U.S. first lady was the matriarch of a Republican political dynasty -- just the second woman in American history to have had a husband and a son elected president (Abigail Adams was the first). Literacy was her major issue as first lady. After leaving the White House in 1993, she campaigned on behalf of her two sons who ran for office, George W. (elected president in 2000) and Jeb.
Film director Michael Anderson died on April 25 aged 98. The British star was best known for his work on the World War Two epic the Dam Busters and classic sci-fi movie Logans Run. Before his death, Anderson was the oldest living person to have received a best actor nomination at the Oscars for Around the World in 80 days.
The Wizard of Oz's 'oldest Munchkin' Jerry Maren died on May 24 at the age of 98. The American actor, who starred opposite Judy Garland in the 1939 classic, died after years of suffering from dementia.
Eunice Gayson, the first ever Bond girl, died on June 8 aged 90. She was originally offered the part of Miss Moneypenny in Dr No, but the role eventually went to Lois Maxwell while Eunice became the super spy's love interest for the first two James Bond films.
Five-time Open champion Peter Thomson died on June 20 at the age of 88. The legendary Australian had been suffering from Parkinson's disease and died at his home in Melbourne, Golf Australia said. Thomson won his first Open Championship title in 1954 - becoming the only player in the 20th or 21st century to win the tournament three years in succession.
Team GB snowboarder Ellie Soutter took her own life on July 25, her 18th birthday, the British Olympic Association confirmed. Soutter killed herself in a remote wooded area near her home in Les Gets, France. Soutter claimed Team GB’s only medal at the European Youth Olympic Winter Festival in Erzurum, Turkeyin 2017. Her father, Tony Soutter, said this cruel world took my Soul mate and ‘Bessie’ from me yesterday on her 18th birthday.
Aretha Franklin died on August 16 aged 76. The legendary soul singer passed away following a battle with pancreatic cancer. Franklin sold over 75 million records during a music career that lasted six decades.
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan died aged 80 on August 18th after battling a short illness. Mr Annan, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for humanitarian work, died in hospital in Bern, Switzerland this morning with his wife and three children by his side, as confirmed on Twitter. Mr Annan was the first black African to take up the role of the world's top diplomat, serving two terms from 1997 to 2006. He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.
US Senator and former Presidential candidate John McCain died on August 25, aged 81. The Vietnam War veteran had been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour in July 2017, and just days before his death had announced that he was ending medical treatment for it. His daughter Cindy confirmed his death, writing: "He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the place he loved best."
Burt Reynolds died on September 6 at a hospital in Jupiter, Florida, with his family by his side. The Oscar-nominated actor, who starred in Boogie Nights and Deliverance, passed away at the age of 82 after going into cardiac arrest, US Weekly confirmed. Fans had been concerned about his health in recent years, ever since he was seen on multiple occasions not looking his usual self.
Comic book legend, Stan Lee passed away on November 12 aged 95. Lee created such iconic characters as Spider-man, Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. During Hollywood's revived love affair with superhero movies, Stan Lee not only served as an executive producer for Marvel Studio's hits like The Avengers movies, Iron Man and Guardians Of The Galaxy - but he managed cheeky cameos in every one of the Marvel films released so far.
The actress, best-known for her portrayal of Harriet Oleson on Little House on the Prairie, died at the age of 93 on November 13. Little House star Melissa Gilbert paid a touching tribute to her, thanking her for everything she taught her over the years.
Veteran activist Harry Leslie Smith died on November 28, aged 95, after a lifetime spent fighting passionately for the poor. The former RAF pilot, WWII veteran and NHS and refugees campaigner - who called himself the "world's oldest rebel" - was left critically ill after a fall while visiting Canada with his son John.
Former American President George H.W. Bush died on November 30 aged 94. His presidency had a massive impact on the world stage, overseeing the end of the Cold War with Russia and embarking on military action against Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Does Power Corrupt?

Dacher Keltner in a 2016 article highlights how “while people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior. The 19th-century historian and politician Lord Acton got it right: Power does tend to corrupt,” (p.112).
When you think about ‘power’ it’s a strange attribute – very few people strive for ‘power’ on its own, though I accept there are the exceptions that do exactly that. I believe the majority of people don’t look for the power itself, they look for the ‘position’ whatever that might be – captain of a soccer team; leader in business; leader in their community; leader in government; or even an entrepreneur. As people strive for these positions they are rarely aware of the personal ‘power’ this brings, and believe they think more about the ability to shape the future (in a positive way) – it’s only when they are in these positions that the ease and temptation to use power to get things done, above other more positive traits, starts to raise its ugly head – and people start to change. 
Keltner highlights how “in an experiment, Paul Piff of UC Irvine and I found that whereas drivers of the least expensive vehicles – Dodge Colts, Plymouth Satellites – always ceded the right-of-way to pedestrians at a crosswalk, people driving luxury cars such as BMW’s and Mercedes yielded only 54% of the time, nearly half the time they ignored the pedestrian and the law. Surveys of employees of 27 countries have revealed that wealthy individuals are more likely to say it’s acceptable to engage in unethical behavior, such as taking bribes or cheating on taxes. And recent research led by Danny Miller at HEC Montreal demonstrated that CEO’s with MBA’s are more likely than those without MBA’s to engage in self-serving behavior that increases their personal compensation but causes their companies’ value to decline,” (p.113).
Its interesting research and each of us will have our own experiences, and hence opinions. For me, I totally agree with the research – I have found people in positions of power to behave more arrogantly and selfishly than those that have less. In fact there was an interesting research study done recently on homeless people begging on the streets of America – and it found that in many cases those that could afford to help didn’t, and passed the homeless person quite aggressively; and it was in fact those that had a little and maybe had once been homeless themselves that would stop and help.
Obviously this isn’t a one cap fits all scenario and I know there are many wealthy people who support their communities on a regular basis and don’t look for the recognition of their deeds; more often than not these are the wives, girlfriends and daughters of wealthy people who will support different local causes.
Keltner mentions that “the consequences can be far reaching. The abuse of power ultimately tarnishes the reputations of executives, undermining their opportunities for influence. It also creates stress and anxiety among their colleagues, diminishing rigor and creativity in the group and dragging down team members’ engagement and performance. In a recent poll of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, about half the respondents who reported being treated rudely at work said they deliberately decreased their effort or lowered the quality of their work in response,” (p.113).
This is an incredible statistic, yet it probably hasn’t made a dent in the poor behavior and the abuse of power. Why? Because these power players are also good at covering their own backs – it’s never their fault when things go wrong and they seem to be masters at blaming others. Yet when things go well, it’s because of them and their leadership – where they play down the involvement of others. What’s incredible is that the senior leadership and corporate boards of organizations around the world seem to be oblivious to this basic kind of corporate bullshit; and blindly accept these peoples explanations of events – possibly because they are ‘content’ with performance. This sadly raises another key issue for organizations which is too many corporate boards are not fit for purpose; and filled with self-driven egotistical males (in too many cases) who also love the ‘power’ that comes with the role and don’t want to challenge the status quo.
So the misuse of power will continue in organizations and suboptimal results will be signed off by boards; until there is a complete shake up in how we conduct business and ‘we’ reintroduce genuine corporate values once again – and hold people accountable.
So that’s the bad news – but it doesn’t have to be this way. So what can we do about it? Keltner suggests that “you can outsmart the power paradox by practicing the ethics of empathy, gratitude, and generosity. It will bring out the best work and collaborative spirit of those around you. And you, too, will benefit, with a burnished reputation, long-lasting leadership, and the dopamine-rich delights of advancing the interest of others,” (p.115).
It simply goes back to basic values and concepts like treating people as you’d like to be treated. You know what it feels like to be led by a ‘power’ driven leader, the impact it had on your motivation, performance etc – so knowing the impact it had on you, you must know the impact it will have on your employees if you adopt the same approach. There’s no excuse to use power other than you have been over-promoted and are out of you depth. In these situations be honest with yourself and seek advice and counselling outside of the work environment; get feedback from your employees and work to be the best leader you can be.
Conversely you know the kind of leader who motivated you to perform, to exceed expectations – the kind of leader that made going to work enjoyable – the kind of leader you wanted to follow and were loyal too.
It’s not rocket science and it’s time corporate boards and other key stakeholders demanded leadership excellence in their organizations – as they know if they do, that performance will get even better and the company will become stronger and more efficient. Leaders who misuse power should be counselled and given support to change their style; and if they can’t change over a reasonable period of time then they need to be removed from the organization. This is the only way to change the negative impact of power in organizations.
As Jack Welch said “before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”
Keltner, D. (2016). Managing Yourself: Don’t Let Power Corrupt You. Harvard Business Review, October, p.112-115.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

How Good is Your Judgement?

In a 2016 article Paul Schoemaker and Philip Tetlock remind us that “companies and individuals are notoriously inept at judging the likelihood of uncertain events, as studies show all too well. Getting judgements wrong, of course, can have serious consequences. Steve Ballmer’s prognostication in 2007 that there’s no chance the iPhone is going to get any significant market share, left Microsoft with no room to consider alternative scenarios,” (p.74).
There’s a direct link between judgement and accountability. For example in our youth our judgement often goes awry simply because we don’t feel accountable for our actions and hence don’t think things through properly. Even organizations have issues with ‘judgement’ because individuals aren’t held accountable; and hence don’t ‘learn’ to think things through quickly. In fact one of the downsides of command and control style leadership is that these leaders use their power to avoid accountability when it comes to ‘bad’ judgements being made.
Schoemaker and Tetlock mention “the experience of a UK bank that lost a great deal of money in the early 1990’s by lending to U.S. cable companies that were hot but then tanked. The chief lending officer conducted an audit of these presumed lending errors, analysing the types of loans made, the characteristics of clients and loan officers involved, the incentives at play, and other factors. She scored the bad loans on each factor and then ran an analysis to see which ones best explained the variance in the amounts lost. In cases where the losses were substantial, she found problems in the underwriting process that resulted in loans to clients with poor financial health or no prior relationship with the bank – issues for which expertise and judgement were important. The bank was able to make targeted improvements that boosted performance and minimized losses,” (p.74).
There’s the other side of the coin too – organizations that are so ‘risk averse’ that employees make judgements based on ‘fear of failure’ which rarely leads to optimum solutions for the organization in the short or long term. Most of us learn through the mistakes that we make and through the risks that we have taken in our lives. Being able to take risk is based on values like accountability, but also integrity and excellence, and safety where appropriate. Our core values, if aligned correctly, should be enough to allow us to make those judgements that have risk attached but the rewards are worth it; where even failure has a reward, as we learn ‘what doesn’t work.’
Schoemaker and Tetlock highlight how “most predictions made in companies, whether they concern project budgets, sales forecasts, or the performance of potential hires or acquisitions, are not the result of cold calculus. They are coloured by the forecaster’s understanding of basic statistical arguments; susceptibility to cognitive biases, desire to influence others’ thinking, and concerns about reputation. Indeed, predictions are often intentionally vague to maximize wiggle room should they prove wrong. The good news is that training in reasoning and debiasing can reliably strengthen a firm’s forecasting experience,” (p.75).
A key cognitive bias is the perceived culture of the company and the perceived impact this culture has on the judgements you make. This perceived culture will be different for employees in different departments; or at different levels or at different stages in their career; as well as the personal values of each of the employees in the organization.
Schoemaker and Tetlock remind us that “cognitive biases are widely known to skew judgement, and some have particularly pernicious effects on forecasting. They lead people to follow the crowd, to look for information that confirms their views, and to strive to prove just how right they are. Training can help people understand the psychological factors that lead to biased probability estimates, such as the tendency to rely on flawed intuition in lieu of careful analysis. Another technique for making people aware of the psychological biases underlying skewed estimates is to give them confidence quizzes,” (p.75).
We live in a world where judgements that are made can impact more than just the individual making the judgement, but can impact the whole world. Take global warming, a scientific phenomenon that if correct and not ‘checked’ will be the end of the world as we know it. Yet recently the President of the United States broke away from the Paris Accord on Climate Change, claiming ‘global warming’ was a politically driven ‘con’ and that because his grandfather was a Professor at MIT, he had an instinct for science – hmmm, making judgement on a phenomenon that could be the end of life on earth requires patience, accountability, integrity and much more serious debate.
Schoemaker and Tetlock remind us of the importance of building the right teams. “Whether a team is making a forecast about a single event or making recurring predictions, a successful team needs to manage three phases well: a diverging phase, in which the issue, assumptions, and approaches to finding an answer are explored from multiple angles; an evaluating phase, which includes time for productive disagreement; and a converging phase, when the team settles on a prediction. In each of the three phases, learning and progress are fastest when questions are focused and feedback is frequent,” (p.77).
The key to judgement in the 21st century, besides the values already discussed is the concept of trust. We need to recruit the right people with the right experience and values; then trust them to make the right judgement calls and trust them to be flexible in their approach so that they will be honest when things start to go wrong or don’t work.
The judgements organizations make today shouldn’t just be about short term shareholder value, but about long term sustainable growth. The UK has seen the ‘high street’ change so much in the last 12 months. Retail stores that have been around for hundreds of years closing their doors for good or closing down a large proportion of their stores laying off thousands of employees. These closures are due to poor judgement and now everyone pays, even the shareholders.
As we become more technologically advanced; and as we see the divide between rich and poor become even greater, we need leaders, both from business and politics to make better judgement calls for the world in general – otherwise the future could be very bleak.
Finally Schoemaker and Tetlock suggest that “companies should systematically collect real time accounts of how their top teams make judgements, keeping records of assumptions made, data used, experts consulted, external events, and so on. Where well-run audits can reveal post facto, whether forecasters coalesced around a bad anchor, framed the problem poorly, overlooked an important insight, or failed to engage team members with dissenting views. Likewise they can highlight the process steps that led to good forecasts and thereby provide other teams with best practices for improving predictions,” (p.78).
Schoemaker, P.J.H. and Tetlock, P.E. (2016). Superforecasting: How To Upgrade Your Company’s Judgement. Harvard Business Review, May, p.72-78.