“One of the finest and most uplifting speeches of all time.” How Chaplin still speaks to us.

75 years ago, with America on the brink of joining in the Second World War, Charlie Chaplin made his film “The Great Dictator.”  It is a satirical political comedy-drama designed to confront Hitler, Mussolini, fascism, anti-semitism and the Nazis.  It was Chaplin’s first talking movie, and became his most commercially successful film.

Charlie-Chaplin_I’ve only just come across it, for some reason.  I bumped into it on Facebook, where people are making all sorts of statements of support for France in the light of the atrocities there last week.  It made such an impact on me when I first saw it that I had to learn more about it.

I feel compelled to share it in case you too have never seen it.

According to several analyses, it is one of the most moving and uplifting speeches of all time.  It seems so relevant today – almost impossibly so.  Let me quote you a few lines from the text, the full version of which you can click on here:

“We think too much and feel too little.  More than machinery we need humanity.  More than clevernesss we need kindness and gentleness.”

“Without these qualities, life will be violent, and all will be lost.”

Ponder that.  I’m working with a group of leaders in an American tech business this week.  The main emphasis of our work is on emotional and social intelligence, helping them to find ways to connect with other people more meaningfully, and to build better relationships across the business.  It takes time, but when people gradually start opening up to each other as human beings and sharing what they really think and feel, the connections between them as people start to grow, and you can feel the humanity asserting itself over the “machinery”.

The war on terrorism is indeed the war for our generation, but we are also fighting a second war, against “machinery” and the increasing need to protect our humanity.  As Chaplin puts it in the speech:

“You, the people, have the power, the power to create machines, the power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.”

We can only hope that we have the sense to use our power in an Intelligent way.

Enjoy the speech, and ask yourself not only how it is relevant to what is going on today, but also what impact these words have on you as a human being.

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The Wisdom Of Crowds. Really? Are you sure?

In 1906 Francis Galton carried out an impromptu experiment at a country fair near Plymouth.  There was a “Guess the weight of the ox” competition, in which 800 people tried their luck.  It was a tricky one to get right, because you had to guess the weight of the ox after it had been slaughtered and dressed.

oxenBeing a statistician and at 85 no less curious than ever, Galton borrowed the tickets after the competition winner had been announced, and did some analysis.  He worked out the mean of the group’s guesses, thus identifying the collective wisdom of the Plymouth crowd.

He anticipated that their answer would be way off the mark;  mix a few very smart people with a large group of probably quite technically ignorant people and you might expect to get a pretty dumb answer.  The crowd guessed 1,197 pounds.  The answer was 1,198 pounds.

I’ve just started reading James Surowiecki’s book “The Wisdom of Crowds”.  Published in 2004, so I’m only 11 years off the pace.  Sounds about right.  The book has grabbed my attention.  I assume it is going to go on an give me more and more compelling examples of why the collective wisdom of a large group of disparate people who are not able to confer is always going to be as good as if not better than any one expert.  The TV show “Who wants to be a millionaire?” is another good one:  when asked, the audience gets the right answer 91% of the time (as opposed to 65% when you phone your supposedly expert friend.)

The book may have been written a few years ago, but crowd theory is still very much alive and kicking.  The MD of one of my clients, a very successful top end bespoke cabinet maker, espouses Wisdom of Crowds so passionately it has pretty much become a company value.

All well and good, BUT……something about this doesn’t quite resonate for me.  It doesn’t feel right. I want to check it out, and this week I am going to invite you to help validate this important theory.

I use an exercise when running team building courses to see how well a group communicates.  I analyse how many contributions people make, and when we debrief we look at who did all the talking, who said nothing etc.  Normally the talkers influence everyone else to agree with them, and as a result the whole team “dies”.

seaplaneThe exercise is called “Arctic Adventure”, and it involves the group agreeing the ranking in importance of various items of equipment they have with them when their plane crashes in the Arctic Circle.

I am going to give you the brief below and invite you to write down your ranking, starting with the most important item.  Assume the group has decided to stay and wait to be rescued rather than walk to try and seek help.  (Apparently that is the correct decision, according to experts in this field).

Then can you invite as many others to do the exercise as you can, and collate their rankings.  Remember, for this to work, they must not confer.

You can then work out what the collective ranking is – the wisdom of your crowd, by adding up the position (score) of each item from all the responses.  The items with the lowest aggregate score have the highest priority, in your crowd’s opinion.

Here is the brief:

It is approximately 2.30 p.m., 5th October, and you have just crash-landed in a floatplane on the east shore of Laura lake in the sub-arctic region of the northern Quebec-Newfoundland border. The pilot was killed in the crash, but the rest of you are uninjured. Each of you are wet up to the waist and have perspired heavily. Shortly after the crash, the plane drifted into deep water and sank with the pilot’s body pinned inside.  

The pilot was unable to contact anyone before the crash. However, ground sightings indicated that you are 30 miles south of your intended course and approximately 22 miles east of Schefferville, your original destination, and the nearest known habitation. (The mining camp on Hollinger Lake was abandoned years ago when a fire destroyed the buildings.)  Schefferville (population 5000) is an iron ore mining town approximately 300 air miles north of the St. Lawrence, 450 miles east of the JamesBay/Hudson Bay area, 800 miles south of the Arctic circle and 300 miles west of the Atlantic coast. It is reachable only by air or rail, all roads ending a few miles from town.

Your party was expected to return from north-western Labrador to Schefferville no later than 19th October and filed a Flight Notification Form with the Department of Transportation via Schefferville radio to that effect.

The immediate area is covered with small evergreen trees (one and a half to four inches in diameter). Scattered in the area are a number of hills having rocky and barren tops. Tundra (Arctic swamps) make up the valleys between the hills and consist only of small scrubs. Approximately 25% of the region is covered by long narrow lakes which run north-west to south-east. Innumerable streams and rivers flow into and connect the lakes.

Temperatures during October vary between 25º and 36º Fahrenheit, although it will occasionally go as high as 50º and as low as 0º. Heavy clouds cover the sky three quarters of the time, with only one day in ten being fairly clear. Five to seven inches of snow are on the ground. However, the actual depth varies enormously because the wind sweeps the exposed areas clear and builds drifts 3’ to 5’ deep in other areas. The wind speed averages 13-15 miles per hour and is mostly out of the west-north-west.

You are all dressed in insulated underwear, socks, heavy wool shirts, trousers, knit gloves, sheepskin jackets, knitted wool caps and heavy leather hunting boots.  Collectively your personal possessions include $153 in bills and 2 half dollars, 4 quarters, 2 dimes, 1 nickel and 3 new pennies. 1 pocket knife (2 blades and an awl which resembles an ice pick) one stub pencil and an air map.

You must now rank these items from 1 to 15, where 1 is most important. 

A Magnetic Compass
A Gallon Can of Maple Syrup
A Sleeping Bag Per Person (Arctic Type)
A Bottle of Water Purification Tablets
A 20’ x 20’ (6 x 6m) of Heavy Duty Canvas
13 Wood Matches in a Metal Screwtop,
Waterproof Container
250’ of Braided Nylon Rope, 50lb test
An Operating 4 Battery Flashlight
3 Pairs of Snowshoes
A fifth Bacardi Rum
Safety Razor Shaving Kit with Mirror
A Wind-Up Alarm Clock
A Hand Axe
One Aircraft Inner Tube for a 14” Wheel
A Book Entitled “Northern Star Navigation”

There is fun to be had running this as a team exercise anyway.  Give people 10 minutes to read the brief and prepare their ranking, then 30 minutes to agree it as a team.  Have an observer give feedback on team behaviours etc.

I would love to hear from you how well your “crowd” did, and whether they got close to the expert ranking provided below by survival experts.  If the deviation between your positions and the official ones is more than 30, apparently you die, by the way!

Please let me know what happens.  Is your it experience that collective individual wisdom is better than shared wisdom?  If so, is it time for a rethink on how you go about making those big decisions?

Good luck!  If you are interested enough I can let you have the reasoning behind the Official list.

Here are the Official rankings:

A Magnetic Compass  13
A Gallon Can of Maple Syrup  5
A Sleeping Bag Per Person (Arctic Type)  4
A Bottle of Water Purification Tablets  15
A 20’ x 20’ (6 x 6m) of Heavy Duty Canvas  3
13 Wood Matches in a Metal Screwtop Waterproof Container  1
250’ of Braided Nylon Rope, 50lb test  6
An Operating 4 Battery Flashlight  10
3 Pairs of Snowshoes  7
A fifth Bacardi Rum  11
Safety Razor Shaving Kit with Mirror  9
A Wind-Up Alarm Clock  12
A Hand Axe  2
One Aircraft Inner Tube for a 14” Wheel (punctured)  8

A Book Entitled “Northern Star Navigation”  14

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The dreaded Annual Appraisal. Is the writing finally on the wall?

At last!  Could the end finally be in sight for that annual ritual dreaded by both managers and staff:  the Annual Appraisal?

"You're a 4" "Oh no I'm not!"

“You’re a 4” “Oh no I’m not!”

You know the one:  the meeting you both hope will be over quickly, in which the manager loads up her gun with lots of surprise feedback ready to fire at the victim when they start arguing over what the performance rating for the year will be.

And the appraisee’s only two questions are “How much are you going to pay me next year?” and “Can I go now?”

I read today that companies like Accenture and  GE are moving towards a more ongoing approach towards performance management which is being called Agile Performance Management.  Here’s what the article’s author Pamela Harding wrote about it:

“Human Capital Institute has just launched a new two day certification course – Agile Performance Management (APM). The course provides a framework for a new process that includes setting goals; helping managers coach individuals; providing more continuous feedback, support and growth or change; and bringing more collaboration that is social and faster-moving.”

You can read the full LinkedIn article here.

According to recent research by Deloitte, 89% of companies plan to change their appraisal process in the next 18 months.

I can’t help raising a wry smile. Think about the irony of this.  Some of the largest organisations on the planet have concluded (at last – what took them so long?) that having a formal annual discussion with employees about their performance and objectives is not effective.  So instead they are going to “performance manage” through ongoing coaching and feedback.

Correct me if I’m wrong.  AREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO DO BOTH?  Isn’t performance management something you do all the time, through regular reviews, feedback, coaching, revision of objectives, reprioritisation and so on?  And then every year one of these reviews happens to be more formal, with a record of the discussion being made and kept on file.  It’s called an Appraisal, but it’s no big deal, and there are no surprises.

The fact that “Agile Performance Management” is being positioned as “HR’s next big move” seems to me to be an indictment of the way managers have managed people in the past.  Oh, and maybe, just maybe, it’s an excuse for consultancies to make a shedload of new money in offering certification in the art of managing people using leading edge tools called coaching and feedback.

Let’s be more constructive just for a moment.  Whatever this says about the way people have been managed in the past, it can surely only be a good thing?  If it works, and if this becomes the latest buzzword in the corporate world, it will make a difference and individuals will benefit.  If it does lead to more quality one on one time between managers and their staff, with a more meaningful dialogue and decent feedback and support, it will improve morale and engagement and maybe even make the relentless strain of being at work more sustainable.

There is nothing new here, only what should have always been in place.

Is your organisation planning to move in this direction, or is it one of the few that is doing it right already?

Let’s finish on a lighter note on this one.  Here’s an abbreviated take on the dreaded annual appraisal featuring myself and an unsuspecting colleague, Spencer Holmes.  Enjoy!



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Can’t write, can’t spell, can’t count. (My gadget does it for me.)

Last week I learnt that yet another nail has been banged into the coffin of human society as we currently know it.  The thin end of a very big wedge has just been inserted into the way we communicate.  Old farts such as myself fear this one will bring us a step closer to utter dysfunctionality as human beings.

writingThe Finns have just decided to drop learning how to write from the school curriculum (The Week, August 13th).  No doubt this will be replaced with touch typing skills, and the extra talented 7 year olds will be given additional extra curricular texting skills to equip them for even more effective communication.


This decision is the equivalent of giving up walking because you have learnt to drive.

I presume the next logical step after this will be to stop teaching them how to spell.  No doubt our gadgets will soon be taking predictive texting to a new level and we will only need to insert the first letter of a word for our device to fill in the rest.  Some pretty much do that now anyway.

These kids won’t be taught how to hold a pen, and a signature will not be required for anything (you’ll just flash an eyeball towards the item in question and it will do the rest).  The love letter, the hand written thank you letter, the Christmas card with the personal greeting: all are headed for the dustbin of extinct communication vehicles.  Some would argue they are already in it.  As The Independent comments:  “It takes a little effort, but writing is the nearest most of us get to an artistic gesture.”  Now we can forget artistic, think austistic.

This makes me a little gloomy.  In my own lifetime I have seen computers emerge from the mist and start to dominate our lives, and I reckon that by the time I expire they will have started to exercise a truly malign influence on human relationships.  We are already seeing it, and the pace of the takeover is going to accelerate inexorably.

Are we powerless in the face of this threat?  I think not.  We need to fight our own corner, encouraging a microclimate of real life human interactions wherever we can.  We should heed the words of poet Dylan Thomas, and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

A few months ago I felt a need to tell the CEO of a huge American technical company what I had learnt about his company’s culture from working with his people for 15 years.  I thought long and hard about how best to get his attention, and make my message to him more memorable and impactful.  Eventually I wrote him a letter, using a fountain pen, on some high quality writing paper.  It took me several goes to write neatly enough from him to read it, and to not have any “typos”.  It’s funny how quickly our basic skills erode when we don’t use them.  He didn’t reply (a month later he announced he was stepping down as CEO, so maybe he had other things on his mind), so I don’t know whether he ever got to read it.  But at least I felt I had given it my best shot.

So pick up your pen and do your bit to fight this off, people!  Our kids deserve better than this.

Image:  www.thenextrex.com


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Greek debt negotiations: how not to do it?

The Greek government has until Wednesday night to approve a set of measures which appear to this simple non-financier outsider to be wholly unreasonable and unworkable, otherwise it gets shown the Grexit door and European unity is a thing of the past.

Millions of words have been written about this whole sorry process, mainly from an economic or political perspective.  I’d like to look at it through a negotiations lens to see what can be learnt from it.  It seems to me to have been an exercise in Trust, and a great example of what happens when this is missing.

The reason I say this is that whenever you listen to a comment made by someone at the recent talks the recurrent theme is Trust.  Angela Merkel said only yesterday:

“The most important currency has been lost and that is trust.

I’ve written before about Trust, and how it is the first and most important thing to establish in negotiations in which a long term relationship is involved and we are seeking a collaborative outcome both parties can feel good about.

apple-coreSo let’s have a quick look at why Trust has not been established in these talks.  I use the CORE model as a way of breaking it down into parts. Trust is built on demonstrating:

Competence, Openness, Reliability, Equity.

Good negotiators plan how to do this as part of their overall planning, and will work hard in the early stages to ensure these four factors are in place before moving onto the detail of any long term and important negotiation.  Let’s see how these negotiations hold up against this model.

Competence:  are Greece’s negotiators the right people at the table? Do they have the mandate to make decisions and commitments on behalf of the rest of the party, and indeed the people who elected them on an anti austerity mandate?  Do they have a track record in dealing with macro economic issues of this kind?  Have the negotiators done their preparation so they can make constructive proposals at the negotiating table?  Do they understand the importance of trust, and use the right approach to producing a  collaborative outcome?

As an outsider looking in there appear to be some problems in this area, to say the least.  Remember the reaction when Greece turned up last week without a proposal to put on the table, just a sheaf of handwritten notes?

Openness:  are Greece’s negotiators open with information, sharing the detail, opening up on the inside story?  Do they reveal their emotions and use open behaviours at the table?

TspirasNot easy to say, other than I have noticed my own irritation at Mr Tsipras’s permanently cheerful grins.  Having a negotiator with a reputation for being expert in game theory (former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis) might not help.  If I think you see this as a game, my first reaction is to become more competitive, and I will start by becoming less open with you.

Reliability:  Doing what you say you are going to do is a key element of Trust.

As I understand it Greece is seen to have not delivered on the commitments it made to introduce austerity measures when taking on the original funding, and I suspect this is a major barrier to success in these negotiations.  Failing to meet its debt repayment commitment last week was also a massive failure in reliability from which it will be hard to recover.

Not quite so cheery after 20 hours of negotiations

Not quite so cheery after 20 hours of negotiations

Equity:  Trust is built on fairness – give and take if you like.  Does Greece think it is fair for its lenders to impose austerity measures which will make it hard to rebuild the economy and cause real hardship for its citizens?

Judging by last week’s overwhelming referendum vote in favour of rejecting the proposal, the answer to that is no.  Conversely does Europe, and most importantly Germany, feel it is fair to be asked to write off Greek debt when the country is seen by others as having been slow to impose austerity measures and is unproductive and overmanned in the public sector in comparison with other countries?

Building Trust takes time, which is one thing they are really short of.  These negotiations have been an arm wrestle in which both parties have the power to do significant damage to the other.  The result is that Greece is now being forced by Germany to “prostrate herself in an act of doglike self-abasement”, to quote Boris Johnson. In order to stay in the euro she will have to sell off state assets and in effect hand over the running of the economy to the Germans.  Either this or face a “time-out” from the eurozone for at least 5 years – in other words get kicked out.

A sorry state of affairs for such a proud country.  Not trusted by others, and quite possibly not trusting itself to run its own affairs and make its own currency work – hence why so many Greeks want to stay in the euro.  The result of this lack of trust will be a series of compromises or fudges at best, with an ongoing set of rules and deadlines to be broken and continued brinkmanship no doubt by both parties.  It’s a result no one wants, and will be the start of years of bitter conflict, sorry to say.

Trust can take years to build and one reckless moment to break.  It will be some time before Greece can consider itself a trusted partner at the European table.  That is no good for any of us.


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Why performing open heart surgery on yourself can be a good idea.

Reader reassurance:  this article is NOT about IT or any other technical issue.  There are several other people on the planet better placed to write about that than I.  I know my limits.

Dysfunctional meetings.  Tool 2.  Knowing what we're talking about and why.On Friday I fired up my laptop and it froze at “Starting Windows”.  I waited in silent prayer for a few minutes, then remembered I don’t have an IT department to go and bleat to when my stuff goes wrong.  With a heavy week of training delivery coming up and materials to write, I had better get on with sorting this out myself.

I spent about an hour trying to research the solution via my iPhone, and found myself learning a whole new language, including “kernels” and “grubs”, and joined some learning forum about something called Linux.  Ahem.  Think I may be getting out of my depth here.

I decided I needed to be a bit more courageous.  The laptop, from its state of hypnosis, managed to offer me one option I had not yet dared to consider:

“Restore factory settings.  Note:  all files and installed software will be removed.”  

Gulp.  You are inviting me to perform open heart surgery on myself.  All of my business sits on this laptop:  my clients, my content, my finances, my network.  What if it all goes wrong?  Million of concerns, such as:  “I keep all my download activation codes and other gubbins in a folder in Outlook.  If I can’t get into Outlook because I haven’t reinstalled it yet, how will I be able to reinstall any of my software?”

I weighed it up.  If I restore factory settings will I pass a point of no return, and make things worse?  Conversely, it is at least something to try, and I can’t end up much worse than currently, surely?

I decided to take the plunge.  My heart thumping, I hit the Enter key.

Fast forward one day, 165 Windows updates,  and a lot of reinstalling, and my laptop is like new.  It has belched out all the rubbish, runs much quicker (and I hope virus free), and best of all I now know what to do to recover if and when this happens again.  I have learnt a lot, and best of all I have reminded myself of something important.

When you’re in a hole no one else knows even exists, the best person to get you out is you.

This was firmly impressed on my when I was about 25, on a leadership course in Devon.  We were down an hole, funnily enough, this time a pothole.  There were about 10 of us.  I was second from last in the group, with a course instructor at the back.  Until he disappeared.  The reassuring light from his helmet vanished, and I suddenly realised I was on my own.  I was x hundred feet below ground, I couldn’t hear any other human, the only light was from a weak lamp on my helmet, and the tunnel had just narrowed down so you had to crawl on your belly.  I felt ahead with my hand and realised the next challenge was to put my head underwater, without knowing how long for.

Thought about calling out, realised it was pointless, and paused to think for a moment.  Two choices:  wait until they realised I was missing (hopefully), or keep going.  I chose to keep going.

Fear of the unknown often holds us back, and makes us reliant on others.  Sometimes the best way to grow is to take the risk.  Maybe you have more potential than you realise?  This is something I keep telling the people I work with in training rooms.  It’s not something I practice enough on myself.

What might you be telling yourself you could never do?  How about suspending that thought, just this once?  Go on, I dare you!

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