Child whisperers and big bucks boot camps

April 22, 2014

Wilderness therapy is attracting interest in the USA. We ask what is behind the approach, and whether it justifies the expense

This week, [April 22nd 2014] BBC drew attention to Eddie Curry, whose wilderness therapy sessions are operated in the desolate hills of Southern Utah, and are reported as lasting two months. The story focuses on one practitioner, so that generalizations come with an assumption alert:

The 45-year-old father knows how out-of-control teenagers tick – he used to be one. More than six feet tall aged 15, there was always plenty of opportunity for trouble. By 17, he was drinking a lot and getting in regular fistfights with his estranged father.

Parents at their wits end find Curry through internet searches, the wilderness programmes he works with or just by word of mouth. And they hire him for all sorts of reasons – drug and alcohol problems, violence and trouble with the police are among them. Often, more conventional treatment like therapy has failed or been refused.

“If you have me there, it’s gotten to the point where talking is done. There is no conversation happening or very little. And the little bit the parents are getting is usually yelling and screaming.”
Many families take out loans and re-mortgage houses to get their child help – a British parent will pay up to $6,000 (£3,500) to get Curry to come to the UK.
Almost every child says: “You’re not going to make me go. I’m not going.” Many children get hysterical, many cry. Some go berserk. To Curry, these kinds of reaction are only natural.

“I always put myself in these kids’ shoes. If I had some guy come into my room at five o’clock in the morning and break this news to me, I’d be annoyed.”

That’s not to say that he believes a word they say though.

“Most of the kids I pick up are just liars trying to get out of going. They’ll look you straight in the eye and lie. But I listen to their stories. I show them compassion. These are kids, not criminals. They might be doing some illegal stuff but they’re just kids that are screwing up, making bad decisions and hanging out with the wrong people. They’re not bad kids. I just wear them down. I’m not going to lose. I tell them that not going is not an option.”

Wilderness therapy has existed across the US for decades, and supporters say it results in better communication between the child and parents, increased self-confidence, and even better academic results.

“The key thing is that it disrupts negative patterns of behaviour and allows us to help them learn and establish some new healthy behaviours and ways of interacting with others,” says Steve Demille of RedCliff Ascent, one of the companies operating in Utah.

But Nicki Bush, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, warns that camps are not the silver bullet parents are hoping for and pay a “ludicrous” amount of money for it.
And though Curry only takes children who agree to go, he says, Prof Bush says many children find being escorted to camps a traumatic experience, and often perceive it as an abduction.

Tough love?

The BBC headline of child whisperers suggests that the approach is comparable to the work of horse whisperers. If that is the case, the method is based on tough love, and favouring the non-violent over violent methods of influence. As with horse whispering, it attracts publicity and cynicism particularly about claims for its effectiveness. In that respect, I was reminded of the story I came across [July 2013] of a therapy involving walking on hot coals.


Signals of hope and despair in the search for MH 370

April 13, 2014

The search for the missing Malaysian airliner is increasingly one with signals of hope and despair

At one level, the news coverage has settled into reporting a story of unremitting human tragedy of lives lost and of the despair of the grieving families, perhaps only sustained by flickers of hope which to the rest of us is mostly seen as part of the process of denial.

Another story

Yet there is another story of hope and despair replacing anger at what is seem as blundering and perhaps worse by the Malaysian authorities, and international surveillance bodies.

The story has become better coordinated, with recognized legitimacy from spokespersons from Australia. The hope is not for the lives of those on the missing plane, but for the hope of discerning what happened. Hope is expressed by confidence in the trace signals from the flight recorders in the plane.

Signals weaken

We have learned much from the news of the black box recorders. How they are physically red; how the signals received were increasingly accepted as authentic; how they are weakening a expected as their power sources run out. We know the region of search remains daunting albeit narrowed from the half a hemisphere of the initial days.

The news stories, unlike the signals being received, flicker between raised and dashed hopes. They offer echoes of the twin imposters of of Kipling, in which the twin impostors of triumph and disaster are replaced with those of hope and despair.


Cycling and Sporting Leadership: The resignation of Sir David Brailsford

April 11, 2014

Richard Crackett

Sir David Brailsford announces his retirement as performance director at British Cycling to focus on Team Sky. We publish a post which had been in preparation written by LWD subscriber Richard Crackett

As the sun set on the Champs Elysee, Chris Froome crossed the line, arms linked with his team mates, wearing the famous maillot jaune, in the 100th Tour de France. The story is replete with issues of distributed leadership and sporting ethics.

For a second consecutive year, Dave Brailsford’s Team Sky had won. This was the first tour since Lance Armstrong admitted to doping in winning all seven of his now rescinded titles. Brailsford hailed it as a victory for hard work and ‘the aggregation of marginal gains’, but the popping of champagne corks may have been drowned out by the cacophony of questions about doping.

The King is Dead, Long live the King!

The build-up to the Tour was dominated by the fact the top contender for the title, Froome and the current holder, Bradley Wiggins, rode for the same team. Froome had been picked as the team leader with Wiggins expected to ride in support of him. At first, Wiggins let the press know that he intended to ride as if the leader, with Froome dismissing this point.
Brailsford seemed not to back either rider, and Froome described Wiggins’ withdrawal through injury as a ‘relief’. Perhaps Brailsford thought that two competing leaders would lead to greater performance from each, with a greater chance of one winning. It seems serendipitous that W iggins pulled out through illness, as it could be argued that his involvement may have harmed Sky’s chance of winning.

Aggregation of Marginal Gains

Brailsford’s approach to sporting excellence involves the aggregation of marginal gains. He seeks to break down every process to its smallest component and attempting to improve on each one. The multitude small gains in performance will be significant. His track record in the Tour and Olympic cycling suggests his approach to be very successful.

‘Relativity applies to physics, not ethics’ – Albert Einstein

Even before the Lance Armstrong crisis, Cycling was mired in suspicion about doping. Brailsford brought in a zero-tolerance approach at Team Sky. Anyone with any history of doping was made to leave the team. When the suspicion didn’t go away, he offered the medical records on Froome’s historic performance to a newspaper, which confirmed it showed nothing untoward.

The zero tolerance approach was criticised by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for being too draconian, meaning people would be afraid to speak out damaging the efforts to catch more cheats. His effort to distance his team from doping, they argued, could actually hurt the more global fight against doping.

The exception

Brailsford’s zero to team member David Millar, an ex-doper for the 2012 Olympics. He also seems willing to ‘push the boundaries’ of competition and bend the rules in pursuit of marginal gains. In Olympic cycling, the equipment that the cyclists use must be commercially available. Brailsford developed the best bikes using many bespoke innovations, and made them ‘available’ commercially through British cycling at exorbitant fees .

Marginal Gains or Pushing the Boundaries?

Brailsford is a transformational leader for British cycling. He has produced incredible results, but we are left questioning his leadership. Did he really think Wiggins’ and Froome could work together? Does his law of marginal gains apply to the advantage he tries to squeeze out by bending the rules? It is no surprise that his willingness to push the boundaries has meant his reactive response to the doping issue has not been universally accepted as solely in the spirit of sporting competition.


Is Michael D Higgins the ultimate charismatic non-charismatic?

April 8, 2014

‘Michael D’ defies contemporary leadership stereotypes. A case could be made for saying that this man is the ultimate charismatic non-charismatic

The President of Ireland Michael D Higgins makes an historic state visit to England [April 8th, 2014]. The trip is redolent with symbolism, as was The Queen’s visit to Ireland three years ago.

According to popular theory, a leader in the public eye has to pass the celebrity test of physical attractiveness. Absence of media glamour is a bar to a successful political career. In the UK, Ed Milliband suffers from repeated media references to his lack of personal attractiveness predicating his non-electability as the country’s next Prime Minister. Dr Higgins has been lampooned for his unimpressive physical appearance and stature.

The Irish are different

The Irish appointed a different kind of leader as their President. The two previous incumbents were Mary Robinson followed by Mary McAleese. Lucky the land to have found such impressive heads of state.

Then there was ‘Michael D’

‘Michael D’ was appointed in what seemed another burst of creative contrarianism by the Irish electorate. At the time, I got the election seriously wrong. I noted that two charismatic candidates were spicing up the election campaign. Both dropped out of view and eventually did not run. Instead a veteran politician and scholarly academic was elected.

An important ingredient of charisma

The Irish voters listened to what Michael had to say, and voted him in. This week he showed why to an international audience. He is an impressive and empathic communicator. In advance of his State visit to England he was asked whether it was time to put aside the lingering scars in Ireland of a relationship of often bloody disputes. He replied in a moving and convincing way. No, he replied, he had no right to demand such a thing of his people although he hoped he could help movement forward toward a better future.

And that was the moment I understood a little more about his charisma.

Context

Much of this post will be understood differently from the perspectives of readers familiar with the historical and complex relationship between England and Ireland. [For example, the symbolism of the Queen's visit to Ireland in 2011, and of this return visit] Some of the modern history is touched upon in the links to the post, which mainly focuses on the surprising nature of the charisma of the Irish President.


The boat race: Competent Jerks and loveable fools

April 6, 2014

Seven years ago, Cambridge introduced a teamwork theory into their boat-race planning. Leaders we deserve assessed whether the ideas held water

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The post in Leaders we deserve described how the theory was supposed to work.

The news was picked up by the media noting that Cambridge Coach Duncan Holland has been assisted by Mark de Rond from Cambridge’s Judge Business School.

Mark is an American strategy theorist who is tipping his toe into more behavioral waters here (I can’t get away from aquatic imagery at the moment).

Competent Jerks and loveable fools

The basic idea, by Casciano and Lobo, originated in the prestigious Harvard Business Review last June. Their work examines the relationships between managers with differing levels of competence and of likeability. Details of the work can be found in a summary by Asia one Business AsiaOne Business:

The authors studied four organisations – one which is profit-motivated, one non-profit, another large and the fourth, small. No matter which organisation they studied, they found that everybody wanted to work with a lovable star and nobody wanted to work with an incompetent jerk. They say things got more interesting when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools … surprise, surprise, the two researchers found out that the reverse was true in the four companies they analysed.

“Personal feelings played a more important role in forming work relationships – not friendships at work, but job-oriented friendships – than is commonly acknowledged, even more important than evaluations of competence.”
The competent jerks represent an opportunity for the organisation because so much of their expertise is discounted.

Since the original post, Oxford has won four out of six contests. Today’s race is considered too close to call.


Personal recollection of Margo MacDonald [1943-2014]

April 5, 2014

I only met Margo once. It was for a BBC item on brainstorming, maybe in the 1990s

The other contributor was Derek Jameson, one of the most humourous and respected journalists of his generation. I can’t remember much about the broadcast – Radio four I think. It probably flopped, as creativity on a business issue is hard to demo live. Margo was a trooper, postponing judgement through gritted teeth, although I suspect she thought it was all a waste of time. A courageous and impressive woman.

Tudor Rickards
Woodford
April 4th, 2014


Dating site wins battle with Mozzila over gay rights stance of CEO Eich

April 4, 2014

The dating site OkCupid launched an on-line attack on the web-browser Mozilla for the perceived anti-gay stance of Mozilla’s new CEO Brendan Eich. Within days, Eich and other board members of Mozilla resigned

I noted this story as I am a user of Mozilla’s Firefox browser. I am also interested in the dilemmas behind leadership decisions, as these offer excellent starting points for making sense of leadership stories. Is this a moral stance or a publicity-seeking piece of PR, I wondered.

A dilemma

Here’s my personal dilemma. I approve of the overall philosophy behind the ‘open-source’ policy of Firefox. The browser serves my purposes reasonably well, with one distinct advantage over rivals who seem increasingly activating business models blatantly putting their commercial interests over the needs of their users. So there are ethical and pragmatic reasons for me to continue to support Mozzila’s Firefox.

It’s April Fool’s day

I came across the when scanning for April Fool’s day stories, and was suspicious of its authenticity at first. If it is a prank, it had been widely reported.

An ethical dilemma

So the ethical issue for me is an example of what Susan Sucher of Harvard calls the right versus right dilemma.

A tipping point?

I hesitate to use the term tipping point, but that’s how the story developed. A few days later, [April 3rd, 2014] pressure from its own Firefox users was followed by the resignation of the CEO and other members of the board. Here’s how the BBC’s Dave Lee reported it:

Brendan Eich was appointed just last month but came in for heavy criticism for his views on same-sex marriage. Mozilla’s executive chairwoman Mitchell Baker announced the decision in a blog post. Mr Eich, who co-founded Mozilla and was also the creator of the JavaScript scripting language, made a $1,000 (£600) donation in 2008 in support of Californian anti-gay marriage law Proposition 8. When the announcement of Mr Eich’s appointment was made [24 March, 2014] angry users voiced their opinions on social media. Several high-profile Mozilla employees also weighed in.

Three board members resigned in the weekend following Mr Eich’s appointment – but Mozilla said the events were not linked. But the most damaging act of protest came via dating website OkCupid. Users who went to the site using Mozilla’s Firefox browser were greeted with a message that read: “Hello there, Mozilla Firefox user. Pardon this interruption of your OkCupid experience. Mozilla’s new CEO, Brendan Eich, is an opponent of equal rights for gay couples. We would therefore prefer that our users not use Mozilla.

I didn’t see that coming.


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