After Sir Alex: Van Gaal leads out Manchester United for his first game as manager

July 24, 2014

The match [July 23rd, 2014] is a ‘meaningless’ friendly in Los Angeles. Or is it so meaningless?

Van Gaal arrives as manager at Manchester United Football Club after managing Holland in the recent World Cup in Brazil. He joins a club suffering a severe dip in performance following the departure of the iconic Sir Alex Ferguson, who is widely credited with the record-breaking successes of the club in recent decades.

In the recent World Cup, Van Gaal reinforced his reputation as a tough but creative manager. For example, he came up with the incredible and pre-planned decision to substitute his first choice-goal keeper in extra time to bring on one better able to win the imminent penalty shoot-out.

First impressions at MUFC

Within days of Holland’s departures from the World Cup, the new manager arrives at Manchester. There followed a few days of intense image management, reinforcing his image as a dominating personality who expects to get his own way on as many matters as possible.

In this, MUFC fans largely approved, as it was a style for which Alex Ferguson was recognized and feared.

Within a week, the squad had left for the pre-season tour of North America, de Gaal grumbling about excessive traveling which was a disruption to pre-season preparations. He said such arrangements would not happen again on his watch.

Reconstruction of the club

On de Gaal’s arrival, funds were released by the owners and board to strengthen the club. New players were acquired.

The LA Galaxy game

The first pre-season game was against LA Galaxy, a club with prior connections with MUFC, through the recently-retired David Beckham. The match was switched to the Pasadena Rose-bowl to accommodate the interest it attracted. A near-capacity 86,000 fans watched the match.

The American team, half-way through its season was expected to be match fit. This did not make much difference in the first half. United, playing a new attacking formation, were lively and effective, scoring three unanswered goals.

The new manager had made it clear he would be assessing all players before completing his summer transfers. At half-time, as agreed for the fixture, large numbers of changes were made in each team. The United squad players brought on were more successful than their Galaxy counterparts,and scored a further four goals unanswered.

The Van Gaal managerial regime could hardly have started better.

Leadership reflections

The new manager has a direct – some would say brutal – style which seems designs to overwhelm all opposing views. His history of success with his teams has been accompanied with confrontations with players and with influential figures in clubs he worked in. He wins respect and makes enemies. The style can be found in many business and sporting leaders. In his encounters with the press, the style does have resemblance to that of Sir Alex Ferguson who could be famously (or infamously) combative.

There is something vaguely Machiavellian in the public persona which may be designed to rule through fear rather than being judged weak.


Three leadership books ‘favorited’ by executive business students in Miami

July 23, 2014

Miami July 2014 003

A group of executive MBA students in Miami selected three books as having influenced their personal leadership thinking and actions

The books add to results in a data base of books nominated by executive students around the world in upwards of 200 workshops conducted each year.

Long walk to freedom by Nelson Mandela

This classic has been frequently nominated for our data base. It was chosen by the student team for its insights into ‘a moral and unique leader…..the book has inspired me by encompassing all aspects of moral leadership

The servant by James Hunter

This is a book on servant leadership. ‘The essence of leadership is serving the needs of others’. Leadership is characterized as authority through intention plus action. The book was chosen ‘because it worked for me..

Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull

The third selection was Creativity Inc, by Ed Catmull, head of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. It is the account of leadership in Pixar, one of the world’s creative organizations and pioneer of screen animation with Disney. The nomination was for its suggestions for ‘leadership encouraging the best from others’


What makes a great leader?

July 16, 2014

Nominated for a LWD posting by Dr Dina Williams

In her TED talk, [Oct, 2013] Roselinde Torres of BCG describes 25 years observing truly great leaders at work, and shares the three simple but crucial questions would-be company chiefs need to ask to thrive in the future.

Her three questions are essentially:

Where are you looking to identify change?

How are you managing diversity?

Are you courageous enough to abandon what made you successful?

Rosalinde’s studies show there is a ‘leadership gap’ regardless of efforts to bridge it through leadership development programmes. The video makes an excellent introduction to discussion of 21st century leadership and why it requires different behaviours from those associated with the omniscient leader heroes of the past.


Counting words at the World Cup. A nice idea worth further testing

July 13, 2014


Team 1 determined pride together
Team 2 confident flair unconvincing
Team 3 positive effort spirited
Team 4 flair talent dark horse
Team 5 injustice defensive forceful
Team 6 powerful focused committed

[Source: BBC and Cambridge University Press ]

A computer data base has been used to produce the three words most commonly used in the media to describe each of the teams that played in the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil. The result makes an interesting point for discussion. Howeever, there is a fundamental difficulty in interpreting the data. As I found to my cost some years ago, word counts can be deceptive signals in interpreting or representing a concept.

This latest study attempted to measure the confidence in the England team and produced a Confidence Index. That particular piece of research came to an abrupt end with England’s departure from the tournament. A subsequent more ambitious study was then reported, perhaps to rescue the project until the World Cup ended.

My own work taught me how words require context for their interpretation. Some years ago, I applied a similar approach to that reported here in studying innovative companies. In my pilot study, one company stood out as receiving the highest number of mentions of the key word innovation. However, In checking for context, I noted that the company was often being criticized for its lack of innovation. I later discovered that linguistic scholars are familiar with the principle. Wittgenstein in his unique way warns us against misunderstanding the nature of ‘word games’. In short, words are dangerously misleading if they are divorced from context.

Lists of adjectives in the World Cup study need context for them to be tested. This turns out to present difficulties both practically and for various theoretical reasons to do with multiple contextual meanings of words.

If you are of such a mind, you might consider an empirical trial of the data. Take another look at the descriptions above. Two of the six teams are the two finalists in the Competition. Can you (or your football following friends) identify the adjectives associated with Argentina and Germany? You will find the ‘correct’ answers in the BBC and Cambridge University Press article

The exercise may help you decide what sort of ‘truth claims’ you are prepared to accept concerning the the research.

Does this matter?

It mattered to me because many popular articles present interesting ideas backed up by claims of the authority of the researchers. I encourage my students to be vigilant and consider how the research might be tested easily. Too many of my students take for granted the reliability of claims made of findings that are ‘scientifically established’. Even without the prior work in a similar area, I would have looked for ways of testing the claims. The testing method I suggest can be made more rigorous, but serves to illustrate my point.

Research note:

In my research, word counts were used to assess innovation performance of businesses. The results were published in 1998 in The International Journal of Innovation Research ‘Benchmarking the creative organisation: Preliminary results from a database investigation’ I counted entries referring to innovation in the index pages of leading textbooks to obtain my word counts. The method and results were elaborated in an article published in The Encyclopedia of Creativity.


NATO Conference to take place in a fortress around a golf course

July 11, 2014

A security fortress is being built around The Celtic Manor golf course and hotel in South Wales for The NATO conference, September 4-5, 1914

The Celtic Manor resort last hit the headlines when it hosted the Ryder Cup in 2010. The event was a success, despite atrocious weather. A few years later, and the the venue has been selected for a very different event. The 2014 NATO conferencepromises to be a target for social activists. Locally, schools and businesses are preparing for major disruptions.

A little local knowledge

The Celtic Manor is located in South Wales, close to the township of Newport, and the M4 motorway which connects London to Cardiff and West Wales. It was recently voted the best hotel in the UK for the fourth time in succession.

Travelers will know of the notorious delays around the area, with its two underpasses, and the dreaded Coldra Roundabout which makes tackling the peripherique a dawdle. Security is estimated to cost £50 million. Police and security forces will be coordinated as best as can be achieved.

The Protestors

The event will be the highlight of the year for activist groups. These will have the advantage of a structure of uncoordinated coordination through social networks.

The NATO participants

The NATO participants will be headed by sixty political leaders from around the world including Barack Obama and Angela Merkel. In the event of any medical problem, The delegates have been offered the opportunity to experience the expertise of the National Health Service, although many of the leaders are likely to bring their own medical teams with them.

To be continued


Germany v Brazil. A Hegelian nightmare of momentum and demoralization at the Football World Cup

July 9, 2014


Last night, a shocked global audience watched Germany defeat and humiliate host nation Brazil in The 2014 World Cup. Can the German philosopher Hegel offer insights to the astonishing happenings?

Searching for sense after the game [July 8th, 2014] I remembered the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The philosopher remains influential for his system of thought which considers the nature of contradictions and how they become integrated.

Triumph and its contradiction

So Germany whacking in seven goals suggests the presence of triumph and its contradiction, disaster.

Or maybe it was through the energized performance of the German team and the defeated efforts of the Brazilians which produced the 7-1 scoreline. Some would describe what happened in terms of momentum and demoralization.
Any which way, Hegel invites us to seek a synthesis emerging from the thesis and its antithesis in seeking understanding.

Demythologizing the game

Without synthesis the story has no satisfactory closure. A focus on a crushing victory and defeat risks the stabilizing of beliefs of superiority and inferiority in cultural terms. It may be better to recognize the events are in a limited time and space. We should beware of y wider stereotypes, of German efficiency and Brazilian creativity crippled or destroyed by the loss of key players.

At a stretch, I can just about reach a Hegelian synthesis in which the story of the specific and spectacular game tonight is demythologized. It is important to appreciate the power of myths and myth making.

Destiny

It is not destiny that will permit Germany to win the 2014 World Cup, it will be the interactions between two teams which have each earned their places in the final.

Note for fellow pedants
See this beginner’s guide to Hegel for an introduction to his logic. Note also that the three step process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis is widely used, but was never specifically characterized in these terms by Hegel.

What happened next …

Holland beat Brazil in the decider for third place no-one wants to play.

Germany and Argentina play a close final, and a brilliant goal by Gotze wins the World Cup for Germany and illuminates a drab game.

Scolari and his coaching team resign before they receive any more public humiliation.

Germany, spiritual home of Hegelian philosophy, welcomes its heroes with promises of redoubled efforts to retain world supremacy in Football.

Triumphalism, Humiliation, Rebirth. The cycle of thesis, antithesis and synthesis continues for Brazilian German football.


Nestlé buffs its image with its living wage policy

July 4, 2014

The global consumer goods giant Nestlé develops its living wage policy. Will the approach help it avoid further lapses in Corporate Social Responsibility?

In June 2014, Nestle announces an extension of its policy of paying the living wage to employees. From 2017, the company will pay contractors in a similar fashion to its own workers.
[For an explanation of the minimum wage concept see this BBC article]

The unrepentant chocolatier

In 2009, the Economist examined Nestlé’s history and current strategy in an article entitled The unrepentant chocolatier.

The potted history reveals how a little Swiss firm making chocolate products became the World’s largest manufacturer of food products by revenues, ahead of Kraft, an American multi-national.

The stated plan is to strengthen future growth through a move into ‘wellness products.’ The Economist notes the commercial logic of the plan, but identifies a dilemma for Nestlé

The Dilemma

The Dilemma is suggested in the title of the article. Nestlé is seeking to reposition itself as a thoroughly ethical company,. Yet it will persist as a purveyor of many products seen as unhealthily loaded with carbohydrates and fats. The Dilemma has some similarities to challenges that facing the giants in the soft drinks and the alcoholic beverages markets.

The dilemma is made tougher for Nestlé for its historical record of association with stories damaging to the company’ brand. These include the baby milk scandal in Africa, and more recently the bottled water product with chose affinity to branded tap water, and meat products of dubious origins.

The company hopes to promote a policy that preserves its hard-earned revenues from its indulgence brands and grows new brands associated with the ‘noble cause’ of functional foods and wellness products.


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