One report on immigration, six different news stories

November 7, 2014

This week saw the publication of research on the economic impact of immigration to the UK. The breaking media reports made me think of six authors in search of a headline

The research was conducted by the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London (UCL) and published by the Royal Economic Society in the Economic Journal.

In its own summary of the work, UCL headlined it as

Positive economic impact of UK immigration from the European Union: new evidence , adding that the report showed that European immigrants to the UK have paid more in taxes than they received in benefits, helping to relieve the fiscal burden on UK-born workers and contributing to the financing of public services.

A political football match starts

The report signaled the kick off at a political football match as national and international media joined the game. The headlines show how a complex report can be reported selectively.

Sky News

The Sky headline selects the main point indicated in the UCL article, that EU migrants pay in more than they take out of the economy

The Guardian

The Guardian touches on the political point that the UK ‘gains £20 billion’ from EU migrants

The BBC

The BBC suggests that New EU migrants add £5bn to UK

Business Week

Business Week notes that EU migrants ‘ add billions to UK public finances

The Telegraph and Daily Mail

The Telegraph and Daily Mail have taken a different approach.

The Telegraph notes that ‘Immigration from outside Europe cost £120 billion’; The Mail that Non-EU migrants are costing £120 billion.

Making sense of the headlines

You have to look at the report to decide which headlines summarize what the authors believe to be the key finding of their report, and which headlines are, shall we say, more selective.


Tim Cook makes the case for an inclusive workplace

November 4, 2014

Paul Hinks

So Tim Cook is gay. The announcement wasn’t so much about the ‘outing’ of Tim Cook, as a message that openly supports diversity and equality in the workplace. The fact that Tim Cook is CEO of Apple, America’s largest firm, adds gravitas to the story.

Race, gender, age, disability, sexual preference are all topics with which organizations have to grapple. Firms are keen to demonstrate they are operating a diverse and ethical workplace where everyone has their fair chance regardless of their personal circumstance or outlook. Perhaps too many firms ‘talk the talk’ with the aim of ticking a box in a corporate brochure?

Tim Cook’s announcement provides an authentic message that Apple is an organization that understands the importance of providing support to ‘their most important asset’. Harnessing different perspectives from a diverse workforce provides a win:win – people with different values and background see things differently from those who are turned into generic corporate clones – walking and talking a certain way – it can all become a bit a dull, boring and predictable. Tim Cook’s announcement is not about him per se; it’s about promoting equality and diversity – and perhaps re-enforcing a culture that can provoke creativity and innovation.

Tim Cook has never denied being gay, but he is acknowledged and recognized as being a private individual. So to publicly make a statement about a private and personal matter, and then place the context of the statement around support for others deserves credit and recognition.

The New York Times provided insight and a deeper perspective:

As Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, put it, “He’s chief executive of the Fortune One. This is Tim Cook and Apple. This will resonate powerfully.”

Mr. Cook was plainly reluctant, and, as he put it in his essay in Bloomberg Businessweek, “I don’t seek to draw attention to myself.” But, he wrote, he came to the realization that “If hearing that the C.E.O. of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.”

Mr. Cook’s essay also seemed carefully drafted to be inclusive, to embrace anyone who feels different or excluded, which could broaden its impact far beyond the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. Mr. Cook was “wonderfully candid about why it was difficult for him to come out,” said Kenji Yoshino, a constitutional law professor at New York University and co-author of “Uncovering Talent: a New Model for Inclusion.”

“When I give presentations on diversity and inclusion in organizations, I often start by noting that of the Fortune 500 C.E.O.s, 5 percent are women, 1 percent are black and zero percent are openly gay,” Professor Yoshino said.

In his essay, Mr. Cook wrote that he was many things besides being gay: “an engineer, an uncle, a nature lover, a fitness nut, a son of the South, a sports fanatic.” Professor Yoshino noted: “When Drew Faust became the first female president of Harvard, she made a similar point. ‘I am not the woman president of Harvard,’ she said. ‘I’m the president of Harvard.’ ”

Apple’s future success

Since taking over the leadership of Apple from Steve Jobs in 2011, Tim Cook has demonstrated that he can successfully pilot the largest corporation in America. Tim Cook is not Apple’s ‘gay’ CEO, he’s Apple’s current and successful CEO.

In terms of competitiveness, Apple is currently riding the crest of a wave. The recent product launch of the iPhone 6 broke all records – so there’s no obvious need for a cheap publicity stunt. Tim Cook’s announcement shouldn’t be seen much as statement about himself, rather his statement symbolises the importance of providing an inclusive, diverse and stimulating workplace, one which supports new ideas, aims to look at the same situation from different perspectives – a culture true to Apple’s values – one which fosters creativity and innovation.

In the future, perhaps Tim Cook’s announcement will be reflected upon as the time when Apple took a leadership position in supporting diversity and equality in a positive and effective way. It will be interesting to see how many other industry leaders follow Mr Cook’s lead.


Put not your trust in leadership books: but don’t ignore them either

November 2, 2014

Here’s how to deal with a dilemma of trust and authority

You are about to take a flight on a business assignment. You are enticed in to the book store in the Departure Lounge where you are confronted with a multitude of brightly-coloured books on leadership.

Some are shiny new reprints of classics still selling by the zillion, such as Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People or the granddaddy of self-improvement books How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Others are the hot hits of the year, placed for maximum impact. Among them are those books positioned as impulse buys, alongside the other last-minute hi-calorie temptations as you approach the check-out.

How do you decide which book to buy?

It is a question I have put to several thousand business executives over the last few years. The Airport Departure Lounge provides a highly specific situation. It is one which encourages intuitive judgement over careful analysis. The decision is arguably a trivial one from a strictly economic perspective. What’s important is that the purchase puts the author in a powerful position of owning your undivided attention for several hours. It may take you half a chapter to decide you are better off with the in-flight magazine or video choice, but by then it’s too late.

A suggestion

One approach is to examine the books for the claims made. The more the author asserts without a lot of evidence, the more the book needs approaching in a spirit of testing the assertions. With practice it becomes easier to avoid buying a real dog.

New ideas as retreads

It is difficult to come across a really new and useful business idea. In general, the ‘new idea’ tends to be a re-tread of older ideas. That does not of itself make the book useless. But the more you can see the connections with other authors you have read, the easier it is to assess its contribution. I prefer books which indicate which earlier writers influenced the authors, and how.

Don’t start from here

Another suggestion comes from the old Irish saying that “if you want to get there, I wouldn’t be starting from here.”

You pre-planned a lot of other aspects of your business journey. It only takes a few moments to pre-plan your reading. You will find ‘business books of the month’ and ‘business books of the year’ published on a regular basis in various print and on-line journals. The criterion of ‘best-sellers of the month’ may appear a rather rough guide to quality, but the additional information easily obtainable at least provides you with a few to put on your short-list before you reach the departure lounge.

The Financial Times shortlist

So, for example the six books on The Financial Times shortlist for Business Book of the Year in 2014 were:

The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee

Creativity, Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration  by Ed Catmull with Amy Wallace

Hack Attack: How the Truth Caught up with Rupert Murdoch by Nick Davies

House of Debt: How They (and You) Caused the Great Recession, and How We Can Prevent It From Happening Again by Atif Mian and Amir Sufi

Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty

Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance by Julia Angwin

The list shows the wealth of interesting and well-researched business books published every year. Unsurprisingly, the six are the sort of books most available to purchase in that airport departure lounge.


Marvellous. TV study of Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin is a feel-good story of our time

October 31, 2014

Marvellous is a brilliantly crafted and acted TV drama drawing on the eventful and engaging life of Neil Baldwin, who earned local fame in the 1990s as the much-loved kit-man and sometime mascot of Stoke City football team.

I nearly didn’t watch Marvellous [BBC 2, September 25th, 2014]. The trailers suggested it would be a Ricky Gervase meets Forrest Gump piece of fantasy about someone overcoming learning difficulties and becoming friends of the good and the great in the land. Fortunately, I discovered my misconception and watched a thoroughly enjoyable production with a remarkable core of fantasy wrapped in reality.

Marvellous: The Drama

The central character Neil Baldwin is played by Toby Jones, and is also played by Neil Baldwin. The Stoke football manager of the time was Lou Macari, who also had a walk-on role as himself and his ‘real’ involvement with the ‘real’ Neil Baldwin

Narrative tricksiness

This narrative tricksiness just about worked, as the story of Nello unfolded in its numerous unexpected encounters with a range of characters from Archbishops to cabinet ministers. The story tells how Neil Baldwin wins the interest and affection of many people he met from all walks of life, and who came to accept Nello’s designation of them as his friends.

As his remarkable network extended, his friends contributed to a wider range of exploits. At Stoke City, the Saturday football crowds chanted his name and cheered his cameo appearances as a mascot or in his clown outfit from an earlier job opportunity. At nearby Keele University, he become an unofficial ambassador and eventually manager of his own student football team.

The secret to Nello’s success

The secret to Nello’s success is easy to guess at, not so easy to pin down. Toby Jones portrayed him as someone blessed with an absence of irony. “I want to become a clown or a football manager” he told his concerned mother. “Perhaps best start as a clown then” she replied, with a little more irony.

I liked the anecdote of the Bible he kept as a sort of autograph book signed by his religious friends. When one cleric was invited to sign he was told “sign it at the back. The front’s for bishops and Archbishops”. And that turned out to be true.

The tale unfolded with various hard-to-believe events that were as much ‘based on a true-life story’ than we had any right to expect. Mostly they were played as evidence to disbelieving friends that Nello was not living in a fantasy world: confirmation of those bishops who signed his Bible at the front; a meal with Tony Benn after introducing himself at The Houses of Parliament; celebrities turning up to support one of his ideas publicising his beloved Stoke City.

Stranger than fiction

Since the broadcast, the news broke that the City of Stoke is to grant the honour of freedom of the city of Stoke on Trent to two distinguished sons of the City. One is its world-cup winning goal keeper Gordon Banks.  The other is Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin,


With Twitter, at least the abuse is free

October 28, 2014

Twitter disappoints market expectations and its share price slumps. Somewhere in the fantasy world of finance, perhaps the firm’s stance to on-line abuse is being factored in

This week [28th October, 2014] Twitter shares slumped as promise continued to outpace financial performance. Dick Costolo, Twitter’s chief executive remained upbeat.

The weirdo tweeters

I wondered what effect increased levels of personal abuse in the tweets from weirdo tweeters might be having.

The poisoning of online debate

The thought occurred to me after reading Twitter and the poisoning of online debate by the BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones.

For anyone who believed the internet and social media would foster a new era of free expression and open debate, this is a depressing time. It seems no area of discussion is free from mindless and often vicious exchanges between people who have different opinions.

And there is wider concern about the future of online debate. Where now are the places that reasonable people can go to find discussion that does not quickly descend into abuse and flame wars?

For a long while, Twitter was different, a place where people were who they said they were and were aware that a tweet was a public statement for which you could be called to account. Now though, a rash of spam and so-called sockpuppet accounts have started to poison this well too.

When Cellan-Jones asked twitter to respond to criticisms they replied:

“Our rules are designed to allow our users to create and share this wide variety content in an environment that is safe and secure for our users. When content is reported to us that violates our rules, which include a ban on targeted abuse, we suspend those accounts. We evaluate and refine our policies based on input from users, while working with outside organizations to ensure that we have industry best practices in place.”

There is no such thing as a free tweet

A second thought. As economists might put it, there is no such thing as a free tweet. By which I mean even the innovators who gave us Twitter still operate a business model that has to satisfy the expectations of the all-powerful gods of the market place.

The Dilemma

The dilemma for corporate twitter is how to preserve its brand image of an altruistic, neo-capitalist cuddly big brother to its zillions of users at the same time as placating the gods of the market place.


So, Is President Obama a weak leader?

October 26, 2014

President Obama has received continued criticism for being a weak leader. His military actions against IS in Iraq and Syria are now being used to demonstrate the contrary argument. I suggest that such assessments need to be made with great care

Popular and political judgements of a leader’s competence need to be tested carefully. Too often they are reactions to a single critical incident.

Critical incidents may not be all that critical

A news story often follows a ‘critical incident’. For example, the IS made headlines over brutal videoed execution of an American hostage. President Obama said at a Press Conference that there was no American strategy in place for dealing with the emerging Islamic State. The  remark  was widely taken to illustrate the President’s weakness as a leader.

Was it weak leadership to speak the truth?

A leader is expected to offer reassurance. Obama’s sound-bite was uncomfortable to hear. It could be used in Media Training as an example of a remark that might have been better expressed. An example of a weakly-expressed point. But was it weak leadership to speak the truth? Would it have been any better to say “We know exactly what to do, as you will learn very shortly” ?

Was it strong leadership to launch the air campaign against IS?

British politicians appear to be believe so. They debated the issue and voted overwhelmingly in favour of supplying air support in Iraq (where the new regime requested military support against IS) Here is where some careful testing of ideas is required. One view is that a strong leader is decisive and ‘sends signals of commitment and willingness to act’ unilaterally if necessary.

There seems a wide consensus that the initiative has little chance of a simple successful ending without ‘boots on the ground‘.

Yet there has been a remarkable level of regional and international support of at least a symbolic kind.

Strong leadership?

And the question of what is strong leadership remains a matter of perspective.  If strong is understood as having the power to bring about desired change, President Obama is in a relatively weak position for someone in the role generally perceived as that of the most powerful political leader in the world.


Are managers sacked for breaking the rules and leaders sacked for not breaking them?

October 24, 2014


It’s a nice idea from a well-respected source, and indicates yet another take on an old question about the difference between leaders and managers

I came across the quote in a chapter on ethical change written recently by two business school authors, By and Burnes. By coincidence, this week Tesco was involved in a story of managers sacked for breaking the rules, and a leader (Richard Broadbent) who sacked himself for not breaking enough of them.

A long-running debate

There has been a long-running debate about the difference between leaders and managers which goes along the lines that ‘managers do things right’ and ‘leaders do the right things’. This was popularized, if not coined, by Warren Bennis in the 1980s, when it found resonance with the New Leadership movement, and the virtues of the transforming leader.

Burnes and By are not necessarily ‘Bying in’ to the Bennis distinction. They are offering a critical challenge to others think a little more carefully about leadership, business, and ethics.

Testing the difference between leaders and managers

In Dilemmas of Leadership I suggest that concepts such as leadership and management are social constructions. In use, the terms tell us what sense we make of leaders (observable) and leadership (social constructions). By examining or testing the maps dealing with the topics, and looking for important dilemmas we see more clearly what sense is being made by the authors. We also see more into the sense we make locally in our own leadership roles.

Bennis writes powerfully of leaders as being ‘made’ rather than being ‘born’. His map is very much influenced by (and perhaps exerted its influence on) the New Leadership movement and its transformational and visionary leaders.

So are managers and leaders sacked for different reasons?

One way of rethinking this is by turning the narrative on its head. If managers are sacked for sticking to the rules, we need to study specific examples. What sort of sticking to the rules? Doing what they are expected to do, maybe. If leaders are sacked for not breaking the rules, they have failed to do what they are expected to do, and failed to challenge the rules (strategies, culture, and so on) that the organization had developed.

In other words, the distinction helps us learn what sense we make of the functional roles and less formal obligations of business executives whom we label as leaders and managers.


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