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When you don’t know what you don’t know

Sir Nicholas Hytner, has directed ‘The History Boys’, ‘Warhorse’, ‘One Man Two Guv’nors’ and more at the National Theatre . He understands how people think and act. In a recent TV profile, he said this about acting: 

‘The ones who make it are the ones who know how little they know.’

Past and present colleagues will read this and smile for, in business and in life, the following has been a recurring mantra of mine:

‘You know what you know. You know what you don’t know. But what if you don’t know what you don’t know?’

Do we face the apocalypse: or are we in it?

Last week, as part of a creative project with First World War themes, I was privileged to meet the writer Nicholas Mosley.

Before we met, I researched Mosley’s fascinating  life. I did not have time to read his eighteen novels, but I could read some autobiographical work, including his relaxed account of the incident which won him the MIlitary Cross in the Second World War. It seemed to be more force of circumstance than a considered act of bravery. Mosely said:

‘In war you are given a structure, and you have to obey it – or not.

In peace you have to find or make a structure, but then why should you obey it?’

You can’t practice pressure

In the European Cup this week, the England v Italy quarter final and the Spain v Portugal semi-final have been decided by penalty kicks in which  a player is asked to put the ball on a spot and kick it past a goalkeeper into a goal (or not). 

In this way, rather than a contest of skill, the ‘game’ becomes more of a mental ordeal whereby the penalties continue until one player cracks under pressure and fails to score.

Players have ‘choked’ in other sports too. In his book Bounce, Matthew Syed explored the theory that all you need is up to 10,000 hours practice to reach a level where the motor mechanisms in your body become automatic.

Surely, when under pressure to perform in an environment and atmosphere that you simply cannot practice, you need think smarter too?

A job that’s forever not just for life

This week, anyone who’s anyone in advertising has been basking in sunny Cannes at the International Advertising Festival.

As no one knows what advertising is anymore, which is not great advertising for advertising, the Festival is now called the International Festival of Creativity.

Take it from me, as I’ve been there done that, this is a very expensive occasion which may or may not be appropriate in these austere times.

Whistleblowing – a call for new legislation

On 24 May, when I posted the first of this trilogy on whistleblowing, I referred to a front page article in Management Today on Michael Woodford, ‘the British chief executive who blew the whistle on a $1.7bn (£1bn) corporate fraud at Japanese electronics giant Olympus’.

Little did I know that now, only two weeks later, The Telegraph would report that:

The whistleblower’s dilemma – what would you do?

Further to my last post on whistleblowing, and my own experience thereof, sometimes I get asked to conduct seminars and workgroups on ‘Integrity in Business’.

The most rewarding sessions are when I place the participants into a position where the thin grey line between their moral integrity and financial or career ambitions is challenged.

Let’s take a hypothetical example:

Whistleblowers – Brave Heroes or Social Outcasts?

The word ‘whistleblower’ has re-entered my life. I hate this word with a passion.

In the school playground, whistleblowing is called ‘sneaking’. As a sneak, you are the person who has reported the misbehaviour of your schoolmates to the teachers. You cannot be trusted. You have behaved in a furtive, underhand way. You are left isolated, alone and friendless (every child’s worst nightmare). You are contemptible.

In the criminal world, you are a ‘snitch’ or ‘grass’ (derived from ‘snake in the grass’).  You have reported the criminal activities of others to the police. You are an informant. And you are in grave danger. In retaliation, you risk being kneecapped, ‘tarred and feathered’ or killed. You are worse than contemptible. You could be dead.

But, in the wider world between the school playground and the criminal underground, isn’t ‘whistleblowing’ a good thing?

Tomorrow never comes (unless you’re Green)

That ‘capable, most extraordinary politician’ Caroline Lucas has announced she is stepping down as leader of the Green Party. It says here this is ‘part of a strategy centred on challenging the Liberal Democrats at the next election.’

I wonder if the Greens will succeed in this objective or, indeed, if they are aware of the strategic opportunity that is staring them in the face?

In the recent London Mayor elections Jenny Jones, the Green candidate, did beat the Lib Dems. But will her party overcome their prevailing image as a bunch of environmental dreamers as out of touch with the needs of today’s world as a Woodstock hippy stick-in-the-mud awaiting the resurrection of Jimi Hendrix?

Someone really special

So, in my last post, we were talking about my old teacher’s conviction that everyone is special at something. It brought to mind a story a friend of mine told me about his brother.

I met Tom Wilson through cricket. He is friendly, sociable and gregarious. Good player too. The story he told me was about his brother, Robert, about whom his family were extremely concerned.

Robert didn’t like cricket (which is certainly a concern). In fact, he didn’t like any sport at all. He didn’t like reading. He didn’t like music. He didn’t like art. He didn’t like pubs. Robert didn’t like anything. He just sat in his room all day looking at the ceiling. It was a struggle for the family to coax him downstairs to eat or watch TV.

What makes you special?

Last night, I watched a TV programme called Safari Vet School with my teenage daughter. The show features a group of young vets helping to protect endangered animal species in a South African game reserve.

Whatever panics and dangers they faced, the local Head Vet, Dr Will Fowlds, exuded an extraordinary air of calm professionalism. At the end of the two weeks, he took them for a moment’s quiet reflection overlooking miles of unspoilt, distant African landscape.

This view has been here all my life. And it was here, one day, that I realised something very important and I hope you have learnt too: it is very difficult to interact with people around you or achieve your full potential until you understand who you are and what your weaknesses are; what you are good at and what you are special at.