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Archive for December, 2008

And so we say farewell…

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 31, 2008

No one else could bring a smile to our faces over the last eight years in quite the same way as the 43rd President of the United States.  If only he’d pursued a career as a stand-up comic rather than a politician.

Here are David Letterman’s Top Ten George Bush moments – some real classics here.  I think my favourite is left hand/right hand.

I hope you have a very happy 2009


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Thinking, feeling and the placebo effect

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 30, 2008

The placebo effect takes the idea that ‘you feel how you think’ (an idea which, as I’ve mentioned in various posts, is at the heart of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) to quite astonishing extremes.

Ben Goldacre’s two programmes about placebos are well worth a listen.  As he points out, some of the findings – particularly those related to the physical changes that placebos can bring about are ‘outrageous’: all the more so because they are true.  The programmes are only available in streaming audio, rather than MP3 downloads, incidentally so you will need to listen to them on your computer.

Meanwhile Peter Preston writes about an aspect of the GEM (Global Economic Meltdown) that’s worth remembering.   He points that there is ‘no bonus for keeping calm, or in any way downplaying the state we’re possibly in’: it all adds to the rather extreme loss of confidence that has afflicted the markets and banking system. Perhaps we need to organise some assertiveness training for the former Masters of the Universe?

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Daily Mash explains why Bank of England didn’t spot looming meltdown

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 22, 2008

This seems entirely plausible to me.    Not so sure about the BBC’s version of the story, though.  The deputy governor of the bank says that they knew that borrowing was ‘crazy’ but they didn’t think it was ‘serious’.  

In what sense was he using the words ‘crazy’ and ‘serious’, do you think?  As I understand the situation (i.e. not very well, which means that I’m well qualified to run the BoE) a large part of the problem was that the accumlated debt was being converted into derivatives that no one really understood and which were being traded on the markets.  

This led to a vicious cycle: the investment bankers wanted more and debt to trade.  In the face of this insatiable demand,  the lenders handed out more and more money to people who would never be able to afford to repay it. Once the value of the underlying assets started to fall, the whole house of cards collapsed.   ‘Crazy’ certainly seems to be an appropriate adjective.  

As I pointed out in a previous post, psychologists have confirmed that everything – even things that didn’t actually happen – seem perfectly obvious given the benefit of hindsight.  Perhaps we should insist that the Bank of England’s board – and probably all other corporate boards – must include a fully qualified psychologist.

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Yay! Mammoth cloning!

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 19, 2008

Here, courtesy of the New Statesman, are 30 reasons to celebrate in 2009.   The words ‘barrel’ and ‘scraping’ came to mind when I saw ‘mammoth cloning’ at number eight.

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More proof that everything is psychology

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 18, 2008

Those pesky scientists are at it again – debunking everything we thought was thorougly, er, bunked.  This time it’s hats.  We’ve all been told for years that we lose more heat through our heads than from any other part of our bodies.  It seems that’s completley wrong.  Someone in the American military misinterpreted some data.  Apparently heat is lost evenly by every part of the body, but our heads and chests are more sensitive to cold which is why it feels as though it makes sense. 

I’m sure that it still makes sense to wear a hat when it’s cold – 10% is still 10% and feeling warmer than we actually are (which, presumably, is an implication of the recent findings) is probably no bad thing.  We now know that it also makes sense to cover up everything else as well.

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Bailing out – generally to be avoided

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 16, 2008


Gratuitous glider photo

Gratuitous glider photo

It’s been many years since I was cured of the gliding bug – having young children and spending most summer weekends attempting to aviate wasn’t really very compatible, and the children took up much more of our time as they got older.  However, it’s still a good source of analogies.  

Take bailing out, for example.  Glider pilots, unlike most light aircraft pilots wear parachutes.  Like life jackets, you sincerely hope that you never have to use the things in anger.  We were advised not to make practice jumps as far more people would be injured practising: if the worst happened and you had to bail out, you were told to do the obvious things: jump, pull rip cord, roll over on landing etc.  There were only two reasons why you’d need to bail out at all: a serious malfunction of your machine (eg the controls stop working – this happened to someone I knew) or a collision with another aircraft, usually a gilder.  Below about 2,000 feet a ‘chute wasn’t of much use in any case.  Bailing out was a Very Bad Thing and to be avoided if at all possible.

I can’t help feeling that bailing out the US or UK car industries would also be a Very Bad Thing.  In last Sunday’s Observer Andrew Rawnsley suggested that, if job preservation is the issue, the money could be used in better ways.    Surely he’s right – paying vast sums to keep these companies going only makes sense if you think the recession will be short and that afterwards people will start buying again.  Somehow, I can’t see that happening but then, as I’ve pointed out in a number of posts, I’m not an economist.

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Incipient hubris syndrome?

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 11, 2008

A Roman conqueror

A Roman conqueror

Former neurologist and Foreign Secretary David Owen suggested in his recent book ‘In Sickness and in Power‘ that some heads of government succumb to a variation of the manic phase of bipolar syndrome. They become excessively self-confident, convince themselves that they never make mistakes and are contemptuous of advice particularly if it runs counter to what they believe. He cites Anthony Eden, Margaret Thatcher, the Shah of Iran and Messrs Bush and Blair as probable sufferers.

It may have been a slip of the tongue, but Gordon Brown’s claim, while speaking in Parliament yesterday, to have ‘saved the world‘ sounded to me like a possible early symptom of hubris syndrome.

Perhaps all heads of government should, like Roman conquerors during their triumphs, have a slave or civil servant standing behind them at all times whispering “all glory is fleeting”? The PM could also read the post below in which I quoted Kotter’s observation that one of the main reasons that change programmes fail is the tendency to declare victory too soon.

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English Not Worst At Everything Shock

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 10, 2008

I’m never really sure why the English have a reputation for arrogance.  Perhaps it’s a hangover from the days in which we set out from the small island we share with the Scots and Welsh and planted our flag on most of the continents we came across.  That’s arrogant.

These days things are rather different.  We are, for example, conditioned to believe that we’ll never win any major sporting contest (particularly in the sport in question happens to be one we invented) and that pretty much everything else here in England is awful.  Our tendency to grumble, reinforced by the determination of the media to seek out everything that’s bad and give it as much publicity as possible, probably doesn’t help.  And when we’re not grumbling we’re apologising.

So, conditioned as I am to believe that everything about England is either as bad as it could possibly be or is steadily getting worse, I was delighted to spot this news item yesterday.  Yes that’s right.  If you believe the numbers, English students are in the global top ten ranking for maths and science (at least as measured at ages 10 and 14).  If there’s one ranking in which I’d want us to do well, this is it.   Makes me proud  – in a quietly pleased, not-at-all arrogant and rather apologetic way – to be English.

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Epictetus and CBT in the first century AD

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 10, 2008

David D Burns, one of the original exponents of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (see various previous posts) once pointed out that the underlying principles of the approach are nothing new.

He mentions the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus who, as you will see from his Wikipedia entry, was born in 55 AD.  Epictetus suggests that ‘suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.’

CBT is based on the ideas that what we think (our ‘cognitions’) determines how we feel and that we can exercise some control over what we think.  Epictetus said, for example, that “”Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things” and as this book points out, Taoism and Buddhism both regard cognition as a primary force in determining human behaviour.

Epictetus had views on every subject under the Sun.  Here are just a few of them.  One of them is clearly the original of Shakespeare’s famous CBT related quote.

Incidentally, I came across an advert earlier in which IBM claim that they can help to ‘solve business challenges’.  Further evidence that ‘challenges’ are what we used to call ‘problems’, I think.  Before long ‘challenge’ will have the same negative connotations as ‘problem’, so we’ll have to think of something else to call them.  Can’t be ‘issues’ though: that’s already been taken.

Posted in cbt, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, consultancy, consultantese, psychology, thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

What’s to be done about ‘reporters’?

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 9, 2008

bbc21I don’t know about you, obviously, but virtually every time I read a report in the media about a topic I actually know something about it contains either glaring errors or very significant spin.

The current economic situation is a case in point.  The BBC have decided that we are, almost literally, going to hell in a handcart.  The graphic which accompanies their ‘downturn‘ coverage is, without doubt, pointed directly towards eternal damnation.  All it needs is some fire and brimstone and a devil or two and it would be perfect.  As I write there are no items at all on the ‘downturn’ page which point out that there are glimmers of good news ftseamongst the gloom.  Meanwhile, the FTSE has been performing reasonably well over the last couple of days, as the second image – from elsewhere on the BBC News site – illustrates.  It’s as if they actually want things to turn out as badly as possible, isn’t it?

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Not going down a storm

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 7, 2008

My Vodafone mobile phone is nearing its upgrade date so I’ve been wondering about getting a Blackberry Storm to replace it.   If you’re a sentient inhabitant of this planet you’ll be aware that Vodafone have been spending hundreds of millions promoting the things recently.  If these comments from users in the US are accurate, I certainly won’t be doing so.  If the phone is as awful as the comments suggest I’d be rather surprised.  Vodafone, our local multi-national here in Newbury, test these things to death before they allow them onto their network.

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“Many will question whether cheaper debt is the solution to a crisis brought on by reckless borrowing.”

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 5, 2008

Quite.  Someone remind me: what’s the point of economists?

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Tick-box mentality

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 2, 2008

An editorial comment in today’s Guardian points out that the tragic case of Baby P was in part due to Haringey council using ‘…the very system designed to monitor its performance to disguise its failure.’

Anyone who has seen a school preparing for an OFSTED inspection will understand the problem.  A general unwillingness to admit that there are things which we might call ‘problems’ is, to my mind, part of the problem.  Imagine how the crew of Apollo 13 might have behaved if their primary concern was to give the impression that everything was fine.

What they actually said:

Swigert: ‘Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.’
Duke: ‘This is Houston. Say again please.’
Lovell: ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem. We’ve had a main B bus undervolt.’

How much weaker that would have sounded in 21st Century UK public-service-speak:

Swigert: ‘Okay, Houston, we have some issues.’
Duke: ‘Pardon me?’
Swigert: ‘We have some issues around the main B bus.’
Duke: ‘What sort of issues?’
Swigert: ‘Potentially rather serious issues, going forward’ etc.

Things would have turned out rather differently, don’t you think?

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1% inspiration

Posted by Andrew Cooper on December 1, 2008

edisonOnly one brief mention of Thomas Alva Edison on the blog so far, so it’s time for a little more.  A true innovator, in the sense that I defined the word way back here.  If you are interested in the process by which ideas are turned into changes in the real world, read one of the many excellent biographies of the man.

Edison was, of course, able to do much more than have good ideas – he was, par excellance, able to turn his ideas into money making products.  In fact many of the innovations with which his name is most closely associated started out as other people’s inventions.  I’ve mentioned Kirton’s distinction between adaptors and innovators before – Edison was, like many engineers, an adaptor.  Some 22 inventors came up with the idea of the incandescent light bulb before Edison perfected the technology.  But Edison was a systems thinker and he realised that once the electricity distribution systems required for ubiquitous electric lighting were in place, the power they made available could be used in many different ways.

LIke many – perhaps all – innovators, Edison was a visual thinker.  He first met Henry Ford, they were to become life long friends, over dinner and spent most of the meal sketching ideas on napkins before Edison looked at Ford and said ‘We think the same way!’.

It was, of course, Edison who said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  While very few of us can claim to be be geniuses, we all know that the effort required to turn an idea from a vague notion flikering around our 100 billion neurons into something that has actually made a difference in the real world is huge.  The main reason for my infrequent posting here recently is that I’m working hard to turn a clutch of ideas that emerged in early July into tangible, implemented (and, I hope, money earning) reality.

When I’ve made some more progress I’ll return here to reflect on the experience.  Meanwhile I have some bridges I need to exploit and barriers that must be removed.

Posted in creativity, Edison, innovation, systems thinking, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »