Friday, December 18, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

While the Iron is Hot . . . Do the Ironing

Justifiably angry piece by Andrew Flood over at the Irish Left Review.

WSM Press release here.

Management Go-Slow

In chaotic times, an executive’s instinct may be to strive for greater efficiency by tightening control. But the truth is that relinquishing authority and giving employees considerable autonomy can boost innovation and success at knowledge firms, even during crises. Our research provides hard evidence that leaders who give in to the urge to clamp down can end up doing their companies a serious disservice.

Although business thinkers have long proposed that companies can engage workers and stimulate innovation by abdicating control—establishing nonhierarchical teams that focus on various issues and allowing those teams to make most of the company’s decisions—guidance on implementing such a policy is lacking. So is evidence of its consequences. Indeed, companies that actually practice abdication of control are rare. Two of them, however, compellingly demonstrate that if it’s implemented properly, this counterintuitive idea can dramatically improve results.

. . .

Furthermore, we’ve found that contrary to what many CEOs assume, leadership is not really about delegating tasks and monitoring results; it is about imbuing the entire workforce with a sense of responsibility for the business. This applies mainly to knowledge organizations, but even production-oriented companies can benefit from having employees who feel more empowered and engaged.

If abdication of authority is to yield value for the corporation, however, individuals must be self-motivated. CSC Germany does this by allowing employees to work on the one of five topics that best utilizes their talents and excites their interest. This involves joining a topic community, such as the one focusing on strategy and innovation. Issues are discussed in these groups until all participants come to an agreement, and leadership within the groups shifts frequently, settling on individuals who have the most competence in the areas of focus and are accepted by others as leaders.

We call such practices “mutualism.” It involves measuring workers not against revenue or other numerical goals, which we have observed to be ineffective as motivational tools, but against qualitative values such as trust, responsibility, and innovation. And it implies that leaders don’t dictate vision or strategy; instead, they enable employees to create a common vision through, for example, off-sites for discussion of strategic issues and regular feedback and education. Hitting numerical goals has been the natural outcome.

From "To Be a Better Leader, Give Up Authority," by A.D. Amar, Carsten Hentrich, and Vlatka Hlupic, in the December 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

"No modern factory could function for twenty-four hours without [the] spontaneous organization of work that groups of workers, independent of the official business management, carry out by filling in the gaps of official production directives, by preparing for the unforeseen and for regular breakdowns of equipment, by compensating for management's mistakes, etc."

From "The Proletarian Revolution Against the Bureaucracy," by Cornelius Castoriadis, in the December 1956 issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie.

Reverse Psychology

"This is not a book you want on your coffee table," says Michael Pavletic in an interview with Reader's Digest about his latest work, Atlas of Small Animal Wound Management & Reconstructive Surgery (Third Edition).

It's already on my Amazon Wishlist.

Sixty-Nine and Eighty-Seven

What filthy minds you have.

These are the categories of interest in this year's Grammy Awards as far as we at C&S are concerned. Neko Case's fantastic album Middle Cyclone has been nominated for the Best Contemporary Folk Album, and she and Judge have received a nomination for Best Recording Package for the same album. Fingers crossed.

Nearly as good as a Children's BAFTA.

Blogroll Alert

New addition to the blogroll (left): Enclosure of the Commons

Friday, December 04, 2009

We Love Charlize Theron #2

"Sometimes No Comment speaks louder than words."

Theron tonight upon France's name being drawn out.

It's Friday. Let's Wrestle!

Let's Wrestle - We Are The Men You'll Grow To Love soon

We Love Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron détend l'atmosphère

L'actrice sud-africaine sait suivre les modes, et se moquer gentiment de la France en est devenue une. Lors d'un répétition préalable à la cérémonie, en tirant la boule "France", Charlize Theron a volontairement prononcé "Irlande". "Oui, c'est ce qu'elle a fait mais ça n'était qu'une blague", a assuré Jérôme Valcke, secrétaire général de la FIFA, cité par


Thursday, December 03, 2009

Thank God for Low Achievers

Ever Google your old mates from university to see what they're up to these days? One of my closest friends from back then, it transpires (scroll down), was earlier this year appointed head of communications for the International Olympic Committee after serving as managing director and head of media and communications for the World Economic Forum.

The article even mentions that:

A 2005 profile of Adams in PR Week takes note of his days in Manchester as an "Old Labour activist" and as radio disc jockey.

This is the only previous connection I've had with Lausanne. I think it had best stay that way.

Which Side Are You On?

This could be interesting. The first police union in France (the CRS are the riot police, IIRC) is organizing protests today to express its members' great dissatisfaction with government cutbacks.

I wonder who will be policing it. And what if it turns ugly? Who should I support?

Either way, one thing will be for sure: The police started it.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

He's Making It Up as He Goes Along!!!

France miss out on seedings in the World Cup finals due to the decision to use the October rankings rather than past performances in World Cups combined with rankings:

Had the old formula been used, France would have been one of the top seeds and Holland would have missed out. The Guardian tells us:

Jérôme Valcke, Fifa's general secretary, insisted there was no agenda against France as a result of the play-off controversy. He said: "In the past the seedings have been determined by a mixture of world rankings and performances in past World Cups but this time the feeling was the October rankings most closely represented the best teams in the tournament."

Had November's rankings been used, England would have missed out and France seeded.

Valcke added: "We made the decision last month that the October rankings would be used because they were fairer. Countries who had been involved in the play-offs would have had an unfair advantage because they would have played more games and that affects their ranking.

"This is not a case of wanting Holland to be seeded instead of France, just that the feeling was the October seedings represented the best teams."

The best teams that will be in South Africa, anyway. Le Monde, however, believes that France and Ireland are now united in suffering an injustice:

Alors s'est posée la question du mode de désignation de ces têtes de série. On pensait l'équipe de France protégée par son statut de finaliste du Mondial 2006. Mais le doute existait. Pourquoi ? Parce qu'à la FIFA les règlements sont faits au jour le jour, semble-t-il. La commission d'organisation de la Coupe du monde se réunissait mercredi pour fixer les modalités du tirage au sort, deux jours seulement avant celui-ci, et a décidé d'établir une nouvelle règle : "Par le passé, [la répartition des équipes] s'était faite en fonction à la fois du classement mondial et des performances dans les précédentes Coupes du monde ; il est apparu cette fois que le classement du mois d'octobre donnait une photo assez fidèle la hiérarchie mondiale."

In other words, you'd expect France to be seeded by virtue of the fact that they made it to the last World Cup final. Why aren't they? Well, apparently because the rules of FIFA are being invented on a daily basis.

That'll be thanks to Sepp "loose cannon" Blatter, no doubt.

I dunno. Maybe France should ask FIFA to designate them as the ninth seed. Just this once.

"Cowen, You Bastard!"

Irish National Public Sector Strike on Tuesday 24th November 2009

Thanks to Conor at D.O.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I'll Scratch Your Back . . .

Tuesday's New York Times is always good for one or two evolutionary psychology-type articles in the Science section. Today's looks at Michael Tomasello's research into humans' innate desire to help others:

When infants 18 months old see an unrelated adult whose hands are full and who needs assistance opening a door or picking up a dropped clothespin, they will immediately help, Michael Tomasello writes in “Why We Cooperate,” a book published in October. Dr. Tomasello, a developmental psychologist, is co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

The helping behavior seems to be innate because it appears so early and before many parents start teaching children the rules of polite behavior.

“It’s probably safe to assume that they haven’t been explicitly and directly taught to do this,” said Elizabeth Spelke, a developmental psychologist at Harvard. “On the other hand, they’ve had lots of opportunities to experience acts of helping by others. I think the jury is out on the innateness question.”

But Dr. Tomasello finds the helping is not enhanced by rewards, suggesting that it is not influenced by training. It seems to occur across cultures that have different timetables for teaching social rules. And helping behavior can even be seen in infant chimpanzees under the right experimental conditions. For all these reasons, Dr. Tomasello concludes that helping is a natural inclination, not something imposed by parents or culture.

This bit in particular I thought interesting:

An interesting bodily reflection of humans’ shared intentionality is the sclera, or whites, of the eyes. All 200 or so species of primates have dark eyes and a barely visible sclera. All, that is, except humans, whose sclera is three times as large, a feature that makes it much easier to follow the direction of someone else’s gaze. Chimps will follow a person’s gaze, but by looking at his head, even if his eyes are closed. Babies follow a person’s eyes, even if the experimenter keeps his head still.

Advertising what one is looking at could be a risk. Dr. Tomasello argues that the behavior evolved “in cooperative social groups in which monitoring one another’s focus was to everyone’s benefit in completing joint tasks.”

This could have happened at some point early in human evolution, when in order to survive, people were forced to cooperate in hunting game or gathering fruit. The path to obligatory cooperation — one that other primates did not take — led to social rules and their enforcement, to human altruism and to language.

But then so was this:

The division of labor between men and women — men gather 68 percent of the calories in foraging societies — requires cooperation between the sexes. Young people in these societies consume more than they produce until age 20, which in turn requires cooperation between the generations. This long period of dependency was needed to develop the special skills required for the hunter gatherer way of life.

The structure of early human societies, including their “high levels of cooperation between kin and nonkin,” was thus an adaptation to the “specialized foraging niche” of food resources that were too difficult for other primates to capture, Dr. Kaplan and colleagues wrote recently in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. We evolved to be nice to each other, in other words, because there was no alternative.

Feck it, read the whole thing.

And the Price of Everything

The November 16 issue of Publishers Weekly has a too-brief interview with Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing (£8.59 at Amazon):

Is the confluence of the economic crisis with the climate and food crises an auspicious moment for change?

This is one of the last moments ecologically where, if we make a profound change now, we will be able to leave a world to our children and grandchildren that is roughly familiar to what we have today. But there's nothing inevitable about us doing the right thing. The last time we went through a depression, the politics that came out were not at all progressive. Part of the motivation behind this book is to point out the dangers that lie in wait at a time like this, but also the solutions that are already being practiced, which we need to learn from in a hurry.

You describe a “countermovement” that seems more pragmatic and less rigid than neoliberalism.

It's ironic, right? The idea of the free market is that everyone can do whatever they like, and yet the dogma for the free market is profoundly centralized, whereas the movements that I point to have political principles about equality, inclusion, and human rights, [but] beyond that, the everyday politics of how to figure things out is done in a very democratic way. The Zapatistas have rotating citizens' courts that effectively act as a municipal council. They've been so successful in resolving disputes and dealing with economic planning that regular Mexicans will come to these courts because they're much fairer and more just than the Mexican legal system.

You distinguish between consumer-choice democracy and a more fully participatory version. What's the difference and how do we get more of the real thing in the U.S.?

We need to shun the idea that the only way we can shape the world is through our consumption choices. In terms of “the real thing,” I don't want to set up any imaginary perfect democracy because there's never been one. But in every courtroom in the U.S., 12 people deliberate the cases of their peers. You can see people actively engaged in building substantive change everywhere from communities of the homeless in New York to the farm workers of Immokalee, in Florida—who just had their salaries increased by 70% as a result of their organizing. As the book went to press, Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize for Economics for her work on community governance. So the theory and the practice are very much alive in this country; it's one of the reasons that I'm applying to become an American citizen right now. If there's one country where it's possible to make these changes, and make democracy work best, it's going to be here.