Monday, 28 April 2014

Camel lady

Tracks was one of those delightful films that I stumbled into, almost by accident, having not read any of the reviews or crits beforehand. It is beautifully humble film with no pretensions and quietly tells a moving story of a young woman who decides to trek from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with her dog and several camels. The cinematography is understated until near the end when it explodes into a sea of colour. And not much happens in the story but there again, it kind of does.

We are led to the view that this journey could be about the woman in question wanting to walk out her demons, having decided that only the kind of 'aloneness' you can get in huge desert will help her to do this. There are other characters who flit in and out of her journey, mostly to her annoyance (but not ours). It is a wide and wise film with a big sky and a big belief that we all have a journey like this inside us.

The main character has a very treasured compass. Without her compass, she would get quickly lost in a sea of sand and scrub. But that isn't the main reason why she values the compass so highly: we learn why during the film. The compass has a worth that extends well beyond its utility.

Sometimes leaders can be very functional and only rate objects, (or work methods, organisational structures etc) for their contributions to productivity & performance. However wise leaders recognise that the value of these artifacts & features of the organisation may well include high emotional value and only makes changes with great circumspection.

What are the totemic features of your organisation that you only change with great care?


This is the twenty seventh of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Transcendence, transference, trans...something

I went to see Transcendence really hoping all the critics were wrong. I was thinking often people just don't get scifi, or they went expecting mega special effects and didn't get them or whatever... But I have to say were it not for Mr Depp on the cast, it would have sunk without trace by now. I felt like I was watching a Dad's race at a primary school: lots of urgent flailing of legs & arms to get to the finish line but eventually falling into a lumpy heap.

The film tries desperately to knit together nanotechnology, spirituality, psychology, biochemistry and artifical intelligence (yeah, all that) into something that ends up being cross between a reworking of the myth of Icarus, the Six Million Dollar Man and Cold Mountain. So I thought, who was the writer? It turns out to be one Jack Paglen whose credits include a forthcoming remake of Battlestar Gallactica. Say no more. Watch this film only if you drool over Mr Depp (and plenty do).

One of the core themes to the movie might be summed up in the words: just because you can does not mean that you should. At one point in the film, it is proposed that the difference between self aware AI and plain ordinary very clever AI is knowing the difference between right and wrong (as if ethics is ever binary). And then the film goes on to show how even self aware AI doesn't know the difference between right and wrong. It is all very confusing, rather than been consciously ironic - or perhaps it was! (Certainly, there is a moment where one of the main characters is booked secretly into a hotel room in name of Turing: even though I was sitting in MK, which includes Bletchley, no one else seemed to laugh...)

But to get back to the leadership point: the film is about the wise (and unwise) use of technology. I would contend that the mark of a fine leader is one who is able to distinguish what can be done from what should be done. In other words ethics is core to good leadership.

As a leader, what was your last ethical decision?


This is the twenty sixth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Friday, 25 April 2014

The 'Truncheon of Doom' & what price justice?

You may well have heard of the 'Barnet Graph of Doom'

This basically shows that Barnet council is going to run out of money at round about the end of this decade when sources of income dry up (DCLG goes into deep hibernation) and demand for social care & children's services just keep rising.

Birmingham not to be outdone has created the 'Jaws of Doom'

I believe there is also a 'Scissors of Doom' graph which seeks to predict when the NHS will run out of money / healthcare consumes all of public spending / Government introduces the Logan's Run option to reduce demand (I jest of course...) I cannot find it on the net: perhaps it is censored as being even scarier than senior politicians in swimming trunks...

But this got me wondering: do we have (or need) a 'Truncheon of Doom': a graph which shows when predicted resources available for the police & criminal justice services are exceeded by demand for said services? Could such a graph be constructed? How elastic is demand for policing? Or will money always be found for sufficient courts and prisons to lock people up and deliver justice?

Evidence based practice has now migrated across from healthcare into the probation and police services (although there is still a long way to go), a trend I was predicting back at the turn of the century. In a similar way, do we now need more Criminal Justice Economics (like Health Economics)? 

The University of York seems to be ploughing quite a lonely furrow. But is there could be much more... do we need more academic research to look at costs and benefits of various approaches to policing, probation and other parts of the CJS? When does the 'Truncheon of Doom' close in?

But let me make a further link (and I am just exploring this really, prompted by part of Peter Neyroud's input last night)...

Retributional Justice is about right & wrong, about punishment, guilt and fair process. In many ways the victim is as much a subject of the justice process as the offender. The benefits to the victim are not weighed against the cost of the judicial intervention. Thank Heavens, I here you say, justice should have no price because it has intrinsic and supreme value... Do you believe that?

Whereas, on the other hand, one model of Restorative Justice sees crime as a harm to be healed, and therefore the process of justice becomes the method by which that healing occurs. And so if that healing can occur without due (and hugely costly) legal process but instead with some other intervention / RJ based desistance method perhaps: then is that a better outcome for the individuals involved and indeed for society at large? (Because it could be far more cost effective...)

As I say, I don't know. I want to think about this some more. But what do you think? 

The love nudge

Although The Love Punch features some of my favourite actors, I didn't go with high expectations. I was not disappointed. The trailer suggested something of an unlikely plot, set in some beautiful parts of France with a few giggles along the way. And that indeed is what the film was like. No Trade Description Act infringements to report here. (Although I still don't quite get 'love punch'... is this punch as a mildly intoxicating party drink or a thump? I am none the wiser.)

The plot is contrived, ludicrous, and impossible frothy stuff. But I am guessing it was a total romp to make and who wouldn't turn down the chance to 'act' in silly costumes (including some rather well fitting wet suits which pitches an ex bond actor against Timothy Spall) in some lovely places. It was a bit of fun but I don't think it is going to win any awards.

As for a leadership theme, I think it going to have to be about being dauntless! Just think of a goal and believe you can do it, and you will! At least that is the message of the film (I guess). And of course the leadership literature is full of dauntless leaders who sail across oceans, win chests full of medals, turn businesses around because they believed it possible...

So all one has to do is believe in a goal as much as they did and you will achieve your goals too. Maybe. Perhaps. But the trouble with these heroic models of leadership (inspirational though they are) is that the we don't get to hear the stories of the heroes who failed. They may too have just as ardently believed in their mission. But it did not work out due to other factors outside their control.

There will be the NLP practitioners / gurus / black belts (or is that six sigma...?) who will sagely say: ah but those who failed clearly didn't believe in their goals enough... or hadn't visualised their achievement properly... or hadn't ticked all the boxes of some other list of essential goal setting behaviours. Yada yada.

By all means: be dauntless, be courageous, envision your goals. But just don't expect that is all you need to do. But then I am sure you don't...

Which dauntless leader do you admire the most? (And what is their secret do you think?)


This is the twenty fifth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Preventing domestic homicide

Prompted by a piece of research (which I now cannot track down - help!**) which showed (I think) that many people carrying out domestic homicides were not on any kind of high risk register, I have just written to the FoI departments of all the UK domestic police services with the following request: 
I am now carrying out a small piece of research into the preventability of domestic homicide. The numbers of women being killed by former or current partners seems to be a constant average of two per week. Based on some scant data, I have formed the hypothesis that many of the men committing these very serious crimes are not known to the police before hand – or on any kind of ‘watch’ list / risk register. And I need your help to find out if there is any basis to my hypothesis. Consequently, I would be most grateful if you could answer the following questions:
1. How many domestic homicides has your force dealt with over the last five years? A total figure is fine, or if you wish, break it down year by year. In this context, I am defining a ‘domestic homicide’ as being when a person is found guilty of killing a partner/former – murder or manslaughter. I am excluding other tragic cases of where parents kill themselves and/or their children etc.
2. How many of these persons (the ones convicted of killing) had any kind of prior criminal record ranging from low level crime to more serious acts of violence, cautions to imprisonment etc?
3. And how many of these people were on any kind of watch list / high risk assessment register / or similar?
Please note that if you cannot answer one of these questions (due to a FoI exclusion etc), please do still answer the other questions that you can. I would greatly appreciate avoiding the email tennis of you writing back to me to say that since Q2 (say) cannot be answered, you cannot answer Q1 & Q3 unless I want to alter my inquiry etc. Many thanks. And please forgive the round robin email: it is just so much quicker for me.
Any feedback on refining these questions would be much appreciated, if you think that would help me investigate the hypothesis more effectively. 
Thank you for all your help.
I will keep you posted on the responses.

Any feedback to me? 

**UPDATE 1321 | 250414: My plea has been answered by Peter Neyroud (thank you!). Here is a link to power point slides (NB they will download on clicking) of research by CC Sara Thornton: Does prior history of domestic violence predict domestic murder or other serious assaults? Very helpful piece of research which deserves to be read and acted upon.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

I have made my decision: go and see this movie!

Locke  is one of the best films you are ever likely to see. It is an exquisite and sublime blend of taut editing, compelling direction, hypnotic cinematography, and incandescent acting. The script is bursting with power, emotion and aching understatement. This is a movie that you simply cannot, must not and should not miss.

I am not going to tell you much about the film since its magic and insight is best revealed to you inch by inch, mile by mile. This is a film that quietly builds and builds as the main character undergoes a life transforming journey that will make you reflect on decisions that you have taken in the past. I urge you to go and see this outstanding film.

There are so many leadereship themes that I could focus on from this film but I will select just one: deciding on your priorities. In the film, Locke says one particular sentence several times: I have made my decision. His decision is to prioritise X and not Y or Z. Gradually the film allows you understand just why he has made this decision and why it is so important to him to stick with it, no matter what the consequences.

But this is not stubbornness or blind pursuit of a superficial goal. No. This is because his decision is existentially critical to him. He knows that he must stick to this decision to maintain a sense of integrity and worth. Even though his future changes as a result, indeed he knows that this decision will shape his future. But he also knows that without keeping to his decision, he has no future.

Thankfully, most decisions we make in life are not so critical. But all of us, especially when we are in the role of leader, need to recognise the moment when we are facing such a challenge. The art of leadership is knowing when and knowing what to do.

When was the last time you faced such a decision on priorities? How did it go?


This is the twenty fourth of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Divergent courage

Picture the scene: a poolside somewhere in uptown LA on a hot balmy evening after several margaritas & gin slings, a couple of film producers are talking....

Producer A: This Hunger Games thing... it's making a whole load cash. Can we do something like that?
Producer B: Hmm. Do you mean, a post apocalyptic dystopia, rebellious young woman with a brooding pout, impossible romance, teetering on the edge of revolution, lots of violence but no blood and only the hint of sex? 
Producer A: Dys what?
Producer B: And use unknown actors who won't cost a lot and can passably act, have sets that that are dark, dank and also don't cost much?
Producer A: Yeah. That's the sort of gig. Can we have some sort of neo-feminist thing going on but so long as the blokes are ultimately in charge? 
Producer B: Of course. No problemo. We will avoid any stories by Ursula LeGuin: we need to make sure we can attract the teen girls and boys in big numbers. Narrative integrity is not that important...

And so began the making of Divergent.

The film is all about "I am not a number/factor" and refusing to be categorised. In that sense it is implicitly about authentic leadership: carving your own path, not letting others decide your position / caste / class / fate... It is an energetic film, seeking to inspire its viewers to act courageously themselves.

But it is extremely hard to be a courageous leader: to stand out from and above expectations of others, both senior and junior. The weight of doing the usual thing is immense and takes real strength to lift the load off one's shoulders. And this strength, as the film shows, derives from great self belief.

Do you believe in yourself? 

This is the twenty third of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

An uplifting team

A Long Way Down is worth seeing if only for the brilliant lines that the character called Jess (well played by Imogen Poots) gets to say. I am not sure I would have cast Pierce Brosnan as the humiliated and vanilla vacuous ex TV presenter, but his acting just about convinces. Aaron Paul and Rosamund Pike are better cast. It is a quirky story about four people who meet at the top of 'Topper Tower' on a New Year's Eve, all planning to commit suicide. It doesn't end there (although some harsher critics have probably said it should have done).

I am fan of Nick Hornby and I have read the book on which this is based a while ago. So I was curious to see how it translated to the big screen. It is very funny in parts, poignant in others and offers a sort of romcomtrag mixture. It just about works although I am fairly sure that people desperate enough to want to throw themselves off a building would not be quite as sparky as these four characters. OK...ish.

The leadership message that came through for me was the power of teams. These four random people happen to turn themselves from a randomly collected group into a team where the members are not prepared to die for each other. They self-organise, care about each other and work together. There is no leader except that they are all leaders.

Good leaders spot teams that are working well together and generally stay out of the way. Some of the worst mistakes that managers can make is when they interfere with such team work by merging teams, reorganising them, or making a few redundant and expecting the remaining members just to carry on as if nothing had happened. A self-organising solid team is a pearl in any organisation.

What are you doing with your pearly teams?

PS: Just came across this delightful example of teamwork. Watch and enjoy.

This is the twenty second of my new series of blogs about leadership ideas to be found in the movies of our time. You can read here as why I am doing this. Please subscribe to this blog if you want to read more. Thanks. Click the label 'film' to see all the others.