In my last post I wrote about how Art Kleiner’s idea of the Core Group helped us to understand Barclay’s recent history. In this post I am going to develop this idea. If Bob Diamond survived in his position despite his division breaching the rules in 1998 because he’d become a member of the Core Group, we still need to understand why. In the rest of this post I am going to go further into the history.
How the idea of the ‘Core Group’ helps us understand the Barclays’ rate-fixing scandal
Much of the writing on Barclay’s rate-fixing scandal – which has forced the resignations of both the chief executive, Bob Diamond, and the chairman, Marcus Agius – focused on issues of culture, but without asking where culture inside organisations comes from or how it is set, other than maybe an over-simple idea that it comes ‘from the top’. Of course, some of the interest in culture was prompted by the ex-Chief Executive, Bob Diamond, in the BBC lecture he gave last year, which I imagine seemed like a good idea at the time. Andrew Rawnsley quoted a couple of lines in an article in the Observer earlier this month:
“Culture,” he [Diamond] said in a BBC lecture last year, “is difficult to define. But for me the evidence of culture is how people behave when no one is watching.”
So it seems a good idea to look at this through the lens of Art Kleiner’s neglected book, Who Really Matters: The Core Group.
I’ve just finished working on a thought leadership paper, Technology 2020, for The Futures Company with my colleague Andy Stubbings, and we’ve published an extract in the company’s quarterly newsletter, FutureProof (free, but registration required). I’ve republished this as it appears in FutureProof below the fold. In a couple of lines, I draw on Carlota Perez’ view of technology change to argue that we need to understand the ICT revolution as a long wave – following the same pattern as previous dominant technologies – which is nearing the end of its period of dominance. And secondly, that looking at the previous technology waves, it is only now – close to the end of the wave – that we will start to see new business models which will stick.
I noticed last week that a presentation I’d given three years ago on the museum of the future had disappeared from the site that had been created for the event, so I’ve uploaded a version of the presentation to Slideshare. The Museums of the Long Now event at City University had explored how museums might evolve. I’d posted some notes here at the time.
While I was looking, I also found a piece of work which I’d done for the Arts Council in 2005 on ‘thriving in the 21st century’ which had been put online – in powerpoint here, with the full report here (opens pdf). The argument runs as follows:
Thriving requires a consistency of approach to output, structure, users, and talent, but this on its own is not enough. The missing ingredient is that the thriving organisation is able to construct a web of relationships with other, different, organisations. In doing so it gains access through co-operation to talent, or to resources, or to audiences, which would otherwise be closed to it. Such collaboration creates outcomes which are greater than the sum of its parts.
The report suggests that these relationships also create innovation pathways which can link new work to different audiences. Openness, as I have argued elsewhere, is a feature of success in the 21st century, and one where cultural organisations create models which other organisations could learn from.
A few months ago, I wrote about risk – suggesting that the ‘discipline’ of risk management tended to focus on risks which were (a) understood and (b) for which probabilities could be estimated, and that this led to far too narrow a view of risk. In particular, this meant that companies were usually very poor at assessing their blindspots. This second post has taken longer to write than I expected, but in this one I’m going to look at the factors which mean that companies tend to remain blinded by their blindspots.
The recent transfer of the ownership of Liverpool Football Club from two unsuccessful American millionaires to another group of Americans tells us something about the state of English professional football, but led me to more interesting questions about how and why societies should impose limits on ownership. This goes far beyond football, and the answer seems to be when the value generated by the organisation is primarily social; this value should not be open to private appropriation. It seems increasingly clear that ownership is going to become one of the contested issues of the coming decade. In this post I am going to try to take some case studies to tease this out.
Franklin’s failed expedition to the Northwest Passage in the 1840s teaches us a lot about organisations and resilience.
I spent some time on holiday this summer learning ‘Lord Franklin’, the 19th century English song made popular in the 1960s by Martin Carthy and by Pentangle. The English love their heroic failures, and Captain John Franklin was one of the great heroic failures of the 19th century. In 1845 he took two British Navy ships, Erebus and Terror, and more than 120 officers and men to try to navigate the Northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The ships were trapped in the ice and all of the men died.
As the song puts it,
Through cruel hardships the mainly strove
Their ship on mountains with ice was drove
Only the Eskimo in his skin canoe
Was the only one that ever came through.
When he disappeared, the Navy sent search parties and offered a huge reward. There were searches by others as well, more than 40 in all. Later, statues of Franklin were raised in his home town of Spalding and in central London. The passage was successfully navigated by boat 60 years later by Amundsen, brought up on stories of Franklin’s doomed voyage. The contrasting stories of the success of one and the failure of the other tell us quite a lot about how organisations can use resilience to manage complex and unpredictable environments.
It’s hard to know where to start with the BP oil disaster. Commentary has been gushing out almost as quickly as oil. We know the scale of the pollution, and have read ecologists who say the conditions are unlike any other seen on earth, certainly in the anthropocene period. Dark humour is one response; angry satire is another (The Onion: ‘Massive Flow Of Bullshit Continues To Gush From BP Headquarters‘).We have a good idea that BP’s conduct over the drilling was somewhere between careless and reckless (and that sooner or later a court is likely to decide on which), and that regulatory agencies were compliant or ineffective. One area that seems to deserve more thought – especially from a futures perspective – is the way in which essentially man-made disasters such as this are to a significant extent produced by a limited set of ideas about risk, both the way it gets assessed and the way it is managed.
I’ve seen quite a lot of comment, but not much analysis, of Google’s decision to face down China. The comment says (a) it’s a principled stand on human rights; (b) a response to poor business performance; (c) a lack of confidence in the prospects for the Chinese economy; (d) a risk management decision to underline its commitment to the integrity of the ‘internet cloud’ in the face of Chinese hacking. My take is that it’s a belated realisation that international businesses can no longer partition the world – and that oft-cited ethical concerns about its role in China were increasingly likely to damage more compelling business opportunities elsewhere.
I’ve written here before about the future of the organisation and also about ways of thinking about long-term futures. These two themes have been brought together for me by some of the discussion about the collapse of General Motors, and also a fine short essay by Kim Stanley Robinson in which he describes capitalism as a “multi-generational Ponzi scheme”. The pressing question, it seems to me, is how to design organisations so they value the long-term future and their long-term past, as a route away from short-term and unsustainable behaviour. The notes here are based on a contribution I was asked to make on the future of the workplace to a meeting organised by the RIBA’s Building Futures programme.