How to be a Woman (and an inclusive feminist)

Quote

“The best thing to do is to choose what you think is right and then just make it look cool… With writing a book about feminism, I was like ‘I could write a real ball aching book and just go ‘you must believe women are equal to men because it’s like a fact of science’, or, I could just write a funny book where women go ‘oh, I’m having fun reading this. It’s making me happier about myself and now I’m just going to buy myself a more comfortable pair of pants’.”

Caitlin Moran on how focusing on the positive (and humorous) can be a much more fruitful approach to engagement and change than acting righteous or having a rant. From a male perspective, I find her disarmingly funny, articulate, passionate and very intelligent. There is something about her style that makes me feel included as a feminist, rather than adversarial as a man. I suspect this comment about her positive focus goes a long way to explaining why. Her book, “How to be a Woman” has (as of July 2012) sold over 400,000 copies in 16 countries. For more funny, articulate, disarming feminism (including how to teach your children to pity Rhianna despite her beauty, wealth and power), listen to her interview with Tim Minchin 

Advertisements

Crisis and the UCI’s Road to Redemption

Image

It has been a bittersweet week for cycling. I will say up front, it is my opinion that Lance Armstrong doped. Having followed the case with a mild obsession for the last five years, it is very hard to come to any other conclusion. In that sense, it has been a good week. The cycling world has obtained some closure on one of the most controversial and painful chapters of its history. And yet, a good week is not the same as a happy week. I still remember the awe with which I watched Armstrong destroy Marco Pantani and the entire peleton at Lourdes Hautacam in 2000. It is hard
for anyone who had a similar experience to feel happiness about the confirmation of a former idol’s fall from grace.

Armstrong apart, there are plenty of interesting insights on governance and change that arise from the case. It has been a massively difficult experience for the UCI (cycling’s governing body) and they have some way to go yet to rebuild. While the Armstrong case may never see the light of day, the air is thick with accusations of cover ups and complicity. Pat McQuaid’s posturing over who has jurisdiction to charge Armstrong is factually fair, but politically pathetic. The UCI is heavily implicated in the case, and their impartiality in prosecuting it could not be trusted. They should welcome the USADA’s offer to handle it.

While the last thing McQuaid and the UCI will want is for the case to drag out, any accusations of a cover up need to be fully investigated. If ever an organisation needed to demonstrate a resolve and capability to ask difficult questions of itself, then this is it. Cycling’s credibility is shot in the eyes of many fans. While a full investigation would undoubtedly be painful, it is absolutely essential to rebuild the reputation of the UCI.

That’s the great thing about a crisis: It offers an opportunity for a complete change of direction. Outcomes become possible in a crisis that were unthinkable in happier times. And people are very forgiving of individuals and organisations that acknowledge their mistakes and demonstrate sincere effort to change their ways. The UCI need look no further than David Millar. A former disgraced drug cheat, Millar is now one of the most widely respected riders in the peleton thanks to honesty with which he dealt with his mistakes, and the firm anti-doping stance he has taken since his return. So well has he re-established his reputation that the British Olympic Association, an organisation renowned for their anti-doping stance, welcomed him back for London 2012.

There is hope for the UCI, but they must act quickly and courageously. While this case must feel like the worst thing that could have happened, it is in fact a lifeline for an organisation that lost the public’s trust a long time ago.

Competing with Competition and the Wisdom of Starlings

Image

Photograph from Flickr. See the incredible original gallery here

Once upon a time, in a land not-so-far-away, a gaggle of economists thought very hard about the best way to bring the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. They came up with some pretty smart answers: Among other things, in an attempt to increase the level of innovation, they identified competition as a useful spur and set up a system that legally protected competition, and rewarded those that won.

Except – as with all economic models – the idea is based on an approximation of reality. And while that approximation might be quite close at one point in time, the longer the model stands, the further from reality the model is likely to go. And more than that, the longer a model stands, the more likely people are to treat means as ends in themselves. In this case, competition was identified as a way of bringing about the greatest happiness for the greatest number, not as a goal to be pursued for its own sake. This is exactly what Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby argued earlier this year in the Harvard Business Review.

With all the focus on competition, policy makers and organisations have forgotten, or overlooked the value of collaboration. In his excellent TED talk, Don Tapscott outlines his vision for an open society, based on collaboration, sharing, transparency and empowerment.

While the potential benefits for business are massive (as Tapscott’s Gold Corp example demonstrates), there is a lot of work for businesses to do to get to a place where they can make a difference. Rick Lash has argued that businesses produce the behaviours they reward; and at the moment, they reward employees who work in silos and will turn the world upside down to achieve the objective they have been set. Lash argues that a totally different competence is needed to build a collaborative organisation – one that rewards teams forsaking their own objectives for the sake of the broader organisation. He offers the example of how Apple were able to develop the i pod far more quickly than Sony developed their MP3 Walkman, because they recognised the potential of the product for the company as a whole far outweighed the projects they were working on in individual functions. Beyond that, a collaborative organisation might genuinely commit time to crowd-sourcing and incentivise employees for proactively look to connect disparate strengths in the organisation. Most importantly, organisations would put their best ideas and their biggest problems in the public domain, acting as a focal point and moderator, rather than a secretive, cannibalising black box.

The shift in mindset is massive, the legal infrastructure for it to work is nearly non-existant; but it looks to be the right model – the means to our ends for our time. And it’s on its way (see the UK government’s brave decision to make all scientific papers free to view)! If we can build half the enthusiasm for collaboration that we have had for competition over the last century, the possibilities are massive.

A Generation Inspired

Quote

“It’s a complex, cluttered world we live in… But the oasis of sanity is often the Olympic Games.”

Lord Sebastian Coe

If you read this quote before the Olympics began, you could have been forgiven for questioning Lord Coe’s own sanity. Between G4S’s project management woes, missiles on residential buildings and frenzied taxi drivers; with all the cynicism and the hype and the back-biting and the worry, the Olympics looked anything but an oasis of sanity.

And yet the last two weeks of breathtaking competition and raw human experience have served as the best possible remedy to the pre-games angst. They have been a timely reminder to any of us who underestimated the magical, unifying, inspiring nature of the Olympic games.

It has, hands down, been a show case of all humanity at its best – and not just mind-addling physical achievement. Has there ever been a more perfect display of parental pride than Burt LeClos’ interview with the BBC after his son beat Michael Phelps to gold in the 200m fly; or Michael Phelps’ grace in defeat in the same race? Oscar Pistorious’ may not have won the 400m, but his stereotype-smashing presence was a huge step forward in the way disability is viewed. Likewise, the crowd’s heart warming support for Caster Semenya  has hopefully begun to redress the disgrace of her public humiliation over the last three years.

Olympic athletes continually redefine what is possible for the human body to achieve and showcase the irrepressible strength of the human spirit. What’s more, by showcasing our common humanity; for two weeks speaking in a Universal tongue to the potential of the human when we are courageous, and dedicated and selfless and heroic, the Olympic games unites us and offers a glimpse of what we, as a society could be. So yes, the Olympics brings mania, and hyperbole, and many, many tiny flags; but if a positive vision, a positive demonstration of humainty at its best is not the epitome of sanity then I don’t know what is. Thanks your London 2012 – a generation inspired.