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January 2011

The Chinese educational challenge

The new book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mothers, is instructive. She critiques the 'weak, cuddling Western parenting style' and vindicates the far superior Chinese way. Apparently, she never lets her daughters attend a sleepover, have a playdate, watch TV or play computer games, or fail to be the top student in any subject except PE and drama. Further, according to the Week, she made them practice their musical instruments two or three hours a day. The result? Straight A students and musical prodigies.

The thing is, this works. And you don't need to be Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, to make it work – my humble and local Chinese herbal doctor's daughter got 4 A levels at A* and is now at Imperial College, London, and seems to have the same sort of focus.

Thus it is that real educational ambition begins with real parenting, and it is no good claiming as some do that this method makes 'automatons' and it's better to have a child who “chooses their own path in life” - as if somehow this sacrosanct objective was something that parents dare not interfere with. How sad is that? We have in our current society so many aimless and pointless lives that have been manufactured by the indifference of parents whose lack of care masquerades as a representation of freedom.

Of course, as a Westerner myself, the truth, I think, lies midway between the two extremes, Yin and Yang if you will. We have erred so far on the path to what Miss Mure (following the '45 Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 – nothing changes!) described parents as wanting for their children: “The mind was to be influenced by gentle and generous motives alone” - so 'child-centred' so long ago – that we are in danger of systemic failure.

My earlier blog, The Purpose of Education, emphasised the need to get first things first – and the first thing is understanding the purpose of education. This can only be done by understanding human nature – if we don't know how people operate, then no purpose can be achieved because the human element will fail.

Thus, in a Western democracy in which some 25% of the students taking A levels get grade A s I have to question whether we remotely understand human nature. A little Chinese medicine would be good for us all. According to last year's OECD study of academic standards in reading, maths and science Britain came 25th, 28th and 16th respectively. On the other hand, China came top in all three categories. Have we something to learn? Yes, we do.

  


Opportunities are everywhere, aren't they?

One thing is sure: the current recession isn't going anywhere soon, and many people are going to be experiencing pain. But I am not saying this as a detached observer: last year we suffered pain. We noticed a slowing down of commitment to projects, and a general avoidance of expenditure. Some long standing clients had to relinquish us – staff redundancies meant they could hardly justify paying 'consultants' while they were busy laying off. Besides, the act of laying-off leads to all sorts of other problems which then the organisation needs to wrestle with.

 But opportunities are always there, and this pain proved a wonderful and therapeutic catalyst to re-strategise what we were doing, and this led to some brilliant new ideas and shifts. Perhaps the most significant being the new pricing model we developed for the Maps mid-2010, and which has had a phenomenal effect on our activities, leads, and conversions.

However, with all that there is more pain to come, especially if one is in employment. I like to think the safest thing to do is to take risks, and that people who don't inevitably get their worst fears realised. For us the unemployment is a golden opportunity: we want consultants and coaches in our licensing structure. Of course, we want the superb ones, not the dross that just falls into it.

So, for those coming out to be consultants or soon to be consultants, the hot topic on the Discussion forums is: how to do it successfully? Let me share then my first piece of advice about this 'opportunity'. A key issue is the importance of understanding the sector you wish to operate in: there is a world of difference between operating as a consultant in the Corporate sector, the Public sector, and what we in the UK call the SME or small to medium sized businesses sector.

Often consultants come out from a Corporate and go back in as a consultant for six months – but that's a gravy train that usually runs out. The time, effort and preparation it takes to get into a Corporate from scratch is seriously substantial, and there is a highly finite number of them. Once in, however, the pay's great. Contrast that with SMEs: often one decision maker - the entrepreneur - intuitive and positive responses, clearly 'sees' a improve bottom line proposal, and an almost infinite number of them out there to market to. Downside? Pays not so great - may be only 10-25% of what the Corporate day rate is. And jobs also tend to be much smaller - so you need lots more of them.

The most frequent mistake I have seen in nearly 16 years of consultancy and training is the ex-Corporate expert coming out and thinking they can sell their expertise to SMEs - it requires some heavy re-thinking and re-conceptualising. That said, if the Corporate expert is prepared to take advice, use possibly a first rate coach or expert in the field or acquire a license from organisation like ours, then they potentially have a huge amount to offer the SME market, which is frequently starved of really new and cutting edge ideas (depending on location - in some areas it's the SMEs that have the ideas!).

So, the opportunity is clear for us: where are those new consultants with people skills, coming out of Corporate, fed up with Corporate, who are humble enough to learn new stuff? They are there, aren't they?


God laughs

 I thought I had heard or read it all. I have a large library of books that I have been reading for 40 years. Surely, all the arguments that could be made have been made and I have seen them? Surely not! Why? Because, apparently, God laughs – God laughs a lot, and it is God's intention to constantly surprise us; just when we think we understand reality we find we don't. Hence the title of Dante's masterpiece: the Divine Comedy.

What am I talking about? I am talking about an idea and research I have never seen before. I am talking about the astounding research of Dr Michael Blume, a researcher at Jena University in Germany (www.scilogs.eu/en/blog/biology-of-religion/content/about). He recently did a paper featured in the Sunday Times that looked at the birth rates of atheists and believers (or theists) across 82 countries. I say 'believers' here because he looked at a whole raft of religions and sects, and within them found significant differences, but for the central thrust of what he found the message is clear: that there is a downside to being an atheist, namely, that over time one's genes are more likely to die out!!! Yes, correct – you have it – the irony – from an evolutionary perspective non-belief, atheism, renders one liable to obsolescence and extinction! How ironically funny is that?

This is highly gratifying for people like myself who have a belief in God and are sick to death of the aggressive parrots of atheism suggesting not only that belief in God is some kind of sickness, but that the atheistic life style is somehow progressive and superior. In fact, it turns out to be quite the opposite.

What Blume measured was the birthrate of avowed believers and atheists. He found that those who worshipped more than once a week averaged 2.5 children, and those who never worshipped averaged 1.7 children. Clearly, to average 1.7 children is to fall below the replacement number needed to sustain the human race.

I did a brief calculation on this, not being a mathematician – so feel free to dispute the figures – but if we take five generations and assume each atheist couple beget more atheists (a big assumption – I myself have atheistic parents but do not accept their beliefs), then at 1.7 children on average this produces by the fifth generation 14.20 children in total. On the other hand, five generations of 2.5 children produces 97.66 children. This is startling – and to me a vindication of theism, because it is fundamentally a vindication of hope, of faith and actually of life itself.

Reasons given why atheists are less productive or, should we say, less reproductive, are, to quote Blume: “The research suggests that the key fact is simply that the more religious people are, the more children they tend to have. This is because most religions place a high value on child-bearing, suggesting it is a holy duty. Without religion, by contrast, atheists often see far less point in having children and so have smaller families or none at all.” In short, we reach the point with atheists which is that life has no point, so they don't bother procreating. An individual atheist may disguise this – may have twelve children – but the big numbers over time don't lie: atheism is against life, and even against its own favourite theory of evolution, because there literally is no future in it. Religious belief clearly give a competitive advantage in the struggle to survive.

Professor Jesse Bering, director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen's University, Belfast, who has just published "The God Instinct", a book on the origins of religion, observes: "As a childless gay atheist I suspect my own genes have a very mortal future ahead. But for any godless hetero-couples reading this, toss your contraceptives and get busy in the bedroom. Either that or, perish the thought, God isn't going anywhere any time soon."

Ideas and research clearly don't change beliefs – they just lead the opposition to more furious activity to prove their point. And all the while, God laughs – and the children keep on coming!


Visiting the Afterlife

I think everyone is curious about the after life – life after death – what happens at death. When we stop being curious, we have lost something profound and in our nature. Wittgenstein famously said: “Death is not an event in life: we do not live to experience death.” That is a philosophical position. On the other hand, there are plenty of people and peoples who claim to know about death and what happens thereafter – and even some who claim to have returned from its dark shadow.

Most prominent, perhaps, of these peoples is the great Ancient Egyptian civilisation from which so much in our culture derives, even if obliquely, say, through Greek or Jewish culture. Thus, for me, the trip to the British Museum to see the exhibition – Journey through the Afterlife: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead – was a must. The exhibition finishes - www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/all_current_exhibitions/book_of_the_dead.aspx – on the 6th March, so there is still time to see it. My wife and I went up last Wednesday; and it was fantastic.

First, it was incredibly clear and well laid out. There was a wealth of detail and information. One stared fascinated by the tools and the concepts of things like the Opening the Mouth ceremony: the dead person's mouth being forced opened literally so that he symbolically breathed again, as he or she would need to do to be alive. This, a sort of equivalent to smacking the new born baby, so that they start the breathing process.

Or what about the Devourer: the monster, whose rump is a hippopotamus, his core body a lion, and his head a crocodile; if you fail the judgement test, you get eaten whole by this beast who stands there waiting as the scales of your life are weighed.

If you pass the test, of course, you go on to meet Osiris, the lord of life, whose face is green. Why? Because green signals his life giving power. There is a wonderful description of Osiris' resurrection from the dead, which is not quoted in the Exhibition: “... the masters who witnessed .. when the corpse of Osiris entered the mountain and the soul of Osiris walked out shining … when he came forth from death, a shining thing, his face white with heat ...” That is a truly staggering description in its particularity.

I could go on, but I think my point is clear. Egyptian civilisation is truly amazing, and was I think truly advanced till it degenerated. This Exhibition demonstrates one small facet, but oh! How provocative that is. I hope you get to see it.

 


The Green House Hotel

I was invited last week by Mark Liddle of Middletons Insolvency Practice: https://www.middletonpartners.co.uk/south_west_region and David Foster of Winning Business, https://www.winningbusiness.co.uk/, to give a talk at the Green House Hotel, largely to financial and professional services owners and managers, over lunch. It seemed germane to me to focus on resolutions, intentions and goals for the new year as we were still in that first week. Accordingly, I made three recommendations and from the feedback I got I know this was a winner, because what I was suggesting most people hadn't considered.

First, I told the story of Marcel Proust, the great French novelist, who when his friend excitedly explained to him what the new fangled telephone was at the turn of the C19th, what it could do, and how it operated – it rang and you picked it up to answer – totally rejected it. Doubtless in French he said: “What? Me? A servant of that?” Incredulity in fact – for ringing a bell was a sure sign that the master wanted something, and the servant needed to run to serve the master. Thus, in his perception, the idea that he would have to move to pick the phone up when it rang suggested he was a servant. Outrageous!

And how correct – we look at it now and how many of us are at the beck and call of our Blackberries and i-Phones, not to mention mobiles? So the advice I gave was: simplify your life this year. Use the Pareto Principle – the 80/20 rule – to work out what 20% of activities are producing 80% of your results, and what activities are really a waste of time. Stop playing with digits on your Blackberry!

Further, to simplifying, consider the people in your life: there are two types – Booster and Drainers – and it is easy to establish which is which if we listen to our bodies. Boosters always make you feel good; Drainers always have exactly the reverse effect. And which category they are in has often little to do with how close they are to you: family and friends can be Drainers for years. So the resolution is: aim to reduce contact with Drainers in 2011 and increase the number of Boosters you know. 

If you'd like a copy of the simple tool, The Stop-Start Review, which I have developed to help people get a handle on their time, contact me.

Second, aim to be motivated. Do not think that motivation is something that happens according to 'pre-destinated' whims of fate! Motivation is like fitness or health – you can work on it. But you have to know what your motivators are to do this. Over 10,000 Motivational Maps have been done and I estimate that at least 95% of people cannot work out their motivators. So I offered all those present a free Map via my colleague, Susannah Brade-Waring, https://www.absworks.co.uk/, if they'd like to take it up. Let me offer all readers of my blog – as a reward - over January a similar offer. Contact me if you'd like to do a Map.

Third, get new learning in 2011 – this is critical. In my experience one of the most dangerous things in the world is being massively successful: sometimes it affects people in an odd way. They start imagining they are God's favourite child, that they deserve this, and that all they need to do now is carry on in their own swanky, swaggering way learning nothing new – certainly nothing like the learning they undertook to become successful in the first place.

I recommended three deceptively simple processes to commit to for the new year. One, listen more: seek out experts, gurus, masters in their field, and commit to listening, which also means asking great open questions: what, why and how questions. Second, read more. Amazon makes excuses impossible. And if you want to make it more fun, use the Amazon application in Linkedin to start posting what you are reading to your network. Comment on books, invite debate. Finally, study – and this is such a big area I restricted myself to reflecting back on the books to be read. Don't just read books – have a pencil, a highlighter to hand – annotate – search for really useful and relevant information. What facts, figures, intelligence, quotations can you use in 2011? 

If you can do these things, I argued, by developing your Self, you would improve your Relationships and also your Work. This was effectively the indirect method to improve performance overall. Sometimes the indirect method produces better results than heading straight for your goal. 

Happy new year then to all my readers.

 


The power of politeness

As we start the new year it might be an idea to re-visit simple things in order to be more effective. Things like … being polite!

 What do you think of when you think of a manager? Often people think of the manager as being their key support to enable them to get the job done. But also people think of them, sometimes, as being a bully and the absolute impediment to getting work sorted. Great success in management is all about earning respect and respecting who you work with.

Business etiquette expert Barbara Pachter, author of When the Little Things Count…and They Always Count, says being polite helps build up “politeness credits.” Here are her suggestions for nine polite business practices:

1 Use polite words. Simple words such as “please,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” are the foundation of good manners.

2 Write thank-you notes. It’s not enough to just say thank you for lunch, a gift or a job interview. A written acknowledgement does the job much better. 

3 Don’t put people down. A reputation for constant criticism will make business associates wonder what you say about them behind their backs. 

4 Don’t use offensive language. Don’t let curse words creep into your everyday speech. 

5 Greet people. A simple “hi,” “hello” or “good morning” when you encounter a co-worker helps to make the work environment more pleasant. 

6 Don’t play practical jokes. Remember you’re in an office and not a school yard.  

7 Be considerate when sharing space and equipment with others. This covers everything from being aware of how much noise you make to cleaning up a conference room after a lunch meeting. 

8 Help others. Tomorrow you may need help from someone else. 

9 Disagree agreeably. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but you should respect their opinions.

These ideas seem to me eminently practical and sensible. So, what's my weak link? Time, I think, for us all to get to work to make work more pleasant and enjoyable. Happy new year.


New year resolutions

 New Year's Resolutions - do they work? Are you setting yourself a New Year's Resolution this year? Will this be a positive boost to you in 2011 or will you find your resolution starts well and fizzles after a week or two?

What has been your experience in previous years? How well are you setting yourself up for success when you create your New Year's resolutions?

I think new year’s resolutions are imperfect, but not having resolutions is worse. As Brian Tracy says, they are conscious decisions - and this can frighten and paralyse us at a sub-conscious level.

Two approaches to this may help. One is the simple substitution of the word ‘intention’ for resolution. Let’s make intentions as these are a lot less frightening, and don’t create that same onerous sense of commitment – and hence potential failure.

The second idea is to use the well known Kaizen technique, which is really incredibly powerful. When we make resolutions, because they are Resolutions, on New Year’s Eve – notice all the capitals – they tend to be big (to lose a stone, make a million) or absolute (stop drinking altogether), and this too disturbs us.

Kaizen technique replaces all this angst by asking the simple question: what is the smallest possible step I could take towards my destination? Do that for as long as it comfortable. Then, increase – do more - at that point. So, for example, instead of resolving to lose a stone in weight, the kaizen might be: to climb one flight of stairs to my office every day/once a week instead of using the lift all the way.

Finally, to do anything new one should consider, what then do I stop? And that leads on to – what do more of, less of, and even continue as is. I have developed a one sheet STOP-START REVIEW which is ideal to help people get a hold of what next they need to do. If anyone would like a free copy – assuming that if you use it you will respect and acknowledge its origin – then email me and I will get it to you.