I always thought writer’s block was an excuse for a lazy break in the Bahamas but now that I’m a ‘committed’ blogger I get it. It’s been two weeks and, guess what, I have a touch of writer’s block. It’s strange really given there is so much on. But perhaps that’s the problem? My mind has been flitting from one topic to another, it’s been hard this last couple of weeks to reflect and go a bit deeper. So, listening to my ‘go to’ broadcaster (Fran Kelly) in the car this morning on the way to work, I resolved to write about what is happening right now and see if firstly I can make any sense of it and, much more challenging, see if I can integrate this into a meaningful blog.
On the matter of integration I’ve just signed up for the Dan Siegel visit. He’s coming to Sydney to do a seminar on Optimal Leadership. Siegel is a Harvard trained UCLA paediatrician and psychiatrist who is one of the world’s foremost experts on mindfulness. His Mindsight Institute focuses on, guess what, integration, which he describes as acknowledging the differences and celebrating the linkages. A bit like my blogs! Given we have just had a double dissolution trigger in the Australian Parliament this week, let’s hope the 2016 Australian Federal election campaign embraces some of Siegel’s principles and we can have a campaign unsullied by rancour that focusses on policy debate. Let’s acknowledge the differences and celebrate the linkages as a voting public.
For many, the thought of a long election is enough to send them to sleep. And it was on the matter of sleep this week that got me interested in the new Arianna Huffington book The Sleep Revolution. Huffington’s latest advice is to get more sleep. Wise words that are sometimes harder to achieve than we might think. I’m putting my sleep deprivation down to Netflix. I’m finding the urge to watch the next episode straight after the one I’ve just watched sometimes too much of a temptation. It’s like a bag full of lollies. It will still be there the next day but hey…just one more.
It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this weekend. Many school students would list Shakespeare as their number one cure for insomnia but he has always been my ‘go to’ bloke. In my early career I went for a job interview and midstream one of the panellists interrupted everyone else and asked me to tell them a joke. I was so focussed on the interview questions and process I couldn’t disengage my brain to bring a joke forward; needless to say I didn’t get the job. Henceforth I have always had a joke up my sleeve. It goes thus:
‘Shakespeare walks into a pub totally inebriated (I may occasionally say ‘pissed’ if I get the feel that the panel is warming to me and wants a bit of moxie) and the landlord shouts at him ‘you’re bard’.
Silly, sure, but it is very fit for purpose. It is rapid fire so sounds like you are quick on your feet, everyone gets it, it’s totally inoffensive and it gives a suggestion that you can be intellectually highbrow without the associated snobbery.
As it happens I studied Shakespeare all my way through university so am familiar with quite a few of his plays including many of the seldom studied ones e.g. Troilus and Cressida and Coriolanus. My all-time favourite though, is the lesser known Timon of Athens. A short synopsis is warranted:
Timon, a friendly and generous Athenian nobleman, has many friends because of his generosity, often lending money to his friends with no expectation placed on them to pay it back. He loves to spend money and holds frequent parties. A day comes, however, when he falls into debt and his many creditors put pressure on him to pay them what he owes. His steward, Flavius, tells him that he’s completely out of money. Timon sends servants to his friends to ask whether they can lend him the money he needs but they are met with excuses. Timon is disappointed and angered. He invites all his friends to a final feast where he presents them with only warm water. He makes a speech denouncing them, and also harangues them with a bitter tirade against mankind generally.
My favourite line of Shakespeare’s is what Timon says to his onetime friends as they gather at the tables to gorge themselves on his supposed hospitality. They lift their individual cloches at the same time and the hot water steams in their face. He shouts the unforgettable line:
‘Uncover you dogs and lap.’
The Banking industry is very much in the news at the moment. Calls for a Royal Commission by the Labor (sic) opposition have so far fallen on deaf ears. Banks are interesting organisations. I’ve had friends who have worked in them and they have a sort of ‘cultish’ feel. It used to be true at least that banking staff only really socialised with banking staff. You only got your friends back when they left that industry. Scientology – not quite – but on that spectrum for sure. An analogue might be the police socialising with other police. Only other workers in the same industry can understand the issues is the suggestion. I get it with the Police having to deal with the horrors that often make up that job but the horrors of banking …really?
But think again – there have been so many horror stories lately perhaps the bank staff are right. Only other banking staff can ever understand the duplicity/two-facedness, the wild nights out, the crazy remuneration, the adrenaline rush, the desperate desire to get your business and the immoral speed at which they then cut you off. I don’t hate the banks. At times I despise them for some of the things they do. One of my biggest bugbears is the shameful advertising that they do. They are obsessed with presenting this friendly face to woo you as a customer but really if you don’t keep up the repayments they are dispassionate to the point of cold-blooded ruthlessness. Ask my mate recently made bankrupt in New Zealand by one of the big four Australian banks. He’s in commercial leasing like me and when he got into a spot of cash-flow difficulty the banks called in his loan and did a fire sale on his property. A property valued by a professional valuer at $1.7m was sold in rapid time for $500k.
It can only be rationalised as a decision that totally takes the humanity out of the equation and looks purely in dollar terms. An economic rationalist model stretched to its breaking point. I still am no supporter of a Royal Commission into the banks though. I’d rather load up Google’s AlphaGo (the one that beat the Korean Master at the almost impenetrable game of Go) super computer with some block-chain rules, feed the banking data in and just email out the results to the banking executives, which may or may not contain their ‘pink slips’ (aka P45s, separation certificates). After all, the banking sector is leading the way on automation and taking humans out of the loop. What goes around…..
My final reflection is on innovation, which will be a theme for future blogs as well. In Queensland this week we have outlawed Uber and other ride share companies. Those caught driving Uber cars face substantial fines. As many are migrants and students looking to make some extra bucks, then this will be a big disincentive for them to keep driving. I can’t square the notion of disruption and innovation, which is being encouraged at the Federal level, with State protectionism. Some of the argument is that ridesharing is an unregulated service. Fact is I can’t think of anything better regulated than Uber, perhaps other than eBay or AirBnB. Regulation comes through the rating of the service which is where the app and its disruption comes into play. The ability of me to rate my Uber driver, which I always do, means that any misbehaviour has a direct hip-pocket consequence for him or her.
Our State regulated Taxi monopolies on the other hand are apparently stringently regulated. My daughter recounted stories to me of her and her friends being not infrequently ‘propositioned’ by their regulated taxi drivers that there might be other ways of paying their taxi fare that did not involve a financial transaction. Do this on Uber and you lose your rides. In fact, I heard this week that the situation has got so bad that a company in the US called Chariot for Women is starting a ride service by women for women, primarily to deal with this issue. We simply have to think smarter to address disruption. Outlawing it strikes me as counter-productive and ultimately futile. We all know that in the long-term the collaboration (share) economy is here to stay; our asset hungry acquisitive Baby-boomer lifestyles have seen to that.
The other interesting thing that happened this week at work was some internet surfing that took me to Jessica Hische’s website. OK you might think what has this got to do with work, but it so happens Hische, who is a letterer, coined the phrase ‘procrastiworking’. It’s something I do most days between 3.30 and 4.30pm when my blood sugars are low. What is drawing me to street artists and people like Hische is that they seem to embrace the paradox between being radical individuals raging against the machine and great collaborators. A lot, not all, are young but they are all bloody talented. How, I ponder, do they manage to be so ‘anti’ but so ‘together’? So creative but so organised? I have a feeling if we are to unlock the huge potential in Australia and create true innovation we need to understand what makes individuals and teams like D-Face, Hische, Smits Lister and their cohorts tick.
Therein lies a rich seam of knowledge that can reap reward. If we fail, we may well find ourselves asleep at the wheel of a downward spiralling economy. No-one wants this except possibly Adrianna Huffington….the sleep bit I mean!