Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hungry Hippos

In New Zealand we have a long tradition of a free press and a Bill of Rights that, in the absence of a constitution guarantees us the right to express our views.

This video, which I have published for academic reasons, has been forbidden in New Zealand - but it needs to be viewed as much for its artistic merit as it's political content.

In a week where the government apologised to Tuhoe for shameful historical abuse and failure to observe The Treaty of Waitangi, perhaps it would be useful to contemplate that the cost of doing the right thing contemporaneously is always better than a humiliating back track - for all concerned.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

When you sleep with dogs you get fleas.

Nicky Hager's book Dirty Politics was launched yesterday. the preface is available on Hager's website.
There has been a great deal of discussion about it online - naturally the flavour of that discussion tends to vary depending on the bent of the blog you visit. Russell Brown's Hard News blog had extensive comments relating to the ins and outs of hacking - how was the material accessed? For me that is immaterial. It is the content itself that matters, the rest is distraction.

I don't imagine that politics is a children's playground or that any of the people who participate in it are lilly white. Perhaps I have a jaded view of the world but I have never bought into the idea that John Key is a jovial man of the people, more undermanager than overlord. His persona is carefully stage-managed and scripted. He rarely articulates ideas that are potentially provocative and has left issues relating to the actual running of ministries and departments to his ministers. He is remote from process and apparently beyond reproach. If the minister of education or justice blunders then it is they, not his judgement, leadership or the partisan ideology they work towards that is at fault and not the Prime Minister. They are expendable. Doggedly loyal, but expendable. As long as the prime minister is kept apart from the fray and remains the focus of the National Party brand then no harm is really done. A brand loyalist can despise Judith Collins but be fine with the party and prime minister - sort of like enjoying jellybeans - but not the black ones. Meanwhile the opposition parties are portrayed as some sort of unpleasant tasting sour jubes and kale.

So the revelations in Dirty Politics (which I have yet to read) will hardly be surprising. The issue that concerns me most is the relationship between the mainstream media, bloggers like Cameron Slater - the locus of much of the book and the prime minister's top media advisors and the effect it has on the public perception of the government.

If you say something in the media often enough it becomes accepted as 'the truth'/Pravda. News gathering organisations have to compete for attention with blogs, Facebook and 'reality' shows - the assumption seems to be: if that is what people like, then dole it out to them. So Campbell Live, for example, becomes an odd hybrid of Extreme Makeover, Home Edition - organising the rebuilding of termite infested homes for telegenic couples - Jim'll Fixit - campaigning for aggrieved members of the public against authority and Entertainment Tonight, touting movie releases. Public figures rarely appear to be held to account for their decisions (since Simon Bridges' humiliation there has been a dearth of ministers willing to front up).

Bloggers themselves become the sources of news and information - as well the subjects of the stories. This is a paradox for broadcasters, because it perpetuates the cycle, grows the audience for the likes of Slater and makes him a more powerful conduit or proxy for government to infect the community with vile smears. They can sidestep conventional access by the media to MPs by creating diversionary false flag operations and astroturfing. Ministers and officials say nothing of substance at press briefings - or deflect with tropes like 'sub judice' or departmental process…the 'nothing to see here' approach. So, to fill their time and space the media turn to bloggers for information, or PR flacks, or are just happy for some vision of the prime minister playing golf with the US president or cosying up to the English monarchy.

Correspondingly news correspondents need to compete more with the aggressive pundits and bloggers for attention. Patrick Gower on TV3 can lead a news break with his interpretation of a story - rather than information from an on-camera source. He sets the tone of the story, and is the story because either the subject will not appear, access denied, or the information he has been fed is from a faceless 'source' and he is joining the dots. News becomes a form of gossip, rather than a presentation of the facts of an event, with some balanced analysis.

When the government has a stranglehold on information that would have been news in the past if also leaves the media with the task of creating stories. A recent example is Campbell Live's extended coverage of a staffer's wait for an ambulance. Over two nights they confected a long story about a series of phone calls to the 111 emergency line while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. It did not make compelling viewing and seemed like a pointless set-up, the denouement being that the new head of the St Johns service had been recruited from the UK where he had led controversial changes to reduce costs and increase efficiency. To create a banner story they seemed to need to conflate it into a 'reality' show. The appearance of an operations manager to account for the ambulance's delay in arriving to attend to the ill staff member seemed like a communist era show trial - where the prisoner was made to confess (which he willingly did) and then be required to hand over the names of his collaborators (John Campbell tired to dupe him into stitching up the head of the ambo service). It was a charade.

The real questions the Hager book raise for me are about our relationship with news media. I realise the days of Alistair Cooke style reporting are over (or maybe he was a harbinger of the kind of lachrymose reportage that John Campbell often indulges in - 'lovely story…beautifully shot by…and edited by…I'd like to thank my mother…). Denying access to mainstream media, feeding tame/rogue bloggers the juicy dirt, mainstream media being forced into churnalism and reporting the 'reporting' by said attack do bloggers. It all forms a pattern of entropy where the truth disappears into a black hole and we are left with an image of a sleepy-eyed prime minster playing golf - which seems to be the ultimate cynical strategy. People cannot process the detail, turn politics into a factional battle between Coke and Pepsi and the news into a fiction.

Now that information of what has long been assumed is in the public domain about the close personal relationship between Slater, Key, Ede and Collins et al the facade falls away - when politicians sleep with dogs they get fleas. But will mainstream media do their job and investigate further or will they rely on denials from the perpetrators themselves to occupy their time and column centimetres. Will the public learn anything about their democracy - it hardly seems edifying. Or will we just get on with life and dismiss politics as a dirty business we want nothing to do with?

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Mick Jagger irons out a few wrinkles for Monty Python

To Infinity And Beyond - Overcoming the dark forces that hold ideas back

I saw the premier of ToyStory at a theatre in London's Leicester Square in the mid 90s. My girlfriend worked for Disney, so - as ever - I was the imposter, sitting a couple of rows away from Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman - I'm not sure what their connection with the film was.

I hadn't been primed about the film. I knew little about it and would have probably given it a miss. My days were filled with running around London completing freelance assignments I had stacked on top of one another - the English had a way of booking me for a week at time but I had a way of nailing the problem in the first couple of days. But a week booking was a week booking and the ad agencies who hired me never thought to reassign me to another task - it would never happen here. So I was tired and would have simply stayed at home - the up side was that I thought I could 'rest my eyes' in the darkness. It didn't happen. From the short before the film to when the lights came up I couldn't believe my eyes. It felt like being at the beginning of something - which, of course it was.

The Pixar story has been told and retold. I have art books like To Infinity and Beyond and The Art of the Incredibles and all the others…but this book has captured my imagination because it is about just that - capturing imagination within an organisation without killing its essence - like seeing Orca in pools and aquariums. Whether you are a manager in creative industry business or just want your business to unlock its potential - I recommend this book.

"The thesis of this book is that there are many blocks to creativity, but there are active steps we can take to protect the creative process.

In the coming pages, I will discuss many of the steps we follow at Pixar, but the most compelling mechanisms to me are those that deal with uncertainty, instability, lack of candor, and the things we cannot see.

I believe the best managers acknowledge and make room for what they do not know—not just because humility is a virtue but because until one adopts that mindset, the most striking breakthroughs cannot occur.

I believe that managers must loosen the controls, not tighten them. They must accept risk; they must trust the people they work with and strive to clear the path for them; and always, they must pay attention to and engage with anything that creates fear.

Moreover, successful leaders embrace the reality that their models may be wrong or incomplete. Only when we admit what we don’t know can we ever hope to learn it."

Monday, June 30, 2014

Who will lead?

With the election in New Zealand bearing down upon us let me muse for a moment on what seems to be missing in New Zealand politics. Leadership.

The National Party have signaled that their Leader John Key is the way, the truth and the light. He is the saviour of the party faithful and the the nation. He knows all the answers and doesn't even have to listen to the questions. Unquestioning loyalty is demanded from all and no briefcases are allowed into the caucus room.

The Labour Party made such an operatic production out of their leadership selection that it played out like a reality TV Show - Secret Lives of Politicians - nail biting stuff, who would be selected? Cunliffe, Robertson or Jones. It all seems so distant and funny now that Cunliffe, with his Kennedy coiffe and quips occupies the podium, Jones has run off with the enemy and there is obvious dissent in the backrooms, wondering if its not too late to install a new great red hope?

Then there are the pretenders, like Colin Craig, whom no one cares for but who regardless seems destined to be handed a seat or seats in parliament on a plate if he will support the National Party. Never mind what voters in the electorate of East Coast Bays think, or what members of the National Party think, or Murray McCully…what John Key thinks is the right thing to do will be the right thing to do. Because it's the Right thing.

The trend is disturbing, the election of parliamentary representatives has boiled down to what party colour you prefer. Once you tick the box of your choice that's it. Your service is no longer required. From that point on 'The Party' will decide the fate of the nation. Voting has become like jury service - and like jury service it seems to have become an irritating duty, rather than the cornerstone of a democracy.

I have no fixed view of politics. I believe in social justice. I have moderate views that others might think are extreme about some things - health care for essential services should always be free. Education should be free for life - and compulsory (both giving and receiving). Educated people create wealth across the spectrum of society. Wealth is good when it produces a happy, healthy broad base of society. Happiness should not be measured by consumption. A healthy environment is essential. It is fundamentally essential as well as critical to producing sustainable wealth through primary production and added value to commodity products. Who wants to eat food from a restaurant with a filthy kitchen. 

Profit is neither good nor bad. Capital should be deployed to create a balanced economy. Where there is imbalance chaos will follow. Boom and bust cycles are not constructive. Anything that is not constructive is destructive. Doing nothing is not constructive. Government should intervene when the greater good is compromised by short-term, individual short sightedness. 

A government for the people is a meta-truth. Individual accomplishment should be encouraged and rewarded but not at the expense of society - talent in arts, sciences and commerce are intertwined and none is superior than the other - any more than a high function of the 'left brain' is useful if the 'right brain' is like a prune. 

Most importantly democracy is not the same as plutocracy - financial wealth is no indicator of goodness any more than it is bad. Wealth comes and goes with good and bad fortune. Success in one arena is not a reliable predictor of success in another. The voice of an individual with a small personal fortune - or none at all - is as important as that of a millionaire - neither should have their current status held against them. 

The parliament is not a board room and not every decision should return a short-term dividend. Government should not participate in activities that are for-profit. Core education, health and infrastructure should not be expected to generate profit and any operating surplus should be used to make the operation more efficient and sustainable and provide taxpayers with the best services for their investment in taxes.

Wireless hi speed internet should be free for all, everywhere - like roads - but more important.

Leadership should be encouraged and spread throughout all levels of government.

Members of parliament should be tested and reviewed by a non-partisan panel or automatic system for their participation and performance - agains set metrics and subjective measures. Their ratings should be made public and be in real-time. 

The prime minister is not a president and should be determined solely by their party until and unless a presidential system is introduced. Prime ministers should be rotated by their party after each election. A prime minister must have achieved consistently high levels of performance in the review process and must have served an electoral term of office on behalf of a constituency for no less than three years.

In the People's Revival Organisation (PRO)  members are expected to be leaders and leaders observe the following*:

Whether you are an individual contributor or the manager of a large team, you are a PRO Leader. These are our leadership principles and every PRO leaders is guided by these principles.

Customer Obsession
Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers. 

Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say “that’s not my job." 

Invent and Simplify
Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here." As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time. 

Are Right, A Lot
Leaders are right a lot. They have strong business judgment and good instincts. 

Hire and Develop the Best
Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. 

Insist on the Highest Standards
Leaders have relentlessly high standards - many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and driving their teams to deliver high quality products, services and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed. 

Think Big
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers. 

Bias for Action
Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking. 

We try not to spend money on things that don’t matter to customers. Frugality breeds resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for headcount, budget size, or fixed expense. 

Vocally Self Critical
Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. Leaders come forward with problems or information, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders benchmark themselves and their teams against the best. 

Earn Trust of Others
Leaders are sincerely open-minded, genuinely listen, and are willing to examine their strongest convictions with humility. 

Dive Deep
Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, and audit frequently. No task is beneath them. 

Have Backbone; Disagree and Commit
Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly. 

Deliver Results
Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

*you might recognise this - it is from's operating guidelines.

Monday, June 23, 2014

When good technology goes bad.

If there is one thing I hate it is intermittent faults.

Like when sometimes your car won't start and the rest of the time it starts and runs just fine.

When you take it to the mechanic there's no symptom - nothing to diagnose.
When my 10 ferry trip concession card passed through the red laser beam this morning the portable display unit read 9 trips remaining.

"9 left" reinforced the man attached to the portable scanner, beaming.

"Impossible I said - it should only have three trips left." I said.

"Consider it a bonus." He chimed, filled with the beneficence of those who favour others with other people's money.Clearly the matter was above his pay-grade and, in any case, it was the last run on the route for the morning and his mind was on a well earned cup of tea.

I'd like to report that I did indeed think of it as windfall but it just troubled me all day.

If the digital scanner could get it so wrong, even apparently in my favour, then it must also get it wrong at other times - in a less benign way.

How many times had my card been read incorrectly and I hadn't paid any notice.

Haw many times had other people been subject to the same casual assumption that the system works and, being an electronic device, beyond question?

What if I had one journey left but the computer said 'no'?

I'm pretty certain rules would have been rules and I would have had to cough up even as I spluttered my insistence that I was good for it - loaded even - if only with the single fare I needed to cross the channel.

This afternoon I made the return trip. Low and behold the reader read two remaining journeys we left on the card. That's a pretty wild variation as far as margins of error go. I mentioned it to the pursor - or whatever the description of a ticket guy is on the ferry to Stanley Bay.

"That's a Fuller's problem. You'll have to take it up with head office."

Resistance was futile.
But I will be checking the reader carefully in the future.

Maybe I will ask for the kind of ticket that has to be manually clicked?

Or maybe Fullers Ferries should get their equipment checked and audited. They might owe passengers some refunds or consolation.

I'd ring head office but last time I did to try to locate a lost iPhone I never got through - even after three attempts. Or maybe it was four?

Cutie and the Boxer - making a mark in the world.

Ushio Shinohara and his wife Noriko are both artists in New York. They love a bohemian life. Shinohara is well know for his work but is not commercially successful. He migrated to the US after finding fame in Japan for his riff on pop art.

Noriko arrives in the US, a young art student, meets Shinohara and falls for his manic charms. It's not long before he is sponging off her family allowance to pay rent.

Time passes. They marry and have a child. It seems Noriko is destined to become her husband's assistant - he is much older than she is, though neither are young anymore. She harbours her own dream of artistic recognition via her created persona of Cutie.

It is a meticulously shot piece, akin to the documentary classic Gray Gardens. Most of the observed narrative is in Japanese but it doesn't matter. We understand. When Noriko steps back from his work to see it in toto he seems to be looking back on his life as he utters 'crap' between words in his native tongue.

In a way the film is inconsequential like a pebble garden that is raked this way and that by the film maker but is never anything but a pebble garden. And there is nothing wrong with that.