Sunlight on the garden

April 17, 2010

[Some light relief in the sunshine]

Sun does lovely things to a mind. Chairs become more comfortable, or rather any sense of discomfort is disabled, transcended. Your skin tightens to form a perfect, supple map of your spirit; you idly trace the contour lines on an arm, a hand. What were imperfections are now silky places of interest, to be visited on gentle excursions.

You slide a sensitive fingertip over the tiny beads of condensation on a cold glass of wine, and watch industrious bees milk the flowers. It gradually dissolves the weekday mind – the mind which eternally hefts and swings solid, clanking thoughts like the heavy chains between important ships.

The mind that takes over is an insidious one, a slow-motion cascade to which you are only occasionally party. It is like a team of bright young detectives, all working after-hours on separate cases with great endeavour. Each one is the potential making of a career, a conundrum that others have already failed to unravel, and their ambition drives them forward. Anxious to please their well-respected chief constable, they shy away from presenting half-baked theories. The first anyone knows of their breakthroughs is when they arrive, bursting behind your eyes as fully cast capsules. Since you were witness to so little of the process of investigation, these intricate results simply slot into the mind as knowledge – how could you question them?

All of this industry takes place whist not a limb is moved, not even to flash away a flying nuisance. The cases are solved softly, one at a time and with a calm irregularity.

Eventually some vital but unknowable ingredient of your pacific environment changes – an animal arrival, a human departure. Though the policemen are gone, back to their routine responsibilities, and you have snapped back into life’s steady pace, the work they have done stays with you.

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The sticky pole

March 19, 2010

Why does anyone want to be a politician now?

There are a number of factors counting against it as an attractive career: comparatively poor salary (one reason it seemed acceptable to top it up with expenses); general mistrust – if not downright dislike – by the public at large; unsociable hours & travel; astonishing bureaucratic lethargy; etc.

However there are two really big ones that stand out for me, and there is something to be learnt here.

1) They all seem mediocre, because no-one really believes that they sign up in the name of public service. We tend to think of them as middle managers who’ve slipped sideways, in it for the duck islands because they couldn’t get onto the Boots grad scheme.

I have to say I don’t hold with this; if nothing else, look at the battery of reasons to do any other job. I believe only a genuine sense of duty, a desire to improve and to shape, could get someone over that hurdle. I’m sure that’s not always how it pans out, but I think it’s a valid hypothesis for a starting line.

You might say that power is an alluring bauble, but it is plainly evident to any observer, potential applicants included, that any power that does come is extremely hard to achieve and obviously very unwieldy. I don’t think anyone thinks that you can start banning people called Gerald and cut all diplomatic ties with the Shetland islands in your third week.

2) In our public lives, we as a country have become physically allergic to failure.  This is dangerously insane – learning lessons this way is the fundamental reason humans have risen to our status as Earth’s pre-eminent monkey, and we all constantly do it in our own, private lives.

I see this dichotomy every day; we can run a tactical online ad campaign, and discover that one particular site or format just doesn’t perform. We don’t run around screaming, or write to the Daily Mail and demand the nostril hairs of the buying team are plucked out one by one. We compile the results, establish what works and then repeat that bit. Of course we do.

I fail to see the difference between this and PFI IT schemes, or ID cards, or buying helicopters.

OK, so in the public realm then the money being apparently wasted is our money – but in my private realm, the money being spent is my client’s, so I am immediately and constantly accountable.

There is a separate issue of doing it once and failing to learn the lesson – and of course that should be highlighted as failing to perform, just as we should be slapped for recommending a website that has not delivered time & again.

There is a management concept specifically called ‘rewarding failure’ – because if you don’t accept that not everything will work, then you will never try anything new and your company will wither & die. It’s not like this is new news.

So why would you be a politician? Everybody starts off hating you as a matter of course, assumes you’re an imbecile, you can’t really get much done – and in any case if you try anything new then you will be burned as a witch.

Lesson: give people who at least should be helping you the benefit of the doubt, and be prepared to learn that some things don’t work.

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