Where does money come from?

I’ve just signed up to an ESRC event in Newcastle entitled Where Does Money Come From? on 8 November. See http://www.esrc.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/festival/festival-events/index.aspx.

I asked myself this question many years ago and read a book called The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer, which was fascinating, and the answer (in terms of the West’s financial system) unexpected – debt. And that was before the near-collapse of our financial system.

There were many excellent examples of alternative models and now, most recently in the UK, we have had the launch of the Bristol Pound (See; http://bristolpound.org/).

An understanding of what money is, where it comes from, what its strengths and weaknesses are, is fundamental to addressing some of our deepest social issues, I believe. Our mono money economy excludes so many and creates waste. Understanding the limitations of our system and creating space for alternatives is vital if we are to create a society in which more people can make a contribution and be rewarded for it.

I’ve also been toying with the idea of researching the subject of wealth. It seems a very culture-specific concept so I’d like to see what wealth is – historically, culturally and psychologically – to see if we can change our definition to something which can help us transcend our narrow definitions and create opportunities for developing different lives to the ones we currently lead.

One story which left a mark on me about our attitude to wealth is that of the Spanish conquistadors fleeing Tenochtitlan on horseback with saddlebags stuffed with gold. Many were driven into the waters surrounding the Aztec capital and faced certain death by drowning if they did not dump their treasure. Many perished, unable to give up their wealth.

A salutary story for our greed-is-good modern world perhaps…?


Now then. Why Jimmy Savile was not outed in his lifetime

I have just come across an interesting theory which might explain why serial child abuser Jimmy Savile was not outed in his lifetime.

It is based in a work of Ludwik Flek, Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, written in 1935.

Flek basically says that facts are social constructions – not the definite, permanent and independent construction of science or other rational enquiry.

Once a structurally complete and closed system of opinions consisting of many details and relations has been formed, it offers enduring resistance to anything that contradicts it.

He argues that this resistance is not simple passivity or mistrust of new ideas but an active process which can be divided into several stages: (NB; A thought style is the term Flek uses to describe the social and culture conditioning which constrains us from choosing between concepts. Those reflecting a particular thought style he terms ‘thought collectives’)

  • At first, contradictions of the prevailing thought style are unthinkable;
  • So, what does not fit into the style is not seen;
  • Or if it is noticed, it is kept secret;
  • Or laborious efforts are made to explain an exception in terms that do not contradict the thought style;
  • Then despite the legitimate claims of contradictory views, there is a tendency to see only that which corroborates current views and therefore gives them substance.

This reads like a template of the Jimmy Savile (and many other) scandals. His celebrity was a thought style in part of the BBC, a co-created reality. His paedophilia contradicted this reality and, despite the rumours and even Savile’s own unsubtle hints, blind eyes were turned. He was not believed.

Even more tragically, his victims felt unable to accuse him. Their ‘thought style’ – based on what they had experienced – was opposed to the prevailing reality. They not only faced not being believed, but possibly also faced some form of annihilation of their identity as well.

This may go some way to explaining why BBC Newsnight dropped its planned expose of Savile.

It may also explain why the new ‘thought style’ (Savile the paedo) has gathered such momentum – it fits our current thought style about the need to protect children and the demonising of those who would make them suffer. That wasn’t the thought style in the 70s, 80s, 90s etc.

The story of the Emperor’s New Clothes is a workable metaphor for the idea of thought styles and thought communities.


Train yourself in two minutes to be the best you can be


There is a fascinating presentation by psychologist Amy Cuddy on TED.

Starting out from a study of body language (non verbal behaviour) around power and dominance, she has discovered that not only can our minds dictate our behaviour, but our behaviour can change our minds. We can make ourselves more powerful and in control of situations by practising the body language of power and dominance!

She reckons two minutes of practising making our bodies bigger – it’s what animals do when expressing their dominance – can actually make us perform better. Two minutes of strutting, expanding our chests, holding our arms up in a triumphal ‘V’ actually helps our body produce the testosterone (the dominance hormone) needed to become the part we wish to play.

It will improve our chances of success in all socially evaluative situations – job interviews, promotion boards, dating that dream boy/girl, speaking in public…Go try it!

Savilegate: What the BBC should have done

Okay, hindsight is easy.

But believe me when I say I was uncomfortable at the BBC’s initial response to the gathering storm that is the late Sir Jimmy Savile.

For a media organisation, which you would think be in tune with the zeitgeist, the BBC showed worrying ineptness in its handling of the crisis.

A phrase on BBC Breakfast this morning that the BBC was ‘behind the curve’ of where public interest and opinion were, neatly sums up the lesson for all organisations caught up in scandal.

Regardless of the legal advice I’m sure they sought and acted upon, the BBC looked, in its passing over the case to the police, like it was also passing over responsibility for the fact that Savile was in their employ for decades and that their continual (and to some inexplicable) feeding of his celebrity status provided something of a sexual passe-partout.

The public will always be on the side of the victims in these cases and the BBC’s unwillingness to side publicly with the victims and to share in the public outrage made it look defensive and Pontius Pilate-like.

‘Behind the curve’ means they appeared out of sync with public opinion. The new DG George Entwistle talked about the importance of public trust in the BBC, a recognition that on this occasion the BBC did not do enough to justify that trust. He’s admitted it.

For an organisation like the BBC that is puzzling.

At least they have now ordered two internal inquiries into the affair, but the feeling will remain that their first response was all about damage-limitation and distancing itself from Savile and his alleged crimes. Some internal PR person may even have advised such a strategy in the name of Reputation Management. I hope not, but we’ll probably never know.

What the BBC and all organisations should do is in such cases is to apologise, take responsibility, acknowledge the pain of the victims and leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom (no pun intended) of the allegations.

Tools and techniques and other barriers to quality thinking

When I started practising as a Coach, I was keen to find a tool or technique to provide some kind of structure to my sessions.

The poorest session I ever experienced involved my attempt to impose (or superimpose?) someone else’s model on to the coaching relationship. It felt forced and disrepectful to the coachee who just wanted me to be there for her, to listen to her as a unique individual.

Then I had a conversation recently about packaging knowledge for sale.

It appears that in our consumer-driven world, business is far more likely to buy knowledge that is packaged and ‘off-the-shelf’ rather than intangible and open-ended.

We seem to be increasingly conditioned to buy other people’s thinking, suitably wrapped, because we don’t have the time or energy to do that thinking for ourselves. It is perhaps all too human to believe that others’ (scientists, philosophers, theorists, etc) experiences, and they’ve knowledge gathered and synthesised, are more valid and richer than our own. We are inveterate observers of our worlds and foragers of the fruits and berries of ‘out-there’ knowledge. I know I am, as I will demonstrate.

The knowledge industry blooms like mushrooms in the dark, warm, moist nighttime of corporate life.

Then I read Barbara Kellerman – a Harvard Professor – who has produced a withering critique of the cult of Leadership. How many books have been written on the subject in the past 20 years? Are we any closer to understanding this complex term? We now have sub-species of Leader – the Collaborative Leader, the Situational Leader and so on. The fact is – and we know this – that great, or even good leaders, never read a book on Leadership in their lives. So why do we think we can learn Leadership in the same way we can learn car maintenance?

Then I read an introduction to the works of Wittgenstein. I was drawn to find out more about his philosophy by hearing that he had a lot to say about language and how we construct our worlds. To my amazement, and serendipitously, I found some words that struck at the core of our ‘consumers-of-knowledge’ fixation. I quote: “I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking but, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.”

His desire, similar to Socrates, was to help us improve the quality of our thinking. There’s a lot more he has to say about the nature of thinking, but that’s for another time. 

At one stage in his life this great philosopher taught in primary schools in his native Austria. His method was to lead children to knowledge through questions – this led them to invent a steam engine, learn anatomy by assembling the skeleton of a cat and so on.

To me, from my experience, I see coaching as an opportunity to change our habits of thought and improve the quality of our thinking.

My fear is that, to gain traction with corporates and governments, it will be weakened by our obsession with measurement, with objectivity and with our need for quick fixes.Image

Ludwig Wittgenstein