The Post-Mortem of Labour Scotland

Labour’s rout in Scotland. A considered piece from EUP here. One factor not mentioned is Labour’s gradual move to the right in the UK as it allowed itself to be drawn into a dance where the music was chosen by others in order to win over Middle England. Scotland has remained consistently left of centre – and Labour has all but vacated that space.

Edinburgh University Press Blog

Three years ago, Gerry Hassan and I published a book entitled ‘The Strange Death of Labour Scotland’. We envisaged that, unless radical steps were taken, Labour’s influence in Scotland would steadily decline. Speaking personally, I did not envisage a total rout at the polls. Why did it occur? And what does it signify for Labour’s future north of the border?

It is too early to offer a confident answer to the first question, so what follows is tentative.

To understand Scottish Labour’s plight, one needs to make a distinction between long-term historical forces and contingent political factors. In ‘The Strange Death’ we chronicled the steady unravelling of the social and institutional supports that, for a generation and more, had sustained and underpinned Labour rule in Scotland: council housing as the dominant form of housing tenure, high trade-union membership and a Labour-dominated local government.

From the late 1970s, slowly and unevenly…

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Confirming my prejudice about goals

My favourite blogger Sean Parrish (Farnam Street) recently posted an article on a book by Dilbert creator Scott Adam – How To Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

One item (#8 in a list of 10 takeaways) had particular resonance for me. It was about goals and goal setting, something that I have an emotional aversion to.

I remember one particular shudder of horror at the end of my Practitioner Certificate course in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). The tutor told a story (the basic message was NLP can help you achieve your life goals) about a young boy who was asked by a friend of his parents what he wanted to do when he grew up. The boy went to his room and drew up a huge list – over 100 things – he wanted to do. These included things like ‘become a doctor’, ‘learn to fly by age 25’ and so on. When the boy became a man he assiduously proceeded to achieve these goals. The story sent a shiver of horror down my spine. I couldn’t quite articulate my horror at the time, but there was something soul-less and even inhuman about this paragon. Why would an adult make themselves a slave to their child? How grim a prospect to pre-ordain your life regardless of the riches that serendipity and experience, choice, love and a million other things bring to our lives. I like diversions and distractions. I like being open and alive to opportunity. I like being surprised by life.

I liked the book Obliquity by John Kay. That’s about fuzzy goals. If you ever read War and Peace, pay attention to Tolstoy’s description of the methods of Kutuzov, Russia’s military commander who defeated Napoleon. His almost Taoist approach to dealing with La Grande Armee is an object lesson in ‘not doing’.

Scott Adam’s perspective on goals is one I’d never thought of in quite the way he expresses it. Here’s the full version of #8 from Sean’s article. If you want to read the whole thing, follow this link:

I particularly appreciated Adam’s description of goal-oriented people – “Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst…” That, to me, brilliantly sums up the existential poverty of goal-seeking.

Systems trump goals.

This was fascinating. I’ve long thought that the balance of organizational thinking towards goals versus systems is in need of some reflection.

Adams has looked for examples of people who use systems versus those who use goals. In most cases, he’s discovered that people using systems do better and they are more innovative. “The systems-driven people have found a way to look at the familiar in new and more useful ways,” he says in the WSJ.

If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.

[O]ne should have a system instead of a goal. The system-versus-goals model can be applied to most human endeavours. In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.

Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous pre-success failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction. …

Goal-oriented people mostly fail. If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you will constantly think that you are not at your goal until you reach it. If you fall short you’re still a failure. The only way to reach your goal is to lose the 20 pounds. It’s a state of near perpetual failure.

What you really want is a system that increases your odds of success. Even if that system only improves the odds a little it adds up over a long life. In organizations this means, for example, you should care more about the process by which you make decisions than analysis. It also means that you should focus on building a system that evolves, improves, and survives ego. Systems increase the odds of getting lucky. Or, if you want to put it another way, they reduce stupidity.

Goal seekers optimize whereas systems thinkers simplify.