Thursday, 29 November 2012

Tears of a clown

Bruce Willis or Smokey Robinson? Yippie Ki Yay or Tears of a Clown?

Bruce Willis is a real man. Real men don't cry. So they say.

So, where does that leave me? I think I used to be a real man, but I've grown out of it now. It's just a phase I was going through. These days if something is really funny I laugh until my ribs ache. If something is really sad I cry. What's the last film you cried at? This was mine and I don't care who knows it.

I don't know why some people are afraid of tears. They do anything to keep jolly. Stiff upper lip. "Got to keep smiling, eh?"

Why exactly? Why have you got to keep smiling? Is sadness a lesser emotion that needs to be defeated at all costs and replaced with fake laughter? That is a dangerous path to go down.

A chap I knew lived his life like that. A real man. Calm, measured, smile playing on his lips in any situation. Perfect businessman. I admired him greatly and wondered how he managed to glid across the surface of life whilst the rest of us were tossed and turned by the churning seas.

A couple of years ago, I asked a friend "Where's old XXXX these days?"

"Ah, you haven't heard? Apparently he got up one day, left his house, when down to the train tracks and stood in front of an express train. No one expected it."

True and very sad story.

I won't do that. If I am happy you will hear me laugh. If I am sad you will feel my tears. If I am angry you will warm yourself on the flickering flames. Right now, I am wrestling with sadness. I cry every day, deep behind the eyes, but I am finding moments of laughter too and peaceful moments of calm, early in the morning when the world sleeps. I think its natural.

Keep your real men. I will give you the tears of a clown.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Male vs Female Boards = VHS vs Betamax

Women's Minister Maria Miller is doing Britain a great disservice by arguing against Board quotas for women.

Other women have been piling in saying things like "blah blah....getting there on merit...blah blah". Men are laughing up their sleeves at the way powerful women who should know better are fighting AGAINST quotas. What on earth are you doing, for goodness sake.

I have been thinking about why this is and I have concluded that women have not spent nearly enough time studying the science of complexity. But, not to worry. Let me help out.

It is important to understand that taken all together the hundreds of Boards of UK plc are basically one huge complex system. So to understand the dynamics you need to look at it as one interconnected system rather than a thousand discrete Boards (it would be really interesting to build a simulation model of a thousand boards and see how it evolves over time and when you try to make changes).

Now complex systems exhibit some interesting and sometimes counter-intuitive behaviour. One important behaviour is "lock-in". This is where a complex system settles into a state where the same behaviour repeats  over and over again. It is "locked-in" to that state and is very difficult to dislodge. Market dynamics, all that "best person for the job" stuff will not shift such a system once its locked-in. You try to shift it out of this locked-in state by making an intervention here and there but the powerful underlying dynamics of the complex system as a whole drag it back to the locked-in state.

The bad news is that this locked-in state often doesn't give the best solution. A well known example is VHS vs Betamax in the video market. The market became locked-in to VHS even though betamax was said to be a technically better solution. Upping the anti on selling betamax would never change the system once locked-in. It took a massive  intervention in the form of the the arrival of DVDs to break that lock-in.

So, in the UK we have a complex system called UK Board plc and it is locked-in to a sub-optimal VHS solution where  it has evolved to be overwhelmingly male dominated, thereby systematically ignoring the talent in 50% of the population. We are in a war for talent and we are battling against emerging economies that use every asset they can lay hands on and work like crazy to win and what do we do? Deliberately and knowingly restrict our ability to draw upon the talent of 50% of the population. Yeh, real smart, eh!

In the case of UK Board plc the only way to shift it (in our lifetimes) is by forcing massive change in the complex system and breaking out of the lock-in. That means imposing quotas. If you think that all this "cream rises to the surface/right person for the job" stuff is going to effect that change you are kidding yourself.

One of the most annoying things I hear people saying against quotas is that women only want to be on the board if they get there on their own merit. What does that mean exactly? Let me tell you a secret. Most men on Board's didn't get there on merit, they know it perfectly well and it doesn't trouble them one little bit. Sure, they are probably  competent and have served their time in corporate life without completely screwing up. But let's be realistic. They got on to the Board because they know the Chairman, or a friend of the Chairman, or a headhunter who the Chairman trusts, or some chaps at the golf club that the Chairman belongs to. Or they share a Board with some other good chaps who put in a word. So, you are going to take lessons on "merit" from the men that brought us the banking crisis, the longest recession since the great depression, mis-selling scandal after mis-selling scandal and press complaints? "Pur-leee-zeeee" (said in an American drawl)

Merit, Schmerit (I love the way you can dismiss almost anything by repeating a word with "Sch..." on the front. Except Schweppes). There is no way competent, committed women are going to do a worse job. So, your job is to break the lock-in and get into those positions en masse. Not for your sakes. For Britain's sake. And for your daughters. And their daughters.

Face facts. UK Board plc is locked-in to a sub-optimal male dominated VHS solution. Without a powerful intervention it will stay like that for the next 50 years and we will continue to waste the executive talent of half our population.

It's time to gen up on the science of complexity and really understand how the system works.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Sad Eyes (Part 2)

In Sad Eyes (Part 1) I talked about the fascinating process of having a portrait of oneself done in oils.

But Hynek Martinec, the brilliant young portrait artist who produced the majectic "Five Masters, Three Wardens and the Clerk" had one more request of us sitters. As explained in the book published by, that accompanies the painting "During the process, each sitter was asked to provide 140 characters, Twitter style, to adorn their painting."

(By the way, if you want to discover the best of the best of the next generation of artists, take a look at website. They find, display and sell the finest artworks by students and recent grads from the UK's most prestigeous art establishments).

We were not given any firm instructions on what our 140 characters should say. The only guidance was that in a 100 years time, when future generations are looking at your portrait and notice the 140 characters on the side of the painting, what do you want it to say about you? City portraits hang on Livery Hall walls literally for hundreds of years. I know of a Hall that has a portrait of Dick Whittington, who I used to assume was a fictional, pantomime character but it turns out he was a very real person and his portrait is there staring down at you hundreds of years later!.

So, this was a very real challenge. In several hundred years time, people might actually look at my portrait and wonder "who the hell is that guy?" How do I define myself in 140 characters. Well, it took me several weeks and lots of crossing-out but eventually here's what I wrote:

Tom Ilube DTech (Hon) MBA FRSA - Founding Chairman Hammersmith Academy - Technologist, Educator - Mr Bojangles "Talked of Life. Laughed"

How did I get to this? Let's break it down.

Tom Ilube - Actually my name is Thomas Ilube but I am know as Tom by practically everyone. My father has been known to call me Thomas. My grandmum called me Tommy. To everyone else I am Tom. So Tom it is.

DTech (Hon) - a few years ago I was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Technology. My big sister snorted, saying "is that one of those silly degrees you don't have to do any work for?" (I think she was teasing!). I decided to use it here as a shorthand way of saying "I've worked in technology for years and years".

MBA - having put in a shorthand for my technology career I then decided to use my MBA as shorthand for my business career.

FRSA - this stands for Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. I really like the RSA and use the RSA House quite often when I am in London and need to meet someone or stop for a coffee. I have spoken there, hosted events there and had many important and enlightening meetings in the cafe down in the basement.I think as one of life's outsiders, being invited (elected?) to Fellowship felt like being accepted into a large and interesting gathering of friends.

Founding Chairman Hammersmith Academy - in 2005 I proposed the idea of creating a new secondary school and six years later we opened the doors of Hammersmith Academy. I led the project from the back of a napkin in a north London coffee shop to one of the most amazing schools in London. It was very tough at times but I am very proud of having done this.

Technologist, Educator - my career has been in technology, from my days as an Assembler programme at British Airways to the companies I have created. I am a Technologist. But I am also an educator. For the past decade I have been a Governors of four schools, created one from scratch and founded an African education charity. Education will play an increasing role as life goes on. I am an Educator.

Mr Bojangles "Talked of Life. Laughed" - surely you know me well enough by now to know that I am Mr Bojangles. I talk of life. And laugh. With sad eyes.

So, who are you, in 140 characters?