A home for the Conscious Business community in the UK

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The politics of business

One of the programmes I most hate on the radio is Any Questions on BBC Radio 4.  Of course, I don’t really hate it. I hate it only in the sense that I enjoy listening to it so that I get many opportunities to loudly prounounce “What an idiot!”.

The brilliant idea of bringing together people into a setting where whatever they say is bound to cause offence to other participants or those in the audience pre-dates reality TV by many, many years of course. And it’s really entertaining in a true sense: it’s diverting and holds my attention.

Yesterday’s episode was set in Londonderry, Northern Ireland and inevitably some of the discussion was about the political situation. In particular the recent comments by Martin McGuinness describing dissident republicans as “traitors” came up.

Someone made the point that language is important, and so it is. And so is the context in which language is spoken.

The word traitor sits in a historical, political and broader context. Just as dissident does. Just as Ireland does. Or any other term we use.

That context affects the way meaning is drawn from the word.

I know little about Northern Ireland. But it seemed positive to me that the speakers seemed to be agreeing that, in 2009, the context has changed.

And that probably as a result of the “peace process” there is a new way of looking at the world which is held by the majority of people. In that context, the words traitor and dissident and even terrorist mean quite different things from what they did in the past.

Agreement amongst the participants of a panel show perhaps doesn’t create quite the kind of entertainment the editors are seeking. So the conversation moved on.

But I was struck by how much business in 2009 needs a new context. Our  language needs updating, of course. But for me, meaning is what counts. And it is often context that determines meaning.

I commented on an Umair Haque post on the Harvard Business site earlier in the week. Umair seemed frustrated that some people are just disguising old (really old) business models in the language of the new. He’s quite right of course. Just changing the words and calling it “Business 2.0” doesn’t change anything.

The shift to Business 2.0, or whatever you want to call it, is a contextual shift. It’s a change in the way we look at the world. A shift in the principles that underpin why we do business, what it is for. These are things we don’t often talk about in business – we’re usually far too busy discussing the how.

But to achieve the kind of seismic shift that has been achieved in Northern Ireland’s politics, we’ll surely need as deep and as far reaching a discussion as has been held there. And with all that is going on in the economy and the wider world isn’t it just a brilliant time to be having this discussion?

Umair is just one of the many people showing the way; all strength to him. I’d love to hear of more like him.

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News from the front-line

I rarely watch TV news. Actually I hardly follow the news at all. Once every couple of months I might pick up a paper (usually the FT because I like their style). Sometimes at the station with time to kill, I look at the newspaper headlines.

This is all because news depresses me. The endless negativity. The partisan nature of the analysis. The time it wastes. The way even sensible people are depicted as idiots – under the pressure of lights, time and deadlines, I’m sure it’s really hard to get a coherent and sane message out, let alone start a useful or enjoyable conversation, which I much prefer.

I studied the news. In fact, I wrote a dissertation about online news at the BBC. Actually, I confess, I worked for BBC News.

And overall I like the news journalists I have met. As a bunch they are bright (sometimes terribly bright), articulate, caring and funny people. I say caring because despite the bluster or detachment which they probably need to do the job, many, many are really caring individuals. I’m sure they care far more than me about global issues, politics, big business and all the really IMPORTANT things.

Things I grew up thinking were important anyway. Like many middle-class kids I was encouraged to read a newspaper. Although I never got beyond the little snippets in the inside pages – “thieves steal 1000 left-footed shoes”.

The major headlines: war, famine, earthquake, disaster – all these fascinated me in a way, but never really engaged me to do anything. Is that a terrible thing to say?

But when I watched the TV news (Channel 4) the other day, just to do something different, I really enjoyed it.

I was struck again by the sheer entertainment value of it. The great music. The amazing graphics. The tension. The suspense. The build-up. The baring of teeth. The bloody combat amongst the protagonists – “no holds barred”. The skill of the referee – goading and urging them on. The silky warm conclusion and the seductive invite to “join them again”.

And overall the absolute art of the piece – drawing me in, and pulling me to the front of my chair, hooking me in.

Like Damien Hirst’s work it may just be a cow cut in half. But, you’ve got to admit, it’s very well done.