Different People

pencilsAs a HR professional and coach I spend a lot of time encouraging diversity.  Diversity in terms of race, creed, nationality for sure – but most importantly diversity of thought.

It is patently obvious that none of us knows as much as all of us. Having a pool of knowledge, ideas and interests that is as a broad as possible can surely only be a good thing.

Yet there are increasing calls to protect our historic culture and values by keeping ‘different’ people out.  This goes much deeper than mere (ill informed) protectionism around jobs and wealth.

Most people judge their worth by comparing themselves to others.  If others are judged to have achieved less  (on whatever criterion is most damning) they are clearly inferior.  They must be lazy, stupid, untrustworthy etc.  We see this in in society at large – increasingly the poor are seen as undeserving.  If my riches are down to my effort your poverty must be due to you being feckless.  It has to be your fault as it cannot possibly be mere luck or family ties (or old school ties) that made me successful.  Penniless immigrants washed up on the shores of Europe are not only poor but foreign and must be kept out at all costs. Never mind that they have the resourcefulness,courage and strength to undertake a massive, highly dangerous journey.

This then creates a real problem when we find someone has achieved more – that surely makes us lazy, stupid, feckless… Of course that can’t be right.  They are obviously undeserving of their success – they stole it, got lucky, had rich parents…  But above all else they are different and must be made to conform or be driven out of the tribe.  After all someone ‘better’ than me is a constant reminder of my shortcomings.

We are social animals.  In our evolutionary past remaining part of the tribe was a matter of life and death.  We have evolved to be conformists, to fit in and follow the strong leaders rather than risk being exposed as ‘different’ and face expulsion.

Many (in)famous experiments have shown how we conform even when we ‘know’ our actions are questionable.  Otherwise bright students gave obviously wrong answers to very simple questions when following the lead of the planted stooges.  Subjects gave what they believed to be potentially lethal electric shocks to others when instructed to do so by ‘authority’ figures.

And so those who feel they have achieved less than they desire attack those who threaten their cosy mediocrity by having the talent, skill, persistence and creativity to achieve success.  They also deride those who have achieved less, those who choose not to or can’t afford to wear the ‘right’ brands and those who are poor as they are an unwelcome reminder of what might have been. Others in the tribe soon join in – maybe too weak to start the the pogrom they are still eager to conform and join the mob.  Some may feel uneasy but make sure that they are seen to throwing their support behind the attacks for fear of being next.

In this connected world of social media these attacks and exclusions are no longer physical, hiding behind a smartphone they are easier to commit by the weak but are no less wounding for the victims.

It takes real strength to dare to stand out by being different.  It takes strength to champion high achievers and see them as aspirational role models rather than threats.  To discover what can be learnt from them instead of silencing them for fear of having your own accomplishments diminished shows a real desire to be the best you can be – not simply the top dog in a weak pack.

It takes equal strength and compassion to stand up for those who have less than us, to support and nurture them.  Help them to be the best they can be. It takes real humanity.

Despite the fact that our differences make us collectively stronger it takes real courage to stand up to the mob and declare support for difference.  When we understand that the mob attacks from a position of fear and weakness they become much less intimidating.

Ask yourself if you have gone along with the status quo and stood silently on the sidelines, supported the mob or even joined in the attack.  How good do you feel about that?

Baby when you hold me
I can feel so wrong
You’re trying to console me
Your chance has long gone
So baby won’t you take my hand?
So we can do what the others can
We are alive tonight, we are alive tonight

I am going home forever and ever more
No I was never born and there’s no such thing as home
We used to stand so strong
That’s why the others have gone

Different person, different argument
In my shadow, no more compliments
One more person breaking the rules again
I’m still waiting for someone else to join in

Stand where the others stand
We’re alive tonight
Land where the others land
We’re alive tonight

Biffy Clyro – Different People


Who the F#ck are Arctic Monkeys?


Last week I watched the Brit awards on television.  For those of you not in the UK this is the UK’s version of the Grammy’s.  Over the years it has morphed from a shambolic industry only affair into a big glitzy evening with a large public audience held at the O2 in London.   Sadly it just isn’t cool.

James Corden as compere gamely plugged away at his script.  Unfortunately it felt like he was reading the autocue and was embarrassed at the awful jokes he was inflicting on us.  A succession of bored looking celebs trooped up to the stage to give and receive awards and read out bland acceptance speeches.  A series of artists performed and some, like the Arctic Monkeys, were very good, but even then the audience reaction seemed muted especially amongst the industry guests.  Presumably they were all struggling with the dilemma that they wanted to make it clear that they were way too cool to enjoy this stuff but not that cool they hadn’t come.

I can remember when music was the single most important thing in the world. Discovering new bands was so exciting.  My favourite bands spoke directly to me, to my very soul, in ways that my parents could never understand.  Music wasn’t just fun, it was important. Where was this passion now? Surely the kids don’t accept this?

Then the Arctic Monkeys won the final award of the night for best album (A.M. and it is a pretty good album too) and despite having had a good go at drinking the bar dry, frontman Alex Turner gave a proper rock star acceptance speech.

I am pretty sure that at that point many viewers were thinking ‘what a pretentious load of drunken rubbish’ but for real fans it was the talking point of the show.  At last here was a rock star speaking to his fans.  Speaking to, and for, a generation in a way that made them feel special and unique.  He wasn’t trying to conform and be nice and safe.

The first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys live they lacked stage presence.  Great music but lacking the swagger of a true rock act.  There is part of the ‘Rock Star’ job description that demands eccentric behaviour, arrogance, pomposity and living a life of excess.  Rather like a promising young employee Alex was more than competent and diligently ticked all the boxes yet lacked a little self belief.  Now he has grown into his role and looks confident.  Alex is no longer just writing great lyrics, he is a proper front man, fully carrying out all aspects of his job description. When I saw them on the last tour they were the real deal.

At the Brit’s Alex was simply doing his job in a way that few of the preceding acts had done.  And it was clear that the problem with the Brit’s was that they fall into an uneasy middle ground: too corporate and nice for Rock and Roll yet too ‘naughty’ to be truly professional.  In short they fail to be authentic in any meaningful way and look like a cynical money making machine.

A few months ago the Arctic Monkeys cancelled a gig at the last minute. When it emerged that the band had been at an awards do the night before and had been seen out very late, conclusions were drawn.

If you want your rock stars to stick it to authority and conform to the job description then you have to expect the consequences.  Bands know that they get paid to perform and cancelling gigs is just not acceptable.  It’s a fine line between the expected mayhem and professionalism and sometimes young bands, like young employees, will slip.

Not Alex though, he knows what parts of his job description are non-negotiable.  It turn’s out he was hospitalised with laryngitis.

I for one am looking forward to more of the authentic Rock Star – roll on Reading Festival. Let’s hope Alex develops enough to be considered for promotion.

We all want someone to shout for 
Yeah, everyone wants somebody to adore 
But your heroes aren’t what they seem 
When you’ve been where we’ve been 
Alex Turner

Who the Fuck are Arctic Monkeys?

Shock Shock

The Co-operative retail movement was set up by 19th century Weavers in the industrial North West of England.  The foundations, which still hold today, were based on the business being member owned for the good of society.  Now running a range of businesses from Childcare, through Retail  to Funeral services the Co-op is a cherished and trusted organisation and it’s Banking business with it’s ethical principles seemed to offer an alternative to the ‘casino’ Banking that is now condemned.  But now, close to collapse the Co-op bank has had to be ‘rescued’ itself.

It was the acquisition of the failing Britannia Building Society that started the problems.  Like most of the other Mutual (ie member owned) savings societies the Britannia had incorporated allowing it to buy out it’s members for a few pounds and then act more like a ‘real bank’.   Sadly the Britannia was going bust (that did seem to be a definition of a ‘real bank’ in 2008) and the Co-op Bank bought the failing business.

The Co-op for it’s part underestimated the size of the bad debts in Britannia and overestimated it’s own management capabilities to turn things around.  It also failed to attract new accounts – given how little respect the public had for the main Banks and the apparent appetite for a different approach that seems incredible.

It is perhaps not unexpected but once again the words mismanaged and Bank seem to come together.

Now a deal has been struck with a number of aggressive Hedge funds ( the very antithesis of the ideals of the founders) to put £1.5bn into the business.  The Co-operative group will have to find around £500 million and will end up with only a 30% stake.   Of course everyone is now concerned that the Bank will lose it’s ethical stance.  That would be the same ethics that lead the Bank to have to put around £400m aside to compensate customers for mis-sold PPI claims etc.

In fact the Hedge funds know that without it’s ethical positioning the Co-op has little to differentiate itself and the new owners may well make a better fist of building on this unique selling point.  There are steps being taken to ensure that the basic principles of a mutual bank are retained and in truth a 30% stake should be enough for the Co-op to control matters.

Whilst the hard nosed business realities mean that the ethical principles are likely to be not only retained but strengthened, the ownership structure will lead many to challenge the authenticity of those principles. Throughout this saga it has been a lack of adherence to the basics of the Co-operative ethos that have been at play.  A lack of authenticity on behalf of management underlies many of the issues.  And yesterday the news broke that Chairman at the time is now facing charges of buying illegal drugs, the night after he testified to the Treasury select Committee, from a guy he met on Grindr.  It’s worth mentioning that he used to Chair the anti-drugs charity ‘lifeline’ and is a Methodist Minister.  The point isn’t that Flowers should be criticised for using Grindr and drugs  but the sheer bloody hypocrisy (if the allegations are true).

We should all learn from this, once we cease to be true to ourselves in even small ways we lose our way and lose the trust of those around us.  Finding and sticking to our own core values and purpose is a certain way to gain trust and improve our own fulfillment.

So whilst I wish the Co-op well as we need a better banking model (I should also declare that I am a Co-op member, an investor in the Bank and have many friends employed in the various businesses), I fear that faith has been lost in the very principles on which the business is built and the USP is badly damaged.  Time will tell how well they are able to repair the damage.

“You’re wondering why you’re exhausted, exhausted
From using theses lies, I’m sure you’ll regress again
Maintain your silence”
Biffy Clyro  – Shock Shock