Friday, 28 November 2014

How easy is whistleblowing?

We have heard endless serious mischief within parts of the banking sector with no solution in sight that quite frankly could pull us all down. The debate often mentions whistleblowing as a type of solution to part of the problem. Let’s see if we can diverge deeper into this debate. The idea of whistleblowing is not a novel one. It is simply someone blowing the whistle behind the scenes confronting a situation that is either deemed as unethical or carries long term detrimental effect following a type of misconduct affecting or harming others and the reputation of the firm. Once something detrimental comes out into the open, well something can be done about it, improved, changed or disciplined before it is too late. This sounds like how we were brought up as children and in the end pretty straight forward does it not?

As easy as this may sound, unfortunately these situations are sadly far more complicated as many adults still remain or become rebellious children. Let’s take a hypothetical example. You suspect that someone close to you in the company that you work for is defrauding another party in a business deal. It is a large deal, and encompasses a large amount of immediate profit for the company in question. The person (Let’s call him Johnny du Little) involved in this transaction is wealthy and successful or seemingly so and has a strong personality. A slightly chubby fellow wearing spectacles. He is also very high up the hierarchical ladder, in a position of responsibility and has many friends in high places or at least gives that impression with a small herd of so called followers. Take note crooks are generally mistrustful of others and don’t have many friends or it so happens they are very clever at pretending to make friends with a few key people such as the accountant or lawyer, the regulator or tax collector and even the lender or investor. This is just so Johnny feels well protected.

At this point in time you suspect fraud and are 99 % certain. You feel helpless, trapped as you are not as successful and slightly lower down the food chain plus you have fewer allies. In other words you feel in a position of weakness and not of strength. What do you do? Do you go along with it and become an accomplice or do you turn a blind eye and walk away? What if this person happens to be your boss?

These are very difficult situations neither of which are ideal as a combination of fear and palpable stress creeps in as most likely job security remains on the balance.

Let’s see if we can enlighten further pointers into this scenario by turning this into a kind of fiction as you decide to do something in which you have your reasons.

First of all find an ally. He can be a colleague a kind of person you trust that you can bounce off with. The point here is that by having an ally will encourage you to help alleviate your own fears. Ideally this ally is in a stronger position or furthermore pretends to be a confidante of Johnny's. It becomes a game. Call it the shadow game. Therefore write down conversations and pick up evidence in this game, for you have now gone into battle and knowing your enemy is paramount. Challenge Johnny in a clever way. It will arouse his suspicions yet not to worry as the last thing Johnny will expect, is to be double crossed. Meet your ally in outside places you are likely not to be noticed to discuss strategy. Be patient and above all calm, as there is a saying in battle ‘Wait until you see the white of the eye.’ The moment has to be right before you make your move. Johnny will make mistakes. They often do as they are blinded by their own arrogance or greed. Johnny could even be proud in what he is doing as you pick up more evidence that affirm your own suspicions. 

You make your move. As Johnny is higher up the food chain, the best move to make is go higher up than Johnny and report his or her misconduct, knowing that your job is at stake. This is the risk you are prepared to take to do what is right as it is highly possible that at this point Johnny becomes very suspicious of you and will do everything in his power to get rid of you. This is good as Johnny has no evidence, just hearsay, and the higher the suspicions, the more irrational, threatening, paranoid, or even dictatorial Johnny becomes whilst he slowly feels the noose around his own neck. The stakes get higher as above Johnny, people may also be fearful what with litigation and confidentiality issues and so on yet it is important you fall onto someone you perceive, has the right amount of integrity and authority to do something about it. The story may involve further shadow games as you develop one or two more key allies as you may lose your job and so on….and yet together in your tight nit group you stick to your guns….

Do you get the picture? Not easy is it. Let me make it plain. Whistle blowing is not for the fainthearted. Look at this person Alayne Fleischmann an ex JP Morgan Chase securities lawyer although if true, perhaps she could have been a little more clevere about it. If the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and his motley crew whose behaviour are made out to be sociopathic as reflected in both articles, well they need to be held accountable with the possibility of licences revoked from conducting business here in Europe. I would support this lady wholeheartedly. Fortunately legal protection is under discussion in some governments to encourage more people to come forward.

The higher the stakes, the higher the risk I suppose, yet the action remains the same albeit if you were part of a small organisation or a larger one. If you feel uncomfortable with all this, take light from this story. During his meeting with Hitler, the Finnish Field Marshall Mannerheim lit a cigar. Mannerheim supposed that Hitler would ask Finland for help against the Soviet Union, which Mannerheim was unwilling to give. When Mannerheim lit up, all in attendance gasped, for Hitler's aversion to smoking was well known. Yet Hitler continued the conversation calmly, with no comment. In this way, Mannerheim could judge if Hitler was speaking from a position of strength or weakness. He was able to refuse Hitler, knowing that Hitler was in a weak position, and could not dictate to him.

Another way to look at it, is fast forward a few years. The biggest financial cover up in history had been unmasked practically causing the entire financial system to collapse, in which plenty of people are put on trial with many facing prison sentences. You were there as a banker and did nothing perhaps even remained an accomplice in hiding and will regret this for the rest of your life. Or you did something by averting this disaster, as you look back in hindsight. Well it was not that bad was it and moreover it changed my life forever? Which path would you choose?

Thursday, 27 November 2014

What is faith?

A great film that I would recommend people to see called ‘Kon-Tiki.’ This is a film based on a true story about a famous Norwegian explorer and anthropologist called Thor Heyerdahl that had led the Kon–Tiki expedition in 1947. An entire museum in Oslo that I once visited is dedicated to this story which I will outline as follows. Heyerdahl spent much of his time in Polynesia and was convinced that there was migration between South American natives into Polynesia around 1000 to 1500 AD, way before European settlers. He had figured out this theory based on drawings he had discovered whereby concluding that people must have migrated with the trade winds and currents on wooded rafts with basic sails.

The explorer was determined to prove his theory and in doing so he wanted to cross the Pacific on his very own wooded raft made from basic material such as balsa wood and other basic equipment similar to those used in that previous time. He led the expedition together with a small voluntary and resilient crew, where they had set off from Peru. According to their nautical calculations the winds and current would change at a certain point out in the middle of the pacific to bring them on target to the Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia.

Once out in the middle of the ocean it seemed apparent that the winds would not change. Heyerdahl’s crew’s morale was quickly diminished and hope was rapidly dissipating. As one member of the group had shouted out in distress to their leader ‘We don’t have your faith!’ It seemed that they would all perish and drown in the middle of the ocean. Yet the leader had never doubted his inner belief let alone his inner strength. He was so certain his theory was true, in that they would not perish and that the tide would eventually turn bringing them in the direction where they wanted.

Several days after this hair-raising situation, the current had changed. Suddenly the winds had led them into the right direction. All hope was restored and morale was high. Eventually after 101 days out at sea, the group had made it to Polynesia.

This is a remarkable story of human endeavour given the great adversity that this expedition was up against. One can draw whatever parallels from this story in our lives and even to nature. It is a story of remarkable leadership of a man who never abandoned what he believed in. It might be, for example that the winds and the current did not have to change and yet they did. Some might call this luck. For me this an example of the simplicity of faith.

Today in Europe many of our businesses and in particular our banks and political leaders struggle to define a coherent path, a higher purpose or at least do not adhere to their own vision. This is where things start to go wrong, adding to our lack of confidence and of a self-belief that is being eroded day by day. For example some might believe that economic growth is our sole destination, whereas is it not that growth is the positive result once we know where we are heading? Moreover if we do not know our destination, how is it that the tide is able to turn?

Our current economic system confirms that many of us out there feel; that we are in fact out in the middle of the ocean having no idea where we are heading, with others thinking yes we may as well jump ship, sink or perish whilst dark clouds are upon us. Some may talk the talk yet have no idea how to walk the plank ..er I mean walk the walk. Others make short term decisions putting plasters wherever there is a leak in our balsa wood or a rip in our sails hoping things may get better.

The Norwegian explorer knew his destination. It was simply a question how to get there, even in the face of adversity by putting his crew at risk then bringing them to hope and safety, and yet I am certain our leaders can learn that to get from A to B requires a coherent vision, a certain resilience, and above all, belief, to allow us to be consistent to that vision. We must know what ‘B’ is and then when knowing our destination we can rely on such great people for the tide to turn. And yet my undeniable optimism is that there are many more men or women out there not necessarily at the top of the pile that exist that can make that difference that understand that we must work together, understand in what direction we are heading, and knowingly how to reach it; Men and women of extraordinary coolness, talent, vision and most of all of faith.

Be bold in the face of adversity and humble in triumph

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

What is fear?

Often these articles are showing an interest in social philosophy in order to help and provide more meaning in our lives in the context of our business culture today using examples from others, from what I read, people I meet and my own personal experience. This is so we can make that difference, through creativity, ideas, sound judgement, far-sightedness and the use of knowledge for the advancement of others. As this in my view is the right way to view humanity so that we, as human beings can strive for our hopes and dreams. Today there is a hindrance into this way of thinking as something in us is pulling us back, in our ability to move forward in a different direction. It's seemingly very likely that this deterrence is a fear of some loss, yet in the end, as so often the case, time will tell us what it was. And if my judgment serves me correctly it will confirm that this loss was based on some illusion or myth.

Today I would like to write about fear. What is it? Is it a state of being? We have many fears. The deeper ones are fear of change or of loss, which may link to our lifestyles, and comforts, fear of being judged as inadequate by others, or fear of being hurt emotionally, mentally or physically.

Yet all these fears are linked to our future which in short is the fear of the unknown, plus they relate prior to the act, as so often the case we act on impulse, basic instinct without taking the long term implication into account as we run away from the unknown factor and what will it do to me kind of thing.  So how do we fight these fears in us? Is it by having courage? Is it by having a higher belief? We all have courage if we were put to the test. We all have beliefs, well supposedly, otherwise how would you define who you are?

No, it is before that act; therefore in thinking you are doing the right thing which is where we need encouragement, or reassurance. This is linked to our confidence adding to our inner sense of security. This encouragement which can help anchor us can come from friends, family, great colleagues, teachers, love of our work and so on or elsewhere. Courage is different as once you are committed to the act, you know you are doing the right thing, even in the face of adversity or facing an unexpected situation. There are so many unsung heroes in our world. Often their modesty and discretion is what describes their very nature of them.

The mainstream media have no idea how to find them or perhaps they have no idea how to define true heroism, nor success. And as so often the case the media’s only concern resorts to the depravity and sensationalism around us making all of us see the world in a negative way adding to so many of our problems and solving nothing, which arguably creates a far more dangerous situation making  some of us more fearful and others more immune than ever.  

Today Europe appears to be trapped, possibly in denial of its past, fearful of its future and so are our banks and we are seeking for a way out except that we cannot find the key. This is partly linked to our lack of confidence. Did you know there is a bank out there that defines sustainability, in the true sense of the word? By this I mean they actually act in what they preach. I would describe this bank as a heroic and pioneering bank with courage in the face of regulation and media adversity. Perhaps the media may describe this as an example for others, in so as others can be encouraged to follow suit. Could this help to answer to some of our fears?

In short to fight our fears, it simply means double checking in what I am doing is what is right. A kind of someone telling you, ‘you can do it attitude’ that builds our confidence. We all know what is right, if we take the time to think as we all have a conscience and yet we will always be seeking that reassurance. With that reassurance, the fear subsides, nothing else matters and the peace in you just takes over as we become more attuned to sensing danger.

Hold on I have not acted yet? Well we have to act. This is how others will radiate around you as you have to throw a stone to get the pond to ripple otherwise nothing will happen, and nothing will change. Or there will always be that distinct danger that the wrong people in responsibility do the acting in our world or shall I say play acting which brings us back to that state of illusion whereby deepening our fears…..

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.
Bertrand Russell

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

What is freedom?

There was an old film I would like to write about. I would recommend businessmen to see if ever you found the time, and in how it defines real freedom. It is a film from '99 called ‘Instinct’ based on a story from a writer named Daniel Quinn where clearly much of the credit is deserved. The film stars Anthony Hopkins, as Ethan. I will not deny is one of my favourite actors of all time.

Ethan, an ecologist and anthropologist learns to live with animals and in this case Apes. He learns their sense of community, of protecting or guarding one another including their sense of compassion for each other. Man comes along and shoots several apes in their natural habitat. Ethan is stunned and blinded by his own rage, defends them by instinctively killing two of the park rangers with a club. He is caught, brought home and put in a criminal mental institution awaiting trial.

Meanwhile an aspiring psychiatrist (acted by Cuba Gooding Jr) named Theo is interested in taking his case. Yet he is only interested in the case for his own self-interest. Career breakthrough, personal ambition, recognition, challenge, money or vanity (selling a book) we could go on with man’s list of inner weakness and his selfish desires. He is not interested where he could help him or really understand him. He thinks he is, yet it is purely an ‘illusion’. We see this in many ways as Theo was told to look after some of the other patients in the facility which he takes unkindly to as he is soley focused in ‘helping’ this one guy.  Ethan refers to these people as the ‘takers’ in our world, and senses this in the psychiatrist almost by looking at him and through his acts, which tends to spark off his anger. In doing so he puts Theo to the test by exposing the psychiatrist’s lack of qualities, in an excessive yet challenging way.

Under Ethan’s challenge of hard knocks, the psychiatrist in the end learns to change and to see the world differently. No longer interested, in his self-interests, Theo realises his own stupidity, at the same time treats Ethan differently, more intelligently and more humanely. Theo is forever grateful to his new way of being. He says to him whilst weeping. ‘You taught me how to live outside of the game, you taught me to live’ In other words his true self came back, his own self-respect, his humility, his dignity and sense of compassion. He becomes more professional in his work, stronger, more authentic and more real. Ethan in turn learns to unlock his own final barriers and finds his peace of mind from his anger so that he too can continue his life with hope. (He also manages to escape)

We may of course interpret this film in hundreds of different ways. I for one, used to be a taker, in a world of takers some worse than others. It was more who was the best at this game? You deal with people of the same kind. It is a very stressful business to think this way. It can be unpleasant particularly if someone takes from you as we deal with it by harming ourselves or others in another form or become accomplices. The barometer of trust and integrity, well, it drops and it drops into storm clouds like a rock in a hard place. Good people also accomplices in many cases, that can lack courage, suffer whether they feel exploited or humiliated; they too, can feel stressed, unhappy or lost. Infact everyone loses.

I would shamefully admit whilst I look back in those days as I had reached the top in this game, that I had, or lost, half a brain, yet how could I define the best qualities in others when I myself was missing half my own qualities? It takes a lesson of hard knocks, and shocks for the ‘taker’ to find his way out, to be open, searching, to have a sense of curiosity so as to live a life more fulfilling, more enriching, with a peace of mind and with hope. And yet this all depends on the choices you make and the journey you choose, and even according to the talents and virtues that your life is given to you along your path. Or shall I say given back to you once you wake up.

The world is full of takers, and as so often the case, it is in our sub conscience, and even if we still think we mean well, we could still be living a life so far away from the truth in ourselves. More worryingly we have them in our leadership and at the top impacting and influencing our society who lack the quality, vision and sense of humanity to bring us forward. Take for example these employees at Goldman’s Sachs who are accountable for millions if not billions in our economy and define how to become a man as follows. Quite frankly there are parts of our culture that are shameful and perhaps it must learn how to weep?

As I always say, outside every external loss is an internal gain, in whatever profession or sector you choose to work in, albeit the financial sector and parts of the business sector, the media, the political world where a lot of the power and influence is, yet are deemed the least trustful and least respected. Does this mean we need to change jobs in this game? Not at all, it just means we do things differently, that’s the game changer. As the film quotes in its lesson of hard knocks, ‘You have lost nothing but your illusions and a little bit of skill’

That skill of course can be gained back differently as we continue our journey to become real men along our path to true freedom. By this way we can gain back a new era where we inspire success based on long term ideas, true talent and leadership, merit and of creativity for the common good of humanity and for the safeguard of our environment, our society and our children.

Jean-Jacque Rousseau said 'Man is born free and is everywhere in chains.' And yet it can only be that..

True freedom is the unleashing of the inner chains
 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why is it so difficult?

Some months ago I had written a piece containing an element of fantasy.  How we could import solar energy from the sub-Sahara into Europe in exchange for water from Northern Europe. It seems that this fantasy could become a reality as there was a recent article that a potential project was underway to build a solar power energy plant in the Tunisian desert and that we could have cheap and sustainable energy passing through Europe by 2018 powering our homes. The only catch was that investors were seeking subsidy from the UK government.

What a great project this could be yet how is it that the tax payer always has to fork out money to pay? There is no secret that our differing governments are debt ridden and broke, chasing after everyone’s income, selling off assets of national interest to foreign buyers just to keep themselves, their promises and the system afloat. It appears that the governments are frankly no longer the institution where the money and even where the power lies.

Instead the influence is elsewhere staring right at us. It is with the banks which have so much liquidity including all that printed money from QE and just do not know what to do with it. Profit yes that’s the easy bit, but sadly they lack the imagination, creativity and remain stuck in a rut with no tangible purpose and no vision for the future. European banks are now unable to invest on overnight deposits due to negative interest rates. It was nice whilst it lasted! They are practically being ordered by the ECB to lend to small businesses and help the real economy which they refuse to rightly or wrongly, as the gulf of mistrust between the consumer and its lender are far too wide. They could work with each other yet this we already know ends up serving each other’s interests benefiting no one. They are left with the bond market eg the fixed income business where Goldman’s and JP Morgan have by and large made their profits and buying up the stock market, two areas that are proven to be unsustainable and deceptive in the long term and adds very little benefit to anyone.

So what are the alternatives? Well our business culture in the 21st Century could become the new battle of ideas as our economic war in Europe is starting to wear us down. The battle of idealism between those on one side who are purely focused on the bottom line and those on the other  who believe in becoming a force for good. A kind of battle between the sciences, the MBA’s, monetarists and economists, who often might call themselves 'the doers’ vs the philosophers, psychologists and social anthropologists we could call the ‘thinkers’ that can provide meaning in what we do.

Here is an idea where we should be able to blend the two schools of thought together to provide cheap sustainable energy into Europe although only backed by a handful of investors. Where are our European banks? HSBC on its mission statement follow where the growth is and the word sustainability often comes up on their website. The Tunisian government has already passed legislation to allow energy to be exported. Yes it may be risky but any large energy project finance deal or any investment for that matter carries risk. Imagine our future and our countless new opportunitites if something on this scale could work? It can even help our sub Saharan friends with their own well-being as we buy their energy that answers to so many of our own problems as we turn our mysterious charitable ways into a long term viable business venture.

In short the sentiment still remains very high against our banking system. Only the other day a politician that I was sitting with, forgive the expression he wanted to ‘bomb the banks’. Edelman the public relations firm earlier this year did a yearly survey of 27.000 people from 27 countries found that the banks and financial services continues to remain the least trusted sectors. In order to avoid our old business habits the question will always remain in how are we going to change to rebuild that trust?

I was reminded once of an ex-boss of whom had expressed a belief  that power is where the money is. Yes maybe albeit at a superficial level, yet sometimes we need to crab the bull by its horns into the 21st Century as with power, must carry new meaning, reason and purpose.

The lions roar is in all of us

Thursday, 25 September 2014

How can we manage stress?

Stress I fear is a topic that is fast becoming a real challenge in our modern day lives. It is just as much linked to our fears as it is to our health and well being. It interests me greatly because I had experienced much throughout my 30’s for a variety of reasons. Yet it is a complex topic as it differs to each person and interpreted differently according to the human time cycle. It can just as much affect our private lives as to our career. Stress cannot really be dealt with in a written page and I would prefer to examine it through examples. The worst forms are the ones which can lead to burn out and are commonly prescribed in a general level as to one’s aspirations that have quickly collapsed resulting into a lack of interest or indifference into our work. The danger is that our defence mechanism weakens and it can turn into a depression and deep unhappiness  resulting to more harm onto yourself and perhaps even to others around you.

In reality it can also be associated with a cross range of topics such as work overload, or inefficiencies, deadlines, lack of recognition in our work, work/life balance, poor sleep and diet, rushing about not allowing time to think nor to reflect, noise, driving, debts, high risk taking, grievances and so on. Deeper issues such as lack of meaning in our careers and lives, resulting to general demotivation in which in more severe cases issues of identity, beliefs and conflicting values in you, would require redressing.

The other day, I was sitting with a group of civil servants from the European Commission. I asked them the most common difficulty in their work place. Their response was that in general many employees felt unrewarded in what they did. Most bright new people that entered into this organisation came in with dreams and aspirations of perhaps the European ideal. Nowadays this is quickly vanquished. It becomes a job for a salary. An example they gave was some civil servants get asked by their bosses to do wonderful projects that carry meaning for a common good or greater purpose. After many months or longer of hard work and once the project almost comes to an end, there’s been a change and it is all of a sudden binned before any positive impact might come about. They say this is common practice. Not surprisingly we can feel unrewarded. We can quickly not care and or become indifferent. For those who try harder, this can turn to stress, unhappiness and even burnout. How would you address this? We can address this at individual level, yet if it is a wider problem, then issues of leadership and political governance might have to be addressed.

Another example could be when another person is mistreating you in business and we could look at  management ruled by fear. It could be that your manager knows that he or she pays your salary and may feel authorised to order you around, exploit you to his or her convenience where you could quickly fall victim. The bigger the status this person carries, the more fearful he or she could be. These situations can quickly turn a culture, toxic and highly stressful. Someone who rules by fear is a reflection of weakness and cowardice from that person therefore the problem is with him/her, not in you. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied nor intimidated and don’t allow the problem to turn onto you. Self-confidence, self-control and courage are much needed attributes here to defend your own territory and integrity.

The fundamental real dangers of stress, if not managed well, are that the mind and the body need that release mechanism which quickly becomes empty and somehow it needs to be fulfilled to replace this emptiness. We could lapse into some form of pleasure seeking such as exaggerated urges of drink, sex, gambling amongst others in some deceptive manner or denial that somehow we feel cured whilst really we remain undervalued, each time lessening our hope for a brighter future and a worsening of our own self-esteem. Some might become intolerable whilst in a social environment; others might be so embarrassed in how intolerable they are and simply close themselves up. If we were to hear something nasty or idiotic, a common response is ‘this person has issues’ or ‘it’s his midlife.’ In many ways you could be right but we don’t know anything or what happened to this person.

For those who feel this could be happening to you, try never to despair. There will always be some small flame however small it may be that needs rekindling telling us to live and change. There are always others, friends and family there to help you to help yourself to redefine who and what you are. A good boss with foresight would detect issues arising with one of the co-workers and would instantly try to identify them and meet the needs through training or other help in order to bring this person back to his or her potential.

Why was I so stressed out in my 30’s? This is a story in itself but the long and short of it was that my main driver in business quickly became money and my aspirations were purely superficial. It made me acquire very little beliefs and conviction leading to a lack of fulfilment and confusion. Thankfully this had changed as somethng had to give and I began to understand that life had a greater meaning and of purpose which in turn had a positive impact in my behaviour and my actions. How would I now deal with an unexpected stressful situation toward me? Well, with emotional self-control, inner calm & patience, in so as that I can have time to think if need be before making a decision. Yet this is all easier said than done as humanity as I am all too aware remains vulnerable and imperfect.

Do not worry what the future brings

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Am I a middleman?

Phones4u a large mobile retail group in the UK, has just gone into administration. This is an example of the grim reality of the ruthlessness of our sub-culture in parts of our business world giving capitalism a very bad name. A man named John Caudwell builds up his retail business empire in selling mobile phones. He is a trader, a middleman or the in between guy. He started his career by selling cars. He gets good at it and sees the opportunity in mobile phones. So he becomes a bigger middleman or distributor in this case and makes the link between the product/supplier to the consumer.

He makes a success out of it creating employment and by clearly having some attributes. In 2006 he sees the end of the growth period and cashes in by selling his firm to a private equity firm. He makes €1.6 Billion and becomes Britain’s most successful entrepreneur. As a result more middlemen get involved in the strange shadowy world of trade and commerce. The Private Equity firm are another group of intermediaries except with MBA’s but this time with a different network and can link you to the lender and the investor. They often present themselves better, wearing smarter suits and talk with a little more know-how. They sit on asset classes consisting of debts and equity securities which imply they would be borrowing money from the banks (another intermediary) and may raise other funds from investors such as wealthy individuals or pension funds. It buys up the business and drives it forward. They are regularly accused fairly or unfairly of being ruthlessly focused on the bottom line as often they will cut costs or stream line the business. Mind you they would have little choice if their objective is to sell it off.

In this particular case of Phones4u, their suppliers Vodafone and EE were not willing to renew their contracts with the retailer/distributor or the middlemen. We don’t know why as yet and we may never know as these things can happen. Suddenly 5500 people, who know little better, wake up one morning and are asked not to go to work as their salaries cannot be guaranteed.

Is this is an example of classic ruthless capitalism at its best? Were all the middlemen charging too much squeezing a debt laden company for profit? Could it even be possible that the lenders knowingly were offloading the debt moving in for the kill before all hell would break lose?

Today accusations are thrown left, right and centre with no one accountable nor willing to accept responsibility including John Caudwell. Yes this is the world of intermediaries to intermediaries with very little control where you connect the rough with the smooth, the weak with the strong, the savvy with the naïve resulting into so much economic insecurity and mistrust. Yes this is the Wild West.

We’ve seen this all too often in our business world. There are plenty of losers and victims in this game. As so often the case it is the poorest. The workers, who need jobs to pay for food on the table and their bills. The consumer is another loser. The Pension fund (as investors) could also lose out as the shares go to dust. The integrity of our business and finance world loses. In fact all in all there are no winners.

Time MCG has already made the analogy that much of the blame and guilt from the economic crisis lies in the world of intermediaries where what, one has to distinguish between the real economy (good/services) and the financial economy, which merely intermediates. Any business which merely intermediates doesn't provide real value; they only take a cut of the real value at both ends. Sometimes there's a need for intermediation only if there's a proper market failure where supply and demand don't meet, but that's not always the case. Many of us are of course intermediaries that don't just include financiers, or banks they include also brokers, traders, head hunters, distributors, agents, and so on in the entire world of trade and commerce. One could say where does it end?

The down side of any intermediary business when on its own, it can become a very high risk business if it is driven by a person or a company who is purely bottom line driven and worse if the particular person is a short term thinker or even worse still, if your main supplier could cut you lose. The revenue is very commission, or percentage fee based. Intermediaries will often not own anything to protect themselves from litigation or if anything goes wrong and their contracts will fiercely reflect this. My word is my bond disappeared long ago.

The stamina entailed in some of these types who are pure fee earners is enormous for better or for worse and stress becomes very astute whilst one’s integrity can be pushed to way over the limits. When women enter the scene to have a crack and by getting their hands dirty, things can get ugly as this can be a man’s world of the quick buck mentality, the world of takers and of manipulation where mistrust becomes prevalent. If and when the risks get greater involving debt and a greater number of people as the company may grow and as the sums get bigger; it can affect or harm so many more people as we’ve seen in so many instances.

Today the Banks are beginning to understand this and are very apprehensive into who and how they lend and understandably so and are seeking change in their culture. The Banking Standards Review makes for some very interesting read. Our younger generation want not just a pay check but a purpose and want to enter into something more tangible or vocational in their careers as they get to analyse how the financial crisis came about. Some of us are not catered for wheeling and dealing, or feel very vulnerable amongst some of the takers and the sharks around us irrespective of the size of their balance books. The majority of us have a sense of humanity, this is why it is important that the change in culture is needed and to help those who are intermediating for the right reasons and with a tangible purpose, with as little debt as possible and at sensible prices, to bring us all into a more hopeful long term safer economic world. This may help re-instil the much needed trust and integrity. 

I know many middlemen who have become unhappy, lost or even bitter having not succeeded in pure monetary terms in this game of winners and losers. I know others who have succeeded yet their private lives are often shattered. In my case I had pulled out with no regret having already had my private life tarnished, and having seen too much of the rot. 

As for John Caudwell (worth $2.6 Billion) Did he make or invent something? He has already pledged half his wealth to charity before he dies. Is this a sign of his guilt? Frankly I have come to the conclusion that these are not the role models I aspire to be as these types are the products of the last lost decade, and neither are they an example of measuring our success and happiness in so as to safeguard a more secure future in our world of business trade and commerce.
 
Human dignity is a universal right for all
 

Monday, 8 September 2014

Who am I?

We live in bewildering times prompted initially by the financial crisis in 2007-8, which has opened up a large can of worms in a good part of our business sector. From a Meta perspective I have come to a belief that it is no longer a financial crisis, nor is it an economic one, nor a political one. That is purely the surface. Rather this episode in our times is a wake up call and we are instead living a long period of flux and of deep confusion that requires fundamental answers to such questions such as identity, our belief system and our value system. This can bring us back to our roots and even to the depth of our very own soul which may help us into new thinking, ideas, and meaning which can also help to define a new vision for our future and our children’s future. 

This confusion is deeply reflected in our rudderless modern world particularly on our own doorstep, as seen by many. With the eyes of the world now on the Scots for example, could their leap of faith toward potential independence put the UK into disarray? France is in a political quagmire headed by a President that has virtually lost all credibility. Belgium has no government. (Frankly the country functions well enough without one) Many Europeans want full integration. Other countries want out from a Europe burdened by heavy regulation and needless bureaucracy.  Our economic or capitalist system is hanging on by a thread and is likely to fail us. We have built a political system that is self-serving rather than serving. Our media and entertainment sector is obsessed on sound bites or noise and instant negative headlines so often exploiting human failings whereby playing to our weaknesses rather than our strengths. Our differing societies have accumulated so much debt and simultaneously a social crisis is now looming with general failing services and falling standards. Is it solely our self-interest left that is at stake as well as our appearance and instant gratifications or pleasures, and endless consumption that is adding to our total mistrust of one another? Surely this is aggravating further our moral compass, lack of belief and of vision resulting to the door potentially being left wide open to right wing extremism and an exploitation of a political ideology such as Islam.

To add salt to our wounds our self-appointed head of the commission Jean-Claude Juncker was asked about his vision of Europe of late. His answer was that he wanted to see a Europe sticking and working together.  Is that it Mr. Juncker?  Is that answer worth €25.500 not including expenses per month? With everyone going in every single different direction how on earth are we going to move forward coherently and how on earth are we going to rebuild our future on rock rather than on sand?  Or does the human race really have such a poor outlook? Frankly many of us fear for our future and for the future of our children. Something is going to have to give.

Here’s the thing. With those who believe in a new long term direction and if one puts oneself on a pedestal, it is important to consider that change can more easily come about once this has occurred in one self. It starts at the individual level that includes an element of soul searching. Knowing who we are, why we are here and what we are here to do? To help us rediscover our sense of self-worth, and uphold a deeper belief system and values that govern our action and behaviour; an awareness is crucial that can go as far back as our own birth gifts and talents, our upbringing, environment, education, experience and cultural heritage helped by the love we are able to give and to receive. At a given point in time our chosen career or profession will need to reflect upon this.

If you are aware that you are going down the wrong path well somehow we would need the courage to find the key to that door and change the course. Yes we are faced with plenty of challenges, knock downs, grievances and failings which in some cases can change our way of thinking, yet that is just a part of our personal growth and maturity. All in all this contributes to our identity and plays part to our very own destiny. Call it life's adventure if you will that we are destined to discover. Who am I? What am I doing here? As seen in this amusing sketch. What are my values and deeper beliefs? Are they coherent to my work? Is my company applying those same values that they say they are? What is it that the world needs where I can fulfil my hopes and dreams? What drives me? How can I contribute something tangible to where there is a need? What is it that I wish for? How can I utilise my talents to the best of my ability that will benefit the other person, our society or our environment?

Love, duty and meaning are the highest source of human motivation we could wish for. Once this is patiently figured out as in some instances can take time, our sense of self no longer becomes problematic nor a burden. Our sense of being becomes fulfilled. We can manage ourselves more easily, see ahead and serve the needs of others. We no longer need to pretend nor appear to be …. In the end...well we just are. This is identity and what inner foundation is about. This is our rock and our happiness. Every thing else takes its course. Some people call this character or backbone; others might call it common sense.

This year we commemorate the 100 years of the start of First World War. I am often reminded of the wordings imprinted on the soldiers grave stones that had no identity. No name, just: A Soldier of the Great War. Known only unto God. That even this poor person who ever he was that paid the ultimate sacrifice through his sense of duty could surely have found meaning or even love. It can only make you wonder…..

Friday, 15 August 2014

How focused are we?

As I return from my holidays (that entailed the privilege of switching off on an island of natural beauty and tranquillity, in Norway enjoying the family with a considerable amount of swimming, fishing and hiking), my mind is now slowly reverting into the real world. As you can imagine I have had to get my head together. It takes a while. After listening and watching the news, not surprisingly it is difficult to remain focused, as one might easily become a pessimist, uninspired, a cynic, an escapist or side tracked? This can tempt us to generalise on so many important matters often aggravating all sorts of situations. Or to say something on a subject, that we are not attuned to or where we lack the facts and knowledge or even life experience whereby we might by no fault of our own find ourselves wearing a very different hat.

We know evil exists in our world, it always had. Yet I wonder if the media are capable of coming out with good news, inspirational news as I am so often a great sceptic of this powerful Western institution if I may call it such as they have so often manipulated let alone deceived mainstream for the sole purposes of hidden agendas or commercial gain. Even modern technology has the capacity to deceive nowadays. I am a believer that the good inspires the good and the bad inspires the bad. Naturally well…if the bad harms the good including the innocent unintentionally or intentionally in whatever form then it is our duty that something must be done, corrected or reported, in our given capacity and if we feel in a position or called to do so. This is the way things can change. And yet is all this possible by still remaining on the side of good where therein lays the challenge?

It is worth noting if and when the good prevails over one’s own human suffering or dysfunctional behaviour that is news as it sets an inspirational precedent to others in so as our great virtues such as courage, hope or love can begin to carry true meaning.

I see that even I am getting carried away; therefore I must stay focused to fall back to where my talents and vocation lie in my business and daily life. This brings me back to Time MCG and its services. Time MCG stands for strong corporate governance in the Banking sector, purposeful values including training/coaching of individuals in their careers linked to the changing of culture in this sector where so much harm has been done in our society and our economy. This brings us to our very own doorstep and closer to home. Sometimes I need inspiration. Fortunately it so happens the other day an email fell into my inbox that had caught my attention.

It was a marketing advert from a leading European bank no doubt trying to improve its image with something mentioned about tolerance showing one of the annual festivals in Amsterdam. There are other examples of other banks on a marketing drive in a similar yet bizarre fashion. I have been to a couple of these parades back in my former immature, shameless and hedonistic days. One is enough. As the advert shows, it is just often very loud music, a lot of nihilistic behaviour, this ever-lasting obsession with self or narcissism and so on and some of it is fun. I suppose it is ok if you are that way inclined irrespective of our sexuality. It seems ironic that I could even be describing the very attitude that needs to change within parts of the Banking sector and our society from the bottom to the top. The question to this bank is what does this have to do with your products and your services? Is this not a confusing message that you are trying to give, by sexualising money or stepping into a world of play acting and pretence? Is this the way to raise the much needed credibility in the sector?

I am not one to be a kill joy yet it is a very serious pretext if the banks have caused one of the biggest crises in our living memory that has put some national economies on its knees and even pulled down countries. We know now they are often a law unto themselves and part of an industry that likes to speak to itself. At least in most part, it is to do with the credit delusion, our self-serving behaviour, lack of morals, purpose & integrity, failing leadership and falling standards. The evidence out there is overwhelming. It takes character to change this, a combination of emotional, spiritual, physical and mental intelligence where there are many solutions. We do not need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. It is essential that we remain focused as there is a lot to do and not diverge by scraping along the surface or manipulating mainstream through the media with adverts irrelevant to the task at hand. As my Dutch Amsterdam friends commented, ‘it is just businesses like most other businesses that would do anything for money. It has always been the case and it never changes.’ Another one commentated ‘I am tolerant yet exposure I find rather abject’ I often hear, as I am all too aware having lived in the city for over ten years that Amsterdam, is hardly representative of the rest of NL. Again what am I talking about, what does this have to do with a European Bank and its products and services?

In short when are the banks going to mature and come out with the message of real change that will inspire? We know how hard it can be with so much noise and endless sound bites around us. We live in an era more than ever where we need the time and peace to think wisely and not impulsively, to allow us to gently challenge and not overwhelm or dominate, to raise our individual responsibility and to free ourselves from self and into a new world of innate wonder and happiness.

Within our vocation and talent lies credibility

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

What is holding us back? ...if you want to think big...

(Fictional)



Scenario one - ‘Birds of a feather’
HCBC and Chitigroup have been given record fines reaching the billions by the EU and US financial regulatory authority and are seeking further US and UK state rescue following massive fraud committed by its highly sophisticated trading computer technology. These Governments refused their request for financial aid as following successive liberal and socialist Governments, debts are now too large with its only options left at the table is printing more money and increasing taxes. As savings, taxes on the ordinary worker’s salaries continue to suffer the brunt of corporate and political short-sightedness; many bankers have taken their own lives. The mob is out and bricks are thrown in the Bank office windows, expensive cars turned upside down and trash thrown in the private gardens of wealthy corporate executives. ‘My colleagues are so consumed by profit and politicians so taken in by corporate interests at our expense that they lost their moral compass years ago. My wife has left me and my life feels ruined.’ shouted one disgusted and burnt out sacked ex-employee. ‘Our leadership are simply cowards, careerists and opportunists living in their own bubble intent on their own self-interest. God help us all.’ as another potential lost saver commented.  There is a real danger of widespread European civil unrest what with a lack of integrated police resources to safe guard the very dangerous and tense stand-off from mass unemployment resulting from the deadly current economic situation in Europe bereft of ideas and already riddled with years of debt and infighting, besieged and on its knees by health, energy and environmental issues.

A visibly shaken and unconvincing CEO of HSCB standing shoulder to shoulder with the CEO of Chiti, surrounded by body guards as rumours of a mass merger surmount, denied human error or greed but instead blamed a technological glitch and the downturn in China and stated in front of a media scrum ‘We are able to afford these fines in these very difficult times with our new issue of Bonds. We have taken the strategic decision to continue our steadfast approach with our history of success that we have always been proud of, as we intend to return to profit as quickly as possible in the interest of our backers and shareholders’

Scenario Two - ‘How to stand out'
Hailed by far as the largest most expensive and complex energy and utility infrastructure project ever. After 8 years the longest underground water pipeline distribution network has virtually finished construction from Scotland, Norway, Finland, the Belgian Ardennes and the Alps where there is a high density of rain & water, to provide the much needed accessible drinking water for Southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa using a sophisticated pump and simple pipe system under our road network at very limited damage to our environment. The construction is fully underway for the solar power energy in the Sub-Sahara and Middle-East in exchange for this precious resource. ‘Providing drinking water as a source to millions of people in the scourged south from the north as a way of supporting their economies, sanitation and livelihood, is what the world is really looking for in exchange for solar energy’ said the EU President.

Two major investors were involved in this project, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates and backed by a consortium of banking and energy & utility companies. These pipes are dubbed the ‘Buff gate bridge pipe’ as the idea came about whilst the world’s two richest men were playing bridge wanting to find a way to give their wealth away for peace before they die.

‘I bank with HCBC because I like the project finance they do’ said one of their customers. The HSBC CEO at the head of the long list of banks stated ‘thanks to a strong integrated Europe, we are delighted to come to an end of this project in the interest of our customers. Our customer base is increasing largely from those who are putting their faith back into our banking system as we move away from the blind attitude and shameful short termism of our past into a long term sustainable future. Our morale is high as we now see from our employee’s perspective the fruits from having a true global purpose and new meaning in what we do. We took the bold decision to create the growth instead of following the growth. There is so much more to get on with.’  said the front cover ‘Global CEO of the Year’ on Time magazine. This month’s edition is dedicated to the long list of companies involved in this project.

The EU President, whose name has been nominated together with Gates and Buffet for the Nobel Prize for peace, commended the European banks. ’This is a truly an example of Europe working together motivated by a common purpose with other countries looking to offer their support in the interest of our environment where success is due to each and all of us. We also see an increase in economic opportunities for future generations in bridging Europe in this manner. We are also providing more investment in the areas of solar in the south and hydroelectric power in the north whilst continuing our policy of ridding our world and dependence from carbon combustion and nuclear power once and for all and the horrors it has caused. Oil and nuclear are now 20th Century history as we are finally bringing Europe into a new era of creative thinking and direction including solar powered air and road travel inspiring thousands of new employment opportunities particularly in technology and manufacturing. Naturally prices will be set upon those who can afford it as our livelihoods improve but we are currently also looking at improving the challenging ways to barter with our southern neighbours and partners the newly constructed solar energy power of the Middle East and the African Sahara in exchange for our natural energy and precious resources to meet our needs.'

Almost choking his words, by holding back his tears, he concluded, 'What is extroaordinary as a result of this feet, real peace is now being forged in the Middle East and the US has announced further demilitarisation. Some of us are ok at bridge but as far as bridge games goes this one 8 years ago has to go down in history as the greatest bridge toward peace and security ever.’

Together we can achieve the impossible

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Are we changing?

As we move forward away from the recession we seemed to have uncovered a world of far reaching smokescreens and mirrors with an in excess of conflicting self-interests. This has magnified a blurred sense of right and wrong justifying poor conduct in an economic system that is fast losing its sense of purpose. Another hot topic this time in the football world that caught my interest is the subject of corruption. This prompted me to ask a friend of mine, a professor in finance in how he would define the meaning of corruption. He came out with a stunning thought provoking definition:

At the expense of the common good, consciously compromising one's principles or timeless ethical standards in pursuit of personal interests

One could almost deduce that based on this meaning, corruption remains ripe and is everywhere. This is seemingly more apparent in politics and in business with many falling victims from perpetrators whilst most are apathetic, in an economic system that many might argue is in free-fall compounded by a minority in business, the media, intermediaries, leaders and politicians at the top causing harm in a human race with such a poor outlook where even our most basic of universal principles such as reciprocity, trust and integrity have vanished in a puff of smoke.

The European Commission argues corruption is costing our economy €120 billion annually yet this is a narrow view related solely to fraud and bribery when in fact the above definition is related to something so much deeper that being our moral interior. €120 billion is just the tip of the iceberg. Our belief, our value system our conscience, our strength of character, our capacity to serve, to teach, to encourage, to lead and contribute to the needs of others has been pulled into the opposite direction by external perhaps inexplicable forces which are really and truly narrowed down to personal or self- interests.

What do I mean by interests? No doubt many large corporations and businesses that work with smokescreens and mirrors have no clear understanding or can distinguish between interests and needs with regard to what they do and their employees. This may have helped lose sight of themselves or their purpose in life. By contrast psychologists from Freud to Maslow clearly differentiate the two describing interests as short term and superficial even transitory whilst needs are basic and far more long lasting. You could say that interests are tangible things like land, jobs or money and they can be compromised or traded. Whereas needs are more intangible and hidden, far more significant such as our identity, security, respect or recognition and are simply not for trading. If we make a fuss over our personal interests rather than real needs and build a mountain out of a mole hill, well then we have simply not matured or evolved as human beings. As a friend of mine poignantly said 'If I want to have a bigger garden, is it the dog in me that will dictate or is it my master?'

Let’s take the stock market for example. This measurement system has simply lost its long term serving benefit that it once had and has instead become tyrannically abused by short sighted wealthy and powerful speculators that are only interested in their short term gain with no higher purpose except one’s own. This is having a devastating perhaps even psychological impact on listed companies which is a true test of their character when making long term decisions. This corrupt out dated and beleaguered system has evidently played havoc in our lives and resulted in a culture of short term insecurity rather than long term fulfillment.

Recently a seasoned US commodity trader with his own business paid a visit to my office and pointed out that the High frequency trading technology used by large Investment banks was impacting smaller traditional traders such as his as it was so fast that the mid prices on the screens became blurred. He could not do his job properly as he was up against superior technology. These machines were sometimes conveniently located as close as possible to the central servers to reduce the time available owned by those who could afford them. Is this how desperate and childish we have become?

A senior Banker mentioned to me in horror that Bonds are now the hottest thing on the market. Corporate bonds that are nicely packaged and passed around and no doubt will be nicely laid into colourful looking funds creating nothing from nothing. Déjàs Vu? A good name for this game could be ‘musical debts’ where you pass the debt by dancing round in circles and cracking over the champagne.  What happens when the music stops?

In an intrinsically corrupt economic system it is very difficult for the weak or for any of us for that matter to rise up and assume responsibility and even the fittest can feel vulnerable. Nevertheless there are always solutions and a chance to show our true colours. We need visionaries for change, visionaries with true character that can lead us away from the devastating impact of the consumer debt culture. Political leaders with the courage that is willing to make sacrifices not for their personal ambition but for the greater and common good.  We need employees in the work place that find the strength to stand up if need be to their bosses when they sense that something is not right. More transparency must be needed in how we make our money. We need people that understand that it is not taxes and regulation or a nanny state that is the answer which instead crowds us out. We need people that care for the needs in our society, the vulnerable, and the ever enlarging widening inequality gap and for our environment. We need people that understand that the race for growth in this economic war carries absolutely no meaning that builds our system on sand and not on rock. We need people that also understand that economic exploitation is cruel to humanity, and that we are not units nor are we a cost not part of a capital group. We need an attitude that wealth creation in its purest form from the cradle to the grave is not an innate right. On this matter, I am surprised neither Forbes nor Fortune has yet to come out with rich lists on who has the most expensive graves!!

In short my hope is that one day we find a way to move away from our debt consumption fuelled economy that has trapped our culture into a new era of real freedom and empowerment unleashing humanities ingenuity. As unique individuals willing to contribute including our footballers, we deserve to be respected for our talent and treated with dignity, deserving of a more fulfilling and creative future where there is a place for each and every one of us.

Dignity is a universal right for all

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Are you European?



As a Northern European, (if there is such a thing) who has lived in various countries in the EU, it was around my time in Brussels I had regularly got caught up in conversations about Europe. I recall a moment having watched Andy Murray win Wimbledon on a screen at a tennis club, the Belgians around me were commentating. ‘Les Anglais sera très fière. C’est très bien pour les Anglais.’ I had to correct them in that Andy Murray was Scottish and not English. This is a common error made by the Europeans, i.e. misinterpreting the English with the entire island. I had to explain that in the UK, we have the Union of three nations (and Northern Ireland), and to help us identify with the Union we are known as British. They knew this of course. They pressed on by asking why the Scots were wanting independence when we have the European Union?  Or worse still, how come the UK is arguing for a referendum in Europe whilst the Scottish might be seeking independence from the UK? I asked them that how was it that Flemish political forces were seeking the break-up of Belgium whilst they too were in Union with Europe. Nothing really made a lot of sense.

Naturally these are big questions which are fundamental as it raises so many other issues. They are fundamental because it has everything to do with our beliefs, values, purpose, history, culture, and tradition. In a word, our identity which is about who we are and why we are here which President Hollande of France once argued we seemed to have lost. There is clearly an air of unease in and around our formidable continent. As this Belgian continued to speak, he blamed everything on our liberal and tolerant attitudes (liberalism) as well as individualism. In other words so many of us seems to have a difference of opinion with differing self-interests succumbing to what we want or desire resulting in far too many pointless laws instead of concentrating on what we actually need. This arguably numbs our identity, core values, conviction and beliefs. In addition by making ourselves hostage to the consumer system, this could result in the perfect storm.

How does one turn the tide of liberalism and individualism in differing representative democracies? Somehow we need a new way forward with a new sense of freedom. The solution that this person and I agreed with was that we were Europeans in that we needed a strong identity in Europe which implies we have to change our attitudes. This requires a need for strong leadership and a very strong representative power structure in Europe one in which has a coherent sense of direction to keep everyone together by respecting each other’s nationhood and traditions. Not have everyone going in every different direction linked to a total misconception of individual freedom. With no higher authority this will have a tendency to result in a breakdown in conduct, general standards as well as a general decline in our services as we are seeing daily everywhere. Moreover we cannot just plodder along by simply having a bit of everything in order to satisfy a bit of everything. At some point hard choices and big decisions would need to be made. Perhaps Europe is now ready for a federal system in what the founding fathers, Monnet, Schumann and even Churchill argued for but this time with a different vision fitting to the times of today. The UK with their hands tied will have no choice but to stay in in order to preserve their very own Union. Or with their potential turn of events would we prefer Scotland in and England out?

Similarly in business, with globalisation, businesses went on the global rampage seeking new markets. Some went ahead of themselves where often personal ambition got the better by exploiting resources from other territories and using employment as their just cause whilst others realised that due to the crisis this may not have been the solution and humbled themselves by re-localising again. Often businesses are in direct conflict to how political forces operate which may explain why they hire so many lobbyists. It also depends where the power is. Is it in those that lead large businesses including our banks or is it in those that govern? Or is there simply a struggle between the two, leading to the two coercing with each other impeding our grasp of our very own destiny adding to our inability to advance forward? The solution in business could be that, once Europe has its power structure right and regained its coherent sense of purpose; business can reflect let alone respect that power structure so they too can get it right.

Reverting to our cultural identity, I don’t know about you but if I was to travel abroad outside of Europe, and I meet a German or a Swede, apart from my limited linguistic skills, I can totally identify with them far more than with the local country I am visiting. I may be referred to as some quintessential Englishman, and yet I am also a European. We just poke fun at each other and our differences but somehow we are of the same stock. As for our economy, the Brits can invent, the Italians can design, the Germans can engineer and so can the French. The Dutch can trade, the Spanish can help renew everything and the Scandinavians can make things useful.  As for the Greeks, they founded Western civilization they can help us rebuild it again. We really can stick together and become a winning force to reckon with if we try and help each other with our core expertise in our advance forward. In all this a common denominator will need to be found to help keep us together and by this it would require something more than just the Euro.  It would be sad if we were to breakup, God only knows what would happen. 

Come on Europe! Let’s get the right people in at the top and show the rest of the world what inner steel we are made of. Yes, Mr. Lakshmir Mittal, that very steel that you have helped us to lose which almost defined us so many years ago.

Only with identity, involvement is functonal

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

How can I master my emotion?

At the pedastal of our long list of emotive states in which our world seems to centre around stands fear, anger, sadness and joy. We can all hop from one to another yet are we able to master and understand them? If so, this is what makes us and may define us as unique and extraordinary human beings which can help to guide our behaviour. Our emotions are a form of intelligence that defines our very own awareness, state of being, feelings and sentiments.

For example, the greatest is joy and is described as our present state, linked to something positive in us, a project or someone we love. In this sense, love, duty and meaning are the highest sources of human motivation that we can ever reach for. Our need may result in sharing or expressing this with others.

Sadness which is closely intertwined is linked to the past, and sense of loss to something we are deeply attached to, a thing, a person or an image. Here we may need time to grieve, time for comfort and encouragement, even a need to express tears of sorrow. If not mastered well this can worsen and bring us into all sorts of difficulties and yet without sadness we can not acknowledge love nor joy.

In contrast, our two weaknesses are fear and anger. Fear is related to the future, aligned to a feeling of insecurity of something that may occur such as pain, death, change or the unknown. Greed for example that appears to have gripped parts of our business culture is simply a sub form of fear that can cause general apathy, immense mistrust and lack of integrity. Here we would need anchoring, belief or faith, measure the risks we take and set milestones. The other day, I met a sculpterer. He described how he loved his job and the way in which he worked. He remarked off the cuff that the stone that he calved out was his anchor.

Let’s look at anger in more detail as an emotive state. Anger is a result of something that is in the present which can happen to us through a sense of injustice.  It is an invasion of our territory, our sense of dignity, our value system or conscience which plays part in our identity. Why is this happening to me? This is not fair? We may have every legitimate reason to be angry for something we are not, or we are in advertedly, responsible for. Sometimes it can play on us, our tension rises and a change in our physical being, muscular movements and stress. How far do I go? Will this escalate?

It may be important in some cases that this emotive state if it comes about is expressed in one form or another as a release mechanism. Bearing in mind anger can take 80% of our resources and potential, and blind our sense of reasoning, therefore it is vital it must be mastered in us and in a shortest possible timeframe. In this sense it would be in our own interest not to allow this emotive state to linger, in so as we are able to regain our sense of peace, calm, self-control and even as far as showing forgiveness toward the other person that may have triggered it. This way we let it go and move forward. Our greatest harm is not what people do to us but in our response to what they do to us.

The other day, my bicycle was stolen out of the garage in the back of my house. My bicycle is a possession I am very attached to and is part of what defines me. It is my best form of transport around the city. My immediate reaction was a moment of bewilderment at this injustice. Why me? This had immediately turned to sadness. I was sad, that I had lost something that belonged to me which served me well, for over three years. It was very likely that I would never reclaim it nor find it again judging by the attitude of the Belgian Police I had by chance encountered up the road who happened to be sitting in their stationary car puffing their cigarettes. They had shrugged their shoulders with total indifference and informed me that thieves nowadays were cleverer than ever and that there was very little hope in catching them.

So there we have it, in a nutshell, a simple account of our complex world of emotions and one of endless examples of a complacent policeman with little sense of duty. Perhaps this is a reflection in a wider sense of our totally indifferent in some cases corrupt and defeatist justice system incapable of enforcing the law over the so called injustices that can besiege us in our takers world unwilling to assume responsibility. Is this not all the more reason why we need a society that requires change, with new thinking, new leadership with visionary ideas and new meaning?
 
Be bold yet compassionate

Friday, 23 May 2014

Is remorse too great for some?

Since the financial crisis, $20trillion of US tax payers and state guarantees was used to bail out the US Banks. $780 Billion in the UK and €140 Billion in the Netherlands. New regulation has been put into place. Yet ordinary people including Banking employees still feel upset and indignant about continued higher taxes and living costs for something they were not responsible for. Whilst some banks are really changing and working on their corporate governance, training and values; governments are more in debt than ever, more money is printed and the daily scandals are ever increasing. Key questions remain. What about all our debts? What about the individuals that played their part? Why are the perpetrators not in jail? Are we changing?

Last month a former Dutch banker was found dead together with his wife and daughter. The Dutch media reported that the banker had killed his wife and his daughter before taking his own life. This of course is a tragedy and there are very few words to express in such circumstances. My heart and prayers go out to their souls and their remaining daughter. It was reported that this banker suffered a depression. This crisis has now claimed the 14th banking victim in the West.

Somehow the financial crisis appears to be sadly slowly claiming victim after victim. There has been much publicity of a minority of financiers and disgraced ex-CEO’s who held the helm during these times, such as Angelo Mozilo, Charles Prince, Jon Corzine, Rijkman Groenink, Fred Goodwin, Jean-Paul Voltron, Maurice Lippens, Dick Fuld, Paul Flowers and Bob Diamond. There are probably so many more, hiding and floating about. What about them? I am going to group these types in three categories. There are those by cashing in on non-leadership really did do harm, and sadly are simply unable to express remorse and perhaps never will, and remain in permanent denial. There are others who are clearly victims or feel victimised, either of the system that we have in place, or have been unfairly criticised for the dishonesty and sociopathic behaviour of their peers. Then there are those that understand and acknowledge what they have done, accept the consequences and hopefully become better people.

I bring this up as examples as most trained psychologists, therapists and good coaches will understand that the discovery of the human change cycle can often work as follows. At any given time or event, life can creep up on you. By this I mean that any mentally intelligent person who has led a life that has not been in, or lost, touch with his or her emotion or heart, and has either harmed himself, herself or others, will realise if he/she is lucky enough that at some point our sub-conscience will awaken and our conscience will begin to dictate. We acknowledge that something is not right. A rupture, a break, suffering, or deep unhappiness can unfold. The tough or fearful part is what follows in our human development. This is what we coaches often call the inner changing process where there is a way out. Following from our human failings such as greed, pride, or aggression, come’s the vulnerable and healthy process of shame, guilt, remorse and sorrow towards ultimately the beauty of peace, love and then forgiveness. We mature and become more authentic, coherent, fulfilled and can rediscover a new beginning which can often link us to the idea of spirituality and truth.

As we are now seeing day by day with some of us higher up the food chain in parts of our business service culture where the idea of wealth creation is dictated by pure ambition, self-enrichment, status or power, in our flawed capitalist system, more and more people have come to realise that there is more than this in life. Really, there are two combined deeper goals that us humans search for in our ultimate fulfilment, namely that of happiness and of the truth. In achieving these two great ultimate goals, there can be a price that leaves us with choices. Either we step back through fear; close ourselves by remaining indifferent, weak, on the surface and aloof or we dive in and face the music. Which ever way we choose we will come to realise that we inevitably bear the cross. By this I mean that life has its burdens and trail of tragedy, trials and trepidations in some cases unbearable so or even inexplicably so. The trick is to simply remain strong turn to the good side, and always be open to encouragement.

The fact of the matter remains; our society today has a great difficulty and very little patience in understanding human dysfunctional behaviour and suffering, the why’s and the how’s, the symptoms and the causes. Time gives us the answers, where more often than not the truth always bears fruit. Aside from this where does that pragmatically leave us? What about our debts and how do we change? Many ideas spring to mind and here is a snippet of a few.

• The minority at the top that did commit wrongdoings in the ongoing financial crisis that are in denial or hiding must be sifted out and disciplined by the justice system which can help to bring other morally corrupt business financiers to justice. These types can sell their possessions and give their money back to help our debts.

• Those that have acknowledged their wrong doings and have expressed remorse may accept the consequences and can help others where things can be put right for change.

• Those that are victims or feel victimised must be helped at all costs which will assist us through change to avoid further tragedies such as the tragic Dutch example I gave.

• Retail Banks can ban lending that encourages consumption. This will decrease personal debt which is arguably synonymous to increased stress levels and personal entrapment for ordinary people.

• With the liquidity they have, Investment Banks including shadow banks could be encouraged to further develop imaginative tangible mission statements for the common good. Triodos Bank here is a very good example of this. This can filter through the system and its employees and will help to eliminate conflicts of interest, aggressive conduct, fatigue and stress levels. This can be a way of giving back to society and open countless new opportunities and boundaries. Yes we can still have incomes!

In short the great majority of bankers I deal with are sincere, pretty decent and honest with normal incomes nevertheless we are all equally vulnerable if not responsible to make this world a better and safer place to bring ourselves into the next level for further greatness, irrespective of wealth, power or status. Einstein said ‘The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.’

Together we can fix things

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Has Europe lost its identity?

For those of you who watched the Eurovision song contest the other night may have or not made some quiet opinions to ourselves about the result. Yes, I am partially guilty, for my sins. I am of course referring to this so called ‘Conchita’ character, a name referring to the female sexual genital in Spanish in South America. Whilst we are not sure whether this person who won is a man or a woman, our most basic identity birth gifts, this character has now been dubbed the so called ‘Queen of Europe’ and following from very little emotional self–control puts a fist in the air in front of 180 million viewers by saying ‘for peace and for freedom, and we are unstoppable’ in front of an idolising crowd. It may all ofcourse be in the name of entertainment and fabricated. However without sounding like a killjoy I’m thinking in all seriousness, ‘Houston, we have a problem.’

Paradoxically last year President Hollande had already commented that Europe has lost its identity as if he had predicted what was about to happen in this year’s song contest, he could not be closer to the truth. When the Queen of Europe was actually born a male but wants to be referred to as a she, the Belgian television commented that this is a day of victory for tolerance. Either Europe really has lost its marbles and all common sense or its media commentators and entertainment/music industry lack the courage to stand up to its conviction. One has to ask ourselves whether the media is in a state of delusion so easily fooled or is it actually dictating mainstream or doing its utmost to poison it. Perhaps it is all in the name of instant hedonistic fun and fame but I was sadly reminded that in my younger days, following all my idiotic antics, exploits and liberal frivolities, that too was all in the name of fun. What I had really done was as a single father I had run away from my own true identity in the name of so called ‘freedom’ which led to the suffering and virtual destruction of my very own soul.

An alarming statistic that caught my attention here in Belgium of late, around 80% of young male generation now regularly gawp at online pornography. Together with the Polish female contingency flaunting themselves on Eurovision, is this how our opposing sexes now treat each other? Is this the way to gain respect from each other not least from ourselves? As low, depraved and disrespectful as we have now become as I was once all too shamefully aware, in our limited minds, imagination and loose behaviour from a large portion of our over sexed and over fed European citizens, we are now resorting to nicknames referring to female genitals. You can almost laugh at the word ‘tolerance’ which in essence seems to have totally lost its meaning.

One might argue that it is about the talent or what we hear, I’m afraid it is also about what we see, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder except the beauty has all but gone whilst the light of the beholder may eventually...well...just switch off. I sometimes wonder if we would be simply better off without television and the internet, and bring back the radio, and proper human interaction. Is there not a way out of our never ending uncreative shameless bottomless pit? I am encouraged that this day had further awakened me in that this is a debate that has gone beyond tolerance or rights and is now about our very own identity, respect of our dignity that goes deep into our very own soul.

I believe this ‘Conchita act’ is giving us the signals where Europe now is, largely lost and indifferent, void of ideas and vision, stuck in a rut perhaps in denial of our past and fearful of our future. That we are simply neither being authentic, nor are we carrying the courage of our convictions whilst our leadership is not assuming proper responsibility. Why would this person shout out for peace and for freedom? Were powerful interest groups putting this poor guy on top of a pedestal for an ulterior or political motive? Do you think he has found his happiness that he is perhaps craving for? Or is he just another of our endless victims that the music industry has a knack in producing, thrown by the wayside once enough money has been made and the novelty or popularity has worn off? When something as provocative as this is done in the name of peace, how then can it be peaceful? Let alone how can we be free if we do not know who we are? I salute Austria for bringing this greater debate to light.

Come on Europe, wake up, rise up and unleash ourselves from our low ebb and face the music. If I can, you can. Now the elections are within us let’s up the bar and quality in our behaviour and take the lead to turn the pendulum from our obsession with self to a more creative, purposeful and hopeful future. Get a grip of our own destiny and discipline or rather censor our greed driven media mainstream sexualised fabricated  nonsense for the sake of protecting the innocence and education of our families and children. Let’s get back on track, regain the initiative to rediscover our lost identity, our soul, dignity, and credibility. Get the right people in at the top and show the rest of the world what inner steel we are made of. Yes, that very steel Mr. Lakshmir Mittal that you have helped us to lose which almost defined us all those many years ago.

It is the truth that sets us free

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Our empathy versus our ability

An American psychologist almost 70 years ago spent time into understanding the minds of the Nazis and their thinking. He came up with a definition what he thought was the nature of evil.  He described evil as the absence of empathy. It is an interesting analogy because during the war the Nazis arguably had immense ability. They were warriors, builders and creators. They were organised, structured and well disciplined. But it so happens that with their incapacity to feel for their fellow man would have to explain their mistrust for one another and their crimes against humanity which ultimately led to their own self-destruction and downfall.

Today after two generations of peace in Europe we are in a very different era. But are we? Our economic war, failure and success has perpetuated a culture of individualism. Individualism is primarily derived by advocating one’s own self–interest, ahead of the interests of others; advocating one’s own independence versus others. Arguably in many ways many of us are working purely for our own interest where more often than not our human behaviour is governed by profit amongst others and not by conscience where our sole purpose is serving one’s own. This has by and large coincided into an era of liberalism and tolerance which has led to a world of mistrust and genuine apathy. A friend remarked off the cuff whilst describing another person’s misdemeanours. ‘He can do what he likes as long as he does not harm me.’  The three liberalism, tolerance, and individualism, the latter of which Lord Sachs describes, has played part in our society which he decribes is losing the plot.

In our current economic system we have the ability to work hard and show discipline. We are involved in cross cultural takeovers and acquisitions. We know how to cut costs and we can make money. Some of us are real economic warriors, and when it comes to profit, we can achieve this almost by any means often to the detriment of others. But do we really have the ability to show empathy? To show compassion in how we make decisions not for our own benefit but for the benefit of the other person? Are we really able to listen, care and understand the needs of our fellow human being, of our environment, and our world?

To really listen and to understand the other persons frame of mind is a very rare and unique skill to have.  It requires an element of awareness with a combined spiritual and emotional intelligence of its utmost. I myself find this part a perpetual challenge. It so happens that most communication failures occur because of differences in semantics or perceptions. Semantics means the way you define words or terms and perception is how you interpret data. If we were truly able to listen to each other with true empathy these differences would in effect disappear.

In short our combined culture of individualism, tolerance and liberalism truly has a danger of reverting to an absence of empathy. With the absence of empathy, our ego, pride, and self-interest becomes the order of the day which could have a distinct possibility of igniting the nature of evil thus ultimately leading to our very own self-destruction.

Our hope lies therefore in our ability, our ability to fight our ego, selfish tendencies and desires and reverse the tide of individualism, liberalism and tolerance. This may open an environment of empathy and true compassion in our work place and relationships whereby opening countless new boundaries and talent. Our ability to serving human needs together by contributing to the benefit of others, attaining a higher or clear purpose through leadership, thinking we instead of me, seeking first to understand then to be understood and behaving interdependently as opposed to co-dependently. Is this not a way we can bring back an environment of synergy and creativity not to mention trust and integrity into our lives and relationships that has been so battered and bruised in recent times?
 
Our conscience is our peacemaker