Monthly Archive: May 2017

The large pool of incompetent leaders in business and IT

When you have been in IT for 35+ years, you get to meet and work with a goodly number of incompetent leaders.
When they are genuinely incompetent, and clearly so, it begs the question “how the hell did that person get to that position”?
There are all sorts of circumstantial reasons, varying from favoritism, nepotism and reciprocity, through being in the right place at the right time, through to the main issue that is surfaced in the second paragraph of this HBR article:

In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.

In short, it is easy for many men to fake confidence, and many people mistake confidence for competence. The converse of this tendency is also prevalent. Solid, experienced people get overlooked in many teams and organizations because they are poor at self-promotion, often being introverts who find talking about themselves a deeply uncomfortable experience. Many people also perform better than they interview, so they get passed over for new roles because another candidate “aced” the interview. (as anybody who has studied hiring processes knows, interviews are at best an inexact way of screening candidates, and a poor-quality interview process is no better than throwing darts at candidates’ names on a board).
Women are more likely than men to be less fluent at self-promotion. Not only does self-promotion fall outside of their natural personality, it places them in a zone where they are fending off criticism from both sexes that they are engaging in artifice to advance their careers.
What I do know is that I have been exposed to many astonishingly incompetent, venal leaders over the years. Aside from their level of incompetence, the other common factor was their appalling listening skills. Probably as a result of hubris, they assumed that anything that they did not already know about could not be important, because if it was, they would already have known about it. As a result, they tended to reject inputs about their organizations that failed to match the narrative in their heads. (I once was informed by a Director-level person that a presentation that I had prepared about the failings of a delivery partner, while correct, would not have any impact because senior leaders had already decided that the delivery partner was an asset, and the presentation conflicted with that narrative, so it would be ignored). Leaders who reject information that fails to match their preconceptions will crash and burn eventually. They may seem to escape, but everybody in their organization will know what really happened, and their credibility will be zeroed.

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Vaguely related comments on parenting

1. Why Parenting might be a lot less important than most people think it is
To me, a significant part of parenting is about providing leadership. One thing I learned a long time ago is that leaders have a lot less influence than they think they do, especially in situations where people are not compelled to follow leaders (and adolescents have limited interest in following any input or advice from many authority figures).

2. The old shibboleths about how to control adolescent sexual activity

Lock Up Your Daughters – 21st Century Style


I found this on my wall this evening.
IMMEDIATE DISCLAIMER – I AM NOT A BIOLOGICAL PARENT. If you only take opinions seriously from biological parents, Exit Now.
Comments and thoughts follow.

1. The last time I looked, the Immaculate Conception has only been written about in a very old collection of books, and has yet to be observed in nature. I assume that the equivalent injunction about sons is to be found on the Internets somewhere.

2. The age of puberty in the Western world has been dropping – and quickly. Here is a quote from a recent article in the Guardian:

“…the statistics provided by German researchers. They found that in 1860, the average age of the onset of puberty in girls was 16.6 years. In 1920, it was 14.6; in 1950, 13.1; 1980, 12.5; and in 2010, it had dropped to 10.5. Similar sets of figures have been reported for boys, albeit with a delay of around a year.”
This means that any rules like the ones that are enunciated in his article, which was presumably written by a parent or a grandparent, are already out of date. It also shows that girls enter puberty on average one year earlier than boys.
This creates all sorts of awkward issues. In practice what it means is that boys and girls are entering physical and hormonal adolescence at an age much earlier than that which is a safe age for them to be generally capable of informed consent. middle school education has not moved up 4 years to match human body development. This presents a challenge for today’s parents that did not exist 50 years ago.

3. One of the more frustrating phenomena in homo sapiens is that as a species we are lousy learners in one key area. We are not good at learning by hearing about other people’s bad experiences. When we are young, we always tend to have a preference to find out how hot the fire is by sticking our own hand in it. And, when we are adolescents, we think We Know It All, we tune out most advice that comes from anybody who looks like an authority figure, and we are lousy at handling hormonal drivers.
This means that all adolescents are at high risk of making poor decisions, often based on Trying Something Out rather than acting on advice from older people that it might be A Bad Idea. They are also at an age when they tend to regard parents (at least part of the time) as elderly, killjoy nitwits.

4. Parents have wonderful amnesia. They quite cheerfully engage in all manner of tactics, stratagems and actions in attempts to prevent their children from engaging in physical contact with people they are sexually attracted to, while cheerfully forgetting that they themselves once did exactly the same things they are trying to prevent. What I believe tends to happen (based on some observation) is that parents, instead of channeling their past experiences into sensible, pragmatic advice, tend, often without realizing it, to simply repeat the advice that their parents sternly intoned to them, ooh, at least 15 years ago – advice that is out of date and not mediated by modern experience and a parent’s own experience.

5. Normal arguments against under-age sexual behavior, once standard injunctions about self-restraint and respect seem to be falling on stony ground, often revolve around some combination of “you don’t want to be pregnant” for girls, and “you don’t want to be in jail” for boys.
I have bad news for some parents.
Those are not useful or viable tactics for scaring people into different behavior. When I was in school, being in trouble with law enforcement was actually seen as a badge of honor by many boys. It showed that they were “tough”, “pushing the boundaries” etc. etc. These kinds of dire warnings are similar to the “descent into hell” messages that a lot of anti-drug campaigns consist of, which have been shown, when repeated stridently, to actually attract young people to drugs.

This brings me to my central arguments.
A. The idea that parents can somehow prevent their adolescent children from sexual exploration is naive and unworkable. It won’t work, for most of the reasons that I already laid out. Hormones, seeking of peer group approval and social status, and the natural rebellion mindset mean that young people will engage in sexual experimentation. If you think you can stop that, I suggest that you try getting water to flow uphill first as a rehearsal before you try making that happen.
(Abstinence-only programs, one day, will be seen as one of the most ludicrous wastes of government money ever).
B. As is depressingly normal, there is a focus on the girls, and less focus on the boys. Girls don’t get pregnant on their own. I still detect too much of an element of “boys will be boys” and “we better lock up our daughters” in these kinds of communications and discussions.
C. The nature of the existing laws that criminalize sexual conduct under the age of 16 are not helping the situation. The possibility of felony charges makes parents and school authorities desperate, and desperation leads to silly decisions. And no, before some of you start forming an online lynch mob, I am not advocating that those laws be scrapped. However, they are not useful in their current form, which forces everybody pretty rapidly into defensive, lawyered-up responses.

The pragmatic course of action is to accept that adolescents will experiment, and work to educate children that this is not necessarily bad, but that it carries risks that they need to learn to evaiuate. There are limitations to this, since we are not good as a species at risk evaluation, and the education system we have does not cater to this (if you are a parent, try answering the question “does my child’s school curriculum contain logical analysis and critical thinking education?”. If the answer is Yes, you and your children are lucky).
If we try to wrap young people in cotton wool by attempting to steer them away from inevitable life experiences, we are delaying their learning. They will learn sooner or later, the objective should be to have them learn sooner and more comprehensively. Tussles over sexuality are both hormone-driven and driven by peer group pressures and norms. They are in the “least likely to win” category if you are a parent. This I do know, having been a step-parent for a while.

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Voyages of Discovery – the AHCA and GOP negligence

In modern IT, I have, on way too many occasion, found myself trying to sort out a a project where, as a work colleague once said. they were trying The Nike Approach To Software Delivery.
As in, “Just Do It”.
An analysis would soon show that more often than not, said project had no detailed plan, limited structure and quite often, no clearly defined destination.
If an expedition by a human pioneer organized along the same lines had set off into the distant unknown 3-400 years ago, those were the guys that would have appeared in history books with some entry like “Met an untimely end at sea” or “was boiled alive by unfriendly natives in a distant continent”.
In other words, a project with no clear objectives or end point, no clearly defined approach to getting stuff done, and no clear structure becomes a Voyage Of Discovery, a project whose purpose, in hindsight, may well simply be to act as a warning to others.
I was reminded of these realities when reading yet another quote from a member of the Trump administration. The tweet, no matter which way you process it, speaks to a level of glib, insouciant negligence that is simply jaw-dropping.

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Proof that America and the UK are still neck and neck on some things

When I was growing up in the UK, I was in a household where sex was The Subject That Must Not Be Mentioned.
In addition, nudity, since it was seen as an obvious precursor to sex, was also a largely taboo subject. My parents’ opinion was that there were these oddball people called “nudists”, who, to the general amazement and amusement of the population, would take their clothes off and run around naked in the Summer. According to my parents, they were either weird or crackers.
When I started traveling in Europe in the 1980s, I rapidly discovered that for the rest of Europe, nudity was seen quite differently. If you were on a beach in Crete and it was 92 in the shade, with a water temperature of 80 degrees, why the hell would you want to wear any clothing anyway? I soon discovered the advantages of informal nudism in countries where nudism, instead of being seen as some form of warped behavior that clearly showed tendencies for weirdness and sexual perversion, was a perfectly logical thing to do, at least on beaches.
Fast forward to the mid 1990s when I moved to the USA. I swiftly discovered that the USA rivalled the UK in it’s lack of understanding of nudism, and it’s post-puritanical schizophrenia about sex. Apparently you could not even say “fuck” on network television, so if you did, it was bleeped out. The sheer unmitigated stupidity and pointlessness of this action (“fuck” is just about the easiest English word to lip-read) was clearly lost on legislators and TV companies. It was all about appearances. As a person who grew up dealing with the English class system and the facades that families erect to paper over all sorts of dysfunctionalities, I find the whole idea of keeping up appearances to be artifice, bullshit and nonsense.
At the time that I was relocating to the USA, Sting gave an interview to an English magazine where he mentioned that he and his wife Trudie Styler engaged in Tantric sex, and had studied it with teachers.
You can guess what happened next. The English tabloid newspapers lifted all manner of quotes from the article and printed them interspersed with ribald and juvenile speculation on Sting’s sexual habits. One implication being, surprise surprise, that Sting was a sybarite who really spent most of his night hours in orgies with all manner of women, and Tantra was just a cover story. This was all accompanied by chortling and “nudge nudge wink wink” innuendoes.
Newspapers in countries usually reflect the attitude of the country towards talking about sex. The English tabloid newspapers are juvenile, the broadsheet newspapers uncomprehending and engaging in subtle cluck-clucking, with occasional attempts at slut-shaming if the people under discussion are female.
So it brings us to the present day, and the latest piece of muck-raking by a US newspaper. The Washington Free Beacon has discovered that Rob Quist, a Democratic Party candidate in Montana who is also a musician, appears to have performed concerts at…yes, you guessed it. A nudist resort.
Quite how this amazing revelation is relevant to his qualifications to run for elected office is, needless to say, not discussed in the Free Beacon article.
The article is fairly standard tabloid smear journalism. The article produces the revelation that Quist has been seen (GASP) at nudist resorts (with the obligatory link to a nudist resort with the salacious warning “may contain inappropriate images” (Translation: Surf on over there for the smutty stuff, har har). The article then concludes with the news that the nudist resort where Quist performed has erased all mention of him from their website (Translation: See! He or the resort must have something to hide).
I am going to surf on over and donate some money to Quist’s campaign. This article is hopeless, muck-raking nonsense. It’s a good example of why I tend to pay limited attention to newspapers and mass media outlets in the USA. They have their editorial priorities all screwed and scrambled as they search for some attention-grabbing headline.

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Slogans, Dissent and other random postings

Random thoughts for the day:

1. Sloganeering
Phrases like “burdensome regulations” and “unfair trade deals” which are becoming standard utterances by members of the current Administration, are slogans. By themselves, without context or explanation, they carry no meaning. They are like a blank canvas upon which a listener can project any idea or meaning that they want.
This, of course, is exactly why slogans are so useful. They allow the listener or reader to replace analysis and information searches with projection. (see also Make America Great Again).
2. Dissent
Dissent is NOT disloyalty. Everybody (and I mean everybody) needs to understand this, so that they can defend people who are penalized or marginalized simply for uttering ideas that are temporarily unwelcome. When people who laugh in Congressional hearings are arrested, tried and convicted, this is nothing to do with “law and order” or “respect” (two more classuc slogans usef by the authoritarian and the insecure).This is about criminalizing peaceful dissent, an activity that forms part of the protections that are enshrined in the First Amendment.
3. Domestic Terrorism is real, but it’s not just Scary Brown People
Another reminder that instead of obsessing over Muslims, we should be paying one hell of a lot more attention to domestic crackpots.
4. The wonderful world of political insults
Once upon a time, the old cynical political Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson, once proposed to his staff that they should spread a rumor that one of their political opponents was a goat-fucker. When his staff protested “but sir, we all know it’s not true”, LBJ is said to have replied “well of course it’s not true. But let’s watch the s.o.b. try to deny it”.
This attempt to smear Rep. Keith Ellison is therefore not only juvenile, but stunningly unoriginal.
5. The “bring back coal jobs” myth
An explanation of what the obsession with “bring back coal” is really all about. It is empty symbolism ungrounded in reality
6. How euphemism allows us to avoid reality
Stephen Pinker’s explanation of how talking in euphemisms can allow us to dress up or obfuscate Bad Stuff.
7. Why did Fox News fire Bill O’Reilly?
This article, with its concept of brand consumers as “secondary stakeholders”, provides a good explanation for why Fox News decided to part ways with Bill O’Reilly. Ultimately, although there was no direct damage to the corporations advertising on Fox based on any effective consumer boycott, the corporations realized that the actions of O’Reilly were creating a fundamental messaging and credibility gap that they were going to have a good deal of trouble explaining.
8. the strange story of restaurant job losses in San Diego
Back in October 2006, almost unnoticed by most people, the residential condo market crashed in San Diego. That was the beginning of the property price collapse that rippled up through California in 2007, and which impacted several other over-priced areas (most notably Las Vegas, Phoenix and south Florida).
Now, somebody digging into government data has found this interesting graph showing a steep drop in food sector employment in and around San Diego. This is very interesting, in a “why is this happening?” sort of way.
There are several hypotheses being floated for the drop. One possible explanation is the increase in the Minimum Wage, but other cities that increased minimum wages have not seen this trend. Another is the flight of restaurant employees back over the border to Mexico.

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The vexed question of loyalty oaths and “Catch-22”

Those people who have read “Catch-22” will know that it is a multi-faceted novel, being part anti-war, part comedy and part satire.
This excerpt from the novel deals with the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade that overtakes the military unit. This is kind of an extension to some of the ideas that George Orwell introduced into “1984”, where loyalty to the state (represented by the imaginary patriarchal image of Big Brother) was prized above all else.
My observation on loyalty oaths is that they are generally symbolic features of closed organizations and dictatorships, where unquestioning unconditional loyalty is demanded and expected. A proliferation of loyalty oaths is, in my opinion, an indicator of a slow move towards a more closed, judgemental and conformist society.

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Fearanoia (n.)

Mental state of residents of the USA characterized by one or more of the following:

1. a belief that the Supreme Court positions on marriage will result in one or more of the following:

– A man marrying his dog

– The legalization of incest

– The appearance of widespread polygamous marriages

– The destruction of the family

– The end of civilization as we know it

2. A fear that Muslim terrorists are entering the USA across the Mexican border in significant numbers

3. A conviction that the ACA is a terrible infringement on personal rights

4. A belief that the borders of the USA can be secured (as in, hermetically sealed so that nobody that I Do Not Want In The Country can enter by any means)

5. A conviction that either people you disagree with should leave the USA and live somewhere else, or that you are ready to leave the USA and live somewhere else

6. A belief that Texas has the right to unilaterally secede from the USA, and should be working on it Right Now.

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