Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why Vince Cable is Wrong About the Impact of Excessive Pay

Vince Cable warns firms on the dangers of “excessive executive pay”  by highlighting the dangers to their firms of a “loss of public trust” but it seems they and, more importantly, we don’t actually care enough for that threat to hold water. Until we do nothing will change, but what if anything will spark that revolution?

I like Vince Cable. I find myself more in agreement with him than disagreement but his recent pronouncement about the dangers presented by “lost public trust” through excessive pay settlements at large corporates - notably Banks - will fall on deaf ears. The truth of that is entirely apparent. If Banks, for example,  really did believe a loss of trust was in any way a threat to them they would have acted long ago to actually enact meaningful change to address it. Trust was destroyed in Banks and financial institutions a number of years ago when their giant ponzi scheme and unfettered hubris caused the meltdown in a financial farce that we have all suffered the consequences of. I see no evidence that trust has recovered in any shape or form since.

But we didn't act back then. The opportunity to truly make a change was then and despite the activities of the Occupy movement, some street protest and and much vitriolic comment our actual appetite to suffer the inconvenience of bank failure, loss of savings, and a more radical form of unrest coupled with a monumental lack of vision, courage and leadership from the left meant that the chance to bring about radical change was missed. The threat of a loss of trust to banks passed. There is, and never has been, such a thing as “too big to fail”, its just a matter of your stomach for the consequences and challenges of surviving that failure. Of course politicians have little appetite for it and, so it seems, neither do we anymore.

Since then we have seen a prolonged attritional period in which the more lowly bank staff, along with many others, have lost their jobs in order to reinstate the system that produced the problem in the first place. This year bonuses on Wall Street are reaching pre crash proportions, Barclays are awarding themselves huge bonuses despite a massively under par performance despite being called (accurately) “Greedy Bastards” by one investor at their last AGM and the tokenistic vote by Standard Life to not support the bonus award this year. The parting on the left has indeed become a parting on the right

And why do we not act? Why do we not desert banks? Why do we continue to buy the products and services from firms with ghastly levels of inequality in their pay structures between the self serving and mutually self justifying stratospheric pay club of these serialy failing top executives hoping from one corporation to another, and the shop floor?

Well in part we are lazy and unwilling to be as courageous as Samson and push the pillars aside and brave the falling masonry.

Another reason is a our willingness to embrace debt. Debt makes us slaves which is why the institutions, banks - and particularly the Governments love us to take it on. Debt encumbered wages slaves are much more passive and far less troublesome. Marx described religion as the opium of the poor. Well debt is the cudgel.

I am also of the view that many of us are disengaged from the reality of this inequality, thinking that these excesses exist a long way from us whereas in fact they are in organisation that we encounter and transact with every day. To that end I believe in total wage transparency at every employer so that everyone knows how the money gets spread around. At a stroke it would enable us to identify and address gender inequalities in pay, but also it would expose the monstrous them and us distribution in even mid sized firms and make us clamour for a fairer share.

There is also in many cases a lack of alternatives - but that may be changing.

I think Vince knows that his threat of “loss of public confidence” rings hollow as the rumbles of potential other legislation to tackle the situation.  It may be more of a threat to him than the business he aims it at,  

No the answer lies with us to act and until we do nothing will change

Being of a certain age I am perhaps more wedded to the notion of revolution than a modern western generation. And having grown up under the shadow of nuclear conflagration I have always embraced the possibility and prepared for the process of starting again in the ashes of a post apocalyptic world.

But maybe I am un reconstructed and perhaps the brighter future is less born in fire and more in triangulation. The empowerment of social and collaborative publishing and sharing technologies provide us with mechanisms to by-pass institutions by constructing alternatives, and it brings the possibility of greater transparency. And so it is that we see new digital currencies emerge, crowdfunding democratising investment and releasing new capital, and wikis transforming how we create and share information and I am proud to play my small part in using these tools for change and helping these ideas to develop.

If we can perhaps couple this change with the growing interest in circular economics and collaborative consumption models we can perhaps look to a less debt ridden, consumption dependant  future where the corporate monolith and bank dependency is reduced. Here we may not have to desert them we simply never engage with them.Then perhaps a loss of public trust might truly have an impact and focus minds. But, till then, I think Vince is wrong. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Question of Trust

I am not surprised by the “revelations” of the Ellison Report and the activities of the “secret” police unit the SDS. I am not surprised by the revelations of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Nor am I surprised by the information that Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden released. I grew up in the 60’s on the left. But if scales do begin to drop from others eyes the question of “Who do you trust?” becomes very real.

I have never believed that the state operates in my own personal interests. I believe it operates in its own interests and will happily justify and defend inequality and vested interests, habitually distort subvert and undermine its own rules and laws and to do that all on the basis of a “necessary evil.”

Its probably part of  being a child of the 60s and growing up with a left leaning mindset. I remember so well attending left wing meetings back in the 1970’s and Special Branch, or similar, standing outside taking down the numbers of cars in the car park. When challenged why they were doing this the excuse was usually parking issues, roadworthiness checks or something similar but strangely enough the local Conservative Club car park remained unpatrolled.

So the revelations about GCHQ stealing webcam pictures, bugging hacking and surveiling our online world is not a surprise to me. Frankly I always assumed that this was the case. I also assumed that any competent terrorist or foreign intelligence service also knows about it or assumed it was happening and so would take the necessary measures to avoid it. If not they were not really much of a threat really. No, I always assumed that the excuses trotted out by the state to justify its habitual intrusion on legitimate activates was simply a cover for suppression and anti democratic, and as soon as a politician trots out that they are undertaking some inherently illiberal act on the grounds that it will help prevent “paedophiles” eating our children or something similar, you know they are simply dog whistling away like crazy. As Pit the Younger would have it “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

I am sure that there are some foot soldiers in the various agencies that still do drink the koolaid and believe this is all good and well intentioned but, to quote Alexander Solzhenitsyn, - who knew a thing or two about state intolerance – “in order for men to do great evil they must first believe they are doing great good.”

But, the state does what it does purportedly by the notion of consent and the fabric of our society is bound by trust.

Of course whilst it was probably a minority of folks like me that worried about this kind of stuff back then and the habitual bogey man then was the threat of the “red under the bed”, such a small number of “concerned citizens” wasn’t really an issue for “the authorities”

But as the light progressively shines on the workings of those seeking to defend their privilege and power perhaps more will join my view and, in so doing trust will gradually erode. The moral high ground of our institutions is increasingly seen to be built on sand, and their hypocrisy rings ever more hollow.

Trust is one the key currencies in the socially collaborative world we increasingly live in and it is why so many organisations driven by irretrievably deceitful marketing campaigns are finding it difficult to adjust.

But it is exactly why the fearful state being so intrusive in this realm is so dangerous.

A progressive decline in “respect” for institutions” or even the rule of law and the trust that binds is for some a scary prospect, for others it heralds revolution.

But the question asked ever more frequently is “who do you trust?” and if you don’t trust how can you, I, we and they work to rebuild it?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Value of Crowds

A little while back I was asked by the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce to provide the closing keynote to the inaugural CROWD conference. The purpose of the event was to reinforce the value of a community like the Chamber and how that crowd of entrepreneurs can assist one another. To draw the threads of a really practical event together I thought I would engage in a bit of an examination of three key assets in a crowd and some one or two main ideas on how one can begin to generate value from a CROWD. Firstly we looked at the role of a crowd as a source of distributed cognition, or collective wisdom. This is where the group can offer a considered view which when aggregated can be very insightful both for the collective insights available from the clusters and grouping of views but additionally through the existence of outliers and their novel perspectives. This can be translated into value through the activities like brand perception exercises, validation and diligence work, to horizon scanning and weak signal detection. Secondly we considered the role of the notion of a crowd as a talent pool, and the reach that it provides to individual point of deep insight. This is distinct from collective approaches where you are concerned with groups and deviations from it. Here we are looking for individual occurrences of specialized knowledge and insight so its value typically comes in crowdsourcing exercises, innovation, crisis management and problem solving. Finally we looked at a crowd as a third asset - a mechanism for collective action, where we work as a group to create a groundswell that is irresistible and brings about change. Here we can see value through activities like crowdfunding, campaign and major project delivery. What is common to all, but is often overlooked, is that to work effectively crowds of individual autonomous agents need to be managed, and simple rule sets are needed to establish a framework within which we can create value. Without them we have chaos. To demonstrate this point we spoke of mexican waves and the wonderful examples of murmurations. This type of flocking has a simple rule set that can deliver extraordinary emergent happenings, and if you haven't experienced one try this one out courtesy of the film makers Islands and Rivers. What is particularly pleasing to learn is that Don Tapscott, Global curator of Social Media Week used a similar example in his TED talk in Edinburgh this week. Nice to know that we see eye to eye on this! How has a crowd been valuable to you?

This article was first published on the twintangibles blog