Tuesday, 31 January 2017

We start today with a love story…

It was a warm summer evening as Rupert and Jemima strolled the fields of Dingley Down.  He turned to her and took her hand: Jemima was entranced with love! Everything was a blur… she had forgotten her glasses.

They had often walked this way before - that is, putting one foot in front of the other – and the warm meadow grass felt soft and lush beneath their feet… and then soft and lush beneath their hands as they tripped and fell flat on their faces. The two love birds got up on their feet; nobody else’s were available.

They desperately wanted to marry and they both had youth on their side, the outcome of a drunken visit to a tattoo parlour in Benidorm. However they faced a major hurdle: they needed the blessing of the most dominant of grandparents. Grizzly and tough, a pipe smoker with a deep gravel voice, and never far from a whisky bottle, grandmother Cardomane would not be easy to persuade. Yes it was she who got cold in the family’s hairy tent. Sorry, I mean it was she who controlled the family’s inheritance.

I think I had better leave it there after that mistake…

There is nothing so warming as a story of true love. The simultaneous beating of two hearts, and the promise of a life of unity spreading ahead. However unity seems to be in very short supply of late, and this prompts me to re-visit this much posed question: “Why is it that we humans, so capable of love, and charity, and generosity, can end up causing such deep divisions in humanity?” Let’s look at some examples:

The population of the UK has been split in two by the Brexit vote. Passion still runs high on both leave and remain sides. Numerous well-attended anti-Brexit protests have been held, such is the anger at the outcome of the referendum. In a weekly BBC televised political debate, where members of the public can put questions and comment from the audience, normally polite people can be very insulting to each other. For example, ‘Leave’ supporters referring to ‘Remain’ voters as ‘Remoaners’, and ‘Remain’ supporters questioning the basic intelligence of those who voted ‘Leave’.

In America we have seen news broadcasts showing images of anti-Trump protesters on the streets – ‘Not My President’ one banner read - and now President Trump has just introduced the country’s toughest immigration regime ever, all be it temporary, and cancelled certain trade agreements which has been met with concern from US and overseas leaders, institutions and society. Reuters reported that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, evoked an image of the Statue of Liberty weeping.

In Germany the Social Democrat Martin Schulz – who will attempt to challenge and unseat Chancellor Angela Merkel this year – gave a speech to 1,000 supporters in Berlin, speaking of deep divisions in Germany and said he would fight for greater fairness and social unity. Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble reportedly acknowledged that Germany made mistakes with an open-door policy that saw more than a million migrants enter Germany over the past two years. A poll conducted earlier this month suggested that refugee policy would be the biggest issue for voters in the September election. Immigration was certainly a major factor in the outcome of the UK’s referendum. At this point however let’s remember that migrants are human beings and not commodities.

I have only covered a few divisions, and the task of healing them is gargantuan, but there are things we can do. Academics have the tools to make a contribution, and any contribution no matter how small is worth making. Just like Rupert and Jemima we may fall on our faces sometimes, but the academic community has a responsibility to promote critical objectivity wherever possible, as the antidote to ill-informed, subjective thoughts and deeds.

We need to develop the healing path of mutual respect and understanding based on honest, truthful, critical objectivity

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

London: World City

As I crossed London Bridge this morning the fog hung thick over the river Thames. I could hardly make out the familiar form of Tower Bridge no matter how much I tried to focus. There was a certain subdued magical charm that the Thames always takes on under these conditions. I wondered how the river craft would manage under this wintry veil, and if the aircraft destined for London City Airport would have the radar capacity to find the runway.

I was on my way to ECBM to teach a subject called ‘London: World City’, and on this foggy day in London town I felt I needed a political radar. What with the apparent ‘hard Brexit’ plans of British Prime Minister May, and the election of the unknown quantity which is Trump, I was not sure that I knew where the world was heading.

I arrived at ECBM, and prepared myself for a group of young bankers who were arriving from Frankfurt. Outside the fog was clearing as I collected up my papers and walked to room 2.2. These young people were happy to be in London, in great spirits, and looking forward to spending 3 weeks immersed in London culture for their Professional Development Programme. Energy and enthusiasm ran high as we critically analysed the challenges of being a world city.

I emerged from that classroom in a very positive mood. Seeing these young people with their lives ahead of them, positive about their futures and enjoying life so much, reminded me that I do not have to focus too much on the negative headlines of the day, as there were more positive and equally important elements of life around me. Yes… there are times when we humans need to be reminded of things we had already learned, and today it was my turn.

This is my lesson re-learned… How fortunate I am to be in this world of progress and personal growth. How fortunate I am to be a part of young lives filled with enthusiasm and potential. How fortunate I am to be a part of mature lives hungry for new skill sets and qualifications.

If you are ever in a fog, find your way to Great Eastern Street, for we have our own brand of sunshine, and it burns brightly.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Continuing Professional Development (CPD)

Last Friday London was in a strange mood. It couldn’t decide what it wanted its weather to be. By midday we had wind, sunshine, cloud, snow and then sunshine again. I suppose you could say this is very appropriate weather for a city like London: the diversity in the skies matching its ever-changing skyline and the diverse culture of the people walking its streets below.

I was also in a strange mood. Most of the UK had been hit by snow, and where I live outside of London the snow was thick on the ground and the pavements were treacherous with ice. Having nearly slipped over several times the night before, and as I would not be standing in front of any students, I decided to come to college wearing jeans and boots to save my formal clothes. I felt most uncomfortable; it just didn’t feel right.

That’s the thing with change: whether it brings pleasure or pain it does take us out of our comfort zone, and there we stay until a new zone is established. Like the weather we cannot stop it, and the speed of change can be remarkably quick. We are just passive observers; or are we? We may not be able to change the weather but we can dress for it, and we may not be able to change our lives but we can prepare for life changes.

The Economist magazine has a fascinating special report this week on life-long learning, and on its website there is a healthy debate in progress as to how we should envisage the concept. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) has been around in the professions for a long time now, and before that phrase was around we called it ‘keeping up to speed’ or something of that kind; the important point I am making is that CPD is nothing new, and I am sure your grandparents did it under the title of the day.

So why do we need to debate life-long learning? The answer lies in the growing complexity and diversity of the corporate environment, its ever-ambitious strategies requiring ever-ambitious personal development if we are to maintain optimum personal contribution to the achievement of strategic success. Can an institution such as ECBM provide all of this diverse learning? Well yes we can: we simply build another 1,000 floors on top of our present building and recruit 5,000 new lecturers.

Okay, that’s not going to work, but as an education professional I have a burning desire to play my part in meeting the challenges of a changing business world. So what can I do - what can ECBM do - to play its part in the learning challenges we now face? Well just look around you. Every building you see, despite their diversity, despite their ever-changing designs, are all built using mathematical and architectural principles which have been used for hundreds of years. New techniques have been developed, and some new materials, but the core principles remain.

I see it as our role to deliver core business principles, for example well-planned objective research, critical analysis, logistical decision-making, corporate governance, ethical business, and strategic success. We then integrate these disciplines into mainstream business scenarios. These are the kind of tools required to work with corporate and environmental change, to get the best out of change, and to ensure that when change happens we are ready and fully prepared to handle anything which is sent to challenge us.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

We live in a world of facades

There was such a rasping cold wind this morning, as I stood a few metres from the Shard tower waiting for my bus to the ECBM. 11,000 glass panels, covering a façade equal to 8 football pitches, doing a better job than my coat was for me in shielding 72 habitable floors served by 44 lifts and 306 flights of stairs from the January weather. People pass by, necks craned upwards, as they try to comprehend the magnitude of this edifice. I crane my neck as well, looking for the 149 bus.

Should I take the tube? Yes, let’s take the tube… but what’s this? The barriers are pulled across. The station is locked. Yes, the majority of tube stations are closed today due to a strike by London Underground staff. This great London institution, and inspiration to transport planners around the world, has ground to a halt. There will be no gaps to mind today.

So what has happened? If you listen to the media, you will see that the different parties are trading allegations with great efficiency as they always do. What we start in the school playground, we continue so effectively in the office and the board room. “Children! Play nicely!” Such is the business world where corporate ‘children’ typically don’t play nicely, but rather with self-interest as an agenda topper. Have I any chance of getting to the objective truth of this dispute? Probably not.

In so many ways we live in a world which is hidden from us by facades, some good and some bad. It doesn’t matter whether these are the glass facades of the shard, the dark tunnels of the London Underground, the character of the West End theatre actor, the second hand car dealership or other forms of man-made façade such as – dare I say it - the image we humans try to present to others. We live in a world of facades.

Some facades are so good that we don’t even realise they are there or what is going on behind them. In so many ways we see the world as others wish us to see it in order to serve their own purposes. However if you take the path of the academic, you can start to flood these facades with the bright light of applied critical research, evaluation and analysis, and slowly the façade breaks down and the truth begins to be revealed.

Can you face up to seeing the reality of ‘reality’? To see life more like what it is rather than what you wish it would be? If you can, then this will be one of the most rewarding elements of your being an academic, and you will find that it is one of the few life skills which is genuinely life-changing. You may even, in your management roles, get corporate children to play nicely.

Graham Harman-Baker

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Now is the time to reset the clock to January, as another year begins!

We are a few days in to the month so probably half of our new year’s resolutions have fallen away, or is that just me? How often have you been saying to people “Happy New Year” I wonder? For my part I don’t like saying “Happy New Year” to anyone. Can you guess why?

Well it could be because I am a miserable soulless former banker, but no that could never be the case, as we bankers are a warm and joyful lot of men and women, always looking to bring pleasure in to people’s lives as you well know. So why would I not want to say “Happy New Year”?  

Am I perhaps not a happy person? Well generally I am happy; as long as I don’t look in the mirror too often I maintain a fairly good sense of well-being and contentment.

So let me tell you then… I think “Happy New Year” is too passive an outlook on life. It feels to me – and I could be wrong – like relying on a wish. That is why I don’t like saying it. A wise person a long time ago told me that happiness does not emanate from external sources; it is generated from within, and I believe it. What’s more I want to believe it as it would make me self-sufficient in the well-being department. It is not easy to self-generate happiness, as life is never that simple, but I see it as the way forward.

We are all different and all have our own philosophies, so I am sharing mine but not arrogantly asking anyone to follow them. What I would like to do however is to quote a man of Wisdom, or to be more precise the late Sir Norman Wisdom. Sir Norman had a terrible childhood, living unloved behind a London statue, begging for food and drink. He even walked in his desperation from London to South Wales because someone told him he could get a job on a ship there.

Sir Norman went on to become a successful recording artist in the 1950s, a musician, a writer and a major comedy film star. He developed tremendous self-belief. When he was asked the secret of his success he said this: “The harder you work, the luckier you become”.

From those early days of being the teenager who walked to South Wales he went out looking for opportunities, and consequently found and made the best of most of them. He became a rich man with a beautiful house he designed himself, a Rolls Royce car and a yacht. He was a principled man as well, living in the tax haven of the Isle of Mann, but having his tax address on the mainland where he would pay full tax. What an inspiration!

I wish you “Many New Opportunities” and the self-belief to take them!

Professional development at the ECBM is always an opportunity.

Graham Harman-Baker