Thursday, 28 May 2009

My story (part 1)

What drives my business is me. This might sound obvious, but my own life story explains why I do what I do.

My career change wasn't so much a 'change', as a 'reinterpretation'of all the memories, thoughts and feelings that belong to me.

OK, let me explain.

I grew up in 1980s Merseyside, on a rough council estate - 'the Noccy' for council estate connoisseurs. At the time, Merseyside had two main industries; heroin and unemployment.

Unemployment was everywhere and I remember how it felt to live with it; the anxiety it brought to life. It was real. I remember watching Boys from the Blackstuff and knowing the desperation. That truly was a broken society, and I will never forget how bleak it felt to live in a place which had lost hope.

The point of this story is not that this is particularly hard or unique, just that it left a powerful effect on me as I grew up. Ultimately, the message I learned was simple: get away.

And that's how I made my early career decisions. Get away from the past. So after doing all the right things at school and then at uni, I eventually put clear blue water between me and my past by getting a great job as a management consultant.

And once there, driven by fear of my past, I tried and tried at a job I was not actually very good at. But because I was bright and conscientious (a lethal combination to career changers) I eventually succeeded.

When I say 'succeeded', I mean in the sense that I had responded to my upbringing and the experiences I had had. I had escaped my past.

But I had not succeeded on other levels. For example - just a small thing - I felt as though my job was meaningless. What did I want on my gravestone, Here lies Rob, he held down a decent job and once he even bought a BMW?

It turned out that the process I had used to choose my career (of running away from something) had left me trapped between an undesired past and an unwanted future.

I was stuck.

Monday, 11 May 2009

MPs expenses - an issue of engagement?

If I am honest there is a part of me that has really enjoyed the furore over MPs expenses. In particular I enjoyed the suggestion that there is fun to be had in reporting your own MP to the government's own fraud hotline ( if you need to know).

How did it come to this?

I think it's less to do with the rules (we acted within the rules!) and much more to do with the psychology of parliament itself. There is a perception amongst parliamentarians that they are underpaid. I think this is influenced by three things: the growth of a political class - a type of person who has never done anything else than politics - by the bonus culture politicians have witnessed (and endorsed) at close quarters over the past 20 years and by a cultural tradition of entitlement passed down through the ages. The House is a club, not a service.

In any other institution we would say that this is partly a problem of employee engagement. They turn up for work (sometimes) but they don't really engage in it. MPs clearly do not see a link between their actions and the plight of the taxpayer. It all seems too removed. This is why Gordon Brown apologised for "the last few days", not for the many years of systematic expenses abuse. I bet it all feels less removed now.

What strikes me is that if this really is a problem of culture, then the expenses system is likely to be only the thin end of the wedge. I can easily imagine further, more serious betrayals of trust being revealed in future. And I can imagine more fundamental questions being asked about whether the form of democracy that the House (and public sector) offers is relevant or useful to the modern world.

That would be welcome of course, but I suspect what will happen is a tweaking of the rules, with little thought about the fundamental cultural problems embedded in our system of government.