Friday, 11 July 2014


This week I have seen focus being advised as a step forward in the brave new world and it reminded me of a story I read about others.

When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their host at dinner, Gates' mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.” [according to The Snowball by Alice Schroeder].

I love the clarity of their answer but I am also concerned by how this can be, to quote Rudyard Kipling, “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.” I am an advocate for focus in work, life and leadership. However, the subject has a nuance and depth that many people miss. For a start, most people think of there only being one kind of focus.

Focus as a Noun. When people speak of focus they usually mean having a single goal. It is a static thing, a thing you have. This kind of focus conjures pictures of Roger Bannister relentlessly pursuing his goal of breaking the four-minute mile, John F. Kennedy challenging NASA to put a man on the moon within a decade or, coming back to Bill Gates, a vision of a personal computer on every desk. The upside to this kind of focus is clear and compelling: you pursue a single objective and do not get distracted along the way; you build momentum as many different people aligned behind achieving this one goal.

However, there is a dark side to focus.

Focus as a Verb. Focus is not just something you have it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. Imagine if the moment you woke up this morning your eyes focused one time and then never adjusted again. You would be out of focus all day. Our eyes produce clarity through a perpetual process of adjustment.

The downside to thinking of focus as a verb only, is that it can lead to being overly reactive.

The answer is to develop and value both types of focus and that is an exercise for you this weekend  ;)

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Universal Credit finished?

Is Universal Credit progressing as well as it should? On Monday Sir Bob Kerslake, who is not consistently helpful to political colleagues, dropped a bit of a bombshell during a Public Accounts Committee hearing. Discussing the Treasury and the business case for Universal Credit:

‘We should not beat about the bush: it has not been signed off.’
Labour got very excited about this, with Chris Bryant pointing out that last week Esther McVey told Rachel Reeves in a parliamentary answer that ‘the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has approved the UC Strategic Outline Business Case plans for the remainder of this Parliament’.

The DWP argues that this is wrong, and that the Treasury has ‘approved all funding to date’. Here is the full response:

‘Universal Credit is on track to roll out safely and securely against the plan set out last year – the new service now available in 24 Job Centres, and last week expanded to claims from couples. The Treasury has been fully engaged in the roll-out plan and have approved all funding to date.’

Civil servants have not always signed off on Universal Credit as a principle: indeed, one of the reasons relations grew quite so bad between ministers and the department’s permanent secretary, Robert Devereux, was that he saw UC as just one of the DWP’s many projects, rather than the most significant one that he must devote a large chunk of his time to. That has long since changed after aggressive Westminster briefing against Devereux.

But Kerslake’s comments show that there are still shaky foundations under the reform, which should worry those, desperate to see it survive the general election. 

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The Cambridge quintet

Members of the "Cambridge Five" spy ring were seen by their Soviet handlers as hopeless drunks incapable of keeping secrets, newly-released files from the Mitrokhin Archive have been made publicly available for the first time. OMG this is funny.

Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, John Cairncross, Kim Philby and Donald Maclean were recruited as Soviet spies while at Cambridge University in the 1930s.

Among the thousands of pages of documents are profiles outlining the characteristics of Britons who spied for the Soviet Union.

They include references to Donald Duart Maclean and Guy Burgess, two of the five men recruited while studying at the University of Cambridge during the 1930s. A short passage describes Burgess as a man "constantly under the influence of alcohol". Written in Russian, it goes on to recount one occasion when Burgess drunkenly risked exposing his double identity. "Once on his way out of a pub, he managed to drop one of the files of documents he had taken from the Foreign Office on the pavement," translator Svetlana Lokhova explained.

Moving on to Maclean, the note describes him as "not very good at keeping secrets". It adds he was "constantly drunk" and binged on alcohol.

Oh come on, surely we were better off without this lot living in our country.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Facebook study scandal

Facebook's News Feed [the main list of status updates, messages, and photos you see when you open Facebook on your computer or phone] is not a perfect mirror of the world. But few users expect that Facebook would change their News Feed in order to manipulate their emotional state. 

In the report, the authors explained they had 'informed consent' from users because altering the information was consistent with Facebook's data use policy, which all users have to agree with to have an account. The experiment is almost certainly legal. In the company's current terms of service, Facebook users relinquish the use of their data for 'data analysis, testing, [and] research.' Is it ethical, though?

I should point out that I do not have and have never had a Facebook account, mainly because their security provisions are pathetic, however learning of the ways they treat their customer base has not endeared me to open one.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

What is wrong with local government?

Local councils have been hit hard by austerity, they would have you believe, however all they do is spend less when they have less, it is not rocket science.

One aspect that needs looking into is council culture, and we can start with communications.

Communications teams are going to have to learn to let go. By that I mean the all controlling communications team will need to relax the reins in some areas and just allow staff to do their own thing, especially in social media. This is a big challenge for communications teams, but an even bigger challenge for the culture of councils as a whole. The days of strict media protocols will not disappear, but putting more trust in staff to communicate and converse themselves, with support from communications colleagues, has to happen as soon as possible.

How do people today communicate with their local council? They stroll into the town hall, or read a notice on the board outside the town hall. 

David Sparks, who will be the LGA's first Labour chairman for 10 years, said local government needed to change. He called for councils to be given more power, including the ability to keep a bigger share of rates and taxes. He said local government had to be adapted for the 21st century.

Rather than just throw money at them, why not retrain councillors in today's form of modern communications. If only council officials were able to keep in contact with voters and the unfortunate, put upon council taxpayer.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Times change

The majority of MMO's in the last five years, assuming they managed to launch an endgame at all, have drastically reduced or eliminated both hard requirements [you must complete this attunement to zone in] and soft requirements [you must have X gear-score, but we are resetting the gear curve every patch] to enter compared to days of old. Excluding the two titles that launched in the last two months [for which the jury is still out], none of these titles have done especially well at retaining their subscription base, and have instead been forced to relaunch with different business models. Yes, Blizzard continues to release raids, but I do not see the increasing efforts to lower raid difficulty as a vote of confidence. Instead, it seems a reaction as more and more people and guilds either refuse to play them in the traditional formats or struggle to field the requisite rosters.

Business models are not a democracy, so the percentages do not matter. What matters is whether the content you are creating is retaining your revenue stream or not. A possible explanation of the trend, which I believe is what Carbine is banking on, is that it may not make sense to invest the time to develop raid content for the less dedicated crowd, because they are leaving in a few months anyway.

Raiders will often swear that WoW's first expansion, the Burning Crusade, was the pinnacle of the genre. I do not believe this is solely nostalgia, as TBC existed at a unique time in history. WoW opened the genre up to players who wanted to spend some or all of their time soloing, but at that point they faced little or no competition to retain those dollars. This left Blizzard free to do what Carbine may be attempting to do with Wildstar - pocket money from the majority, accept the risk that these people will run out of content faster than you can produce it and leave, and spend your effort on the minority who will only stick around with a robust raid game that's not feasible if budgeted solely on a per-capita basis.

That said, it is a different risk today than it was in January 2007. As other companies finally caught up to Blizzard's lead, WoW faced real competition for solo players dollars for the first time from titles like the newly launched LOTRO and the largely re-launched solo-friendly incarnation of EQ2. After cramming three full tiers of raids into the first four months of TBC, Blizzard spent much of the remaining time in that expansion, and arguably most of the time since, trying to make the game more accessible. You do not make that kind of change to a 10 million subscriber cash cow because things are trending in the way you wanted.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Islamic state

ISIS has declared an area from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Northern Iraq is to be a new Islamic state and the world seems to recognise this.

Jihadist militant group Isis has said it is establishing a caliphate, or Islamic state, on the territories it controls in Iraq and Syria. It also proclaimed the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as caliph and "leader for Muslims everywhere".

An Islamic state is a type of government, in which the primary basis for government is Islamic religious law. From the early years of Islam, numerous governments have been founded as "Islamic", beginning most notably with the Caliphate established by Muhammad himself and including subsequent governments ruled under the direction of a caliph [meaning "successor" to the Islamic prophet Muhammad]. However, the term "Islamic state" has taken on a more specific modern connotation since the 18th century.

What perhaps is more surprising is that the world seems to accept this as the norm rather than considering Iraq and Syria as nation states.

Is this the way ahead?

"The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organisations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph's authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas," said the group's spokesman Abu Mohamed al-Adnani. "Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day."

Through brute force and meticulous planning, the Sunni extremist group has carved out a large chunk of territory that has effectively erased the border between Iraq and Syria and laid the foundations of its proto-state. Along the way, it has battled Syrian rebels, Kurdish militias and the Syrian and Iraqi militaries.

While I realise that man has conquered all his existence, surely we have reached a time where diplomacy and debate is more important than aggression, otherwise what is the point of organisations like the United Nations?