The new UK Prime Minister

Well he became Prime Minister, and in a few days lost a by-election. The rocky start could be a sign of things to come for the new leader.

Make no mistake, Boris Johnson has talent. He knows how to make a stirring speech and can tap into people’s hopes and fears as a politician.

In my last post I talked about the great man of history theory, and the rebuttal of this by Leo Tolstoy.

It is significant that there has been a change of Prime Minister. It is probably more significant over half of Theresa May’s cabinet has been sacked. It demonstrates a new team with a new direction. Support for the Tories in recent months has been abysmal, winning only 9% of the vote in the May European Elections. These changes aim to show that there is a new team and create the idea in the electorate that this is a new government.

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Boris Johnson, convincing Tory Party members to elect him leader. 

Boris Johnson in full flight during the Tory leadership campaign.
But ultimately nothing has really changed. The same government that was (only just) elected in 2017 remains in power, now with a majority of 1. The Conservatives rely on the DUP for votes. The Tories remain split on Brexit. And most significantly, the chances of there being a deal with the EU remain slim. The major change has been Cabinet member Michael Gove announcing that ‘No Deal’ was now the working assumption of the government.

I have earlier said that a no deal Brexit where WTO rules apply is the likely outcome. The current bluster and bravado from the new Prime Minister about getting a deal rings hollow. The EU position hasn’t changed, and is unlikely to under the new regime. Further, the parliamentary arithmetic in Westminster has not changed.

Boris Johnson has successfully built up a persona as this eccentric larger than life slightly wacky Tory. He has also successfully promoted himself on the back of his two London Mayoral victories in 2008 and 2012. His supporters talk of how he successfully won the London Mayoralty, in a city that traditionally votes Labour, highlighting his skill as a politician.

So how did Boris win London? Twice. It needs to be remembered the Ken Livingston, who was leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 till 1986 when the Thatcher Government abolished the entity. In 2000 the council was re-established and Livingston was elected Mayor, both against the Tory and the New Labour candidate, as Ken’s politics were too left for the likes of Tony Blair. Having defied Thatcher and Blair Ken served as Mayor till 2008 when he was defeated by Boris Johnson. In 2012 Livingstone had another go and again was narrowly beaten. People I’ve spoken to from Livingston’s 2008 and 2012 campaign tell me Ken lacked energy in these campaigns, and believe had Labour stood another candidate with fresh ideas and vision for London, they could have beaten Johnson in both of these elections. Boris clearly saw an opportunity and seized it, where the left snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Boris as an MP played a key role in the Brexit campaign during the 2016 referendum. At first he sat on the fence, and many thought he would back remain. In fact an unpublished column by Johnson backed remain, only to be pulled in favour of a column backing leave. Many felt his position on Brexit was more to do with his personal ambition than anything else.
After David Cameron resigned many thought Boris would be the next PM, only to be undermined by Michael Gove. When Theresa May became PM some thought Boris had missed his chance. Turns out they were wrong.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – the men in white coats have arrived…

In the days leading up to October 31st, it won’t be easy for the government. The reality is there is little chance of a deal. That ship has sailed, and in 90 days there isn’t much to be done to change that. Johnson and his government will be judged not on what happens before October, rather what happens after. If the government can survive that long.

The Founders Story: The great men of history

Having worked in the London start up scene I’ve really enjoyed seeing some of the energy and innovation that people have. It’s particularly enjoyable seeing the way entrepreneurs are developing and utilising technology to try and enhance our lives. As a project manager, these are the sorts of challenges I absolutely love.

One of the less healthy aspects about start up life is the pressure. Starting a new business is difficult. Starting a business that relies on developing new technology requires significant time, skill, patience and most importantly investment. It is fair to say the barriers to entry are significant. It often involves months or years of unpaid or underpaid work – with no guarantee of success. Not surprisingly, the make up of people involved in start ups is predominately upper middle class, white and male. There are of course many exceptions to this rule,  and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing people from different walks of life in the start up space.

One of the narratives around start ups is the “Founders Story”. This has been described by Fortune Magazine as the ‘love story’ company founders have with how their creation started out. In the technology space, comparisons to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs can become a daily obsession. The narrative goes that some brilliant person with incredibly innovative ideas has this brilliant vision which ultimately makes it big after a long struggle. The TV series Silicon Valley satirises this idea. The struggle to compete with existing market players, the need to get investment and ultimately to succeed.

When I hear people talk of the Founders Story, I am reminded of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. In this novel Tolstoy rejects the idea that major events in history are the result of great men. War and Peace is set when the French led by Napoleon are at war with Russia. Tolstoy rejects the idea that the French lose this war due to poor decisions by leader Napoleon:

And it was not Napoleon who directed the course of the battle, for none of his orders were executed and during the battle he did not know what was going on before him. So the way in which these people killed one another was not decided by Napoleon’s will but occurred independently of him, in accord with the will of hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the common action. It only seemed to Napoleon that it all took place by his will

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Tolstoy in his epic novel War and Peace wrote about the Great man of history theory. While writing at the time about Napoleon, 21st century entrepreneurs would do well to pay heed to this view. 

Start ups, like any other business are never solely the result of one persons effort alone. For any successful business to succeed it requires the contribution of many others. For example with technology companies it requires investors who believe in the project to take a financial risk. It requires developers, engineers and developers to put time and energy into building a minimum viable product (MVP) to take to market. It then requires marketing and sales people to build interest in your companies proposition and ultimately make sure what you are developing sells. And most importantly, it requires a top notch project manager to ensure everything is delivered on time, within budget and meeting the required quality scope. This PM also needs to communicate progress to all stakeholders and ensure important information is being share in real time (and I do all this for a very reasonable day rate 😉 )

But even if all the above goes to plan, a great many start ups don’t succeed. Is this because they don’t have the right leadership or founders? They certainly play a role. But other factors such as market demand for your product, the state of the economy at the time of launch or a plethora of other factors outside of the control of the founder can sink a start up. In some cases start ups can pivot to new idea or product, which can be down to innovation or skill, but is still at the mercy of external conditions.

The whole ‘Founders Story’ narrative subtracts from the good things that can happen in the start up space. It puts ego and pride at the centre, when humbleness and a willingness to learn from mistakes is required. Did Steve Jobs help create the Apple brand? Yes. Is his contribution grossly overstated?  You bet. Would we still have smart phones had Jobs never been born, almost certainly.

Reading 19th century weighty tome’s like War and Peace may not be top of most entrepreneurs to do list – but it may help them significantly if it were.

Jacinda and Gun Control

In the aftermath of the horrendous Christchurch terror attack, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has demonstrated strong leadership.

Her statement immediately following the attack against the Christchurch Muslim Community was clear “they are us” , a clear condemnation of Islamophobia by a world leader. When Donald Trump asked what he could do to help Jacinda replied he could show “sympathy and love for muslim communities”

To my mind one of the greatest acts of leadership by Ardern after the shooting was the following day when her government announced semi automatic weapons would be banned. I have written before about Gun control. The Christchurch attack was not the first NZ mass shooting, with the 1990 Aramoana massacre and the 1997 Raurimu shooting both leaving many dead and injured. It should not have taken a bloodbath in Christchurch to see the NZ parliament finally take action. Previous attempts at banning semi automatics or having a decent register of gun owners in NZ have been voted down.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces tighter gun control laws hours after the Christchurch Mosque attack.

It is commendable that after this, Jacinda showed leadership on this. Many are now saying this is an example to the rest of the world, in particular to America where after a number of mass shootings gun control has been resisted by the NRA and others. I agree.

 

Christchurch Mosque terror attack

It’s been over a week since the horrendous terror attack in two Christchurch Mosques killing 50 people. This attack on the Muslim community in Christchurch was both heartbreaking and sickening. People around the world  are understandably shocked and appalled by what happening.

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The above was put out hours after the Christchurch shooting. 

Many were surprised that such an attack could have happened in New Zealand. I was never of the view that New Zealand was safe or immune to the sorts of terror attacks like that committed in Christchurch on March 15th. It was however, utterly heartbreaking to learn that it had occurred. Its particularly gut wrenching to read of the acts of kindness and bravery by some of the victims such as Naeem Rashid who lost his own life trying to stop the gunman.

Thousands have gathered throughout New Zealand in vidils to mourn the dead and show solidarity with the Muslim community. The attack has even united the country’s rival biker gangs who are vowed to work together to protect Muslims attending Mosques.

DAOUD NABI

Much has already been said about this act of Far Right terror against the Christchurch Muslim community. I have more to say about the responses and developments post this event. However I end this by quoting a Muslim friend of mine in New Zealand, who posted the below on social media hours after the attack. These words will stay with me for a very long time:

I think we always feared there would be a terrorist attack. But we always feared it would be someone claiming to be Muslim, and that we would bear the impact of the aftermath, the xenophobia, the hate crimes, the calls to fight in foreign lands and the calls to go back home (to where?).

We thought we would be the target of the aftermath and feared what that would be.

We never thought that it would be us, going about our daily rituals. Jummah is sacred. It is the first thing that we try to establish when we form a community. It is the signal that we have enough Muslims to form a community. It is the place we meet every week.

The attacker choose to hit the heart of our community and the heart of our faith, which is the daily rituals of connecting with Allah (SWT). He choose to do it when we were together so it could be as gruesome as it could be.

Last year when I called out Islamophobia to people I thought were my tribe/friends, it fell pretty much of deaf ears. I was either ignored or dismissed (not by everyone but by enough people).

This is the result of all those horrible NZ Herald opinion pieces, all that vitriolic internet meme culture, all those horrible beliefs about Muslims.

This stuff goes on with violent consequence in the place of my ancestors. People related to me have died because of it, and the people responsible are now in high political office (I’m looking at you Modi).

And now it’s happening here. And people we are related to have died again.

Next time I call out Islamophobia don’t dare tell me “we are a broad church”.

Plastic and recycling

Since I was a child, I was told it was important to recycle to save the planet. Specifically we were taught at school that plastic waste should be put in the recycling bin rather than sending it to a landfill.

When I moved to the UK in 2017 I was somewhat surprised to hear that plastic had been sent to China to “recycle” but that from 2018 the Chinese government were banning the import of used plastic. Shortly afterwards I was to discover that my home country New Zealand had been doing the same thing and were now also unsure what to do about recycling.

So all these years many of us believed we were doing our bit for the planet recycling plastic bottles. Turns out we were just adding to a giant plastic mountain in china and destroying the environment over there.

Image result for plastic mountain in ocean

New Zealand has now banned single use plastic bags following on from San Francisco, South Korea along with various other retailers, cities and countries around the world.

This, along with consumer action to reduce the use of single use plastic plays an important role. But as a species, we have already made a hell of a mess. Along the way we have done serious harm to the ecosystem, polluted our oceans, harmed many endangered animals and left the planet in a far worse state than we found it. Actions to reduce plastic consumption are good, but not enough.

This problem requires a global solution. It requires international cooperations between governments and business. Moving to biodegradable plastic or other less harmful products must become a priority.

From a policy perspective, there is much more governments could be doing to incentivise  sustainability and reducing the use of plastics. This could be through encouraging producers and retailers not use them and to invest in alternatives. Rewarding consumers for not buying single use plastics, or where enforceable doing bans or restrictions on plastic bags and bottles

I hope in the 2020’s we see serious action on reducing plastic consumption. Further that we find a way to clean up the plastic mess we have already made.

Looking at situations differently

A year ago I did a post here about positive thinking. The crux of this post was that trying to always be positive or see the best in every situation is really unhelpful and denying reality. To paraphrase a quote “try and always speak the truth, no matter how bitter”.

A year later I still agree with this post, but I feel there is more to be said about how we deal with challenges.

In my working and personal life, I have found preparing for and often expecting the worst has been a useful tool. When I worked as a union advocate, preparing for a difficult negotiations mean I had the tools and plans in place to deal with this. With campaigns and project management, having a risk analysis and back up plans to mitigate these is vital.

Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is often very wise. How we prepare for the worst is the real test. One of the key things I’ve picked up through mentoring and coaching is to try and look at problems or challenges from a fresh perspective. It is very easy to look at a jigsaw puzzle from a certain angle and not see how it goes together. Turn the same puzzle upside down, or start doing the pieces on the other side and you may find that the pieces come together.

perspective

Controversial position maybe, but the reason many artists and creatives take mind altering substances (legal or otherwise) is altered consciousness changes one’s perspective and arguably unlocks creativity in the brain. A slightly tamer version of this is when you are trying to write a blog post. Mid way through this I’ve stopped to make a cup of tea. 10 minutes later the words are flowing much more freely.

The brain has survival instincts that have developed over centuries of evolution. Part of our survival techniques can be to really focus and stress about something that is a perceived threat or risk to our survival. Unfortunately I, like many in our society have a fight or flight mode that regularly kicks unnecessarily. At times it can motivate to action and be a push to get something done. Too often though it creates a mindset of feeling pressured and trapped. The result is looking at the problem from only a certain way, and struggling to see alternatives or different perspectives.

Dealing with situations like a death, a relationship break up, the loss of a job or source of income inevitably causes stress and anxiety along with other emotions. It is normal and healthy to feel this, and trying to “be positive” in such situations is bullshit and harmful. Seeking help, counselling and support is a good thing to do. One of the key things this does is help us gain perspective or maybe see the current issues differently. This helps our minds manage the situation, and look for paths forward.

In life things often aren’t where we want them to be. We aren’t in our dream job or our love life isn’t that we desire. Again, bollocks to being positive. But be clear where it is that you do want to be. Then really assess the options that are available to you, all of them, not just the “obvious” or “sensible” ones. And from there decide which options are more likely to get you to where you want to be. This may not always be the easy short or medium term option. You may make decisions your friends and family don’t understand or try to dissuade you from. But if you make the right choice and are clear where you want to go, this is very empowering.

Tough decisions are stressful. Gaining perspective on the source of the stress brings clarity, which in turn can lead to feelings of empowerment and dare I say it a positive outlook. A positive outlook isn’t the tool to improve your life, clarity and perspective are. Finding a way to look at things differently is a crucial part of this.

Why Project Management

Two years ago I decided to make a career change. The decision to become a Prince2 Practitioner Project Manager was an easy one.

I realised that throughout my career I have been involved in projects. The many political campaigns I was involved in, my work in trade unions organising workplaces and my involvement in students associations all involved project management. With unions I was trying to improve workplace conditions and  the relationship between union members and their employer. My work with local and central government advocating for public servants, involved a considerable degree of project management. And any form of political campaign involves project management.

A project according to Prince2 is the means by which we introduce change.

Specifically, project management is about setting up a temporary structure or organisation to manage this change. This change will be clearly defined with a clear end point to the project stated in the project plan.

I soon realised when studying Prince2 that whether consciously or not this is what I had been doing for years in my work. Studying Project management gave me the tools to build upon what I’d already been doing.

In addition to a career change, I also moved from Wellington (NZ) to London (my first time living overseas) and founded Piko London. This was one of the ballsiest and risky decisions I’d ever made. It certainly hasn’t been easy, but it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Since moving to London, through Piko I have worked on projects for tech startups project managing the launch of new products using blockchain technology. Piko has also been contracted to do work in the retail space, specifically project managing a sales growth campaign. I also dabbled in a bit of political work, doing a project plan for a campaign to support precarious workers. I’ve also done some small event management contracts. You can read my full CV on linkedIn

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Above: The key stages in Project Management

One of the key aspects of a project is tolerances. Having clear tolerances for timeframes, cost and quality scope is crucial. When you hear or projects going way over budget, or being delayed by a few years, or not delivering on the outcomes promised at the start, a project manager will be asking ‘what was in your project plan’. Too often project plans are treated like sales pitches, rather than a viable plan to deliver a product or run a campaign. A good Project Manager will outline the project’s goals and the desired end state. But they will also be upfront and transparent with stakeholders about any risks or issues that may arise.

I’m looking forward to the new projects I pick up in 2019. Having a background both in the SME and tech sectors as well as the public sector gives me a good broad base of experience. I do enjoy managing projects that launch new products or systems. I am not a computer geek, however I enjoy projects where new technology is being created that will change and improve people’s lives. Being a project manager is about change, but also about making a difference. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next challenge.