Supporting Equity and Social Mobility

Do we fundamentally want to live in an environment that is most beneficial to me (regardless of all consequences for others) or one that is inherently fair to all?

Well, first off, I don’t believe the former is sustainable and that the greedy, avaricious approach to life ultimately ends in disaster for all. Human aspiration is a wonderful thing – it drives people to create, strive, contribute and ultimately serve society in the course of raising themselves up. I believe it is the most fundamental force that has brought mankind to where we are today, and will solve our biggest challenges in the future.

However, aspiration only really serves in society if there is adequate evidence that it’s a right for all, not just a privilege reserved for those already most fortunate. Mobility in society is inherently a positive thing, in that it sets up the evidence to all that the world they live in is a meritocracy. Within a meritocracy where you start on the journey of life does not have to be seen as a predeterminer of where you can aspire to reach, or actually what you can achieve within your one lifetime.
(Incidentally, I’ll be writing a separate article about meritocracy soon as the concept has been under the microscope lately)

In such a scenario, where meritocracy is a genuine force and hard work and application, effective risk taking and synthesis of innate and learned skills can see someone move up to the pinnacle of success from any starting point there is one, key critical ingredient – equity in the access to education and knowledge.

As we come to the end of the second decade of the Twenty First Century it’s fair to say that in some ways we could consider there has been considerable progress. As basic elementary education of some form has been brought to more and more, the numbers of people in the world living in absolute poverty have dropped appreciably. However, over the last 10 years in most developed countries we’ve seen evidence that within country the equity has been undermined. Data on social mobility shows stagnation, as evidenced by this article from the UK:
The Guardian – Social Mobility Almost Stagnant Since 2014
Along with this, we have seen evidence from the world that the levels of wealth of those already most wealthy is rising rapidly. Economists worry that this does little for the world economy as such people have finite limits on their spending capacity.
Daily Mail – World’s Wealthiest People Got $1.2trillion richer in 2019

Within most developed countries suspicions run strong that the ‘haves’ run the economy and the state (including education) in ways that ensure their elevated status is secured and that the system prevents those starting out on lower rungs of the ladder from climbing.

Inevitably, there are all sorts of debates that arise about the relative resources of private and public education systems, as well as disparities of assets and quality between schools in poorer and richer areas. When digital access has become so important, issues of concern arise where wealthier homes have access to broadband and computers whilst poorer homes tend to rely only on mobile phone connections and data.

One critical aspect that has proved to be an enormous leveler that shouldn’t be underestimated is access to public libraries. In a time when almost every government touts their desire for citizens to be lifelong learners, to take responsibility and ownership for their own learning throughout life, libraries play a vital part. However, regrettably, too often in many countries they have been seen as easy pickings at times of austerity and when looking for government budget cuts. This was highlighted in a recent article from the World Economic Forum:

World Economic Furum – Cities Where Libraries Are Thriving

Seeing the relatively poor figures for London, I was saddened that my awareness is that in the UK as a whole, London is a good deal better off than most cities that have lost their public libraries. For me, growing up, regular trips to the local lending library were a family outing and a reminder that all members of the family were readers and learners – self-improvement as a lifelong exercise.

Here’s a short video that shares the message very well:

 

I believe one of the best ways for the future of libraries is to reduce the spend on stand-alone public libraries, but instead to create libraries integrated in to schools, colleges and universities that open their doors to the public.

I finish this article with a video that inspired me when I first saw it 6 years ago. It talks to everything that libraries can be, how they can put the learner at the very centre of the design and development process. There is focus on collaboration as much as seclusion and it’s exciting. I really recommend this video to educators. It’s been a big inspiration to me:

Human Capital Institute

HCI_Logo_PR

If, as so many leaders say, their people really are their greatest asset, then a great deal of attention and effort needs to go in to attracting, securing, onboarding and supporting the best talent to work in your organisation.

This, as I’ve written in a number of recent articles, is at least as important in schools as in any other type of organisation. However, my concern is that we’ve not been as smart about it in the education field as we should have been, and too many schools have failed to make talent a competitive and strategic positive of their organisation. Even some quite sizable education organisations don’t have a real top-notch HR specialist in their leadership team.

Every industry or field will have its own subtle distinctions. However, overall, people are the central focus here and they’re the same across all fields. Therefore, as educators we need to be ready to build our knowledge in this area.

I was really pleased recently to come across the resources and materials available, for free, from the Human Capital Institute (HCI). The sign-up process is a short, simple one and there are lots of live and on-demand webinars, blog posts and research articles etc.

The following link takes you to the archive of past webinars that are available for listening whenever convenient:

Human Capital Institute – Resources – Webinars

Global Warming: The Way Forward

Global warming

I believe we’ve reached a rather bizarre situation that requires some alternative thinking. Otherwise, I fear that we could all find ourselves heading to a very dark place. The scientific weight of evidence, as well as all the anecdotal evidence anyone could possibly want, is overwhelmingly certain that manmade global warming is causing an unsustainable warming of the earth’s atmosphere.

If this rapid warming is not arrested soon, it could go beyond a point of no return with inevitable consequences that could be hellish. Some parts of the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South Asia could become almost uninhabitable and un-farmable, leading to vast migrations of displaced people. Yet, being honest about this scenario is so unpalatable to the political powers in some countries that they would rather collaborate with interested industrial parties in bare-faced denial of all that evidence. Recently, this resulted in almost complete stalemate at a conference to address the issues in Spain.

Ironically, a great deal of the momentum for change and urgent action to address the issues is coming from young people, lead by the likes of Greta Thunberg

I believe the problem is all too real. If you go to the people of the Western world and tell them that they have to accept massive changes to their lifestyles, consumption and ways of life the vast majority are more than happy to side with the climate change doubters, put their heads in the sand and say they see no real reason to change. They have become so habituated to their lifestyles and ways. Even within the space of 1-2 generations consumerist patterns of consumption have ramped up to warp speed.  People will believe that they need to replace electronic goods at a rapid rate, that they ‘need’ to acquire new clothes at such a rate that they can barely store them all in their homes. In fact, recent data has shown that in the USA an average of 81lbs (36.5kg) per person of clothing is being disposed of every year. Beyond this, an increasing number of middle class families find they need to rent storage locker spaces to store the excess materials they can’t store in their homes. In the meantime, governments are in cahoots with companies to fuel and continue these levels of consumption. Without it their economies would slump in to recession almost instantly, unemployment would rise and tax revenues would drop. As corporate profits declined, pensions would be under stress to meet their obligations and a dangerous downward spiral would ensue.

Also, they will frequently point to the fact that their own country isn’t among the worst offenders, so why should they be among those who lead the way. Plus, all too often, there’s a negative reaction to what I’m going to write in the next paragraph.

If you go to the people of developing countries and tell them that they are going to have to lead the way on mitigation of global warming, that their countries will have to rein back on industrialization, building of power stations to meet the needs of their rapidly increasing demand and that  the world cannot sustain 7.8 billion people all seeking to live their lives as those in the developed and prosperous countries have done, they will just scream unfairness and that they are being bullied unreasonably by those who have already benefitted most. With some justification they will argue that there are still hundreds of millions of people who need to be lifted out of poverty or situations where one bad drought or natural disaster can leave millions in dire peril. They will simply say that as others have been free to ‘pollute to progress’ in the past, so they must be given the freedom to do so now. They will also argue that while the contribution to global warming of developed countries may often be lower on a country to country basis, frequently on a per head basis it’s tiny.

Also, many of these countries sit in areas that are most vulnerable to the early onset impacts of the global warming and this is going to put even greater strain on their populations. They suffer from relatively lower levels of education, higher birth rates (a form of insurance against high child mortality). For governments to agree to rapid cuts would be to leave vast portions of their populations without dreams or hopes to have what they’ve seen so many others around them achieve. This would be a catastrophic mix of the privileged trying to hold on to what they have whilst the aspiring are left without hope.

I mentioned earlier how the young are often realising that they are the ones who will be most effected by global warming. There is considerable anger in the beliefs that their elders have mortgaged their futures for prosperity. And yet, these same young people are personally torn. They still want the mobility and convenience of ride sharing services (over public transport), frequent international travel, online shopping to buy goods manufactured all over the world (shipping is one of the world’s biggest polluters), only to then expect instant and simple return policies when they decide they don’t want some of the goods they’ve purchased. As much as 90% of all returned goods are just trashed and head to landfills – a colossal 5 billion pounds in weight each year and growing. These young people are worried, even frightened about their future, but often fail to see the incongruity of the way they individually live their own lives today.

So, we’re left with a world in which ever more agitated people point the finger at others, call them out and blame, whilst being unwilling to make the significant changes themselves. The process is already broken, evidenced by the way world stock markets don’t even bother taking any notice when major climate change conferences take place – investors know nothing of significance is going to happen that upsets the current train of progress. People weary quickly of the focus on dire warnings, the continual talk of dangers and problems. They want to believe in a future that’s inspiring and exciting, positive and forward looking – not one that’s negative, problem focused and looks backwards with all the what ifs that regret how we reached this point. This isn’t helped when mega-rich people talk of travel to other planets as a means for the rich elite to escape this one when it’s destruction (as a place for humans) is assured. Because, incidentally, global warming won’t destroy the planet – maybe just the ability for humans to live here. the fact is that if humans were wiped out scientific models have concluded the planet would really manage very well without us!

So, is there a solution, or are we (and our children) all doomed Is there a positive way forward for humanity that could really inspire people, excite them about vision for the future? I believe there is and that it lies in science. However, science is made so obscure most of the time that the vast majority of people are switched off and fail to mentally engage with the possibilities. Now, I’m not an expert on things scientific, but i try to make myself aware of some of the most important developments happening in the world. Without even that basic knowledge it’s very hard to give realistic thought to the future (which is what educators need to do, a lot). Just a few of the technological developments already happening have vast potential;

  1. Solar technology and battery technology
    Solar has been getting cheaper at a phenomenal rate and will continue to do so. also, the power of panels of smaller size is increasing. To go alongside this, the battery technology that enables storing of the power gathered from renewable sources is advancing and reducing in cost at rates that are faster than the most positive estimates.
    All of this serves to take us faster to a time when renewable energy is so much cheaper than fossil fuel sourced energy, that the choice is simple and obvious. basic economics rather than political diktat can bring an end to the burning of fossil fuels.
  2. 3-D printing
    Like many technologies, in its infancy most people have found it hard to see how 3-D printing will scale to have a vast impact in the world and on how things are manufactured. today, when an article is made most manufacturing processes involve large pieces of raw material cut and shaped down to finished parts. In these processes anything up to 90% of the original raw material is waste.
    3-D printing produces the item exactly as required, with precision and almost zero waste.
    Next, you can 3-D custom pieces in the required numbers at the place where they’re needed, rather than making thousands of miles away and then shipping.
  3. Nuclear fission
    This is the one where my technical knowledge and understanding becomes most shaky.  Nevertheless, when someone as knowledgeable as Bill Gates suggests this is the answer and the future, it gives me considerable confidence that people are probably on to something effective.
    Nuclear as an option in the past was expensive and dangerous and these were tough to weigh up against the cleanliness of the fuel generated. However, the science has come a long way, meaning that in the future we can realistically look forward to abundant power generation that is both economical and safe.
  4. Quantum Computing
    This is more by way of an indirect rather than direct impact. Quantum computing will soon allow computation of challenges way beyond what could be done until now within a reasonable time. This will lead to more rapid scientific discovery, innovation and therefore the arrival of more advanced and effective solutions.

With such exciting possibilities flowing out of scientific innovation, it can be hard to reconcile when educators talk about how students need to be persuaded and cajoled to study scientific subjects. I believe when i was in school I would have been much more inclined to study and pursue scientific subjects if it had felt like making myself a part of solving the world’s challenges and making a better world for the future.

The current, negative approach to global warming and other environmental issues focuses too much on the problems. For those who believe in, or acknowledge the power of, the law of attraction – if all you focus on is problems, all you’ll have is problems!, One impact of this continual focus on the negatives is it provokes some to believe in ridiculous denials that stand in the way of progress and present too many people with options that just turn them in to hypocrites. Its time to put all of the world’s drive, energy, creativity and vigour behind positive, science-based solutions. The focus on the negative and problems isn’t working and so, I believe we need to break out. The focus on manpower’s ingenuity, imagination, creativity and scientific skills will unleash an even greater momentum towards solutions that can take humankind forward – lift more people out of poverty, provide power and energy to people at a fraction of the environmental impact of the current energy sources and massively reduce negative impact on global warming and negative environmental impacts.

 

 

 

Books, Books, Books

Books Books

It’s an established fact that I’m something of a bookworm (and therefore love a good book list. What better to share at this time of year when we get the chance to recharge our batteries a bit, and also to begin to reflect on the year (and this time, decade) gone by and what we want to achieve, be, have and do in the coming year.

So, I’ve got not just one but two book lists from Fast Company. The first list is books that top CEO’s have on their wish list at the end of 2019, while the second list is of books that top company Heads go back to time after time to find new inspiration:

Fast Company – CEOs on the Books on Their Wish Lists 2019

Fast Company – 10 Books that CEOs Keep Rereading

Over the next couple of weeks I plan to put together my own list of the books that had the biggest impact on me in 2019. So, watch out for that.

I’m Right, You’re a #@!*

Angry argument

A few weeks ago I was watching a Youtube video by an American who purports to give financial and business advice. I was shocked when, at one point, he said something I considered to be blatantly racist towards the people of another country. I simply wrote in the comments section – “Wasn’t that a rather racist thing to say?”

I went to bed and thought no more about it.  In the morning I saw a notification that there was a comment in response to mine. When I opened it, I was informed – “This is the internet, get over it you @#!*.”

It can appear very easily today that, hastened by online ‘anything goes’ communication, we are losing our ability to hold conversations or discuss matters where we hold different points of view. We don’t know how to argue any more. It has become the habit all too often to take comments that are critical of a point of view or an action to be statements of direct attack on one’s person and therefore justification for insults and direct attacks on the person of the other, regardless of whether we even know anything about that person.

Particularly in my earlier years in leadership positions I well remember that I used to have a real issue at times. I would put in extensive hours of research on a topic, consult with experts and other leadership team members, apply long and deep thought and often write long and detailed plans of action and other documents. Then it would come time to present the materials as a plan for action in a particular new direction to staff, or school parents. I would also burn a lot of midnight oil turning those ideas and plans in to powerpoint presentations and speaking notes, planning how I could accurately convey all the facts and details to the target audience.

And then, I’d present! And then, I’d get a shock when the audience reaction and response wasn’t the one I’d wanted or convinced myself to expect. Having a lot personally invested in those thoughts and ideas I would sometimes feel angry, disappointed, let down, even betrayed. I would lament, sometimes to myself and sometimes to close others how these people, who hadn’t spent all the time and effort I had, who didn’t have all the facts marshalled the way I had, could be so foolish as to not be grateful and appreciative that I had put in all the hard work on their behalf. As far as I was concerned, my facts and evidence were irrefutable, well organised and well presented and so, if those people were rejecting there had to be something wrong with them deep down. I would be tempted to put it down to character flaws or ulterior motives. I questioned whether they were really sincere in their protestations of loyalty to the vision and mission of the organisation.

There was an inevitability that the end outcome of such an exchange was tense relations, loss of rapport and less trust in both directions. When relationships are damaged in this way, the next communication can only be harder still because it starts from a position of mistrust. The other thing that people come to realise about such exchanges is the enormous loss of energy, drive and enthusiasm, for which both are again inclined to blame the lack of reasonableness of the opponent. Hostility levels can continue to rise, or one or both parties withdraw whilst adamant they were always 100% in the right and that the other party is entirely to blame for any harm done to the relationships.

We can see parallels today in the arguments roiling around in India about recent law changes pushed through by a government emboldened by its majority after recent elections.  We also see similar with the arguments about Donald Trump in the US or Brexit in the UK. In each of these disagreements both sides put enormous energy in to marshalling facts, data, ‘evidence’ to put the case that they are 100% right, their opponents 100% wrong.  But, in all these disputes people are going further, with two disturbing factors;

1. Both sides in these polarised arguments take their sides according to the party that they already support. In other words, if I align with a party on the right in my country’s politics, then I agree and push the agenda of every policy or argument from my peers on the right, without exception. it has become anathema almost to say that whilst I align with ‘this side’ I cannot agree with X, or am uncomfortable with Y without certain safeguards etc.
Instead it’s  – I’m on this side and therefore I think X, Y and Z and will argue for them until my last breath. Further I will belittle and condemn anyone foolish enough to align themselves with any other position or to listen to any ‘facts that might question my/ our perspective. People like us think things like this, support people like us and condemn people like them!
This is made worse by another factor online, namely that the algorithms being used by search companies etc mean that to keep me ‘hooked’ (to keep the promises to the advertisers) I will be fed a diet largely consisting of the viewpoints and perspectives that reinforce my belief in X, Y and Z. This convinces me that I am ‘one of the smart ones’ and further cements my view that all those who disagree are either willfully obstructing the truth or ignorant in the extreme.

2. Having presented their ‘facts’ in great and careful detail, when their opponents offer any alternative facts there’s a lack of listening, an unwillingness to contemplate that the ‘other side’ could have anything worth saying. Further, when they don’t accept ‘our facts’, not only do we alienate ourselves from them, but resort to name calling, personal level insults and assumptions that they are unreasonable, blinkered and

Such complexities and subtleties of human relations are never perfected in an entire lifetime. Nevertheless, it is vitally important that people are committed to learn and to put in the effort to strive to be better, in order to further better human relations at both the personal and the larger scale. I fear that we are at risk of argument fatigue and the changes brought by the relative anonymity and safety of distance and ease provided by the internet may see humanity go backwards in its development of these skills.

For children growing up today there are massive risks. When we were young we spent far more of our time playing, often in  fairly large groups, with a lot of independence. Disagreements were an inevitable part of that play, but we independently learned how to work through issues, negotiate over differences of opinion and to separate feelings and emotions at times so as to understand circumstances.

Today’s children live far more isolated lives. When they do interact it’s within the environments of computer games and social networking – and as I’ve already said these domains tend not to observe the same standards or expectations. In the real world, when you’ve insulted someone, called them vulgar names or inflicted pain and hurt by needling them at points of sensitivity, you still have to look them in the eye and also look other peers in the eye who will have seen and heard your actions (and will share judgements about you). Online, a level of callousness and ‘out of the world’ sense can mean that bad behaviour, being unfair or nasty carries little by way of real world consequences.

In such circumstances, we have to fear further deterioration in people’s abilities to disagree, let alone considering the ability to handle cognitive dissonance. This is the discomfort that may be experienced by a person who holds two opposing views in mind at the same time. On this, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald is famously quoted as saying, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” By this definition, there are evidently few first rate intelligences around today, and there will be even less in the future.

In these circumstances there is a genuine need to ensure that thinking and communication skills form a significant part of the learning process in schools. ‘Facts’ are readily and easily available. The ability to marshal an argument that makes sense, to argue it effectively with others and to engage with their responses involve a set of skills that are well worth developing.

Further, even as adults, we have to acknowledge that these are areas in which we can never get too good. There is always scope for improvement. I outlined earlier the issues and challenges I had as an, at times, obsessive leader. I recognise now that it made me less of a leader than i could have been. I know I will still have times when my vision for something, backed by my own passion for it and the fact that I’ve invested the time and effort to become passionate is not uniformally welcomed by others, needs to be sold and cannot simply be bulldozered. and that even despite the fact that, today, there are signs that people living in an unsettled and uncertain world may welcome having leaders who bully them down a particular course of action. Leaders with the ‘courage (thick-skinned-ness) to be unpopular, to bully and pressurise seem to be in vogue. I want to believe that this is just a phase the world is going through and that ultimately it will still always value, respect and want more to be lead by those who seek to carry others with them rather than exert bullying force and power.

If you believe that man-made impact on global warming is a bogus sham created by interested parties, or that the earth is actually flat nothing is achieved if I simply come to you and tell you that you’re wrong. Even if I follow up with a vast array of scientific evidence (facts) to put my argument and refute yours, there will still be nothing achieved. In fact, worse, we’ve seen lots of evidence that this will simply cause your belief to become even more entrenched and you are very likely to double down on your beliefs and the perception that those who seek to persuade you otherwise are bad in some way.

So, we come to the question – how can we argue, disagree and communicate more effectively, so that we arrive at ways forward that are more humane, sensitive and actually effective? So that we don’t sacrifice long term relationships in order to achieve short term wins. What are the elements of effective discourse to be built in to the education process and school learning so that young people can master these skills and make them a natural part of their character?

Here are a couple of useful starting points I would like to share – ones that struck me as particularly useful and appropriate.

The first is a link from Psychology Today that looks at why we shouldn’t try to shut down argument, that it serves a valuable purpose if we will just keep it in perspective, avoid getting emotionally overloaded by it and approach it as a vital part of the long term process of making our personal relationships stronger and more effective:

Psychology Today – The proper way to Argue

The second is a longer read, but well worthwhile. It comes from Eric Barker, the writer of the ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’ blog and the book of the same name that came out last year. The book is superb and I would thoroughly recommend it – one of my best reads of 2019. Eric’s method is to draw significant amounts of research together from credible sources to address a challenge at which, if we can get better, we can have more success in life.

In this particular article he addresses the question of how one might persuade another to change their viewpoint or opinion on something. He starts with the most fundamental point – you’re going to have little or no scope to change a person’s mind by restraining, forcing, bullying, hectoring or belittling the other person. You cannot begin to have any chance of convincing anyone of anything until there is rapport and a feeling on the part of the other that you do not wish them ill or intend harm to them. He advocates kindness.

I have a sneaking suspicion that, all too often, these days when people engage in aggressive arguments, especially online, they know right from the start that they will not change the point of view of the other. Rather, they actually intend that by sanctimoniously professing their viewpoint and belittling those of the other, they will feel better about themselves. This is a small victory of little consequence and comes with a heavy price in terms of the loss of civility, decency and effective human engagement. When lawyers in court refer to the opposing lawyer as “my learned friend,” it highlights that they are setting out to journey together towards a shared, common, understood truth (win-win) rather than in an adversarial, gladiatorial battle to the death (win-lose) .

Barker’s article goes on with some level of detail, to outline a number of the key ways that rapport can be established and that one can attempt to persuade another to change a viewpoint (in fact, to create an environment where they persuade themselves that there is some reason to doubt their earlier beliefs).

Barking Up The Wrong Tree Blog – Eric Barker – This Is How to Change Someone’s Mind
(Click on the link above to open the blog post in a separate window or tab. While you’re there I would thoroughly recommend you sign up for Eric’s regular email notification of new blog posts (about once a week) to read more)

For a final thought, I turn to Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey didn’t invent these 7 habits, rather he distilled them from long term wisdom about what works – what is effective. Firstly, we can take habit 2 – begin with the end in mind. Unless your intention is really to alienate others and cause them to hold beliefs with which you can’t agree more firmly than before, you need a change of strategy. if you always do what you always did, then you’ll always get what you always got. Just winding people up for the sake of it online really does make you nothing more than a keyboard warrior and you shouldn’t be surprised when people ignore you. If you have other objectives, you need to get clear about what they are.

Then, we can turn to habit 5 – seek first to understand, and then to be understood. You’re not the only perfectly reasonable, sane, intelligent person on earth. Just because it may not be obvious to you, there is a reason why the other person thinks or believes what they do. And, as Barker highlights, those beliefs are frequently wrapped up with self image, identity and values. If and when you have an understanding of why they hold the beliefs they do, then you might be able to begin to introduce alternative viewpoints to them.

As I said earlier, I’m still working on these things and know I’ll never be perfect. You cannot be too good. However, as a person who wants to make a positive contribution in the world I know I must continue to refine and develop my skills. The effort is worthwhile, however long the journey. There will be better and worse days, but that’s all part of the road towards mastery.

 

Are we in a ‘Post Truth World’?

 

deepfake-simulation

Have you ever personally been caught out by a piece of fake news? Have you ever forwarded something through social media that you then later discovered was fake news?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, does it trouble you? Should it trouble you? When we move beyond the personal level to the wider society, what are the potential risks of fake news? How can fake news manipulate people by playing upon their existing beliefs, values and even prejudices? Would you know when you’re being played?

Historians have a whole field dedicated to the study of how history comes in to being – historiography. This is the study of how to interpret historical source materials, how to discern the ‘truth’ in conflicting so called factual records of past events and how they can be subject to different interpretations. There is an intrinsic acknowledgement that history has always been open to manipulation and distortion, as highlighted in the quotation around since the  about history of wars always being written by the victors (wrongly attributed to Sir Winston Churchill)

Online fake communication and even the increasingly sophisticated ‘deep fake’ capabilities to morph pictures, video and voices to suggest that people have said and done things they never said or did bring a whole new alarming factor. The near past and even the apparent present can be distorted by those with an agenda to manipulate public opinion, to undermine or harm others. This has potential to move political debates and elections, impact individuals’ careers and even disrupt their entire lives.

The simple reality, revealed through studies and research carried out in many countries is that most people, regardless of age and level of IT-savviness, are not very good at determining what is or isn’t fake, how to discern reliable and questionable sources and how to carry out simple checks on authenticity.

With this in mind, I was very happy to see the following article from CNN that outlines a multi-pronged approach by the government of Finland to raise awareness levels, educate citizens and raise children’s competency levels for the future.

CNN – Edition – Finland is Winning the War on Fake News
(Click on the above link to open the article in a separate tab or page)

I was particularly struck by the phrase, “The first line of defense is the kindergarten teacher.”

The article goes on to talk about the increased emphasis being given to critical thinking  in Finnish schools. I believe that this emphasis is really smart. Not only does it help in the issue of dealing with fake news, but it also helps students to build a particularly important set of skills that will mark them out as more valuable in the employment markets in the future. it will also enable them to make better, more effective life decisions and to pass on these skills to their own children.

In the final section, there is an acknowledgement that some aspects of Finland’s success might not be so easy to replicate elsewhere.  It’s a small country with a lot of clarity about its own identity. Its population is already highly educated  (evidenced by strong performance in international education comparison exercises).  Also, there is a high level of understanding and agreement among the population about the actions and intentions of their neighbour, Russia. In these circumstances it’s much easier to focus people’s minds on the need to guard against fake news.

Nevertheless, there are lessons here for all countries;

a) The wheel doesn’t have to get re-invented. Programmes and expertise exist that countries can tap in to,
b) Developing thinking skills, especially critical thinking will pay off in this as well as other areas to benefit the country,
c) This focus on developing critical thinking skills should start as early as possible in all children’s education.

One final thought – in any country if the government in power shows disinterest in this area and a lack of willingness to invest time, energy and funds then their motives must be challenged and questioned. Is it important that they retain the power to manipulate and control their own population with fake news, or fear being challenged to prove factual veracity behind the statements they make?

 

Integrity is the Super Value

Integrity

A lot of years ago (around 2008-09) when I was at the Shri Ram Schools in Delhi, the leadership team invested a considerable amount of time thrashing out a set of core values. To us, it was vitally important that these should not just be some nice words, some posters and displays on walls, but should really be a set of values that could be lived and imbibed every day in the minutiae of school life.

I’m proud that, as a team, we cam up with a very good set of values. Over the following months it became very clear that they worked. They found strong resonance with students, teachers and staff and the parent community. There was wonderful energy in the processes of debating these core values – what they meant to us, what they DIDN’T mean to us and especially with children they became an important part of conversations, especially when things happened that gave ‘learnable moments.’

As the months wore on I had only one real regret. That was that we had listed these values as essentially equal, unweighted and with no hierarchy. It became increasingly important in my mind that one of them should have been deemed to be like the umbrella value, above all the others – the super value of all values.

That value was integrity.

So, I was delighted to come across this article recently about how Warren Buffett treats this as a completely non-negotiable when recruiting people for senior roles:

Inc – Warren Buffett Says He won’t Even Consider Hiring Someone Who Lacks This One Trait

It’s a relatively short article, but has some very useful thoughts on recruitment. I loved the way he highlights that if a candidate has the other two attributes he looks for (intelligence and initiative/ energy) but not integrity this is way more dangerous than if they lack all three.

 

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