Even More Great Reading

Reading a book

It seems that good reading lists are a bit like Number 11 buses – none come for ages, then they come three in a row. I shared a really good list a couple of days ago and here are two more. Needless to say, these have simply added to my ‘to be bought’ list that was already quite long enough, and motivated me to push on reading what I’ve already got lined up a bit faster!

Inc – 25 of the Most Inspiring Books Everyone Should Read

McKInsey – What Executives Are Reading in 2019

And for anyone who looks at these lists and says, “I don’t have time to read,” they had better never utter the words that they expect children to grow up to be lifelong learners (especially my fellow educators).

Enjoy 🙂


Asia’s Power in the World

Some weeks ago I wrote about the rising economic progress and power of Asia and shared a McKinsey podcast on the subject. They have now come out with a longer and more detailed analysis that highlights the massive scale and implications of Asia’s rise.

Mckinsey Report – Asia’s Future Is Now

Growth on such a scale is inevitably messy, inconsistent and somewhat chaotic.  There will be wild gyrations up and down. There will also be differences in the extent to which different countries or geographical areas participate in the growth. However, nobody should mistake the overall direction. It’s often been said that when looking at major and significant changes, people overestimate their implications in the short term and underestimate the effects in the long term.

It sometimes seems odd to me, having now lived in Asia for twenty years, when people in the West look purely at localised factors in their own countries to explain and understand what’s happened to them over the last 20-30 years. Mid-level incomes have stagnated, though the economies of those countries didn’t really perform too bad (as reflected in stock market performances). It’s become a favourite practice of more liberal politicians in the west to bang the drum about exploitation and the exporting of McJobs to Asia. However, this is to ignore the fact that these trends have lifted millions out of poverty and fuelled the rise of Asia which shows no sign of slowing.

Countries in Asia haven’t all benefited equally and the future offers challenges for some. There are all sorts of factors at work, not least the political, cultural and social stability of the country. Also, it matters from what sort of a base the country was building. Bangladesh, for example, has made progress, but was starting from a very low base.

The report highlights the growing trend of intra-Asian trade. However, Asia is certainly not immune to what happens in the rest of the world. If, as many suspect, there is a recession on the horizon in the west, the Asian economies will feel the effects acutely, especially as their people have now become used to rapid progress and expectations are high.

There’s also another important factor that is of particular relevance for those engaged in any aspects of education, summed up in the following paragraph from the report:

“Nevertheless, infrastructure, workforce skills, and productivity will be critical to competitiveness in the decade ahead. Low-cost labor alone will not be enough. All industry value chains now rely more heavily on R&D and innovation—and the share of value generated by the actual production of goods is declining.3 These shifts, combined with a wave of new manufacturing and logistics technologies mean that countries across Asia will need to alter their investment priorities and develop new types of skills to compete in a more knowledge-intensive trade landscape.”

The types and levels of skills required for the future will be of a higher and more complex nature than many required for earlier progress. Education will need to prepare more people with creativity and the collaboration skills to take on this R & D and innovation. The needs will be for more of the twenty first century skills that experts in western countries have been looking for. This cannot be only the product of ‘elite’ education through private sector schools and colleges, but needs to reach far more people at all levels of the society.  There is a need for way more training and development for educators, but also to continue to work on the motivation levels, rewards and status and skill levels across the educational spectrum.

For those who get these things right the rewards could be substantial. For those who don’t with continually growing populations of expectant people eager for access to a better life, the downside could be very uncomfortable. In Asian governments today there might be few people with a more important role to play than those charged with leading education ministries.



Asia is the Future

McKinsey’s have shared a very good 2-part video that helps understanding of why Asia’s future is so strong and will lead the world.

Dr Parag Khanna of FutureMap highlights many of the factors that made me so convinced 20 years ago that I had made the right move coming East. I still love my home country, but struggle to see myself ever living there again, exactly because of the issues highlighted here.

McKinsey Insights – Why the Future is Asian

One key takeaway for me from these two videos is that the education offered by schools (and especially International Schools) in Asia shouldn’t simply mimic or replicate western school models (especially as so many of them are broken models). We need schools that tap in to the best of modern knowledge in areas like neurology, learning and understanding of what young people need to excel in the future. It’s vital that the schools reflect and project ‘Asian-ness’, are modern and open minded in their educational approaches and pay attention to the issues of scale and equity in order to ensure that the strong, powerful future has a workforce that is flexible, creative, innovative and bold.

If there are two elements that Khanna doesn’t highlight in these videos (maybe more so in his book which i’m yet to read) that I would consider mark out Asianness today it’s high personal aspiration and work ethic. Ironically, a strong work ethic combined with aspiration was a key constituent in the rise of the West. As Asians have come to see the fruits of affluence enjoyed in the West, these attributes have become the hallmark of Asians. The Western pessimism highlighted by Khanna is reflected in the shifting attitudes to personal aspiration and effort.

I feel honoured all the time I get the right to be a part of this exciting future.

Some deeper insights from Parag Khanna:


From Flat, to Fast, to Deep

Thomas Friedman
Thomas Friedman wrote “The World is Flat”, a book that had a massive impact when it came to people’s understanding of the world, economics, globalisation and the forces that were shaping the world and how that shaping was likely to emerge in the future. He also went on to write other books, such as “Hot, Flat and Crowded” looking at the environment, impact of population growth and global warming. These days he writes for the New York Times, especially on foreign affairs and issues of globalisation.

Recently, he sat down for a very interesting interview discussion with James Manyika, Chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute. Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to embed the interview video here, but the link here will take you directly to it.


The work that Friedman does entails gazing in to the future and trying to predict where we’re headed. it’s far from an exact science, so inevitably he’s been, at times, subject to a fair share of criticism. Nevertheless, he’s also been very good at predicting certain trends.

As educators, our task principally is to prepare young people for the future. Also, there are many questions that students have about what’s currently happening in the world and it’s important that teachers are equipped to respond intelligently and in an informed manner.

If we look at the views of commentators like Stephen Pinker there’s never been a better time to be alive. The world is becoming a better and better place to live. Admittedly, he can point to enormous strides in recent years in the reduction of absolute poverty in the world, improvements in numbers and proportion of children getting education, reductions in child mortality, reduced levels of deaths through war and conflict.

However, especially for those living in the West it’s hard to believe in this positive message. There’s growing anger and disaffection, especially among the middle classes. For the first time in a long time, we see life expectancy creeping down in countries like the US, we see a young generation who almost certainly will not achieve the wealth levels of their parents and middle classes whose real wealth levels are in decline as wages stagnate and real costs of living rise (all exacerbated by beliefs about what represents minimal living standards).

This anguish is manifested through more extreme polarisation of political attitudes, rise of extremists and demands to roll back globalisation in favour of protectionism. Instead of embracing the benefits of open trade, the inclinations are now towards erecting real and virtual barriers, walls and restrictions.

In the interview Friedman talks of the anguish of people acting out their humiliation and questing for dignity. For a blue collar middle class worker in Britain or USA the fact that children aren’t dying as often in Africa, or the resurgence of Asian economies don’t matter a jot when they feel they’re robbed of the promised riches of ‘the American dream’ that they believe was theirs by birthright. Ironically, I suspect that economic progress in Asia, the Middle East and Africa is the very best possibility for those people in the longer term as it will slow down the natural flows of those who feel the need to migrate. Finding more than adequate opportunities at home, they’ll feel less need to head west.

Rightly, Friedman highlights the significance and need for leadership in these times.

Worth a watch.

The Future of Work

Work is one of the most important ways that ‘modern man’ makes meaning, defines meaning in life – individually and collectively. Therefore, the future of work and the impacts on work of today’s technological developments are critical areas that we should pay attention to, as educators. These are the things that will shape the lives of the children we have in our schools today.

Yet this troubles me. All too often, we see educators who have convinced themselves that if they can just find ways to do what they did before, by degrees of 1 or 2% better, we can make a better version of yesterday’s education and can pat ourselves on the back that we’re reforming, innovating and delivering something world class.

Instead, with the speed of change so rapid in the world today, we need to be thinking in far more bold and creative ways about what schooling and education should be today in order to prepare young people for the world of tomorrow. If we don’t do these things we shouldn’t be surprised if the education available in our schools is seen as less and less relevant, less and less applicable to the evolving lives of young people. Worse, for those of us engaged in schools development in developing countries and away from the economic powerhouses will be condemning the young people we work with to the disadvantages that have held their countries back ….. but multiplied far worse.

One simple example stands out. Over the last 20 to 30 years one of the biggest engines of growth for developing countries was the shift of manufacturing to those countries. There were multiple reasons for this. In the western countries environmental laws and employment laws became more rigid and more costly to comply with. however, by far the biggest influencer was the relative cost of manpower/ labour.  Western workers became too expensive to employ in labour intensive manufacturing environments. In fact, often the developing country labour was so much cheaper that companies didn’t even need to be hasty about introducing or developing advanced equipment for manufacturing.

However, we’ve now hit a critical tipping point with automation, robotics and the harnessing of AI. Companies are moving manufacturing back to developed countries. Governments, such as the USA, make a big deal of this as a conscious effort to support the common man in their countries, to bring back jobs etc. However, the truth is that much of that manufacturing goes on almost entirely without the need for labour and so will have little or no impact on wages and unemployment. However, it now leads to reduced costs of distribution for the manufacturers and a favourable environment to innovate, automate and  harness to new technology.

This represents a challenge for the mass of people in all parts of the world. Job growth in the developing world slows down, job growth doesn’t really materialise in the developed economies (except McJobs with zero hours contracts). In the meantime, the proportion of the world’s wealth flowing in to the hands of the richest and the biggest corporations increases.

(Ironic that I’m writing this the weekend that the American government passed laws to massively cut tax rates for big corporations (who are frequently already sitting on massive cash piles or engaging in aggressive buy-backs of their own shares as the best way to generate shareholder returns).

I came in on the point that educators should be taking account of where the world is going. Only if we do that do we have any hope of providing effectively for the education needs of a generation who are growing up to a very different world to any that has been experienced before.

To this end, here’s the podcast and report from McKinseys;

McKinsey Pocast – What is the Future of Work?

Then, here is the report from McKinsey. This is the summary article that includes a link to the full PDF downloadable report;

What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills and Wages

As I reflect on the content, what it’s telling me is that we need far less didactic teaching of content and syllabus. We need to hasten the transition to teaching and learning that emphasises the development of Twenty First Century skills and competencies. Also, we need to continue to make schools places where students come to own their own learning, have real and genuine agency and don’t wait for teachers to put learning in to them. Rather, we need environments where children hold themselves accountable to learning goals from an early age, working to build the grit, resilience, tenacity, flexibility,  creativity and adaptability to be able to lead and reshape themselves in an ever changing world.

It’s an exciting time and potentially one that can be phenomenally rewarding for young people. However, it won’t be if they’ve been ill-prepared. Children prepared to excel in the world of yesterday will just struggle immensely in the new world of tomorrow.

The Death of Performance Management?

“Well that was a ***ing waste of time, as always. Why do we go through this stupid charade every year,” muttered my colleague as he slumped across his desk. He had just returned from his annual performance management meeting with ‘the boss’. That was in a private bank in the UK, circa 1986.

Whiz forward 25 years – it’s 2011 and I’m in New Delhi, India remembering that conversation as I sat through the umpteenth meeting where the leadership team of a very highly regarded group of schools wrestled with the question – could we introduce a performance management system that would be fair, viewed positively and make a positive contribution to standards of education delivery? These meetings and all the preparatory work for them went on for well over a year. We were not willing or prepared to do anything that had even the slightest risk of spoiling what was already good or great in the organisation. The result was we felt so much more comfortable staying on the fence rather than plunging in to something we could regret.

I sometimes compare performance management systems with formative assessment for pupils in schools – motivational for the few high achievers, demotivational for everyone else. We need to take a step back and think about why we’re doing it. It seems the starting premises is – people will only work hard if we drive them with sticks and carrots. If they’re not controlled, they won’t give good work. Today, this is not seen as the right approach to motivation for students, so why should we settle for this when it comes to how we lead our adult employees who are pivotal in the quality of what we deliver.

The problems with PM are many. For example, it’s a rare manager who, when citing evidence to an employee can quote examples that are more than a few weeks old – even when it’s supposed to be a review of their performance and contribution over a year. It’s not even just the case that those having their performance appraised get uncomfortable – I’ve also known so many managers who found it a very uncomfortable experience to go through.

If we want processes that motivate, inspire and guide people to give their best contributions to their work, to understand how best to contribute and what’s expected of them, then they have to be based on far more timely communication. We also need to have very firmly in our minds when looking at the systems we apply in schools that education establishments are not the same as other employment environments. By way of example, I think it was quite reasonable that a group of teachers once challenged me as to why schools have systems that focus on individual performance, at the same time as emphasizing the importance of teachers working together effectively in teams. There are arguments both ways on this, but we do need to be having such debates in an open and transparent manner.

In our schools today, we say that we want exceptional high calibre teachers to excel. However, by and large, we have tended to adopt populist approaches whereby the differential between how we reward the highest achievers and the rest are very marginal. Another debate we need to be having is whether we are prepared to have remuneration systems that significantly differentiate between high achievers and others. The reality right now is that when the remuneration is linked to the performance management system in our schools we’re spending a very large amount of time, work and effort in to making tiny differentiations between people. If what we want is a system that motivates and inspires stars, encourages others to significantly raise their performance levels and keep our best people – do we need to have more courage? Or, would our leaders be uncomfortable about whether staff would trust their judgements when identifying the top achievers? I often sense a steak of ‘socialist fervour’ running through educators. So, whilst they might know in their hearts that in the school there is a small handful of people whose contributions are massively bigger than the average, even the top achievers/ contributors favour an approach under which all are paid close to the mean. Standing out isn’t applauded.

The result is that we finish up with performance management systems where we seek to tease apart the 1 or 2% of difference in performance from the mean of the vast majority of employees. It’s almost certainly doomed to failure as most of those people want to be told that they’re amongst the 1 to 2% who are above the line, not the ones below. Further, the vast majority of the leaders are those who want to do the easier job of telling all their direct reports that they’re among that above average group (and, to be fair, haven;t really been trained or incentivized to do the harder task of frank, open and honest feedback).

here is a fascinating and detailed exploration of these key issues by McKinseys;

McKinsey – Ahead of the Curve – The Future of Performance Management

After you have read the McKinsey article you’re left with a full understanding of just how complex this issue is throughout business and how much remains to be done to find solutions that actually provide a positive contribution, let alone eliminate all the negative implications. When we move to the environment of schools and educators, i believe the issues are even more complex. For example, we’ve seen increasing trends in US and UK for part of remuneration of teachers to be lionked to student exam performance or ‘value added.’ However, these trends sit very uncomfortably with a lot of good, passionate and dedicated educators who even see them as inherently immoral – motivating short-termism, teaching to the tests and acts which are not in the best long term interests of the learners. Not only has this demotivated a lot of educators – it’s even driven some out of the profession. maybe worse, however hard you go and look, you’re hard pressed to find any positive improvements that the practice has brought.

Business people want to believe in a world where, if you can find a measure for something, you can get more of it, make systems more perfect and thereby raise standards (reducing or even striving to eliminate human imperfection). This is a hangover from industrial Taylorism and is a flat denial of the fact that, even in business, success and achievement are not all systematised and beautifully planned out in advance. Achievement is messy and inexact. it needs to flow from a combination of forward planning and intention with the ability to react and respond effectively and with skill and finesse to changes in circumstances.

As I write, i don’t believe I have the answers. Nor do i believe we will get to better answers without being prepared to challenge orthodoxy, challenge and question our own beliefs and test ourselves. What I am sure is that the best work will come from schools and workplaces where trust is in large supply, where integrity, honesty and a shared desire to fulfil vision and mission are the clues that each and every employee uses daily to determine where best to apply their efforts, their skills and their passion.

A Rapidly Changing World

This is a very interesting video and article that previews a debate that McKinseys initiated during the last annual shindig in Davos.

I found itr particularly worrying that few were really likely to challenge what the speakers say about how education will fail to equip young people for the changes being brought about by digitization. After all, doesn’t everyone know that education systems only ever look backwards.

How long before educators really become a part of the debate and seriously contemplate what needs to change about our schools and about education to meet such different needs?

McKinsey – Why every leader should care about digitization and disruptive innovation

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