A week after the Grenfell Tower fire, the word ‘cladding’ is casually familiar to us all.


The Tower had been ‘improved’.  It had been covered, or clad, to modernise its appearance.  No modernisation or improvement had taken place inside, to the building itself.

A horrible metaphor emerges.

To cover something up, or disguise its state, does not just fail to address any genuine needs or gaps in performance or function: it actively makes the entity being disguised more dangerous than it had been in its uncovered state.

So powerful are the possible meanings in this metaphor that we can see as we read and watch the news and aftermath unfold that outrage, anger, a sense of deeply ingrained injustice and a feeling of fatalistic cynicism is washing through the situation in rhythmic waves.

Amongst so many ‘lessons’ is a profound and simple one applicable to us all in any situation in which we find ourselves, personal or professional.

Do not attempt to prettify or cover up. Face what is there.

Nothing can be changed until it is faced.



A80pxtreen article earlier this week suggested something usefully subversive.

It had wonderful headline – ‘one woman at the top is enough for male bosses’.

A study, published in Senior Management, conducted amongst over 1000 companies and many sectors reported that ‘once a company has appointed one woman to a top tier job, the chances of a second woman landing an elite position at the same firm drop substantially – by about 50%.’

If you’re feeling cynical, then one conclusion is that the PR value from one female appointment is quite enough thank you.  I like to be cynicism-free for at least one month a year. April’s good because of the Fool thing on day 1.

image00So if that cynical explanation won’t do – what’s going on?  I’m going to suggest that goals, targets, and ticking boxes are the problem.

Which is tricky as just about all management advice and help concentrates on how to set, review, and meet targets.

An example: think of all those 5 point consumer surveys you are routinely invited to fill in after making a purchase. Is a box being ticked (consumer feedback done, check), or is that company really pleased to see you? And oddly, because a ‘feedback’ box has been ticked, do you then detect zilch interest in anything else you may want to suggest?
There’s something here about a trade off – or confusion – between the symbol of something and ….the actual thing. And it affects the most complex, moral issues.

And equality is a moral issue, no?

In 2009 a team from Toronto university published a paper entitled ‘Do green products make us better people’? The proposition was that while people’s moral values and decisions have been tested and researched to destruction, it has always been in isolation.

In real life, our self-perception – especially around moral behaviours – is constantly re-calibrated according to actions we have just taken. (Salad today after cream buns yesterday? And vice versa?).  In this ingeniously designed study, the altruism and environmental attitudes and behaviours of students were measured before and after some were exposed to retail green products and others were encouraged to purchase retail green products.

Just being exposed to green products increased pro-social behaviour. But purchase acted as a good deed, as moral credentials, that then licensed less altruistic behaviour. The purchase was like ticking a box. The box of ‘I’m a good person’.

No wonder ‘those second women’ won’t land an ‘elite position’. The Board feels so virtuous after 1 appointment that then anything goes.

It’s the box ticking. It really has got to stop.