N80pxtreeew cards have appeared on the tables in this cafe since I was last here.

They ask cheerily ‘How did we do?’ and offer 3 alternatives – brilliant, good, and not so good.

This sort of structured feed back request now pops up in so many areas of our lives. But is such a process really about feedback? Is it really about transparency? Does it matter?
image00When I asked around I was surprised by how often this sort of limited listing of breathlessly cheerful options can tip people into a curmudgeonly mood – even from a previously positive position.

Perhaps this feedback process, this apparently cheery sign of openness is not all that it appears to be.  One of the most common niggles in the work situation that I hear people worry out loud about is the absence, or fake-ness, of feedback from others.

If you really want a response, and want it delivered with good heart and pure intent, then eliciting those true views really is an art form.

The Electoral Commission has just persuaded David Cameron to change the wording of the EU referendum question. The new wording (which suggests an ‘in v out’, or ‘leave v remain’ choice) is thought fairer than the previous question asking for a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ to the current situation. This is after months and months and months of debate. (And this – basically – a binary issue.)

Understand qualitative responses is just so much trickier, elusive, and uncontrollable than we would like it to be. Yet is being simplified daily.  Trying to find out what we think of issues, services, and…each other… moves from tricky to worrying, when the ‘feedback’ is ‘baked in’ to a business model.

Take Uber for example.

Two young chums were wondering about taking a cab. One checked her app and noticed there weren’t any Uber cabs near by. Yet her friend found a dozen instantly. ‘There must be something wrong with my app….” But the words trailed off as they looked at each other in mock horror. Because of course chum 1 had been, unwittingly yet effectively, blacklisted by the cab company for not being ‘nice’ enough. (Chum 2 had clearly been smiling like a good’un.).  The cab company business model involves a mutual evaluation of driver by passenger, and vice versa.
Now this poor ‘niceness credit’ rating was remedied within a short time with lashings of unctuous charm and forced good feeling. Oh, yes.

But what has really happened here? Isn’t the feedback sort of – worthless – now? It’s become a game to be played, and won.

A quote usually attributed to George Burns, a comedian, ‘Sincerity – if you can fake that you’ve got it made’  doesn’t feel quite so funny any more.

We’ve got it made.


I80pxtreemagine for a moment a member of the David Cameron’s cabinet earning the soubriquet #MinsterofAwesome.

It provoked howls of laughter in the café this morning.

Yet Yanis Varoufakis is a newly minted hero in the midst of a murky, dangerous, and possibly unsolvable situation who is so termed even as he resigns his position.

While a motorbike, or a clear and wittily expressed philosophy, may not be enough to make a hero – a binary situation almost certainly will.


Is this helpful?

I raise it because of a parallel with a real life ‘leadership’ situation with which I am working this week.  The situation in Greece stays one step ahead of dramatists, economists, politicians, journalists and participants, defying adequate description or understanding. But what can be grasped is an endless stream of – binary – options and divisions.

Old against young, rich against poor in the referendum.
For and against debt relief, in or out of the Euro.

In the ‘leadership’ situation, an organisation with an unclear sense of itself wrestles with a difficult transformation programme.  (It is difficult, and that should be acknowledged)

And a key player is a hero figure, a hero of those who wish to transform.
(Perhaps he’ll become #directorofawesome)

At first I thought that this would make the path easier.  Yet it hasn’t.

It’s as if the added burden of star status has made the resistors even more resolute.  I think there’s a really interesting and important factor to remember here.  Stars, and heroes, are so seductive. But in these high octane ‘ either / or’ situations, they can only represent one part (half) of the story.

Gestalt thinking encourages us to become aware of the here and now, of contradictions and resistances, and to face them. Not fix them, just be aware of them.

I think one of the many reasons why the hero thing is not as innocent as it might seem is that it blocks off awareness of other important data. Having a hero feels rather good. Yet it means we stop looking and flowing and enquiring.

Perhaps #ministerofawesomeawareness would be a new sort of heroic quality that could help us all.


A80pxtreepparently Charles II’s head-wear was so ostentatiously huge and flamboyant that the very wearing of it must have been ridiculously demanding.

Never mind eating it.

But what was in Paddy Ashdown’s mind when he uttered the phrase ‘I’ll eat my hat’ on seeing the exit polls on May 7?

image00(He has a few more things to think about now than how to digest a trilby or a beanie.)

Those party leaders and their assorted cheer-leader teams were entrenched in their stories and their positions at that point.

David Cameron had to look quietly confident yet humble, Ed Miliband had to look unassuming yet modestly expectant. Nick Clegg had to look competent yet with an unblemished record, and Nigel Farage just had to demonstrate walking and talking simultaneously.

All were starring in their familiar stories and roles.

So what did the hat comment really mean? Was it – dismissal? Was it – shock? Was it a sort of – bravado insurance?

I think it was an inability to countenance any other reality than the one already settled upon.

An innocent symptom of a far from innocent condition: certainty.

There was a disturbance in the force last week that claimed casualty after casualty. Certainty may not have been amongst them.

The lashing out has begun.

Theories and counter theories are piling up.

Words like ‘aspiration’, phrases like ‘getting the message across’, positions like ‘contender’ are streaming forth.

It may be that the public conversational inquests being held are reactions to shock. They may be merely the teeth-chattering that starts hours after the crash, or the tears that splurge uncontrollably after reaching the shore.

But nothing said so far seems to have shaken itself free of the old stories and the old certainties.

Big stuff demands big thinking. Big surprises demand big re-writes.

No one seems to have started from a position of ‘I don’t know’.

No one has signalled a mood of creative enquiry.

No one so far has asked the only first question that matters…

‘What are we for?’

Noel Coward said of an unloved (and by all accounts unsuccessful) actor

‘He’s completely unspoiled by failure’.

And if that isn’t a warning to go back to factory settings after a setback, then I’ll eat my hat.