Sunday, 28 June 2015

Due Process

I am a fairly informal person, with little love of bureaucracy, though I do recognise the needs it serves and indeed the importance of those. In particular, bureaucracy is developed to mitigate and manage risk, and to improve efficiency.

And that particular part of bureaucracy known as 'due process' is meant to minimise the risks of a miscarriage of justice. 

One of the growing risks for many organisations is reputational damage. It is so scary, so toxic and in the age of social media can occur so rapidly, that it can be tempting to react very quickly to any threat.

But we skip due process at our peril.

I have not written so far about the Tim Hunt affair. That was partly because I wanted to take my time to reflect on it; but also partly because I wasn't sure how accurate initial reports were. 

Various institutions reacted with extreme rapidity - presumably to limit the reputational damage they feared from being associated with his alleged remarks. But I am beginning to wonder if their haste may not have damaged their reputations too - because they did not follow a due process.

In any just system, however open-and-shut a case may appear, it is fundamental that someone accused has the right to present his or her case.  Tim Hunt was denied that right before being told to resign.

Now it appears that the main witness for the prosecution (as it were) may not be a credible and reliable one, and the case may be less open-and-shut than it appeared. And that leaves the institutions concerned with the unenviable prospect of - possibly - having to review their hasty decision once they have examined the available facts more closely.

For myself, I thought the twitter response was brilliant: the #distractinglysexy selfies posted of women engaged in every type of scientific endeavour was a wonderful demonstration of what needed to be said, and was witty and not abusive.

But I found it less edifying when those who questioned the rush to dismissal were portrayed as the establishment closing ranks to protect one of their own.  That may have been what was going on, but I am not convinced. I don't think it irrelevant that women scientists who have worked with Hunt thought the reported comments were not typical of the man they knew; and now it turns out that the initial account is not only contested in several details, particularly the context; but was also promulgated by someone whose own accuracy and veracity do not seem to stand up to scrutiny.

Those who insist that the response was proportionate to the harm his alleged comments are perceived to have done point out that he is not being stripped of his livelihood; they are honorary positions from which he has been forced to resign. 

But I think that, particularly to a man at his stage in life, reputation is important, and that we are all entitled to our good name, unless we forfeit that right.

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

I do not know whether Hunt is as foolish and mysoginistic as the initial reports suggested, though increasingly I am doubting it.

But my real point is that, like anyone else, he should be deemed innocent until proven guilty, and that the lack of due process in the way various institutions dealt with the PR crisis is an injustice, and reflects very poorly on them. Surely the correct response would be an immediate statement distancing themselves from the reported remarks, and including that they were going to investigate further, including asking Hunt in for a meeting to hear his side of the story.

Monday, 15 June 2015

On Scafell Pike

At the weekend I went up Scafell Pike with Mike (my son) and Dylan (one of my nephews). We had a great walk, despite cloud cover at the summit.
I know the mountain quite well, and had decided that we would return to Seathwaite by a different rout (Esk Hause, if you know it) to the one we had come up by (the Corridor Route).

Map source

So we headed off the summit, went over Broad Crag, and bore North East to avoid climbing Great End and head for the hause. (A hause is a pass, by the way. Don't worry about the geography, if you don't know the mountain: the point I am trying to make will soon become clear, anyway).

However, it seemed to be taking far longer than I remembered to get to Esk Hause, and also the path seemed to be veering too far to the right (ie South). 

So eventually, I decided we should strike off to the North and see what we could see from the top of the ridge.

What happened next was baffling. The landscape looked all wrong. I was expecting to see the path we wanted to join and then cross with Sprinkling Tarn up to our left. But instead, a beautiful valley opened up, heading North West  - which didn't correspond to anything on my map.

Mike and Dylan both recognised it at once, but what they said didn't seem to make any sense to me. So I descended to the path and accosted some other walkers and (swallowing my pride) asked where we were, on their map.  They pointed to the Corridor Route, which made no sense at all - I realised that they were as lost and disoriented as I was. We could not possibly be there, having gone North from the east side of Great End.

However, they were right. The reason that Mike and Dylan had recognised the valley is that we had admired it on our way up. Somehow, I had managed a serious mis-navigation, and was clearly nowhere near where I had thought we were. (I still don't know how that happened, but that's not the point).

What fascinated me, once I had accepted the truth proclaimed by the other walkers, by Mike and Dylan, and (eventually) by map and compass (now I was looking at the right place) was how hard my brain had found it to adjust from what I KNEW to be true, to what was really true. For example, I completely failed to recognise the valley we had admired on the way up, as I KNEW it could not be the same one, as we were somewhere completely different. I KNEW the other walkers were mistaken when they first showed me where we were, and I completely failed to understand the very clear words of Mike and Dylan about the valley they recognised.

It was a very powerful and salutary lesson for me, as someone who coaches others to relinquish 'known truths' in search of more accurate understandings of reality; and is clearly a lesson I am keen to hang on to and continue to reflect on.  And it ties in very well with the fascinating book I am studying at present: Neuropsychology for Coaches, about which I may write more once I have finished it.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Squaring the circle

I was (wryly) amused to see an academic reporting that his research proposal have been turned down by a potential funder because it was insufficiently innovative and insufficiently grounded in previous research.

That seems to me to be a microcosm of a problem at the heart of our universities: the tension between creative thinking and risk management.

On the one hand, universities aspire to be creative places: they aspire to excellence in both research and teaching (funny how their mission statements all say that...) and excellence in either sphere requires, I would argue, quite a large dose of creative thinking.

On the other hand, they have to manage risk; the leadership teams of universities are well aware of the damage to the Institution that will ensue should they perform badly in the REF (Research Excellence Framework), the NSS (National Students Survey) and so on. Slipping down the league tables makes it harder to attract the best staff or students, and has financial consequences that impede their ability to invest in their institution.

There's a good research project in there, of course: how do you square the circle?

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Taking it literally...

One of the habits that Andrew Derrington is trying to break me of, in my writing, is issuing caveats and disclaimers, and writing tentatively and conditionally. As I have noted before, he likes an assert/justify style - and in broad terms, I agree. It makes for a clearer and more compelling text.

But I have been reminded of why I write like that as I read John Whitmore's famous and influential book Coaching for Performance.  Because he often writes as absolute statements things which I think are very debatable, and it puts me out of sympathy with his whole text.

It may be that I am just too literal and pedantic in my reading, but it does irritate me.

To give some examples: 
Real performance is going beyond what is expected; it is setting one's own highest standards, invariably standards that surpass what others demand or expect.
Whist I see what he means (and in many cases would agree), I have a real problem with it stated as a simple truth. From time to time, I work with people whose bosses set unreasonable standards - standards that require the individual to sacrifice leisure and domestic time, for example, in pursuit of organisational targets. If I were to see my job as a coach as encouraging them to set standards surpassing those demands, I would be contributing to their stress. Rather, I might help them to recognise that their own standards are different from their boss's, and help them to consider how to negotiate accordingly.

Or again:
 The underlying and ever-present goal of coaching is building the self-belief of others...
As before, one sees what he is getting at; but has he never met anyone so full of himself that a major goal of coaching is an appropriate dose of self-awareness leading to a modicum of humility?

Whitmore's book is riddled with such stuff, and with many assumptions and philosophical positions presented as truths, too, and it does detract from the many useful things he has to say. So just when Andrew was weaning me off the use of caveats and disclaimers, I am suddenly reminded of why I use them.  

Food for thought...