Archive for August, 2012

Take Part, Win or Win at all Costs?

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

I have loved watching the London Olympics – both at the Olympic Stadium itself and in front of my TV. There have been numerous remarkable human achievements which will inspire and motivate others both in sport and other endeavours. I have found the joy of watching people achieve lifelong ambitions very emotional, as have been the reactions of some of those who have not achieved what they wanted to.

There is a lot of pressure to win – the amount of time the athletes have invested in preparation, justification for the funding received and to be seen as ‘the best’ being just three. But how far should an athlete go to win?

Picture a continuum – a straight line with ‘fair play’ at one end and ‘unfair play’ at the opposite end.

At one end of the continuum, we have Timo Boll the German table tennis player who was awarded a point because his opponent’s return supposedly missed the table – but Timo saw that it had shaved the side. He calmly explained this to the umpire and asked for the point to be awarded to his opponent. Apparently, he received the loudest applause of the day for this gesture – but he lost the match and his Olympics were over.

At the other end of the spectrum we have people taking performance enhancing drugs which are outlawed, which is clearly wrong.

Moving along my continuum and slightly further towards the middle we have the badminton pairs who were playing each other and both teams attempted to lose the match – and this happened in two matches.   They were disqualified by their Federation for “not using one’s best efforts to win a match” and “conducting oneself in a manner that is clearly abusive or detrimental to the sport.” And so their Olympics were over.  Not as clear cut as drugs cheats, perhaps, but clearly against the rules within their sport.

But now to the grey area – and let’s look at ‘Team GB’. I was watching the rowing final for the Lightweight Double Skulls when one of the rower’s seats broke soon after the start. He waved the seat in the air to alert the umpire because there is a rule which states that if there is a breakage within the first 100 metres, the race can be restarted with the breakage having been rectified.  The rule is a bit of an anachronism as it was apparently introduced to deal with wooden rows that sometimes broke early in the race due to the force of the early strokes – they don’t use wooden rows any longer, but the rule is still in place.

Sir Steve Redgrave was commentating and as soon as it happened, he said that the rower needed to show the broken seat to the Umpire and, “… if it wasn’t broken then make sure it is broken …” by the time the Umpire got to their boat.  John Inverdale, the co-commentator, tried to retrieve the situation by subtly suggesting to him that he might have been trying to say something slightly different, but Sir Steve’s statement had been very clear. The pair went on to claim the Silver Medal.

Moving to the Velodrome, the British team got themselves in a bit of hot water – or lukewarm water at the very least – with one of their tactics.  In the a Men’s Team Sprint heat Philip Hindes wobbled as he set off against France, so didn’t get a very good start. His response was to deliberately crash his bike to get a restart.

Hindes told reporters that team tactic was, “… if we have a bad start we need to crash to get a restart.” He added, “I just crashed, I did it on purpose to get a restart, just to have the fastest ride. I did it. So it was all planned, really,” By the time of the Press Conference, the official line was that he had lost control of his bike.  The team won the restarted heat and went on to win the Gold Medal.

The points made by the individuals in both cases are interesting as they were said in the ‘heat of the moment’ – at points when both were emotionally involved in what was happening, and so likely to be less guarded, but perhaps giving a more honest insight into how these teams operate.

The ethos in these examples appears to be to use the rules, but not in ways in which they were intended. Where does this sit on the Continuum of Fair Play?

Cycling and Rowing were our most successful sports in terms of medal returns. Is it partly because these participants and coaches adopt this ‘aggressive’ use of the rules? And if they are awarded additional funding because of these successes, is it ‘right’, and will it encourage other athletes and sportspersons to adopt a similar approach? Is this an example of winning at all costs – apart from doping – and in doing so creating a less than level playing field?

As the Olympics came to a conclusion, Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England talked about what the banking sector could learn from Team GB.  During his lesson on morality, he said, “As recent scandals have shown, banks could learn a thing or two about fair play from the Olympic movement. Again the financial sector has done us all a disservice in promoting the belief that massive financial compensation is necessary to motivate individuals.” Perhaps he’s right. But, on our continuum, how far are the previously mentioned examples of the uses of the rules in the rowing and cycling events from how some of our bankers have interpreted rules?

Or is all this inherent in any system where reward – financial, medals or otherwise – is present? And should it be accepted as night follows day?  Is there an opportunity for learning and development providers to offer an event on Profitable Rule Interpretation?

Perhaps we like to think of society as being made up of lots of Timo’s, but in reality the ethos is more about being less open and more manipulative than we want to admit to being?  Or perhaps the manipulative ones become winners, and that shapes society?

Or it could be that the comments I have quoted were, in fact, meant in a different way and have been misinterpreted.

In short, do we ‘play fair’ as much as we like to think and make out we do?

I’m reasonably clear on where I stand, but I would be interested in your views. I may change my mind having heard from others.


London and Learning Legacies

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Almost 25 years ago I stood in torrential rain and watched one of the most evocative concerts I have witnessed. It was Jean Michel Jarre’s spectacular ‘Destination Docklands’. Originally planned as one concert, it eventually became two concerts (due to Council objections) and they took place on a Saturday and Sunday in October 1988.

The audience stood and sat on what was derelict land – land that is now one of the Olympic venues, the ExCeL  Arena, which hosted the boxing.

Fast forward to the present day. Last month, the new Olympic Stadium – also in East London – held  the most spectacular event since Jarre’s oncert; the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

There were significant similarities between the two. The Opening Ceremony told the story of a rural Britain instigating the Industrial Revolution on behalf of the world, followed by post-war immigration and then celebrating social welfare, British music and its current multi-cultural make up.

Jarre’s concert was divided into four sections, the first of which was devoted to the Industrial Revolution. Part Two was London in the Swinging Sixties (when Jarre was joined on stage by Hank Marvin), the third section was the forthcoming digital Nineties, and the final section was ‘The Emigrant’.

Having said that, the differences in the environments were striking. The Olympic Stadium is set in beautifully landscaped gardens, with fantastic public transport and a huge, bright shopping centre close to its entrance.

On my way to and from the Jarre concert, I can remember being uncomfortable for the majority of the time, and very uncomfortable on a couple of occasions. East London was not a welcoming place in the late Eighties.

It was still the London described by The Clash in “London Calling” and The Jam’s “Down in the Tube Station at Midnight” – “ …Whispers in the shadows – gruff blazing voices, hating, waiting …”.

Nothing changed in London as a result of the Jarre concert. Lots has changed, and lots more will change, as a result of the Olympics. Only time will tell what the legacy will be, but there are firm plans and noble intentions.

The reasons for the difference? In the case of the Olympic Opening Ceremony, the aforementioned plan, infrastructure, investment and community involvement. Reasonably obvious, I guess.

Move the context to organisational development. I was recently asked to submit a proposal for a number of sessions to help an organisation’s managers navigate it successfully through a period of significant change – spookily enough, in south east London. My tender included a number of additional offerings at no additional charge – for managers requiring them, a number of Action Learning Sets, email and phone consultation on real situations faced by the managers, and a number of one to one coaching sessions if desired. I offered these because I know that for development to work, people need the opportunity to build on their learning, discuss real problems and opportunities, and seek assistance with specific scenarios.

A couple of weeks after submitting my submission, they rang me. The discussion was mainly around whether there would be any cost difference if they didn’t use the additional free offerings. I said there wouldn’t be. The person’s final comment was, “You see, we only want some training sessions”. My alarm bells rang. Perhaps they were just wanting to tick a box? Our relationship didn’t develop any further. And I was reminded once again of those two spectacular concerts.

For effective development to take place, it needs to be supported by the organisation, there needs to be a plan as to how it will be implemented and then how it will be supported post-implementation. It doesn’t matter how good the intervention is if this support isn’t here. Lasting change – that’s what development should be all about.