Global leadership at Heilbronn

Many years ago, I had the excellent experience of being the corporate supervisor of Sabrina Dick’s Master thesis on HR shared service. Sabrina has since developed into a very successful HR manager at SAP, now leading HR in Eastern Europe.  I caught up with her a couple of months ago, and she mentioned that she had been doing some guest lecturing at her alma mater, in Heilbronn, and for the past few years she has run a series of lectures on global leadership.

Universities of Applied Science have a strong tradition of tight collaboration with industry.  I’ve always thought that the relationships between the Universities of Applied Science and Industry are a key element in German competitiveness.  The new campus in Heilbronn is really impressive, with generous support from the Dieter Schwarz Foundation, the founder of Lidl.

With Sabrina spending more time in Prague and other cities, she was looking for someone to take over the undergrad lecture on global leadership. I met Prof Erner, who leads the department, we agreed that I would run the course for the spring semester.  The course runs over two weekends, with a long evening lecture on Friday, continuing through most of Saturday. Then in June, the students will present their assignments back to me and the class.   You can see more about the broader programme here.

The role of the external lecturer is to augment the core teaching program, and it is expected that you combine your own practical experience with the appropriate theory.  The cool thing for me was that Sabrina had already established a successful program structure, so I didn’t need to build the curriculum from scratch.

Over the course of the first two days, we mixed discussion, theory overview, case studies, I shared rambling examples of my own leadership successes and especially blunders.  I’d spent some time reviewing the text books, especially Northouse, Schein, Gundling, etc.  Given my South African background, I made sure we touched on the work of Adrian Furnham on management and leadership and I also introduced the students to Ubuntu, as I found most of the leadership textbooks to be rather US centric.  Sabrina had put together some excellent materials on how SAP develops leaders and managers, so that brought an additional practical element to the party.

Reviewing academic and practitioner materials on leadership was interesting, if sometimes a little frustrating.  There are no simple answers, and models are riddled with caveats.  There is still a lot that we don’t understand about how the human mind actually works, especially at work.

I have always admired Google’s approach to HR, at least from afar, in that they attempt to apply analytical rigour to what they do, by measuring and testing a lot.  I’m also pleased that Google like to share what they discover.  I was wondering why they share their findings so readily, given the competitive need to attract and retain, in what is a hyper-competitive employment market.  I suppose it is a form of virtue signalling, in that it enables them to communicate about their organization practices and values to prospective applicants, and more broadly to their stakeholders  (more on that another day).

A recent google study noted the importance of  psychological safety as a factor for team performance and it is one that I will more consciously aim to encourage in my own work environment.  See here for more of psychological safety.  I really need to figure out what Laslo’s new venture is all about too.

Back to the course. I enjoyed first weekend, and I hope the students did too. Now the students will work in teams, and are going to prepare  presentations on the following topics.

  1. Are people born as leaders or shaped?
  2. Traditional leadership theories in the context of global leadership.
  3. the role of trust in the context of global leadership
  4. Growing global talent pools
  5. Case studies of global leadership
  6. The challenge of intercultural teams. how best to manage them
  7. Diversity in the context of global leadership
  8. Learning from the google research into psychological safety.

I’m really looking forward to see what they will come up with.I’ll blog more after the presentations.

 

 

 

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Cloud Computing and vague recollections of the Anarchical Society.

IMG_5152

 

elicited this magnificent response.

Hedley Bull was a famous international political scientist,  he wrote several books. They weren’t easy reading is putting it mildly.  I only read Anarchical Society. At the time I read it, in 1990,  everyone was talking about Francis Fukuyama’s End of History, which, at the risk of over-simplifying it,  predicted that liberal western democracy was the end game of politics, and the totalitarians and the communists were history.  Bull’s view of international politics saw things rather more messily.

Cloud computing architectures today have optimized for and thrived under a Pax Americana construct.  The model being, American cloud providers are the benevolent but hegemonial super power, and they run the world’s data for the rest of us, in a  suzerain system. Sort of like the British East India Company and the empire did with trade in the 19th Century. It is good for us all they tell us, but Amazon, Facebook and others are very much America First.  There has been a relentless centralisation of processing, driven largely economies of scale, technical efficiencies and a lack of regulatory constraint. Where processing takes place in the data colonies, it is has been usually for latency factors,  rather than compliance, but there are of course exceptions.

This model is under threat, from two very different political forces.

In Europe, the data colonised have, after years of inaction, passed a law with some teeth that challenges the US corporate position that data is a commodity that can be appropriated for beads and shells and consent forms that no-one understands. The GDPR will  require the data colonisers to change their behaviour, while Facebook is most egregious example, it would be foolhardy to assume they are the only data pillagers.  This  law is likely to force the colonisers to be a bit more careful with the data from the colonies, and it will embolden other colonials to be a bit more demanding too.  It is not quite the winds of change moment, but it is blowing in that direction.

International political stability  in the analogue world is in its most fragile and unpredictable state, probably since the fall of the Berlin wall.  Any remaining thoughts of America’s benevolent if clumsy peacekeeper role have vanished over the last year. American international politics is now capricious and erratic. Russia has become more belligerent.  Just this week Russian did software equivalent of blocking the Suez Canal, they simply blocked several of the major US cloud providers. Many solutions running on AWS, for instance, were no longer accessible.  Who needs a naval blockade when you can block the cloud port?   The post WWII geo-political landscape is sadly filled with war by proxy, witness Vietnam, Angola, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and so on. Now we have IP proxy wars too.  There is a long history of election manipulation, but it required brute force and sometimes backing coup d’ etat etc, today, that manipulation is through Facebook and Google etc.  Zittrain’s powerful  prediction of ‘digital gerrymandering’ has been vindicated by the Guardian’s revelations.

Software architecture decisions for the last 20 years have been made to optimise for application performance. Going forward things are going to get a lot more awkward. A while ago the Legal Scholar, Christopher Millard, wrote about the question of data sovereignty. Wise stuff.

Architectures of the future need to be designed to cope with an uncertain political and regulatory landscape. The next trade war will not just be about the price of steel, data will be constrained and choked too. Cloud vendors that want to operate effectively globally, are going to have challenge the assumptions that drove the centralisation of the last two decades.  To borrow from Taleb, today’s architectures are not anti-fragile.  We have moved a long way away from the initial decentralised premise of the internet. What started out as the epitome of anti-fragile, has become inherently fragile. The economic forces, aided by  regulatory indifference and incompetence have led to a centralisation and proprietarisation (horrible word, I know) of computing power.

Some will argue that answer is blockchain. I suspect that it, or more likely, the next generation of distributed ledger technologies will be part of the solution, but it not the complete answer. Indeed it was a blockchain application, telegram,  that drove the Russian data blockade decision.

The questions of international order and justice that occupied the minds of Hobbes, Mill, Marx, Hedley Bull and many others deserve closer revisiting in the digital world. I do wonder what Max Weber and JS Mill would have made of Facebook.

 

 

Of Cobblestones, Solomon, Paula, Gunter, Joseph and the GDPR.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of software vendor marketing and press from around the world about the GDPR. It seems to me that a lot of it misses the point. GDPR is seen as a compliance burden, an unwelcome dose of EU bureaucracy or at best a useful opportunity sell security software.  It is perhaps useful to reflect on why the GDPR and its predecessors in data protection legislation came into being.

I was walking to the train station in the rain this morning, and I paused for a moment by the pair of  Stolpersteine (tripping stones) on the corner of the street where we live. I’m not sure why I took the picture today,  perhaps they glistened from the drizzle.  I  wondered what Salomon and Paula were like, what were their hobbies and their foibles, did they watch football or play tennis together, what jobs did they do, was she left handed, who were their friends, what colour was his favourite tie,  did he make puns that made her smile, did she play Chopin on piano so that the notes drifted down the street on the breeze, did they hold hands as they walked beside the Neckar on that summer’s evening for the last time?

stolperstein image. two next to each other. Deutsch family.

Gunter Demnig began this art project in 1992. The first stone was laid in Salzburg, Austria, and now there are over 27,000  plaques across  22 countries, and growing.  Think of it as a distributed  museum.   They all follow the same format, size and font.  In situ, on the doorsteps of houses, for me they are more powerful and poignant than any centralised memorial or museum. They bring an uncomfortable intimacy and they force me to think about  how easily such an evil could come into being.  (check out more about the stones  here).

The GDPR exists to protect our data (and our person)  from abuse.

This Regulation protects fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons and in particular their right to the protection of personal data. (Article 1 (2) GPDR) 

Software has the potential for enabling goodness, yet it can also empower evil. Software can encourage democracy, but it can undermine it too. Software can level the playing field, or it can entrench privilege.   The power of software to find, sort and group people is both awesome and awful.  It is a mighty thing that we wield.

As an industry we need to see people’s data as something to treat with care and respect. The GPDR is a long overdue firm nudge for us to remember that.

One of the pioneers of artificial intelligence,  Joseph Weizenbaum, fled Berlin for the US as a child in the 1930’s.  I suspect there is a stoplerstein for his family on a street in Berlin. His book, Computer Power and Human Reason, should be required reading for all those building software.

““The computer programmer is a creator of universes for which he alone is the lawgiver. No playwright, no stage director, no emperor, however powerful, has ever exercised such absolute authority to arrange a stage or field of battle and to command such unswervingly dutiful actors or troops.”

We proclaim gleefully that software is eating the world, and data is more valuable than oil, so it is high time the software industry took its human rights responsibilities more seriously.

I, for one, welcome the GDPR.

Buy this book. I did.

Got an email today, as one does.

 I’ll just cut and paste it here.
If you work in software and you haven’t donated to Bletchley Park then you really ought to.
I bought the signed hardback, but then I think Sue is cool.  She knows:  Computer Science, WWII coding,  and Stephen Fry.

Hello there!

(Firstly thank you so much if you have already supported my book, you are wonderful :))

If you know me, you probably know that I’ve been involved with Bletchley Park for some years now. In 2003 I went there for a BCS meeting and fell in love with the place. In 2008 I started a campaign to help raise awareness of the amazing contribution of the site and the more than ten thousand young people that worked there during WW2.

In 2008 Bletchley Park was in financial difficulty. I wanted to raise awareness and gain support for the people that worked there and make sure that Bletchley Park would be there for my children and their children to visit, to help them appreciate the tremendous war effort and the contribution that it has made to us enjoying the peace we live in today. The work carried out there has been said to have shortened the war by approximately 2 years, saving millions of lives.

Fast forward four years and things are looking much rosier for Bletchley Park thank goodness, they have received funding from various sources including the Foreign Office just last week.

Lots of people have suggested over the last couple of years that I write up what happened as a book, and I’m delighted to announce that I have found a fabulous publisher called Unbound to help me do that.

I’ll be telling the story of the campaign that I started and also the amazing campaigns previous to that, during one of which the only way to save the Park was to get the trees listed. Crazy!

So, please sign up to buy my book, I get to see the names of everyone who buys, so don’t think you can get away with pretending you have bought it ;))

..and please do encourage your networks to buy the book too, someone said to me just the other day that they thought that raising awareness of Bletchley Park has also raised the profile of women and computer science in the UK, how cool is that?

Thanks for your support, the campaign that I started would not have worked if it weren’t for the thousands of people that got involved and played their part.

Here’s the link, please have a look and pledge your support, remember, I’ll be checking the names of supporters….

My book is currently funded to 76% (in just 4 days) but we still need another 24% to make it happen…

10% of all profits from the book will go to Bletchley Park.

Take care and see you soon,

Sue

 

On Corporate Burghers

Cross posted on my work blog.

While taking a break from a flurry of  inquiry calls about ERP upgrades vs SaaS replacements,  I ambled over to facebook with Nespresso in hand.  A few years ago I met Dave Duarte, who  introduced me to  the Ogilvy Digital Academy   in South Africa. There is a lot of innovative stuff going on in the land of my youth, so I follow the SA scene  on  Facebook and on Twitter.  South Africa has had a lot of innovative advertising over the years, and I’m pleased to see this has well and truly moved over into the social side of things.  Today’s offering really hit home powerfully.

Have a look at this video.

A couple of things stood out for me.

1. Innovative idea and great execution. Genius. Braille on the burger bun.

2. Wimpy get the fact that People with Disabilities spend money just like other demographics.   Designing solutions and marketing for that segment makes business sense.  Part of this is about equal rights and access, but it isn’t charity.  Humour works.

3. The power of the referral. See the stats at the end of the presentation.

As part of my academic research, I’m looking at how enterprise software companies approach accessibility. Wimpy puts them all to shame.  Well done Wimpy.

On constraints. Marcuse, Bach and Scriabin.

This time of the year tends to be a time of excess.

The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.

This is a quote from Herbert Marcuse, a German philosopher.  I rather like it, but I’ve never really been comfortable with the term “the people.”  After all, the same affliction affects me too. This is a first person issue, other than the kitchen equipment:  I’m with the Hitch, but there is a part of me that really likes stuff.

Here is my newly discovered antidote; two piano pieces.  The first one, by Bach, I have known for some time.  Here is James Rhodes’ version.

The other, I discovered via the serendipity that is the side bar in YouTube. I’d not heard of either Scriabin or Filjak til this evening.

A Nocturne by  Scriabin,  played by  Martina Filjak.

Both pieces are just for the left hand.  Sometimes less is more.  

The tech industry mourns. W.H Auden said it best.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.