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Not Normal

The Emmy Awards ceremony is usually an evening of fun and frocks, during which some awards are also handed out. But this year’s ceremony in mid-September came under fire for starting things off with a comedy skit featuring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Some commentators argued that, in his former job, Spicer regularly defended his boss’ racist and xenophobic decisions, so they wanted to hear him apologize before they were willing to listen to him tell jokes. Others argued that it was just a comedy skit, and Spicer deserved a second chance – particularly since he was fired from the White House, rather than quitting – and that like any other disgraced public figure he should have the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.

My feelings lie toward more toward the “not ready for jokes yet” perspective. I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert – and his principled and honest attitude toward his work – and I’m also a viewer of his show who really appreciates him calling out the ridiculousness of the actions of the Trump administration. So I was quite disappointed to learn that Colbert was apparently responsible for arranging Spicer’s Emmy appearance. There are likely larger issues of forgiveness and redemption going on in this situation that would take a very long time to pick apart here. But I’ll just say that, given Colbert’s insightful commentaries on the serious implications of Trump’s conduct, I would have thought that Colbert would have anticipated the potential for negative blowback from Spicer’s participation in the show.

What particularly troubles me about the decision to feature Spicer on the Emmys is how it demonstrates “normalization”. This is the phenomenon in which (more…)

The Golden Passport

It costs $144,000 US to get a Master of Business Administration degree at the Harvard Business School (HBS). Anyone paying that amount of money isn’t just buying an education – they’re also buying into a reputation, and gaining entry into a self-perpetuating elite circle of control. That’s why business journalist Duff McDonald’s new book, The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, The Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite, is a much-needed critique. It takes an uncompromising look at how HBS operates, and how (more…)

Why Government Is Not A Business

There’s more than enough information on the Internet right now about the havoc being inflicted on the United States by President Donald Trump and his associates. However, there are two perspectives on this craziness that I want to bring to your attention.

Some commenters have said they are not surprised at Trump’s behaviour in his new job because he’s “acting like a businessman”. In other words, he’s doing what the new CEO of any new business would do: setting up new procedures, changing things that need changing, and bringing in staff that he feels comfortable working with. Leaving aside the fact that Trump is a much less successful businessman than he pretends to be, this situation is a (more…)

Supreme Court of Canada Decision in The BC Teachers’ Federation Case (Part I)

This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada held its hearing of an appeal by the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), the union that represents teachers in British Columbia’s public school system.

This ongoing case – which started in 2002 – involves several actions by the BC provincial government in its collective bargaining for a contract with the BCTF, primarily around the government’s decision to pass legislation declaring that some items would not be bargained, and removing those same items from the collective agreement that was then in effect. The BCTF opposed both of these changes. Later, there were also issues around the government’s conduct during bargaining.

The BC Supreme Court twice ruled in the BCTF’s favour, once in 2011 and again in 2014. The BC government appealed the 2014 ruling, and the BC Court of Appeal overturned that ruling. The Court of Appeal decision was the basis of the BCTF’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

I think it’s fair to say that all parties involved with this case expected that a case this complex would entail a lengthy hearing at the Supreme Court, followed by several months for the nine judges to review the arguments and write their decision. However, much to everyone’s surprise, (more…)

Why I support pretty much any strike by pretty much anyone, anywhere, about anything

In response to the one-day strike by Transport for London workers this week, Nathaniel Tapley provides this eloquent and passionate explanation of why it’s important for everyone to support workers on strike. “Every assault on pay, or conditions, for anyone in any industry narrows the options for us all. “

Nathaniel Tapley

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If you live in or around London, or work there, or know anyone who does, your social media will have been drenched in anger at the Tube strike this morning, along with the occasional voice popping up with: “I was saying Boo-urns.”

Anyway, many people’s first instinct is to blame the strikers (even if they couched in terms of support for nurses / teachers / anyone except tube drivers), so I thought I’d explain why mine isn’t.

To begin, I must declare an interest: I intend to use the Night Tube. I’d rather the person in control of the metal drunk-ferry burrowing its way through subterranean London at peak suicide time felt well-rested and recompensed and able to concentrate on getting me home without being dead.

They’re actually fighting for your pay and conditions

Wait, what? No they’re not? I don’t earn that much.

In a country where more…

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Up Close and Personal with the UK General Election

Last month I spent two weeks in Britain, and purely by chance those two weeks were during the campaign leading up to the UK general election on May 7th. Elections are an incredibly important part of democracy, and I never forget how fortunate I am to live in a country where I get to vote and where my vote can make a difference. Since I became old enough to vote, I have only missed participating in one election that I was eligible to vote in (I had a good excuse – I was in Antarctica). But my trip to the UK gave me the opportunity to see how election campaigns work in another country with a parliamentary system of government – and that being the country whose legislative structure most strongly influenced my own country’s legislative system. (more…)

Evaluating Historical Research in Business

I started doing research in organizational and business history for no other reason than I like to try to figure out why things are the way they are. I have no formal training in historical research – I’ve learned what I’ve learned mostly from experience, and from very helpful suggestions from more experienced researchers along the way. But I’m also working within an academic discipline that doesn’t have a strong record of historical research, and that only considers certain kinds of historical research to be legitimate or worthwhile.

That background made me very interested in Jeffrey Smith’s recent article “Writing Media History Articles: Manuscript Standards and Scholarly Objectives”, which was published in Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. While Smith is specifically discussing research in media history, I found that a lot of the issues he discusses in the article are true for research in business history as well. And many of the issues he identifies resonated with my own experiences of trying to get research in business history published in academic journals. (more…)

Society, Power, and “Hack Attack”

Nick Davies’ book Hack Attack  is a powerful read. It’s the story of Davies’ investigation into the phone hacking conducted by several of the British newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The investigation led to a judicial inquiry, several criminal convictions,  and the closure of the News of the World newspaper. And since Hack Attack was released last year, eight victims of phone hacking have filed a civil suit against the Mirror group of newspapers for invasion of privacy – a suit that is currently being heard in a London court.

Davies’ book describes the details and scope of the hacking – and how the hacking gradually became exposed, thanks to several anonymous informants – but also illuminates (more…)

When “Best Practices” Aren’t Best

Anyone who went to business school around the same time I did remembers “excellence”. Specifically, that was Tom Peters’ book In Search of Excellence, which described how companies could improve by copying what great companies did well. That book sparked a management fad of benchmarking – which then morphed into the idea of “best practices”. But now, unfortunately, it looks like the very sound ideas behind “best practices” are being lost and corrupted by corporate doublespeak.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come across more than a few examples of organizations using “best practices” as a reason to reduce or cancel services. The explanation usually goes something like this: the organization has “benchmarked” itself against similar organizations, or looked at other organizations’ “best practices”, and allegedly found that other organizations are doing less of a certain thing, or doing that thing less expensively. This then becomes a justification for the organization to downgrade its own offerings.

This use of “best practices” is not what was originally envisioned. Although Peters has admitted that his investigation of “excellence” was not as rigorous as it could have been, nevertheless his book had a powerful practical message.  (more…)

My Boston, One Year Later

This past week marked the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. And it’s also nearly a year since I was in Boston, just after the bombings, in a bright sunny springtime.

One of the many posters and signs expressing support for Boston after the bombings - this one at the Boston Architectural College on Newbury Street.

One of the many posters and signs expressing support for Boston after the bombings – this one at the Boston Architectural College on Newbury Street, May 2013.

I don’t think I will ever forget (more…)