Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Howard Goverrnment, the polls and puzzled commentators

Australian public opinion polls continue to show the Australian Labor Party with a strong lead.

This has puzzled many commentators who struggle to see why a still disciplined and well run Government presiding over a strong economy creating a surging budget surplus that allows the Government to provide lots of electoral goodies should be in so much strife. I don't think that there is all that much mystery too it.

Governments make decisions. A large proportion upset someone. People forget or adjust, but over time there is a build up of those willing to vote for a credible alternative. Then there is another, more subtle, force at play.

Governments generally come into office with a pretty fair understanding of community attitudes and expectations across the country. This is hard to maintain once in office because day to day pressures, the desire to complete previous actions, commitment to already held positions, lock in to particular interest groups, all reduce a Government's capacity to identify and respond to changing needs and perceptions.

In time, unseen gaps open up between Government attitudes and rhetoric and community opinion across a range of issues. Suddenly these gaps, as appears to have happened now, become yawning fissures in the face of a credible opposition.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Armidale School - G A (Gordon) Fisher

Still travelling down nostalgia lane with photographs from the TAS (The Armidale School) archives, I found this marked 1960 unknown.

Crikey, unless I am very much mistaken this is a photo of Gordon Fisher known as GAF for his use of his initials, TAS's long standing headmaster.

1960 was not a good year for Mr Fisher. Armidale's long standing Anglican Bishop, Bishop Moyes (1884-1972) decided that the somewhat younger Head had to go to make way for a younger man.

I cannot comment on the validity of this move, although I know that many old boys including my Uncle Jim Somerville were very upset. But I can comment on my own experiences with GAF.

I know, for example, that when I refused to continue in cadets at any price, he intervened to allow me to stay at the school. Then, six months later, he promoted me to sub-monitor, an unusual position for a day boy to hold in what was then a mainly boarding school.

I know, too, that he was worried about kids from properties dropping out of school at the Intermediate Certificate.

In those days, there were two public exams: the Intermediate Certificate at the end of Year 9, then the Leaving Certificate at the end of year 11. Mr Fisher's very strong view was that kids should stay at school as long as possible even if this meant that they got bad results in the final exam.

This might hurt the school's academic results, but he thought that this was a small price too pay for an extended education for some kids.

To further facilitate the process. Mr Fisher introduced a special School Certificate at the end of Year 10 so that kids would have an incentive to stay on for another year.

Mr Fisher also gave me books to read from his personal library with titles like "Knowledge for What?". I think that he would take a degree of satisfaction from the fact that, 47 year's later, this still informs my writing.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Lord Malcolm

Photo: Lord Malcolm, Neil (Ninglun) and Sirdan

Like Adrian, I do not know Lord Malcolm. Like Adrian, I feel that I do. So I thought that I would make a few very personal comments.

I grew up in the age when homosexuality was a moral sin. I have deliberately used the old word because it best captures my point.

I still remember my reaction years later when a male friend in Queanbeyan, now dead of AIDS, shared his love life with me. Because he was a friend, I bit my tongue and listened. He needed to talk.

I first came in contact with AIDS in the very early eighties when the brother of a friend living in New York contacted a mysterious disease and died.

Three years later one of my staff came to me to tell me that he had AIDS.

I did not know what to do. The paranoia about AIDS was at its height. For better or worse, I decided to say nothing to anybody whether staff or Department. I felt that if I did it might have an adverse affect on him. I did worry, though, about things like sharing glasses at staff parties.

We now know that these worries were misplaced. Perhaps I should have trusted the Department to protect him. But I wanted to buy time.

The single most important thing people need is love and support. I have stood in awe of the support provided by Lord M's friends in difficult circumstances. I know just how hard this has been.

I have tried to help in a limited way. Here I will now say that when Lord M was facing problems with his public housing I was working in the NSW Department of Housing,

When I saw Neil's post I spoke to Phaedra, my immediate boss. She found out a contact person and we forwarded the story. I knew from experience that the Housing people were pretty sensitive in sometimes difficult circumstances, and Phaedra and I thought that they needed the information.

Lord M is clearly a remarkable person, not so much because of his contribution at an official level in areas like aircraft (a love that I share), but because of his capacity to inspire personal loyalty.

I won't say any more except that my love and thoughts are with Lord M and his friends, people that I would never have had contact with were it not for the modern miracle that is blogging.


Lord Malcolm died on 1 June. Neil Whitfield's blog carries a full tribute to him.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Armidale School archive - a trip down nostalgia lane

I am meant to be finishing a post on corporatisation in law. Then Rob Busby, president of the Sydney branch of the TAS Old Boys Union, emailed me to say in part that the school had put up a new series of photos on the school web site in the archives section. Talk about a trip down nostalgia lane. I was completely distracted.

This is a photo of the 1962 TAS second fifteen. I am in the second row, second from the left. Brother David is I think in the front row, third from the left.

I loved my football in part because it was fun, in part because it was one of the things that broke me out of a bullying cycle that made my early years at the school unhappy. I was a fairly serious and dreamy child who loved reading and did not fit in. Once out of it everything changed, so that my last two years at the school remain two of the best years of my life.

I spent over three years in the seconds without ever making the firsts. I was quite big by the standards of the time, around 13 stone, and also quite fast, able to run a hundred yards in full football gear at a shade under eleven seconds. So I was a bit of a battering ram.

But I was also not a natural footballer, so really would have benefited from the skills training available today. In fact, I did not become aware of some field tactics until several years later when I was coaching a team.

I played most forward positions, but my favourite was breakaway because it gave me scope to roam and tackle. I am not naturally an aggressive person, but there was something very satisfying about disrupting the opposition's back line!

The photos will obviously be of most interest to those connected with the school. But an archive like this, if still very incomplete, with photos in date order does provide a broader picture of the past.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

End Week Reflections - 26 May 07

Photo: Sydney Morining Herald. Australia in attack against Wales in the Rugby. Australia snatched an undeserved win (29-32) against an understrength Welsh side with a death knell try.

The end of another week. One of the problems with being so busy, apart from all the things that I have yet to do, is that things tend to blur.

In an earlier post this week I said that I was going to do a series of short posts, but then put up one. Just a case of domestics swamping everything else. So I will pick up those items in this post.

Technorati still sucks . However, I have given up on the idea of attacking them on a daily basis until someone in the firm picks the references up simply because time is so short. This blog survives without them, and no doubt will continue to do so.

Great excitement at the end of the week. I actually received my first payment from Google. Only $A131, an average of a bit over $2 per week for every week since I started blogging so I am hardly getting rich, but exciting never the less. I wonder how I should spend it!

On the professional front, one of the most interesting things this week was the stock exchange listing of the Melbourne law firm Slater and Gordon. Legal Eagle had an interesting post on this written from the perspective of the lawyer.

I put up a short post more as a holding device while I prepared a longer post only to lose the longer post in a crash. I had been so busy writing that I failed to save or realise that the auto save facility was not working. Very frustrating.

I have been writing on the progressive corporatisation process in professional services for two decades, about the process in law since 2000.

I still find it very odd that so many senior people in the legal profession cannot see the commercial reasons driving the process. Why odd? Two reasons.

First, the process has been going on for a long time. We have seen it previously in other areas including telecommunications, medicine, education and accounting. It may seem hard to believe now, but back last century in the mid 1980s there were many who struggled to see how telecommunications services might become a traded commodity.

A key feature in all these cases has been the presence of regulatory frameworks that have essentially frozen industry structures and cultures, creating new business opportunities as those frameworks change.

Second, the commercial reasons for the process are really quite simple, not difficult to understand.

In the case of law, for example, complaints about the way partners and partnerships operate are common. Bluntly, they are often not very efficient in business terms. Even the famed effectiveness of some firms in squeezing the last billable hour out of junior staff is not necessarily sensible in looking at the longer term profitability of the firm as a business.

It is true that some of the most common inefficiencies have been squeezed out of the system, so that it is no longer as easy as a consultant to go into a firm and get some quick positive results through process improvement. The inefficiencies that remain are more cultural and structural and therefore harder to fix. But they remain very significant.

There is a linkage between all this and some of my other common preoccupations.

A little later

Just back from the Saturday hockey run. The other team was very good, but our girls held them only to see a break away at the end. It's not easy being goalie. Clare saved far more than she let in, but its always the final score that counts. Back to the main theme.

I have always been interested in change and have done a fair bit as a change agent. I have also done a lot as a futurist and social commentator. In both roles I look for patterns and trends, because this is essential if you are going to either interpret or change things.

Here I face an increasing problem. On my blogs I can write as I like. The only real constraint is time. When writing or advising professionally I have to present what I do in a cultural context set by the intended audience.

My personal approach is reflective. I am interested in ideas. I also advise within a frame set by my experience as well as my previous research. My problem is that there is a growing gap between my approach and on-ground realities with their ad hoc, short term, simplified and atomistic focus. This reduces the real value of my advice.

The problem is partly one of language. Language - both words used and the meaning attached to words - shifts all the time and also varies in usage from area to area. I may hate some current usages - outcomes is one example, key performance indicators a second - but if the organisation uses them, then I often have too as well.

A more complicated problem arises where the intellectual constructs underpinning my advice diverge from those in use in the organisation. I had actually written an example here, but then deleted it because I think the issue deserves more thought before discussing it in public.

Much Later - in fact Sunday Morning 27 May

Last night I had the mixed pleasure of watching the Australia play Wales in the Rugby. After a very disappointing Super 14 for the Australian teams, the wobbly Wallabies are really going to have to improve enormously if we are to have any chance in the World Cup.

Enough. I am going to finish this post here.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Blogs, a Sense of Community and an Awful Feeling of Inferiority

Photo: a Gym enthusiast! Neil, Ninglun, on the right.

I could not resist pinching this photo from Neil's site! It kind of illustrates something that I have been mulling over.

All bloggers know that blogging can be addictive. Non-bloggers think that this this comes from ego, bleeding one's soul to the broader world. There is some truth in this, but the reality is far more complex.

People blog for many reasons. For many of us, blogging is a way of establishing a sense of community. Here I take real pleasure in the way that, with time, links build between blogs and bloggers. I have watched this in the small community that I think of as my own blogging world.

I cannot manage the idea of 71 million blogs except as an abstract concept. I can certainly manage the idea of 40-50 blogs that somehow link. I can definitely manage the idea that bloggers become people with their own unique features. But there is one problem in all this.

Some of the blogs in that small community that I think of as my own are, quite simply, bloody good. I suppose that I am naturally a competitive person. Imagine, therefore, how I feel when I struggle to match what I see to be the high and growing standard in my immediate blogging world.

None of us should be put off because we cannot match the standard set by someone else in a particular area. After all, we all write for different reasons and all have different strengths. I do think, however, that we can and should learn from our blogging colleagues.

Postscript 27 May

In a response to this post setting out his own reasons for blogging, Thomas wrote:

I know that this blog generally serves as a distraction from university work for me, but I suspect that I also use it as an outlet to have the conversations that I don't have with other people (the whole six or so people that I speak to in real life), or at least blow off some steam that I otherwise would have to keep inside.

I think Thomas has captured something important here that I have talked about before, blogs as conversation. Further, it is conversation between people whose separation in age, geography and activity would otherwise preclude contact.

This links to a modern social trend that I have been meaning to write about, the attempts to find or build a sense of community in an increasingly busy, crowded and often isolated world.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Outcomes - a hated word

On 1 May - May Day, although I did think about it at the time - I carried a post expressing my hatred of the misuse of the word outcomes.

Independently, Lexcen has expressed his dislike on the extension of all this to the phrase "meaningful outcomes". I can only agree with him.

To me, sloppy language means sloppy thinking.

Many years ago in the weeks before I went across from Treasury to the then Department of Industry and Commerce as a second division officer, I received copies of all Branch correspondence. I noticed that all minutes to the Minister were in dot dash format. This was done at the Minister's request. They seemed fine, so I made no comment.

When I got there, I found that this truncated form concealed analytical problems. Thereafter I refused to use the dot dash form. Every minute had to be written in proper English form.

Would I get away with this today? Probably not. Things have become much more rigid. But at the time I did, to the benefit of the minister.


I am going to do a very short series of posts tonight picking up my special interests

Monday, May 21, 2007

Technorati Sucks - Day 343

My thanks to those who commented on the previous post.

By way of explanation, it is now 343 days since Technorati updated this blog. The blog presently rank's 3,260,072 in the world. I have pinged them and recently emailed them. But they won't update.

This is not the only one of my blogs that this has happened to. I need to do something.

I assume that someone from T scans the web. So what I am doing is this. Each day I will ping them. Each day that they fail to update I will run another Technorati sucks post. Let's see how long it takes them to pick it all up and do something about it.

From the big T.

Thanks for the Ping!Technorati will now check for new content. You can bookmark this page and return to it to notify Technorati of updates.

Later - 23 May

Usual check, usual ping, same result!

Twelve hours later. Ditto. I see that a Google search on "Technorati sucks" brings up 1,580 references. I am sure that I will triple this number over the next week or so.

T, all you have to do to stop this campaign is simply check my blog. Let's see how long it takes you!

Test -and the explanation

This post is a test. I will explain later.


Neil kindly pointed out that a number of my posts were missing the comment facility. He was right. Great frustration! I fiddled with posts seeing if I could solve the problem. No luck. All the comment settings seemed okay.

So I posted this test. Yes, the comment section is there. Blowed if I know.

Later again - 23 May

My thanks to Neil for his comment pointing to the link showing that it was a software problem with the new blogger auto save facility. This facility has now been removed.

Mind you, there is an awful irony here.

I was just doing a very full amendment to a post on the Slater & Gordon float. I noticed that auto save was not there, but did not think about it. In the way of the world, there was one of those IE must close messages, and I lost the lot. An hour's work down the drain. Not happy Jan

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Jimmy Barnes and Advance Australia Fair

I had absolutely no intention of posting again tonight. Then I clicked on a video link on Neil's blog.

I rather like this souped up version of Advance Australia Fair. I am including it here just in case there are any readers of this blog who do not already follow Neil!

Technorati Sucks - Day 342

It si now 342 days since Technorati updated this blog. The blog presently rank's 3,260,072 in the world. I have pinged them and recently emailed them. But they won't update.

This is not the only one of my blogs that this has happened to. I need to do something.

I assume that someone from T scans the web. So what I am going to do is this. Each day I will ping them. Each day that they fail to update I will run another Technorati sucks post.Let's see how long it takes them to pick it all up and do something about it.

Mr Howard, the Australian Citizenship Test and the Role of Ridicule

I picked this cartoon up from Snakes on the Plane. I am not sure of the original publication.

In my introductory post on my favourite blogs I suggested that the growing power of blogs and blogging lay in part in the combination of the large number of observers combined with the speed of the transmission process. I went on to say:

Quite simply, the blogosphere will pick up and discuss things far faster than the conventional media or the indeed the political machines. This also holds true in professional areas where blogs have become a major source of information on professional topics. So while most of us individual bloggers have little influence, bloggers as a collective group do have an impact.

I am wondering whether the Australian citizenship test might not be a case in point, submerging Mr Howard's plans under a tide of ridicule.

The initial response when the Government first mooted the idea of the proposed citizenship text was the circulation by people of lists of suggested questions, many very funny indeed.

At 12 am on 18 May the on-line editions of the Australian papers (here and here for example) carried samples of the proposed questions. By then, as best I can work out, there had been more than forty blog posts about the test, most with very similar reactions. Australians are inveterate test takers, so everyone was recording their results. People were also questioning the validity of some of the questions.

In the much smaller world of my favourite blogs, in Aspiring citizens asked to pay Trivial Pursuits - in English Ninglun (Neil) posted the questions, answers and his responses at 3.01 pm on 18 May.

This was the first I had heard of it. I found some of the questions and answers trivial, a few simply wrong in historical terms.

At 12.57 am today, 20 May, Legal Eagle posted her reactions. 12.57am! Leagle Eagle, you are as bad as me, if just at the other end of the day.

As always, Legal Eagle's post is a thoughtful piece, and I commend it to all readers. By now, a blog search shows pages and pages of blog posts on the topic.

Bloggers are not representative of the general Australian population. However, the size and speed of blogger responses on the topic suggest that the Government has a problem, although one arguably reduced by the fact that the Labor opposition had previously locked itself into support for some form of test.

The first popular response to the idea of a test beyond the instinctive Australian tendency to irony was arguably positive. The idea that we should expect our new citizens to have some understanding of Australia seemed hard to argue against. Now that the details are coming out, issues of varying ideology and belief are starting to come into play, along with our continuing sense of the ridiculous.

The test is clearly in trouble. This may not be sufficient to stop it, the Government appears locked in, but the whole issue is shaping up as another problem for them.


I notice from Legal Eagle that the Government is denying that the questions were theirs.

Strewth, mate, you can't believe a bloody thing that you read in the newspapers! Two newspapers in this case. Blowed if I know. But it all smells a bit like a fly blown sheep, if you get the drift.

Speaking of fly blown sheep, here is a question for the new test. Why has PETRA gone to the dags?

Still on questions, the answer to question 1 of Neil's suggested questions is of course c, Jim Belshaw.

Still speaking of questions, I find that my eldest, Helen, has put a list up on her blog. I especially liked question 28.

Is it best to take a sick day on:

a) When the cricket's on
b) When the cricket's on
c) When the cricket's on?

Now that should appeal to John.

Favourite blogs - a note

I have just finished my post on Gordon Smith's photoblog. I had great fun trawling my way through past photos.

One of the reasons why I have decided to do my favourite blogs as a series lay in a disparaging comment about blogs and bloggers from a work colleague. She cannot be bothered with blogs because, in my words, they are all personal wails upon the world.

Now there is some truth in this. But it really misses a key point, that blogs have become an invaluable source of information and enjoyment. So by taking a personal slice across the blogosphere I want to illustrate both diversity and quality.

Having started, I have to discipline myself not to rush to put up posts. I am going to ration myself to around a blog per week. That way I can actually take the time to sample the blogs properly, looking back at past entries.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Belshaw's Favourite Blogs - Gordon Smith's Look and See: a pictorial journal of life in rural Australia

Photo: Gordon Smith, Shearers' Quarters, Hillgrove Station

Gordon Smith's photo blog is one of my all time favourites, one that I visit every day.

Gordon works in IT at the University of New England, Armidale, and lives on a country block some twenty minutes drive to the east of the city.

An inveterate photographer who seems to carry his camera with him everywhere he goes, Gordon posted his first photo on February 29 2004. Since then he has posted nearly every day. This regular posting is one of the blog's attractions because it means that there is always something new.

The photos provide a picture of the life and the countryside on the New England Tablelands with a special focus on the area around Armidale.

For those who do not know the Tablelands, they are a major land form - roughly six hours driving time north-south, three hours east-west - with great variety in scenery from the rugged escarpment in the east to the farming plains of the western slopes.

In the east, the high rainfall escarpment provides the headwaters for major coastal rivers that have cut huge gorge complexes through the ranges, creating spectacular scenery that forms the heart of world heritage listed national parks. In the west, the Tablelands forms a significant part of the Darling River headwaters.

Sadly, the New England Tablelands have receded in Australian popular consciousness.

Sixty years ago, all north-south road and rail traffic between the southern metro cities and Queensland passed through the Tablelands. With the bridging of the coastal rivers, traffic has switched to the coastal route.

The NSW portion of the Great Northern Railway, at its time one of the world's major engineering feats, lies rotting and abandoned, although Queensland has kept its line open to the junction at Wallangarra.

Part of the reason I like Gordon's photos is that they remind me of home. However, you do not need to come from the area to enjoy them. Each photo is accompanied by a short description that makes them accessible to all. I also very much like Gordon's habit of running photos in small series, building a picture of an area or activity.

Return to list of favourite blogs

Hockey, Year 12 and the Purpose of Education

Two hockey matches this morning separated by almost an hour. We left the house at 6.45am, getting back five hours later.

At matches like these parents share their concerns. This is our second year 12, the final year in the NSW Higher School Certificate. It has been far worse than our first. Other parents also complained about the pressure on their daughters.

One parent commented at the way the school now seems to be giving two very different messages.

The official line remains that the HSC is just one stage, that students should not worry too much, that there are other options. However, there is a second, growing, line that emphasises the school's performance on the league tables, the need always to do better on official measurements.

This led to a discussion on the growing incidence of performance and performance measurement in private schools and the adverse effects this was having.

One parent, a lawyer, wondered just what was in the teacher's contracts. Another talked about school hopping, moving into a school to push up exam performance, then moving on to a higher salary in another school to properly capture the individual gains.

One parent expressed her support for national standards, but changed her mind on the spot when other parents pointed out what this might actually mean on the ground.

Another parent commented that business wanted people who could think and were unhappy with the product they were getting. There was general agreement that education needed to be more about education, less about training.

Not one parent was happy with the education their daughters were getting. However, there was little inclination to blame the school. Rather, the focus was on broader systemic problems.

I expressed the view that the education system was like a huge ship. Once underway, it continued in the same direction for an extended period regardless of changed conditions. We just had to suffer until changing parent perceptions were sufficient to force direction change.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Belshaw's Favourite Blogs - Introduction

Note to readers: you will find a list of posts in this series at the end of this post.

This post is all out of kilter in that I did my first favourite, View Italy, before writing this post. Still, a few thoughts on my reasons for starting yet another new series.

There are now some 71 million blogs out there.

We all blog for different reasons. Most of us do not aspire to be A list bloggers. We just want to share things. Yet if you are not on the top list, the world does not beat a path to your door. So many good things get lost in the crowded blogosphere. I want to remedy this in a very small way by pointing to my own preferences.

I read many blogs - over forty at the last count - and for many reasons. Some give me food for the soul. Others intellectual stimulation, professional and personal. Here I use blogs to keep in touch in a professional sense, but also sometimes just to satisfy my curiosity.

Some blogs are just friends, familiar things that I like and am used too.

There have been a number of local radio programs recently talking about the role and influence of blogs and, more broadly, of the internet itself. With a Federal election looming in Australia, many of these discussions have focused on the impact of blogs on the political process.

I think that most of this discussion has missed the true influence of blogs and blogging on that process.

Yes, the fact that media outlets and political parties have established blogs or pseudo blogs is interesting and shows that those involved think that blogs are an important tool, but it says nothing about the impact of those blogs. Very little in many cases.

To me, the true influence of blogs and blogging lies in the combination of two things.

The first is the aggregate number of observers. Each has limited time and a partial view. But the total effect is substantial if hard to measure, rather like a rolling Delphi process. The second is the speed of transmission, the way in which things are picked up and spread.

Quite simply, the blogosphere will pick up and discuss things far faster than the conventional media or the indeed the political machines. This also holds true in professional areas where blogs have become a major source of information on professional topics.

So while most of us individual bloggers have little influence, bloggers as a collective group do have an impact.

The blogs that I like reflect my varied interests and span many different areas. Not all will be of general interest, but I hope that each will be of interest to some.

Posts in this series

Blog Milestones

Photo: Italian politician at rest. View Italy.

We bloggers are always interested in our visitors and in visitor milestones.

Earlier in May I provided an overview of the various blogs and web sites I am involved with. At that time Managing the Professional Services Firm had had 7,968 visitors. Well, visitor 8,000 arrived during the week, so the next target is 9,000.

The next few days should see another small milestone, visitor 4,000 on the Regional Living blog, while this blog should pass 13,000. After that, there will be a gap to the next milestone.

Back in April I complained about Technorati's continued failure to check this site. I did email them as suggested, but still no luck. Ah well.


19 May. Visitor 4,000 has just arrived on Regional Living. Someone from the UK who searched on lemon phase beardies!

A little later visitor 13,000 arrived on this blog. They came from the View Italy blog having first done a search on that blog on Italian vacations. I gave added a photo from one of the stories.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Meeting our Tigers

I have to thank Legal Eagle for alerting me to this series from Pravda on swimming tigers.

How would you like to meet this underwater? I shuddered. But its a bit like depression. Our tigers come with us even when we think that we have escaped!

The Depression Series

Well, I have now completed the depression series on the Managing the Professional Services Firm blog, including insertion of a full list of posts at the end of each post.

Series like this take a fair bit of time. In writing, I have tried to write from a firm management perspective, suggesting better ways of managing the problem in the work place. The posts have a law firm focus, but the issues and suggestions are (I hope) of general application. I would like to think that series like this make a small but useful contribution to improved management of a growing problem.

For those who are interested, I suggest that you start with my first post on the management of performance problems in the workplace since this sets a context and then follow the series through. The list of posts at the end of each post should make this easy.

My thanks to Neil for his plug, and to Adrian and Legal Eagle for their initial comments on the Wednesday Forum discussion on depression. Legal Eagle also gave the series an earlier plug.

Both Adrian and Legal Eagle have had direct experience with the problem. Most people have had some contact with depression and indeed some depression is a normal part of life. The problem arises when it becomes a debilitating condition.

I will respond to their comments later on the Forum. But I have to cook tea first!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Wednesday Forum on Depression - comments sought

I have been writing a series on depression on the Managing the Professional Services Firm site.

While I still have to complete this, I hope to do so tomorrow, I plan in any case to run a Wednesday Forum on the MPSF site on the issue with a post tomorrow night Australian time. I mention this because it is an important issue and I am looking for comments.

The original idea of the Wednesday Forums was to provide a platform for comment on specific issues. This did not work very well simply because so many visitors come in from external links or web searches. This makes it hard to generate discussion.

I hope this time to do better!

The Australian Education Debate - - of international significance?

For the benefit of international readers, the looming Australian Federal election has brought to a head a growing but long overdue debate about future directions in Australian education.

My feeling is that the issues in the debate are likely to be of interest not just to Australians but to all those with an interest in education.

So far I have not commented because I have been trying to structure issues in my mind. One of the problems with Australia's supermarket approach to public policy and politics is that it is very easy to get lost in detail, to fail to see patterns and implications. I think that there is a real risk of this happening on the education side.

I will comment. In the meantime, Neil's (Ninglun's) posts provide an interesting introduction to some of the issues, accepting that Neil is writing from a particular perspective.

ABC TV's Bastard Boys - a great view

I really enjoyed ABC TV's mini series, the Bastard Boys.

For the benefit of those outside Australia it tells the story of a large and complicated 1997 industrial dispute that helped reshape Australia's water front. The story had everything moving from the docks to Parliament to the courts.

Looking at the complaints since, the dramatic presentation appears to have satisfied none of the original cast. Each, and especially Bill Kelty, may have a point. But looked at as a drama I thought that it was remarkably well done, simplifying a very complex story and also making the participant's human.


I failed to pick up that Neil had included a comment on this in one of his posts. I refer to the dispute as 1997. It began in 1997 but extended into 1998.Neil has a link to a site that gives some additional information. Unfortunately many of the links on this site have expired with time, but the links to the various court judgements are still live.

This, the expiry of links, is a real problem that I have been meaning to write about for some time. It links to another broader problem, the preservation/archiving of material.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Climate Change Revisited - very briefly

Those who read this blog will know that while I am cautious about climate change arguments, I am not a climate change sceptic as such. However, I am very cautious about the way in which the now dominant view seems to be twisting analysis.

I caught the tail end of a radio program today that exactly expressed my concerns. The person interviewed apparently participated in the recent expert group process.

These international processes work by discussion and consensus, an apparently democratic process. He described the recent process as being like democracy in a one party state.

He suggested, a view that has apparently also been put forward by the head of the OECD's economics department, that there should be a team B, a scientific group whose role was to be sceptical, to look at alternative views.

I must say that this resonated with me. I would be a lot more comfortable if I could see all the arguments, if I did not feel that a dominant position was twisting the scientific debate.

Note I say scientific. The core of the debate is scientific and must be dealt with in that way.


I had to grin.

Now that Rupert Murdoch has decided to take News Corporation carbon neutral, I wondered how the climate sceptics on Mr Murdoch's Australian papers would react. I see that both Tim Blair and Piers Ackerman have reaffirmed their position notwithstanding the News' stance, although I thought that they were both a tad uncomfortable!

Personal Reflections - On Blogs

Back in the dim and distant past, 1 May in fact!, I said that I was taking a short break from posting in part to read other people's blogs.

Looking back, it seems to have been a very short break indeed. But I did get a chance to catch up to some degree at least.

I do enjoy other's writing. It takes me in directions that I would never otherwise go. Revisiting blogging friends has been a great pleasure.

Partially as a consequence, I have decided that I should feature one of my favourite blogs every week or so, as well as some of the stories that I have really liked.

My first story featured David's View Italy blog, one of my continuing favourites. There are many others to come.

I find with blogs that each develops its own style reflecting the varied interests of the writer. This is, of course, part of the fascination of blogging. Long may it continue!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My Favourite Blogs - David Anderson's View Italy

Photo: Agriturismo Casa Caponetti – Wine, Olive Oil, Cooking School in Northern Lazio

What's the point in having a blog if you cannot shamelessly promote your friends?

Seriously, though, David Anderson's View Italy remains one of my favourite blogs because of the way it brings out the texture of Italian life.

One of the features of Italy remains the provincial differences across the country, differences deeply rooted in history and geography. This sense of difference, of history, remains one of Italy's enduring attractions.

Unlike Australia where too many of our regions want to measure themselves in some way against perceived national norms and therefore blur their differences, Italians seem to take continuing pride in their unique regional features. We can see the attraction of this in the way that my wife's own Sydney family has been effectively captured by Tuscany.

David brings these differences out. I especially like the way he sometimes features areas that I know nothing about, areas outside the immediate tourist net.

If I had a suggestion, I would like to see (and this reflects my own biases) a little more history in the posts to help set a context. But this is a minor point. View Italy is simply a great blog.

Return to list of favourite blogs

Friday, May 11, 2007

Introducing Belshaw's various blogs and web sites

Anybody who reads this blog will know that I have a number of blogs and web sites.

They all started with a logical purpose, but have become mixed together to some degree simply because topics and interests overlap. Recently I have been struggling to maintain them properly because of other pressures. As a consequence, I have missed some significant anniversaries and milestones. I thought therefore that I should provide you with an overview, in so doing also consolidating my own thoughts.

My first on-line endeavour was the creation of the Ndarala Group web site. Back of this is an extranet that I also try to maintain.

Ndarala is a cooperative network of independent management related professional practices and professionals. Our mission is to help the independent achieve their professional, personal and business objectives through cooperation while retaining true professional and business independence.

The Ndarala web site links to two management related blogs.

I began Managing the Professional Services Firm on 3 July last year (2006). A significant proportion of my own work as a manager and as a strategic consultant has taken place within this sector, while it is also of interest to my Ndarala colleagues. So we saw this blog with its focus on improving management in professional services as a natural extension of our work.

Since then there have been 133 posts, while the blog has had 7,968 visitors, so should click through 8,000 shortly. The blog has been quite well received professionally, something that gives me personal satisfaction, with click through from links on other sites a major source of traffic.

The second Ndarala blog began on 7 November 2006 as the Ndarala Group blog but has since been renamed Management Perspectives to better reflect its scope.

Initially we saw this blog as a way of encouraging conversation within the Group while also presenting Ndarala material and experience to a broader audience, material that could later be consolidated on the main web site. Fifty six posts, 3,491 visitors, later we are still feeling our way as to best direction.

I have found this with all the blogs. I think that all bloggers start with a very general idea as to what they want to do, then evolve through experience. I think with Management Perspectives that the blog is only now getting to the point that it is starting to take identifiable form.

One particular frustration here is that my colleagues, all busy, have not been able to properly generate supporting content. We presently have fifty seven professionals working across professional fields and and industry sectors in five countries. They are doing some fascinating stuff that deserves greater exposure, but time is always the issue.

The Group web site plus the two blogs form one Ndarala linked management related suite of sites. There is a second, very different, suite.

Back in 2004, Ndarala became a major sponsor of Country Week, a promotion intended to convince Sydney residents of the virtues of regional NSW for work, life and play. We did so because a number of our people worked in regional NSW and were interested in regional and community development.

As part of this process, we identified a major problem with access to information about life in Regional Australia generally.

At first we tried to meet this need through a section on the Group web site, but this was not very effective. This then led to the launch of the Regional Living Australia web site in April 2006 to provide an entry portal showcasing the interest and diversity of life in Regional Australia.

On 23 July 2006 - this was a busy blogging month - I started the Regional Living Australia blog to support the main site. Again, the idea was to use the blog to cover things not suited to the main site and to build up content for that site.

I have found it remarkably difficult to make this blog work. The very diversity that I am trying to promote is also the blog's curse. Part travelogue, part guide to regional living, the wide range of topics makes it hard to keep a clear focus. I also keep being distracted into interesting by ways.

Still, after 115 posts, 3,933 visitors, the blog is starting to take form. Pleasingly, there has recently been a steady increase in traffic.

New England Australia began on 8 April 2006 as a strictly personal blog. I described it in this way in my first post: This blog is dedicated to the history, culture and activities of the New England region of Australia.

I am happy with this blog. So far I have put up 147 posts and have begun to build a solid core of content. I have also built reasonable visitor numbers, with 7,205 visits so far. I have also found a helpful interface between this and the Regional Living blog because of common issues.

One problem that did emerge with the New England blog was that I found that the New England history theme, a core interest of mine, was becoming submerged. This led to the creation on 24 November 2006 of New England's History as a special purpose blog.

With only 19 posts, 228 visits, this is the cinderella blog. I thought about killing it, then decided to maintain it just for my own purposes. Having it there forces me to make posts from time to time, thus keeping some historical focus.

The final blog, this one, is my oldest and most active blog.

I began on 19 March 2006 as an experiment to test blogging, only to become addicted. Since then I have written an astonishing 286 posts, 287 counting this one.

At 12,777, visitor numbers have been reasonable. However, the real joy from this blog has come from the intellectual stimulation and the personal interaction with people that I have never met but now think of as friends. I do not have many regular readers, but I really value those that I do have.

So many sites, too little time.

Recently I have had to think very seriously about just what I can do in the now very limited time that I have. There have been days when the need to keep up has made blogging a chore rather than a pleasure. Then there are the other things that I should be doing, including just maintaining my ordinary email traffic.

I have yet to work out a clear answer here. It's not just maintaining what I have. I know that there are many things that I can and would like to do too build from the current base. So I am experimenting with different approaches just to see what is possible. I will report on those that work.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Activity, Change and a Sense of Weariness

In an earlier post I suggested that Australia and indeed other countries needed to take a cold shower to wake them up from the constant obsession with doing better, going faster. I suggested that the human cost was becoming just too high, the overall results too negative.

It has become a modern truism that we live at a time of great change. There is no doubt that this is true, but it's not the whole story.

The current Australian Howard Government has been in power for twelve years. We know that there have been many changes in this time. Yet if we look back, every equivalent twelve year has been marked by great change. To illustrate.

The period 1900 to 1912 saw Federation, one of the most significant events in Australia's short history. It also saw the worst drought in Australia's history, worse in fact than the one we have just experienced.

Then in 1913 to 1925 we had the Great War as well as a huge worldwide influenza pandemic. 1926-1938 saw depression, 1939 - 1951 War, cold war and the start of the mass migration program, a huge social engineering experiment that would transform Australian society over the following twelve year period.

The period 1952 to 1964 was a period of relative stability. Still, we have a few wars including the start of the Vietnam war, the emergence of flower power, the Columbo Plan and the beginning of the end of white Australia. Then 1965 to 1977 saw Vietnam, the dismissal, oil shocks and world wide recession, the beginning of the end of the welfare state. And so it goes on.

Compared to the past, the Howard years have been a pussy cat. Yet many people feel a continuing sense of weariness, a sense that things are not quite right. Mr Howard himself has tried to capture this, to present himself as a stable figure in the midst of change.

In a post last September, Migration Matters - End of Consensus, I talked about the end of the Australian social contract. I also referred to Toffler's 1970 book Future Shock.

Toffler's key point was a simple one. Each real decision imposed strain. Human beings could only make so many decisions before the capacity to decide started shutting down. So, and this is 1970, the pace of change was outrunning people's capacity to adjust.

Two thing have happened since 1970.

The first is the loss of the traditional verities, the pillars supporting Australian society.

I am not saying that this is right or wrong. Personally, I do not want to go back to some of those verities. The point is that this loss increases strain because it increases the range and complexities of the things on which we must decide.

The second is Government's increased desire to tinker, to change things, thus forcing continual variations in people's responses and day to day life. Leave aside the effect this has on the effectiveness of policy. My point at the moment is that this adds to our weariness.

One of my core professional skills is that of change agent. I know that because change involves personal costs, the process has to be handled with care if it is to be effective. We no longer do this. We simply expect people to adjust to change. And this does not work.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Australian Budget 2007 - initial reactions

Well, I said in my first post on the latest Australian budget that I was not going to make a detailed comment until I after the dust had settled. That remains true, but there has been so much comment today that I could not resist an initial comment.

This is a very modern budget, one set firmly within the parameters dictated by modern approaches to public administration and policy. This, as those who read this blog on a regular basis will know, is not necessarily a compliment. It is also a very complex and clever budget.

The problem, as always, lies in the detail. Here we can make a clear distinction between what is done and the way in which it is done. As commentators have dug down today, some of the problems have begun to emerge.

Take the future fund for higher education. This strikes me as a good idea, although it is not the fresh, newly minted, idea that the Treasurer would have us believe. After all, the idea that Governments should create sinking funds to meet future needs is in fact very old. That said, there are now some clear problems with the application of the the fund approach.

Let me take just one example.

Funding from the fund will be subject to competitive principles based on criteria laid down by the Government with the final decision made by the Minister. Fair enough perhaps.

But the PM said today, as an example, that one criterion might be the matching funding raised from the private sector. This immediately builds in a bias in favour of older institutions with more alumni and a location near private funding sources. I don't think that this is a good thing.

I will continue to monitor. Then I think that I might focus my comments on the dynamics introduced by this budget.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Australian Budget 2007 - an international perspective

I have just listened to the Australian Treasurer, Peter Costello, deliver the Australian Government budget for 2007-2008.

The media will be absolutely full of it for the next few days. For that reason, I will leave any detailed comment until after the dust has settled. In the meantime, I thought that I should make a few comments from an international perspective.

In 1964 Donald Horne coined the phrase "a lucky country". He mean the phrase ironically. In his own words:

In a hot summer's night in December 1964 I was about to write the last chapter of a book on Australia. The opening sentence of this last chapter was: 'Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck.'

Australians took the phrase "a lucky country" literally, something that distressed Donald Horne as it did some others. Something of this comes through in the wording of the link I gave.

I have never accepted Horne's view of Australia's people or those who run the country. But there can be no doubt that we have indeed been a lucky country. Consider this.

We have now had 15 years sustained economic expansion. This has allowed repayment of Government debt to the point that many in the finance sector actually want the Government to issue new securities because they need secure Government securities to underpin, benchmark, capital markets.

The Australian Government has run consistent budget surpluses. Even after this year's election linked spend, the projected surplus next financial year is one per cent of GDP. Compare this to the US where the Government is presently running a a deficit of three per cent of GDP.

The continued growth in Australia's gross wealth has begun a profound change in Australia's power position.

Australia is just two per cent of the global economy, a tiny percentage. Yet the Australian dollar has become of the world's top five traded currencies.

Australian military forces are serving in a variety of theatres, but we still have a budget surplus. We are buying more military equipment and will do so to whatever degree is required to achieve our single most important strategic objective, maintenance of superiority when it comes to the immediate defence of the Australian mainland. So far, we can afford to do this.

Now the Government is investing current funds to ensure that we meet future needs.

The Future Fund was created to meet future unfunded public service superannuation liabilities. With that in place, the Government is creating a $15 billion endowment fund to pay for future higher education capital costs.

I suspect few Australians realise the significance of these moves. In essence, we are behaving like an oil country, saving now to meet future needs once the oil runs out.

Now before anyone thinks that I am making a statement in support of the current Government, although I reserve the right to change my mind here at a later point, I have no doubt that the Labor Party would manage the economy in an okay fashion.

All this sounds great. Why, then, am I worried?

I think that part of my concern lies in what I perceive to be Australian arrogance.

Australia is a big power in its immediate region. We behave like a big firm in a small town, carrying a local arrogance into a bigger environment where it is simply not warranted.

A second part of my concern lies in an uncertainly that we are in fact doing what is required to take advantage of the window we have been given. This is where I need to look at the budget details.

As I write I see that Neil recommends that we listen to classic FM rather than the Treasurer. Tsk, Tsk!

Many of the things announced tonight will set the parameters in just the areas that Neil us interested in. Labor may change things, but they are also going to end up accepting many of the parameters now set. So we commentators need to focus.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Eightieth Birthdays, the Granite Belt and New England

Photo: Bellandean Lodge, Front View

I am still on official strike so far as blogging is concerned. But I will be getting back into it!

I am just back from my wife's uncle's eightieth birthday party. The family decided to hold it in the middle of the Queensland Granite Belt wineries.

For those who do not know this area, the New England Tablelands extends past the Queensland border into southern Queensland. This part of the Tablelands is Queensland's main wine growing area. The place where we stayed is shown in the photo above.

While I had driven through the area a number of times, this was the first time I had stayed there since 1982. I was astonished at the development.

In 1982 there were I think just eight wineries. I visited them all over the weekend I was there. Now there are more than forty eight, of whom some forty have cellar door outlets. There are also all the trappings associated with a significant tourist area.

I have enough material to write half a dozen stories across several blogs and will do so. But I have to regather my strength first!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Australia - and other countries too - need a cold shower

I have had to be very disciplined during my short break from posting not to post. There have been many things I wanted to comment on.

One of the reasons I have taken the short break from posting has been the need to catch up on posts on some other of my blogs and especially Managing the Professional Services Firm. There I have been writing some posts on depression.

One of the things I felt while writing is that Australia and some other western countries at least needed to take a cold shower to wake them up from the constant obsession with doing better, going faster. The human cost is becoming just too high, the overall results too negative.

This actually links across a number of the things that I have tried to write about, from my concerns about performance pay for teachers to broader problems in management, education, public administration and public policy.

We need to stop and take a fundamental look at what we are doing and, more importantly, why we are doing it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A Short Break

I have decided to take a short break from posting to allow me to catch up on other things. This includes actually reading some of my favourite blogs!

Outcomes - a much abused word

I use the word outcomes a fair bit myself. However, I am finding the misuse of the word increasingly jarring.

The word outcomes acquired its modern usage in the context of the new models of public administration with their emphasis on inputs, outputs and outcomes. Defined in this way, the word is a useful technical term.

My objection to current usage is the way in which outcomes has come to be used as a substitute for that good old fashioned English word results. This is both bad English and sloppy thinking.

Bad English because results is simply a cleaner and shorter word. Sloppy thinking because the results that people refer to when they use the word outcomes are often not outcomes in the technical sense at all but outputs.

I have decided at a personal level to cease using the word outcomes unless the context demands it. The result,I hope, will be some reinstatement of the word result!