Thursday, November 03, 2011

Competition, Charles Darwin & our heroin corporate culture

I  mentioned (Damn the interneteratti) that Google's changes to its reader had forced Neil Whitfield (Ninglun) to abandon the reader that so many of us followed. Now Neil has responded by creating a new blog in its place - Neil's daily readings. It won't be quite the same, more single lines, but it will be at least a partial substitute to the lost reader.

Addendum: Neil has already decided to stop his Daily Readings, thinking that he can cover it on his main blog. I see his point, but still sigh! All this is an outcome of the process I referred to in Damn the interneteratti. This is a criticism of Google, not Neil. I really am going to miss Neil's original Google reader. 

Over at Stumbling on Melons, Marcellous in a rush of writing posted twice on the same day. The two very different posts cover two of the themes in Marcellous's life, music and writing.

A startling statement deals with an aspect of Justice Ward's decision in the Australian Receivables Ltd v Tekitu Pty Ltd (Subject to Deed of Company Arrangement) (Deed Administrators Appointed) & ors [2011] NSWSC 1306. Marcellous quotes part of Justice Ward's decision as follows:

Common law damages for breach of a contractual warranty will not be awarded to a party who has not relied on the alleged truth of the warranty because in those circumstances the breach of warranty is not causative of any loss.

If I understand this correctly, it does appear to represent a significant change. On the surface, it is not sufficient to have a breached contractual warranty. You have to show that you relied on that warranty and suffered loss as a consequence.

Did Charles Darwin really say that? deals with one aspect of a speech by Lyndon Terracini, artistic director of Opera Australia. Marcellous focuses on aspect, a "quote" from Charles Darwin: 'I’m reminded of what Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest that survive, or the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change”.'

The quote caught my attention for reasons that I will explain in a moment. However, I clicked through to the original story (the link is in M's post) where my attention was caught by something else, Mr Terracini's analysis of the implications of demographic change for Opera Australia's performance.

His argument seems to run this way. There has been significant demographic change on Australia's Eastern Seaboard. Opera Australia has not responded to this and especially the rise of the Asian communities. Opera Australia needs to respond to this by presenting Asian material in Asian style. Just as previous migration had affected Australian food doing away with meat and three veg, so the Australian approach to culture needed to change.

I have no especial problem with Mr Terracini's approach. At one level, it sounds a bit like the old SBS approach, provide a foreign dab here, one there. SBS material was greatly welcomed by individual migrant groups because of the way it aided access to language and home. However, in so doing the network failed to attract a significant mainstream audience. It also found it difficult to accommodate the ever increasing diversity in Australia's ethnic mix. Even now, it has a Europe bias, although I now think that it actually does rather well.

Unlike SBS which attempted to use broadcast to reach what was a narrow cast audience, Opera Australia is already a narrow cast niche artistic form despite the company's attempts to broaden its appeal. It may be that there are now sufficient Chinese or Korean citizens to provide an audience base with the addition of those in the broader community who might be interested to see new forms. Still, I would have thought that it was a courageous decision, especially if driven by Mr Terracini's view of what is culturally appropriate in a changing Australia.

Ironically, Mr Terracini's comments on food come at a time of resurgent retro interest in Australia's tradition cuisine. Problems of obesity and malnutrition have re-ignited interest in the simple balanced diet, while nostalgia has also played a role.

I first spotted this trend four or five years ago and it's gathering strength. It's not that it is replacing later dishes. Rather, it is an interesting re-balancing.

I said that I would come back to Mr Terracini's "quote" from Charles Darwin  - the word "quote' is in inverted commas because Marcellous suggests that its not a quote at all.

One of the saddest and most pernicious aspects of the current obsession with competition, with the Darwinian idea that It is not the strongest that survive, or the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change, lies in the idea that change is of itself a good thing, that organisations must constantly strive to improve market position.

It is sad but true that that the majority of changes do not deliver the desired results. Change involves risks: the majority of changes do not achieve the desired results. In their constant obsession with improvement and improved position, too many organisations and their dominant leaders actually destroy the very things they are seeking to build.

As I write, Macquarie University has announced that it's doing away with honours degrees, replacing the one year honours degree with a two year masters. At macro level, the University believes that this will help it compete. At a micro level, it has created problems in the Belshaw household.

Youngest started at Macquarie with the intention of doing an honours degree in ancient history. Then her interests took her in new directions. Just a random photo because I wanted one.  Clare on left.

We have been trying to encourage Clare to continue with honours because we thought that it would give her better longer term choices and also played to her interests. We don't know what the Macquarie changes mean, but as reported our plans have just hit the dust.

This a small personal example, but it is repeated across the board. In a way, the current approach to competition, change and instant results has created what we might call a heroin culture focused on immediate gratification.

The organisational world - public and private - is littered with the carcases of once great organisations. The victims are buried in unmarked graves, dead or taken over. The living dance like whirling dervishes in a hashish induced frenzy until exhausted they, too, collapse. 

Sadly, no one has yet invented the organisational equivalent of a safe injecting room!         

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