Apologies

There’s a quality that doesn’t come out in CVs that with time I find more and more essential in the workplace. That quality is the ability and willingness to admit fault and apologise.

I’m not sure whether the trait is becoming less prevalent as society changes; or whether I’m becoming more aware with time of its lacking.

Knowing when you’re wrong, acknowledging when you’re wrong. These traits are hugely important in building strong relationships with colleagues, clients and suppliers.

As for knowing when you’re wrong, I don’t think there are too many problems here. People generally know when they’re at fault. They may lie to themselves in order to create a version of reality that they can portray to the outside world. But usually, deep within, they’ll be conscious that they screwed up. No, it’s the acknowledgment of the error that is at issue.

I’ve worked with a few people in my career to date, both male and female, who are hopeless at this. Sometimes, even when the fault is clear for the world to see, the admission and the apology don’t come.

And I think there are two related issues at play: the human aspect and the career aspect.

First, the human side. People simply want to save face. Human nature is to be as good as you can be. And admitting error shows that you’ve failed somewhere. How on earth can that be good?

And second, the career aspect. Making an error might go against you in the promotion rounds. It might mean your contract isn’t extended. Or worse, if significant enough, it might mean you’re terminated. The workplace can be highly charged and competitive. And it’s often not easy to step up on this front.

But everyone makes mistakes. And once the mistake has been made, the stronger person is the one that admits to it and faces its consequences, as opposed to the one that hides behind falsehood.

Often, admission of blame sets things up for an open and honest discussion about how best to proceed. It’s amazing sometimes to see how this plays out. Try it. Before the apology, there’s an error that no one’s admitting to, which can create a highly charged, confrontational environment. Throw in the apology, and suddenly the confrontation disappears. Often, the other person is slightly thrown by the admission, and it creates a pleasing atmosphere, for both them and you. The change can be massive, and is often instant.

Failure to admit error delays the resolution of the issue at hand. It creates animosity between the parties involved. And it taints their relationship going forward—both with one another and with you.

On the odd occasion, I’ll even apologise when I’m *not* at fault. It’s generally an apology on behalf of a department or business unit. But it comes from me, and is worded in the first person. In these instances, I consider the benefit of a smoothed path outweighs the personal drawback of stepping into the frame.

So go on. Try it. As well as being the right thing to do, it can be rather therapeutic.

Backhanded compliments? The non-committal adjectives used to describe Maggie

Below is a selection of the delightful non-committal adjectives used to describe Margaret Thatcher in the period immediately following her death.

David Cameron:

an “extraordinary leader and an extraordinary woman”

Ed Miliband:

“Margaret Thatcher was a unique and towering figure”

a “unique figure” who “reshaped the politics of a whole generation”

Lady Thatcher’s beliefs were “rooted in people’s everyday lives”

Lady Thatcher “broke the mould”

Nick Clegg:

“the memory of her will continue undimmed, strong and clear for years to come”

“Margaret Thatcher was one of the defining figures in modern British politics. Whatever side of the political debate you stand on, no-one can deny that as prime minister she left a unique and lasting imprint on the country she served.”

Cheryl Gillan, former Conservative MP:

“may not see the like of Lady Thatcher again in our lifetime”

Lord Hill of Oareford:

“I think we all agree she made a huge difference to the country she loved”

Alex Salmond:

a “truly formidable prime minister whose policies defined a political generation”

Tony Blair:

a “towering political figure”

And finally, a more obviously complimentary one.

Patrick Wintour, political editor of the Guardian:

“She had beautiful hands and lovely ankles”

 

 

Boris Johnson: disbelief

I met Boris Johnson once. Indeed, I presented to him.

It was 1998, if I remember. I was in my mid-twenties. We’d undertaken a survey of the Spectator magazine’s readership base. And I had analysed the responses.

I arrived by cab with a couple of colleagues at a little terraced house north of Chancery Lane, the Spectator’s offices. And we were shuffled off into a room that might arguably be advertised as a bedroom, were the property put on the market as a family house.

We set up the projector, and various people shuffled in, columnists and the like. There were probably six or seven of the Spectator’s elite, all here to listen to what I had to say. Amongst them: Boris Johnson and Petronella Wyatt. This all before their affair hit the papers in 2004.

And it was all rather surreal. I wasn’t fazed in the slightest. I simply reported on what their readers had told us they liked, disliked, read, didn’t read in their beloved magazine. And as I remember, the response rate was phenomenal, such was the loyalty and commitment of its readership.

And no one believed a word I had to say. They all knew better about what the readers liked than the data suggested. I particularly remember Boris huffing and puffing over readers’ alleged favourite columns. And then it was over. Boris left early, either to attend another appointment or in utter disgust at what I had to say. The former, I hope.

Watching him on TV this evening, his manner hasn’t changed a jot.

Subscribing to news threads

There is, in my opinion, something quite fundamental missing from online news services. Maybe it’s there and I’m not aware of it. Or maybe it genuinely is missing.

I’d like to register an interest in a news story. And I’d like to be actively kept abreast of developments in that news story.

There are certain stories that have a timeline, most notably those involving the judicial system. Someone is killed, someone is arrested in connection with that murder, they’re released and bailed, a second person is later arrested and charged, there is a trial, a conviction etc.

And people are declared ill, their illness progresses, either positively or otherwise, and each key moment carries a news story.

I’d like to be able to subscribe to a news thread in which I’m interested. And I’d like to be pushed updates to that news thread, whether those updates are days, weeks, months or years later. I’d rather not rely on actively pulling the news on the day on which the story evolves.

The feature would rely on the news outlet (likely the BBC) deciding whether a story was related to an earlier news story. But I trust them to do this. I trust them to link together the Jimmy Savile–related investigations, those of the Huhne–Pryce story, the horsemeat saga, the phone hacking fiasco etc.

Does this service exist? And if not, should it?

On a related topic, there are some stories that simply end prematurely. The news breaks, but there is no follow-up. It’s more prevalent in the lower-profile local news. But it’s frustrating to say the least.

One notable example in my life was the cycling accident that occurred near Clapham Common on 10 October. Save my own blogpost, there was only one story of the accident at the time, in the Wandsworth Guardian. It spoke of the possibility that the cyclist might lose the use of her arm as a result of the injuries she suffered.

I would very much like to read of her progress.

Flickr vs. Instagram (loosely)

Over the last couple of days, everyone’s on Instagram’s back. As of 16 January, they are allegedly changing their terms of use such that advertisers can sell the photos you upload for their own profit, but you are responsible if their doing so contravenes any laws.

So people are lauding Flickr, suggesting that they’ll switch to it by way of protest, or as a more acceptable way of storing their photos.

But here’s the rub. Flickr’s a crock of shit.

OK. I’m being harsh. Here’s the reality, for me at least.

Flickr is a wonderful repository. It allows me to use a relatively intuitive user interface to upload my photos (and videos under 90 seconds in length). And it allows me to share these with fellow Flickr users that I deem to be either Family or Friends. I can tag stuff, group stuff, and map stuff. All rather lovely. (The 90-second cut-off is rather limiting and irksome, but not a major annoyance.)

It also has an add-on called Picnik that allows me to do some basic edits to the photos: cropping, filtering, rotating, removing red-eye etc.

But it’s not the storing of images that I have an issue with. My issue is with the user experience of the viewer. It’s appalling.

First, my friends and family. They must be Flickr account holders. In a day when Facebook is becoming the de facto standard for online identity (at least for social stuff), this is criminal.

My mum doesn’t want a Flickr account. And I want to share my photos with people I know, love and trust without forcing them to sign up to another service. I would estimate that 90% of the people I want to share my photos with have no interest in having a Flickr account.

And once they’re in, my view is that the user experience is at best, poor. My photos are presented to those I share them with sequentially, linearly. The first page shows my five most recent photos, all nice and big. If I flick to page two or beyond, the pictures become smaller, the 18 photos per page becoming more akin to a set of Windows Explorer thumbnails than anything more inviting.

I can click on any photo to access more sharing options, see where it was taken or to access a higher resolution version of the image. But it’s all so very functional.

To the viewer, the Flickr website has changed little in the four and a half years since I became a pro member, and changed little in the three or so years before that when I was a non-paying customer. It’s vanilla. It’s linear. It’s functional. It doesn’t embrace the user and take them on a journey. It doesn’t give the user the sense that they are experiencing the event, the concert, the playground, the dinner, the airshow, the beach walk with the user.

And it should. Yahoo! has the ability to bring photos to life, to create an absorbing experience that people want to come back to again and again. Montages, full-screen slideshows by default. It has the ability to exploit Facebook’s credentials (and user base) to draw people into its service, while at the same time converting an increased number of users into its premium service to pay for the platform.

Or else Flickr can continue being left behind by its competitors and, with time, become a relic of the internet.

I only hope you’re reading, Marissa.

White people warned over December car insurance rise

White people are being urged to check their car insurance ahead of a new rule coming into force next month which will ban firms from taking ethnicity into account.

It means white drivers will see their premiums go up by as much as 25% after 21 December.

Stacey Harris already has three jobs. The 18-year-old works in a baby shop, sells jewellery over the internet and receives advertising money for beauty and fashion videos she posts online. “I’m spending all of my wages on my car,” she says.

From 21 December, insurance firms in the UK will be banned from taking ethnicity into account. At the moment white people pay less for car cover, so their premiums will rise to bring them in line with what ethnic minorities pay. Statistics indicate that ethnic minorities are more likely to have accidents than are white people.

It’s thought white people will have to pay around 25% extra. Nineteen-year-old Stacey Harris doesn’t think that’s fair. “I’ve been driving a year now and I’ve had no crashes and no claims, so I should be rewarded,” she says. “It shouldn’t be going up for me, it should be going down.”

“For many years, insurers have charged ethnic minorities much higher premiums than white people because they are so much more likely to make expensive insurance claims,” a spokesperson for Secure Drive Insurance explained. “Calculating premiums based on that risk is fair and it works,” he said. “But it has been abandoned in favour of ethnic equality, which is ludicrous.”

This article has been paraphrased and embellished (only slightly) from various articles on the subject of new legislation coming into effect banning insurance companies from discriminating based on gender. The term female has been replaced by white, and the term male with ethnic minorities. These key changes mean that any statements therein are no longer true. But it reads rather badly now, doesn’t it?

The original articles can be found here and here.

What makes news news?

The BBC’s news coverage of Hurricane Sandy has been exemplary. But on tonight’s news, they have repeatedly referred to the 30 deaths that the hurricane has caused.

They of course mean US deaths, a number that now sits at 39, plus one in Canada. For one reason or another, they are not mentioning the 68 deaths at the hands of the hurricane in the Caribbean, 52 of which occurred in Haiti, a further 11 in Cuba.

If Sandy had not made landfall on the US or Canadian mainland, the news coverage would have been minimal. Yet it’s likely that the mainland deaths will be comparable in number to those suffered in the Caribbean.

I guess various factors influence the coverage that the hurricane receives as a result of its US landfall. The US is a comparable nation to the UK, in ideologies, in language (mostly), in development. Brits have been to New York on holiday. We know the US from the TV programmes and films that we watch.

I find it quite saddening really. The newsworthiness of weather is not measured purely in terms of its impact on those living through the disaster. It is also measured based on the connection that the intended audience feels towards the disaster’s victims.

Morgan Freeman is alive and well. And other such hocum

The other week, someone (on Facebook I think it was) “Liked” a picture of a dog in trouble. The dog was seemingly being rescued from freezing-cold waters by people holding out a ladder, trying to drag it back to safety.

The caption on the photo read as follows:

Like this photo if you would rescue this dog. Ignore it if you don’t care.

I ignored it. And it has troubled me ever since.*

Occasionally, I’ll receive an all-too-long email, usually from someone dear to me, asking me to forward it to a specified number of friends to bring good luck to both them and me, and quite likely the person who sent it to me. (Wow, this month has five Mondays, five Tuesdays and five Wednesdays. The first time since the Gregorian calendar was introduced.**)

I always ignore them.

And all too frequently, a post will appear on Facebook with the words “R.I.P Morgan Freeman” (it’s always Morgan Freeman, and there’s never a full stop after the P). The latest one has been Liked 1,438,643 times, has 378,778 comments and has been shared a staggering 61,344 times.

I’ve ignored it. It’s not because I don’t like the man. I genuinely rate him as an actor. It’s because I’m quite certain he’s not dead. So suggesting that he rests in peace, at this stage in his life, would literally be a death wish.

There are similar variants. “Press L to see what happens next” is a common one. (L, coincidentally, is the Facebook shortcut for liking a post, btw. If you press L, nothing appears to happen, and you soon move on to look at some pictures of cute cats. (Cue lolz.) Meanwhile, the Like count has just incremented by one.)

I’m not sure whether their purpose is in aid of vanity by those that post them, or advertising revenue to the same. Either way, they highlight the gullibility of those who use the internet, and the power of heartstrings among the very same.

So if I ignore your email, don’t be offended. Good luck will either come to you or not, and my obeying the instructions in the email will have not a jot of impact to your life, nor indeed mine. But I urge you to take the same lack of action, for my sake as well as yours.

As an aside, when Morgan Freeman does die, it is expected that it will take three full months for anyone to acknowledge the fact, owing to the cynicism with which such “news” will be greeted by that point in time.

* I’ve since given it not a moment’s thought.

** 2007

What if McDonald’s were healthy

What if McDonald’s served exactly the same menu as it currently does. At exactly the same price. Imagine the same texture and resistance as you bit into your Sausage & Egg McMuffin. And the same feeling of oozing grease and slightly synthetic cheese as you bit into your Quarter Pounder with Cheese.

But instead of its offerings being filled with E numbers, imagine that they were filled with nutritional goodness. Think Whole Foods with an extra portion of low fat yoghurt thrown in.

My question is this: What would be the impact on its turnover? My view is that it would go down. Significantly.

There is something dirty and naughty about a McDonald’s that would suddenly disappear. People don’t go to McDonald’s because they do good burgers. They go to treat themselves, regardless of the experience, and almost *because* of its health rating.

Also, there is a destructive element in humans that McDonald’s would no longer sate. There is a part of people that likes to fly in the face of good advice, that likes to rebel, even at their own expense.

My guess is that such a restaurant would fail fast, even without taking into account the increased cost of the ingredients.

Why gay marriage should not be open to consultation

Once in a while, an issue comes along that is so fundamental to humans’ rights that consultation should not be deemed necessary.

The abolition of slavery. Women having the vote. Non-white people having the vote. Interracial marriage.

And now, gay marriage.

The only people who were against any of the above were those people whose rights would not be affected by the change. White people opposed the abolition of slavery and the introduction of the non-white vote. Men opposed women’s having the vote. Those with no intention of marrying someone of a different race opposed interracial marriage. And straight people oppose gay marriage. (Not the entirety of each of the groups, I hasten to add.)

Consulting the nation on whether gay people should be allowed the same rights as straight people will yield a mixed response. Gay people will, by and large, support the notion. And there will be division among straight people. Some will support it; others will be against it; and many, I expect, will be indifferent, perhaps itself a sign of support.

In my view, the changes should be introduced without consulting the British people. This issue is so fundamental to human rights that its outcome should not be allowed to be influenced by the British public, whose opinions on such issues have proved to be dangerous in the past.

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