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Doing 'experiential learning': my 'reflective learning' for the MBA strategy module special elective
This is a version of a ‘reflective learning’ I completed for my MBA in strategy, analysis and implementation. It constituted only part of the assessment, and I was awarded one of the highest marks in the whole class for the whole module which was a special elective on strategy developing the topics we had covered in the basic compulsory module.
I am posting this for one of the tweeps I follow, who is a law student. ‘Reflective learning’ is only part of ‘experiential learning’, but I hope it helps.
This diagram is from the Leeds University website.
Their description is as follows:
Reflective practice is important to the development of lecturers as professionals as it enables us to learn from our experiences of teaching and facilitating student learning. Developing reflective practice means developing ways of reviewing our own teaching so that it becomes a routine and a process by which we might continuously develop.
Kolb developed a theory of experiential learning that can give us a useful model by which to develop our practice. This is called The Kolb Cycle, The Learning Cycle or The Experiential Learning Cycle. The cycle comprises four different stages of learning from experience and can be entered at any point but all stages must be followed in sequence for successful learning to take place. The Learning Cycle suggests that it is not sufficient to have an experience in order to learn. It is necessary to reflect on the experience to make generalisations and formulate concepts which can then be applied to new situations. This learning must then be tested out in new situations. The learner must make the link between the theory and action by planning, acting out, reflecting and relating it back to the theory.”
I should like to present some thoughts within ten minutes on what I have taken away from the ‘Strategy analysis and implementation’ course.
This brief outline is in three parts.
Firstly, I should like to offer a reflection on my own personal learning experiences in the entire module, including the impact on my own learning.
Secondly, I should like to offer some perspectives about the Report I prepared for the assessment, including again the impact of the preparation of my Report on my own learning.
The third, and final part, of this presentation is an explanation and critical justification of rationale for approach and content of written Report.
Firstly, the reflection on my learning experiences in the entire module including the impact on my own learning
In the core module, ‘strategy, systems and operations’, I felt we went through the basics of performing a strategic analysis for a business in a competent way, and that was indeed useful.
I personally used the technique of ‘mapping’ using http://www.mindmap.com a useful way of structuring my thoughts on topics we covered during the substantive teaching of the course until December.
However, I am very happy that I did this special elective on strategy analysis and implementation.
This special elective has definitely taken me out of my “comfort zone”.
I now believe that strategy is at heart of all businesses, whether allied to marketing, organisation structure and culture, leadership, operations, or managerial accounting. I therefore value now value as pivotal in contextualising virtually all of the rest of my MBA, including my special electives such as innovation.
In addition to my cognitive knowledge of strategy from before, I believe that I have learnt more skills. I have a markedly different attitude to strategy now, however.
I perceive strategy to be a very inexact science, but where the benefits and outcomes of your analysis have to be communicated to the client in a very concrete manner. In fairness, it is not possible for me to know for certain how much more I actually know. On a positive note, I feel as if I know where to find information if necessary, using the BPP online library, and I feel as I have learnt how to learn better.
My original thesis at Cambridge, for my Ph.D., was in individual decision-making. I therefore especially enjoyed topic 4 (strategy in the face of uncertainty), topic 5 (bounded rationality and cognitive limitations).
However, as the module progressed, I really appreciated the fallacy of the ‘one glove fits all’ approach. I found enormously useful, therefore, topic 6 on speed and agility, and topics 7 and 9, the complexity and human dimensions of living systems, but I found myself towards the end of the module unable to rationalise how the fertile academic debates about strategy in terms of behavioural economics could be reconciled with clear-cut recommendations of the type you would deliver to a client, in practice.
Finally, for this first part, I really do feel as if this entire course has taught me how to ‘reflect’ in my own time. I am mindful that it is almost irrelevant how much you know about a subject, if you are unable to communicate it effectively. I have enjoyed bouncing ideas of my peers, and it’s been overall a rewarding, fun and interesting learning experience.
(roughly 1 minute)
Secondly, I’d like to offer some perspectives of reflection about the Report including the impact on my own learning
My first response to doing the Report was simply to describe the events as they happened, but I found that I was offering no critical insight at all, and the description was taking up a huge amount of the word count.
I feel the module enabled me to describe, comprehend, apply, analyse, synthesise and evaluate key decisions in the case study provided to me at the end for my summative assessment.
I hope, in my response to this assessment, to have provided more than a descriptive or dialogic reflection. A descriptive reflection is merely to Report the events as they happened in the case study, and a dialogic reflection is where I have offered some limited judgements and alternative hypotheses about what happened.
(roughly 6 minutes)
Thirdly, and finally, here is an explanation and critical justification of rationale for approach and content of written Report.
I think an ability to write an effective business Report is a skill I should like to have mastered by the completion of my MBA at BPP Business School.
I wished to produce a Report which is professional, written in an interesting and lively way such that it would be attractive to the reader. In addition to the short-term purpose of achieving a reasonable mark for the assignment as a whole, I wished to obtain further practice in how to write a Report of professional standard, in terms of content and presentation.
The outcome of my proposal is for CD Hotels to continue to pursue a franchising strategy, in a straight choice between franchising and acquisitions. I specifically did not consider any other mechanisms of market entry, as these had not been asked for at all. I feel that this is an important section of my business Report. I wanted to convey the summary simply in a way that would make the reader wish to be convinced about my proposal.
Table of contents
In this section the topics covered in the Report are to be indexed with the page number where it is written in detail.
In this section, I presented a framework for the Report is presented.
I did not break the Report down into individual chapters, as this Report, excluding the executive summary, had a total word limit of 2,500 words. Using the existant literature, I attempted to answer directly the actual questions posed.
This section gave the results that I had derived from my studies on the case study. I also tried to give a brief indication about the main limitations of my Report. I have provided a brief record of my literature review as key references.
This section consists of the brief list of all references which I have referred to in the main body, but my reading was much wider in fact.
I’d diarised what I’d read to keep track of my research. I only looked at a few journal articles in the end, but I did particularly enjoy Beer and Nohria (2000). I looked at a number of book chapters, but I did find Johnson, Scholes, and Whittington textbook extremely helpful as a book, but I didn’t use it uncritically, I hope.
However, I found the industry cases very helpful, especially the article ‘Chic to cheap’ January 2008. http://www.ttgdigital.com/ and the Bernstein Research Report ‘Lodging the power of brands’ (2010) extremely helpful.
I also did much background reading on the international regulation of franchises. I decided not to include this in this Report, as the Report is not supposed to be a specialised legal analysis.
I’ve only got two appendices in my report. Appendix 1 sets out the case against acquisitions, but in favour of franchising, in my opinion, and Appendix 2 sets out my recommendations for a successful implementation of franchising this time around.
Limitations of my analysis are inevitably having to rely on the truthfulness of the facts. It could be the case that there are certain issues which are not quite as Reported, for example the precise relationship between the actors of the case study.
Lastly, I’d like to mention some notable omissions. The word count I felt was appropriate for the Report requested. There are clearly aspects of leadership styles which are relevant to how successfully CD Hotels functioned, but I decided to omit these as what was required was a strategic analysis and implementation. In my Report, I have tried to analyse the strategic decisions actually taken, as well as to consider the efficacy of the implementation of these decisions.
In conclusion, I hope I have provided some insights in what I have learnt from this module, and from doing the Report; furthermore I hope that I have justified the content and approach of my Report.
In case you’ve stumbled on this blogpost in case you googled “reflective learning” and “MBA”, it’s probably worth me saying what ‘reflective learning’ is. I don’t have a precise definition, but it’s something like assessing what you’ve learnt from a learning experience. This just doesn’t mean the new facts or information that you’ve ‘learnt’, but thinking about your personal reactions to what you’ve done; whether it has changed your attitudes to the subject, indeed changed your behaviour and skills.
I started my MBA in January 2011, and last Friday I discovered that the Examinations Board at BPP had recommended me for the award of MBA in the graduation ceremony in May 2012. I attended seminars and lectures at the BPP Business School, St Mary Axe, right in the heart of the City. I have passed all my exams, and I feel it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. I enjoyed the seminars we had weekly in each subject, and certainly the quality of your experience is dependent on other people in your class having done the reading! The required reading is indeed voluminous, but I understand there are national requirements about the rough quantity of it. In my case, the online library at BPP became my best friend, and I used to enjoy skim-reading elegant papers on my #ipad2.
The MBA is a superb vehicle for anyone wishing to be at the cutting edge of management. The range of subjects is diverse. Some of what I studied in detail includes change management, types of leadership, costing, budgeting, organisational culture, strategy models, competition, pricing, international marketing, performance-related pay, and value creation in innovation. You realise early-on that there are no precise answers, although in industry you are somewhat obliged to present an air of certainty. The highlight for me was the economics course, where I studied in detail information asymmetry and price differentiation, for example relevant to insurance markets. I also greatly enjoyed learning about and discussing ‘notions of value’, which makes you understand the precise relationship between price, cost and value.
A Professsor of Law at the University of London once told me that nothing I learnt ever would go to waste. I am currently loving the Legal Practice Course at BPP Law School, but I believe my MBA was a worthwhile experience in isolation, as well as being potentially relevant to understanding clients at a senior level in corporate law. Many lawyers like to think that they understand business and finance, but I feel some lawyers should be sufficiently humbled as to appreciate that business, finance, accounting, marketing and innovation, for instance, constitute demanding specialties in themselves. I don’t regret doing my MBA for a second, and it has certainly given me a thirst for learning and continuous professional development, whatever I ultimately decide to do. I have a similar attitude towards my Master of Law in International Professional Legal Practice from the College of Law.
It’s been a great first year for Legal Aware, the official blog of the BPP Legal Awareness Society (here it is on the official BPP Students website developed by Madelaine Power and Laila Heinonen).
On February 26 2011, I introduced my blog for the first time. I announced that blog would be centred around ten topics, and indeed I have largely stuck to this list throughout the year. Actually, I have expanded the list as my interests in the corporate legal news grew, and I started blogging on non-corporate topics, as my interest in pro bono welfare benefits developed. I have worked for five months in a law centre in London, in a post which was first advertised through the BPP Careers Newsletter.
Shortly, after announcing some meetings, I reviewed the plagued Rio Tinto and Riversdale transaction, one which had been plaguing Linklaters for months and which had an unfortunate conclusion. I invited people to join the brand new BPP Legal Awareness Society, which they did. Maxinutrition was sold to GSK through Marcfarlanes in an interesting transaction, and I reported on the forthcoming implementation of the Bribery Act. Onto the legal landscape, it was becoming increasingly recognised that professional legal services had to be run as businesses, and the nature of commercial law continued to interest me.
U.S. firms were fast adapting to the commercial opportunities of social media, and this was a theme to recur in the whole of 2011. For example, in May 2011, I reported on lessons in the UK industry for my social media strategy which had been very much made up on-the-hoof. In June 2011, Victoria Moffatt would later consider whether junior lawyers should participate in LinkedIn. By that stage, I was gaining a much clearer idea of what the BPP Legal Awareness Society was about, and that was to explain the relevance and critical importannce of law and regulation to shaping the competitive advantage of businesses. The regulation of the banking industry was beginning to bcome important as a theme, and I first brought up firewalls. The SRA spelt out 10 new principles in its Code of Conduct, and members of my Society discussed the use of ‘Second Life’ in law and legal education.
Slaughter & May LLP removed what they called a ‘clearly offensive advert’ widely reported in the blogosphere, including “Roll on Friday”. I was becoming very interested in my MBA on how corporate social responsibility should pervade the business strategy in corporates, and I reported on a recent experience from India. Back in the real world, I was doing pro bono, and I wrote about a test in welfare benefits law which interested me – the cooking test. Motor insurance was hitting the headlines, whilst international arbitration saw two bits of ‘big news': arbitration over nuclear power in Russia was becoming important and a new ‘Arbitration Ordinance’ was introduced. The effects of the global financial crisis were becoming clearer, as law firms sought to find solace in Islamic Finance in diversification of their range of legal services. The effect of other issues, climate change, continued to be a source of legal work for the City, RBS considered a international expansion strategy into China through the joint venture mechanism. Amazon Inc continued to explore the intellectual property issues surrounding their “1-click patent”, and Google Inc meanwhile had their hands full with problems over AdWords. The High Court also saw another interesting IP dispute over the name of Lotus in motor racing.
The impact of media law was beginning to become known as England discussed the need for a privacy law whilst free speech on the internet became under scrutiny and Charlotte Harris, a partner in Mischon de Reya LLP, tried to discuss superinjunctions and anonymised injunctions on BBC’s Question Time. Lord Prescott indeed managed to achieve a win in the High Court over phone hacking. Finally, the impact of technology and the breaking of superinjunctions hit the limelight as ‘the Streisand Effect and that footballer’, and I dutifully did not break the superinjunction as I have student enrolment from the SRA.
“Roll on Friday” mooted the notion that I and various others at BPP were in fact suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, whilst I considered how my Society could help to overcome “the silo effect” in business and legal education. I moved the CSR debate onto a discussion of Bhopal in our Society’s meeting on CSR and international corporate strategy, and the general importance of marketing and CSR in corporate law’s “competitive advantage”. The changing landscape of the world generally was further manifest in the ongoing discussion of the impact of the Digital Economy Act, now in the arena of whether it offended human rights.
Meanwhile, Ken Clarke presented his new legal aid and sentencing bill to parliament, and BAILLI realised it was having trouble securing funding. Microsoft took a critical look at the role of entrepreneurship, Compass looked at ‘ethical banking’ in the banking regulatory reforms, and Steve Hynes wrote a brilliant letter to the Guardian on the impact of the legal aid cuts, whilst the Government produced its official response to its consultation on legal aid. Meanwhile, discrimination reared its ugly head, some would say quite literally, in a ‘battte of the cornrows‘ at the High Court. My passion for social law was intensifying at this point in this year, as I went to a brilliant meeting organised by the Islington Law Centre about what the legal aid cuts would mean. Again, I only found out about this meeting through the BPP Pro Bono Unit.
I revisited the subject of my LLM at the College of Law – cloud computing – in attending an interesting one-day conference on it at the HQ of Microsoft in which we discussed possible regulatory avenues for cloud computing. Frank Jennings argued at this meeting that cloud computing offered a myriad of opportunities, particularly for cloud computing providers to “stand out”. The highlight of the month, and possibly the year, was our #tweetup organised by @ShireenSmith of @Azrights at “The Yorkshire Tea”, just a stone’s throw from the BPP Law School in Holborn. I was highly amused at the various antics of Magic Circle Minx, and this interview description made me laugh a lot.
As the training contract deadline was drawing to a close, I blogged about the online application form based on a meeting done by the BPP Careers Unit at Holborn. I was in the middle of studying leadership for my #MBA, so I wrote about Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” iconic speech.
I got easily bored, and discussed how Yogi Bear should be ‘legally aware’, and I even likened the training contract interview to the driving test the following month. I gave a well received presentation on the employment support allowance for my student society, whilst the full impact of the phone hacking at the ‘News of the World’ was becoming more widely known and what effect our statute law might have. This was the birth of the #Leveson inquiry which would be a dominant feature of recent months. Phone hacking was now a very active area of debate in the Houses of Commons, which was to be the case for the months which followed.
I became increasingly interested in the methods that legal recruiters use to select people for interview for corporate law firms. I had in my sights the ‘situational judgement test’ where applicants have to make a decision ‘what they would do’ in that particular corporate situation; I made my own version up, and so far over 100 people have taken it providing me with clear answers, surprisingly.
On 1 September 2011, Alex Aldridge published a thought-provoking article, “Disabled lawyers still face discrimination” in the Guardian.
I commented as follows:
I’d very much like to thank @AlexAldridgeUK for writing such a constructive and positive article on a topic, in my personal opinion, which has become somewhat of a ‘white elephant’ for law firms and legal education.
I agree that all of the firms mentioned in the article have really ‘meant it’, when it comes to widening access to disabled students in the legal profession. I am mentioned in Alex’s article above, and I tweet at @legalaware. The article generated much-needed debate, and I hope that it begins to forge a path for the future, where all stakeholders can bring their views to the table equally validly. For example, I have always found @SundeepBhatia2 very encouraging in supporting me. Sundeep is a Law Society Council member, and is extremely committed to the values of equality and diversity, in letter as well as in spirit.
Although I have now passed my LLM in international commercial law and I am about to commence my LPC in January 2011 here in London, I now run the BPP Legal Awareness Society during my MBA, a student-run society to promote the importance of law to business, and business to commercial lawyers (our news and educational videos are located at http://www.legal-aware.org). This time last year, however, I went to the http://www.open-to-you.com/ (OPEN 2011) event which was immaculately organised.
It was a great opportunity to meet face-to-face legal recruitment experts, other law students, and, most importantly, lawyers generally at Managing Associate or Partner level. I’ ll be strongly encouraging my friends at @BPPLawSchool and@BPPBusiness, where I hope to be increasingly involved in our disability strategy at a personal level. As I am physically disabled myself, I think such an event is wonderful for introducing law students to issues such as reasonable adjustments in legal recruitment, and ongoing training. There was a brilliant session on interview techniques which I loved.
I happen to believe that a much more ambitious debate needs to be had, however. Disability is not simply about law firms meeting future employees face-to-face once-a-year, which I dare suits meets requirements of all those concerned. We need a decent acknowledgement that disabled people aren’t there simply for marketing purposes; disabled citizens are potent members of society. and can indeed secure “competitive advantage” for law firms in a directly relevant area of law such as real-life application of the Equality Act 2010 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents).
Crucially, all disabled lawyers can exhibit remarkable skills in completely different areas of the entire range of corporate law specialities, such as share acquisitions or joint ventures, as indeed you’d find out if you were to attend the ‘OPEN 2012′ event. I believe that many disabled lawyers are also happy in high-street ‘social law’ in professional legal services firms offering specialist advice.
I couldn’t agree more with Tim’ s comment above: especially the need to ‘walk the walk’ as well as ‘talking the talk’ when it comes to inclusivity and diversity. This extends to all forms of legal recruitment, including careers fairs.
Tim is deaf as stated in his comment, and I have mildly impaired walking ability, as indeed also stated correctly in Alex’s article.
I feel intuitively that partners promoting disability in ‘top law firms’ (a term used in helenfcooke’s comment above), especially if they are not disabled themselves, could ‘do no harm’ ln listening extremely carefully to the views of people who live with disabilities.
This is, I suppose, what the people like me might call ‘face validity’ (cognitive neuropsychology was the subject of my own Ph.D., hence my somewhat late interest in psychometric tests for legal recruitment).
Ideally, I don’t feel it would be a bad thing if there were more disabled lawyers at Managing Associate or Partner level in these ‘top law firms’, anyway as I feel that there are few role models for disabled law students like me.
Furthermore, the proportion of disabled people in the general population is not altogether insignificant, so there is arguably no legitimate reason why disabled citizens should be underrepresented at senior level in such ‘top law firms’, or any law firm for that matter.
A new intake of students arrived at BPP University College. I hotfooted back from the party conference season to display my stall at Freshers Fair with Majid. During my conference, there were many interesting topics which I blogged on. Having already done pro bono work as a law student for several months by that stage, I attended a major event at the Labour Party Conference on the perils of the legal aid reforms. I concluded that the proposals did not constitute ‘justice for all‘. At some point during the year, probably inspired by two academic economists Prof Paul Krugman and Prof Joe Stiglitz, who both won the Nobel Prize in economics, that the Coalition policy was wrong and profoundly anti-Keynesian; I disagreed with Vince Cable’s interpretation of it in a blogpost I wrote on the “paradox of thrift“. I felt I had to tie in the notion of ‘economic rent’ and Ricardian economics in discussing bankers bonuses, however.
Later that month, I decided to make my own platform to help law students, particularly those with dyslexia and visual impairments, become good at the online verbal reasoning test; this is an obstacle for many law students getting even an interview for a training contract now. I wrote an introductory post on this here.
I became increasingly interest in how psychometric tests had managed to gain such an elevated status in legal recruitment; in fact, at one point, I reviewed the history of the situational judgement test, with a view to considering what the future holds.
On 14 October 2011, Alex Aldridge published an article in the Guardian entitled “Is the law degree an ass?”.
I commented as follows:
I really enjoyed attending this debate at UCL on Tuesday for two main reasons. Firstly, as a law student (about to study the BPP LPC in Holborn in January 2012, having successfully completed my GDL, LL.B.(Hons) and LL.M. as a mature student), I was interested to hear how academics answered the question “Do lawyers need to be scholars?’. This is particularly since I have received academic scholarships from three well-known institutions including Cambridge. Secondly, UCL is in fact where I did my own post-doc, and I have fond very memories of the place. I
I would like to thank the organisers @LexisNexis and UCL who took great care over the many delegates. I was able to sit near the front, due to my poor eyesight. I hope very much that @LexisNexis hold an event in the near future, with panel representatives including ‘real’ law students. I hope particularly @kevinpoulter will be involved as he is an experienced legal commentator who communicates well. I sat with fellow ‘legal tweeps’, @colmmu from the College of Law, and@legalacademia, a legal academic originally from Cardiff. It has been interesting for me (as @legalaware) to read the general feedback following the event, which converges on the notion that the scope for discussion about the issues was too limited, and drawn from people who were perhaps too senior. Notwithstanding these issues, I am very much looking forward to the outcome of the review to be conducted by the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR).
I have written a blogpost based on my own personal experience of this panel discussion on our ‘LegalAware’ website, the official website of the BPP Legal Awareness Society. On a positive note, Mr Bickerton explained his personal belief that the purpose of the degree is fundamentally not supposed to teach people how to be good at the law – his firm are rather looking for aptitude, interest, and a need to pursue law as a vocation. However, I found a bit alarming his relative disinterest as to what should be in the legal curriculum compared to the well-reasoned thoughts of the academics in the panel, in that the trainee recruitment of the Clifford Chance was of acceptable standards anyway. Ironically, it is perfectly possible for the Graduate Recruitment Team at Clifford Chance never to discover that you are a “scholar” if you do not meet their benchmark in their situational judgement test or verbal reasoning test. However you choose to define what a “scholar” is, most reasonable people would not define it as simply producing an arbitary mark in a psychometric test.
Personally, I found the views of Prof Richard Moorhead the most compelling. Prof Moorhead is at the University of Cardiff Law School (profile here). According to Prof Moorhead, lawyers ‘needed’ scholars, otherwise it would not be clear where the knowledge was coming from; scholars researched the key issues, and there is a key interdependence of lawyers and scholars – without scholarship, the advancement of knowledge would slow. The curriculum therefore needed to be exciting and innovating.
Interesting. I’ve had entirely positive experiences as a postgraduate student at BPP Law School, BPP Business School and College of Law doing my LLM, LLB(Hons) and MBA – but please bear in mind I’m bound to be happy at anything surviving a 2 month coma due in meningitis in 2007. i am also mindful of ‘advertising’ legal providers in this new ‘age’ of ‘expansion’ of legal services and legal education providers.
I did spend a lot of time at Cambridge, close to ten years in fact, as both an undergraduate and postgraduate student at Cambridge. I think @BaronessDeech is possibly being a bit tongue-in-cheek in her views about Cambridge, but I have always had a huge amount of respect for the jurisprudence FHS at Oxford.
I am now myself disabled, and I have passionate views about improving access for people like me who are visually impaired. Indeed, I have a chance to air them in the Comments section in a different article by @AlexAldridgeUK recently. I once had the enormous pleasure of meeting Prof Jim Harris. If you read his obituary, you’ll understand why,
I didn’t study the Law Tripos at Cambridge – but I think i can understand where your impression of it as ‘stifling’ came from from my limited understanding of the organisational behaviour of faculties at Cambridge, @alienat. I think Cambridge suffers from a lot of very clever academics who don’t talk to each other when designing the Tripos, meaning that the Tripos is totally overloaded. As is usual in academic interests, they tend to be protective about representation of their own research interests in the undergraduate courses (and their examinations),
This was certainly my experience in an altogether different Tripos.
I would, however, be a bit disappointed if the Law Faculty (which does have an amazing research record, for example in criminology), were not able to input constructively into design of the law curriculum. They must however be extremely careful not to overload the curriculum (different from syllabus, by defintiion) with their suggestions, however.
Interestingly, since my comment was published, Clifford Chance have decided to discontinue their use of the Situational Judgement Test (they set exactly the same test in 2010 and 2011). I assume that this is not related to my comments above.
In the final three months of this year, I wrote more about psychometric testing (for example in the proposed BCAT and psychometric tests for training contract applications), human rights (for example the future of the Human Rights Act as discussed in a meeting of ALBA at the Inner Temple), and book reviews (for example on affect and legal education and happiness).
However, in these three months, I did become very interested in disability issues, accessibility and inclusivity.
The BPP Legal Awareness Society published its timetable for meetings to be held at the BPP Business School, St Mary Axe. We held all these meetings successfully in October – December 2011, including flotations, debt finance, international arbitration and joint ventures.
In October, I started blogging, in addition, for ‘Legal Cheek‘, an alternative blog look at the legal education and legal life in general. I wrote an article outlining my feeling that disability is the legal profession’s white elephant.
In this article, I argued that embracing disability was a good way of improving the quality of law schools.
All law schools deserve to be scrutinised very carefully in their response to the government white paper entitled, ‘Students at the heart of the system’, over the issue of whether disabled students are seriously disenfranchised. The formidable white paper, which was published in June, sets out proposals for a higher education sector which is sustainably funded, delivers a “better student experience”, and contributes fully to the efforts to increase social mobility. The ability of a disabled student to get a job is a massively significant factor in that individual’s social mobility; virtually all individuals do not aspire to sustain themselves through the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) itself. An adverse effect of the legal aid cuts may be to put off disabled applicants from applying for the DLA. Good law schools will wish to embrace theNational Student Survey, and participate in it to the full.
In November, I argued in an article for ‘Legal Cheek’ that the term ‘diversity’ is an unhelpful one, not least because it means different things to different people. My conclusion was follows:
I believe that an useful first-step in advancing the diversity debate would be to phase out the word ‘diversity’ from the terminology, because, far from encouraging individual differences, clumping people together – inappropriately – inadvertently abolishes key individual differences.
Continuing the theme of disability, I developed the argument that law schools could take practical steps to make the wellbeing of disabled students much better:
The agenda for disabled law students under the government’s new framework is very much set by the law students. One way of getting involved is through the National Union of Students’ recently-launched petition calling for the establishment of a national advocacy service for disabled students (disabilities usually include long-term illnesses, mental-health conditions and specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia). In fact, if you’d like to set up your own disabled students’ group, you can email them for advice:email@example.com.
Still, I also feel it is up to the individual learning provider to be pro-active in responding to what disabled law students aspire to. At the bare minimum, they can simply comply with the white paper. But learning providers which wish to add social value may wish to do more to understand what disabled students aspire to and are legally entitled to. Certainly, it would reflect well on them to do so.
Meanwhie, back on the LegalAware blog, I was becoming acutely aware that the overlap between law and politics was becoming much closer. The legal aid cuts agenda remained at the front of my mind:
‘Sound off for justice’ and ‘Justice for all’ maintain that their campaigns are not political. However, senior people I talk to in law centres in London come to a conclusion that it is not possible to divorce politics from legal aid funding. Poverty unfortunately is political, as the Shadow Attorney-General, Emily Thornberry MP, suggested yesterday on BBC’s ‘Any Questions’. It happens that access-to-justice could disproportionately affect people on the basis of their income, in that cases of access-to-justice could become much harder to obtain for poorer people for certain problems. With many law centres set to shut down altogether, the legal services for immigration, housing and asylum, and welfare benefits, look set to be affected. The question is whether the poor will suffer disproportionately. Rich people will possibly be able to afford superinjunctions as before, as the evidence that the top 1% of the population have been affected substantially by the recession is lacking. This top 1% includes some (at least) well-paid lawyers in London.
However, colleagues of mine found it hard to discuss the political issues in an open way, but the funding of legal aid had unfortunately become a political isssue.
Whatever – I personally think all legal practitioners should be given support, acknowledging that funds are limited. but funding bodies will have to prioritise unfortunately. In fact, a focus on funding may have the beneficial effect of providing better precision to all stakeholders in their strategy and core competences of their legal services, whatever sector they are in. However, fundamentally, I most agree with the observation that, at this late stage, arguing over a sense of entitlement is totally unhelpful. It is desperately important that we fight until the end for our common purpose in protecting legal aid. I would find it very hard to support law centres if they wished to campaign at the expense of CABx or other stakeholders, but they should think about how they differ from other stakeholders when applying for London Borough grants for community investment or structural upkeep, I feel.
By December, I had come to the conclusion that a more radical solution had to be developed to improve access to the legal profession
It’s my fundamental belief that people are written off far too early in England and Wales at present. We have an education system that seems to punish certain bright people who fail to get perfect grades at GCSE and A-level. It doesn’t help that students are forced to make very specialised educational choices for their 16-18 studies at an age where they may not be totally convinced about their career choices.
I feel that the education and assessment environment needs an overhaul to prevent recruiters from using arbitrary academic achievement to ‘sift’ candidates out of sheer laziness. Talented people are being deprived access to jobs in the legal profession. Instead, we should be encouraging people to learn how to learn for themselves, and know where to find relevant information.
To this end, I feel law firms should be able to hire people straight out of school, if they wish, but also to take advantage to a greater extent of the enormous breadth of experience from other spheres of life mature candidates might offer. Unfortunately, we’re not in a place where that sort of flexibility can happen.
What will the future hold? 2012 has now begun.
This article was published in the September issue of an international global economics journal. The author @legalaware came top in the MBA examination at BPP in economics and marketing in May 2011.
Book Review: The pursuit of happiness: Toward an economy of well-being – Professor Carol Graham, Brookings Institution Press, Washington D.C. Brookings Focus Books.
Graham’s “Pursuit of happiness” is a punchy crystallisation of emerging themes in the measurement of happiness, and the possible usefulness of the study of happiness in itself and for the development of global economic policy. As a reader, one may easily get the impression that Graham wishes to rebutt one fundamental assumption; that the “pursuit of happiness” is simply a policy fad or fashion. In what is an immaculately referenced work of scholarship, Graham provides a balanced appraisal of the current literature on ‘the economics of happiness’, comes to clear and useful conclusions on the published research, and signposts future possible avenues for discussion. Graham’s ‘license-to-operate’ in such a fertile intellectual exercise is evidenced by her grasp of the most senior players in the world of economics, and a deep sense of respect towards them. One senses too that this respect is reciprocated. She is also able to intertwine her thesis with strands from other fields, most notably philosophy, in producing a rich tapestry which does not mean that the economics is suffocated inadvertently by other disciplines. Far from being a “dismal science”, Graham provides much reason for optimism for those people involved in this burgeoning field of economics, and indeed establishes herself, entirely appropriately, as an inspiring leader.
Graham is currently a senior fellow and the Charles Robinson Chair at the Brookings Institution, a College Park professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, a research fellow at the ‘Institute for the Study of Labor’. Her previous books include, “Happiness around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires” (Oxford University Press, 2010), and “Happiness and Hardship: Opportunity and the Insecurity in New Market Economies” (Brookings Institution Press, 2001, with Stefano Pettinato).
Graham has written extensively, and is a renowned expert on issues including poverty, inequality, insecurity, the political economy of market reforms, subjective well-being, and the economics of happiness. In “Happiness around the World: the Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires”, Graham explored what we know about the determinants of happiness across and within countries of different development levels, including some counterintuitive and surprising relationships.
Her professional standing is outstanding. Graham has testified in the United States Congress several times on the economic situation in Latin America and has discussed related topics on NBC News and CNN amongst many others. Her work on well-being has been reviewed in The New Yorker, Science, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, and Newsweek, again amongst many others. She is an associate editor of the “Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organization”, and on the editorial board of the “Journal of Applied Research on Quality of Life”.
Graham’s most recent book, “The Pursuit of Happiness: An Economy of Well-Being” (Brookings Institution Press, 2011), raises the challenges posed by the use of measures of happiness as comparative well-being indicators. Economists are increasingly using happiness surveys to understand the debates on happiness and policy. Graham was a pioneer in the economic study of happiness, and she has been involved from the start in discussions about applying this approach to economic policy-making.
The book is well-written and very accessible book, and immaculately researched avoiding bias and imbalance. She crucially examines the pitfalls of delving into the policy realm with happiness research and indicators. In a carefully formulated argument, Graham explores what we know about the determinants of happiness, across and within countries at different stages of development. She then takes a look at just what we can do with that new knowledge and clearly presents both the promise and the potential pitfalls of injecting the “economics of happiness” into public policy-making.
Fad, fashion or fertile area for discussion?
A problem that Graham faces is that she began her work long before happiness became so fashionable in economics research and policy. In his inaugural address, President Barack Obama said that all Americans “deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” In subsequent speeches, he has emphasised that people will pursue their “own version” or “own measure” of whatever makes them happy.
It seems reasonable, of course, to aspire for people to become happier, but should happiness supplant economic growth as an objective of government policy? The kingdom of Bhutan already uses “gross national happiness” as its preferred measure of progress. The British government even apparently has an office in Whitehall studying how to track well-being, using happiness as a base. Finally, in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is incorporating novel measures of well-being into national health statistics.
Despite the potential contributions that happiness research can make to policy, Graham emphasises that a sound note of caution is necessary in directly applying the findings, both because of the potential biases in survey data, and because of the difficulties associated with analysing these kinds of data in the absence of controls for unobservable personality traits. In addition, happiness surveys at times yield anomalous results which provide novel insights into human psychology—such as adaptation and coping during economic crises—but, according to Graham, these do not translate into viable policy recommendations.
One way to gauge that effect is through what has become known as the economics of happiness – a set of new techniques and data to measure well-being and contentment. Hundreds of thousands of people are surveyed and asked how happy or satisfied they are with their lives, with possible answers on a scale between very unhappy and very happy. The ideas are filtering through to politicians and the public. Most recently, as reviewed by Graham, the Sarkozy Commission – led by Nobel Prize-winning economists and sponsored by the president of France – issued a worldwide call for the development of broader measures of national well-being. The idea is to develop metrics that can be compared across countries and over time, like GDP, but instead emphasise rather more than income.
Structure of the book
“The pursuit of happiness” is indeed a very clever, if often used, tagline, originating, as Graham explains, in the Declaration of Independence for the United States of America (1776). Thankfully, for the reader, Graham offers an useful note on the terminology of terms often used in this field, such as “happiness” and “well-being”, which makes sense of the discussion on the measurement of well-being which follows. The structure of the book makes for very easy navigation through the start-of-the-art of the field of the economics of well-being.
The economics of happiness
Somewhat counter-intuitively perhaps, part of the challenge of establishing the economics of happiness as a science comes from understanding accurately its relationship to other subjects.
Most academics in the field appear to converge on the notion that happiness and well-being can only be successfully researched and explained, if done through an inter-disciplinary approach. Graham has some success in achieving this.
Her discussion of philosophy comes up as a recurrent theme in the book, however there are some areas which appear to be somewhat neglected. Many ethicists make arguments for how humans should behave, either individually or collectively, based on the resulting happiness of such behaviour. Utilitarians, such as John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, advocated the greatest happiness principle as a guide for ethical behaviour. While psychologists have been using surveys of reported well-being to study happiness for years, economists only recently ventured into this arena. Early economists and philosophers, ranging from Aristotle to Bentham, Mill, and Smith, all incorporated the pursuit of happiness in their work.
It possibly would have been perhaps useful for Graham to explain with a higher degree of precision what the scope of her discussion is, and why she has decided to omit certain issues. She nonetheless does not evade difficult issues in the literature which impact upon policy. An undercurrent in Graham’s work is that the globalisation process, mediates the effects of inequality and poverty on well-being. Globalisation is a major engine of growth, at least in the aggregate, and therefore plays a major role in reducing poverty; however, it is globalisation also introduces or exacerbates other factors that affect people’s well-being as much if not more than income growth.
Graham explains successfully her central thesis that, as economics grew more rigorous and quantitative, more parsimonious definitions of welfare took hold. Utility was taken to depend only on income as mediated by individual choices or preferences within a rational individual’s monetary budget constraint. The study of happiness or subjective well-being is part of a more general move in economics that challenges these narrow assumptions. Happiness economics—which represents one new direction—relies on more expansive notions of utility and welfare, including interdependent utility functions, procedural utility, and the interaction between rational and non-rational influences in determining economic behaviour. Graham introduces this topic, like all her topics, in a totally unassuming and unthreatening way, including reference to the ever-endearing “homo economicus”.
Enmeshed within her work is the potential impact that her quantitative and qualitative research might have on national policies, and this is inevitably an aim of chapter 5. Graham is successful, in my view, in giving an account of the tensions between her new ‘dismal science’ and government policies, and the attention of the reader is politely drawn to other policy directions (such as libertarian paternalism or “Nudge” by Cass Thaler and Richard Sunstein, and “The Social Animal” from David Brooks).
For more than a decade, Graham in a number of successful academic collaborations has been studying happiness around the world, in countries as different as Afghanistan, Chile and the United States. Graham evidently finds it remarkable how similar the forces driving happiness are in various countries, regardless of a nation’s level of development.
Graham has identified a number of consistent patterns: a stable marriage, good health and enough (but not too much) income are good for happiness. Unemployment, divorce and economic instability are terrible for it. On average, happier people are also healthier, with the causal arrows probably pointing in both directions. Finally, age and happiness have a consistent U-shaped relationship, with the turning point in the mid- to late-40s, when happiness begins to increase, as long as health and domestic partnerships stay sound.
However, Graham, in keeping with her previous published work, points out some glaring inconsistencies. While there are stable patterns in what leads to happiness, there is also a remarkable human capacity to adapt to both prosperity and adversity. Thus people in Afghanistan, a war-stricken country with poverty like that of sub-Saharan Africa, are as happy as people in Latin America, where typical social and economic indicators are a good deal stronger. Kenyans, meanwhile, are as satisfied with their health care as Americans are with theirs. Being a victim of crime makes people unhappy, but the impact is smaller if crime is a common occurrence in their society; the same goes for corruption and obesity. Freedom and democracy make people happy, but the effect is greater when they’re used to such liberties than when they are not. The bottom line, according to Graham, appears to be that people can adapt to tremendous adversity and retain their cheerfulness, while they can also have virtually everything – including good health – and be miserable.
There is a stellar cast of academics who have impacted on Graham’s programme of research. Reassuringly it is immediately obvious to the reader where Graham’s work ends, and where the work of others begins. Graham makes it very clear what her substantial contribution to the field has been, without taking any of the credit for the work by others who have influenced her. The respect that she has for other members of the academic community is obvious, and helps to establish her as a central figure in the field of economics sciences. For example, Graham readily acknowledges that Richard Easterlin was the first modern economist to re-visit the concept of happiness, beginning in the early 1970s. Indeed, Easterlin posits that Graham has directly asked whether happiness should be a goal of public policy, and describes Graham’s work has “eloquent”.
Easterlin, in his original study, revealed a paradox that sparked interest in the topic but is, as of yet, unresolved. While most happiness studies find that within countries wealthier people are, on average, happier than poor ones, studies across countries and over time find very little, if any, relationship between increases in per capita income and average happiness levels. On average, wealthier countries (as a group) are happier than poor ones (as a group); happiness seems to rise with income up to a point, but not beyond it.
Graham’s approach, which relies on “expressed preferences” rather than on “revealed choices”, is particularly well suited to answering questions in areas where a revealed preferences approach provides limited information. Indeed, it often uncovers discrepancies between expressed and revealed preferences. The research has a powerful context. For instance, Prof. Amartya Sen’s ‘capabilities-based approach’ to poverty, for example, highlights the lack of capacity of the poor to make choices or to take certain actions. In many of his writings, Sen indeed criticizes economists’ excessive focus on choice as a sole indicator of human behaviour. Prof. Sen himself won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 1998. Understanding the limits to choice approaches—and willingness to use the information contained in preferences expressed in well-being surveys — may help us better understand the divergence between economists’ generally positive assessments of the globalisation process and those of the typical layman (or woman) experiencing the process, according to Graham.
Graham additionally observes, with the help of others, that individuals are remarkably adaptable, no doubt, and in the end can get used to most things, and in particular to income gains. The behavioural economics literature, for example, shows that individuals value losses disproportionately to gains (see Kahneman, Diener, and Schwarz, 1999, among others). Daniel Kahneman and Vernon L. Smith won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002, and the classic, “Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology” is cited in Chapter 1.
Graham is clearly impressed by David Blanchflower too. Blanchflower and Oswald (2011) have based their review on the results of broadly based international surveys of self-reported happiness, focusing on the United States and Europe. In keeping with Graham’s views, they argue that indices of national happiness (based on individually administered self-reports of subjective happiness) might be more meaningful indicators of national well-being than economic measures such as gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, Blanchflower and Oswald make extensive reference to the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, in which Stiglitz and his associates argued convincingly for international authorities to assess subjective measures of happiness instead of using more traditional economic indices.
The person who shared the Nobel Memorial prize in economics with Stiglitz in 2001, has himself has previously opined about this work that,
“Since 1776 the ‘pursuit of happiness’ has been the great world question. Here, reflecting on modern survey techniques and results, Graham drills deeper. What does happiness mean? For example, is it opportunity for a meaningful life? Or, is it blissful contentment? And why does it vary, as it does, across individuals and around the world? How does the perception of happiness differ in countries as disparate as Cuba, Afghanistan, Japan, and Russia? Graham is opening up a whole new frontier in economic and social policy.”
Nonetheless, Graham, in keeping with her previous conclusions published elsewhere, feels that there is no consensus about which interpretation is most accurate. Yet numerous studies, which demonstrate that happiness levels can change significantly in response to a variety of factors, suggest that the research can yield insights into human well-being which provide important, if complementary, information for policy-makers. Even under the rubric of set point theory, happiness levels can fall significantly in the aftermath of events like illness or unemployment. Even if levels eventually adapt upwards to a longer term equilibrium, mitigating or preventing the unhappiness and disruption that individuals experience for months, or even years, in the interim certainly seems like a worthwhile objective for policy.
One thing that people have a hard time adapting to, however, is uncertainty. People seem to be much better at dealing with unpleasant certainty than with the uncertainty of how bad a particular health condition or economic downturn will get. Graham’s (relatively recent) survey research, with colleagues Soumya Chattopadhyay and Mario Picon, shows, for example, that average happiness in the United States declined significantly as the Dow index dropped with the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. According to their calculations, happiness fell 11% compared with its pre-crisis levels, reaching its lowest point in mid-November 2008.
Graham highlights that when the market stopped falling and some stability was restored in March, average happiness recovered much faster than the Dow; by June, it exceeded its pre-crisis level, even though living standards and reported satisfaction with those standards remained markedly lower than they were before the crisis. Once the uncertainty ended, people seemed to be able to return to previous happiness levels, while making do with less income or wealth.
Yet, if people can stay happy with less money, they can also become discontent with more. This is the “paradox of unhappy growth”. In research with economist Eduardo Lora, Graham found that, in countries with similar levels of per capita income, respondents experiencing higher economic growth rates were found, on average, less happy than those with less growth. One explanation proposed by Graham is the following: rapid economic growth typically brings greater instability and inequality with it, and that makes people unhappy.
Limitations of the book
There are very few limitations of the book, which may in fact be strengths of the book. Graham does give due regard to psychological methods: the economics of happiness is an approach to assessing welfare which combines the techniques typically used by economists with those more commonly used by psychologists. It relies on surveys of the reported well-being of hundreds of thousands of individuals across countries and continents. This approach relies on more expansive notions of utility than does conventional economics, highlighting the role of non-income factors that affect well-being. It is well suited to informing questions in areas where revealed preferences provide limited information, such as the welfare effects of inequality and of macroeconomic policies such as inflation and unemployment.
Graham, instead, does not refer overtly to politics or religion much, but this may be simply because Graham wishes to focus her thoughts without potentially offending particular groups of readers. Economic freedom correlates strongly with happiness preferably within the context of a western mixed economy, with free press and a democracy. “Socialist” East European countries were less happy than Western ones, even less happy than other equally poor countries. It would be inaccurate to consider the ex-Soviet states as socialist, however, as socialism indicates that the workers own the means of production, which under the Soviet Union was not the case.
Graham deliberately does not discuss the enormous field of “the science of well-being”. For example, the psychologist Prof. Martin Seligman has provides the acronym PERMA to summarize many of Positive Psychology’s findings. It also turns out that happiness forms a central theme of Buddhist teachings. For ultimate freedom from suffering, the Noble Eightfold Path leads its practitioner to Nirvana, a state of everlasting peace. In Catholicism, the ultimate end of human existence consists in felicity (Latin equivalent to the Greek eudaimonia), or “blessed happiness”, described by the 13th-century philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas as a “Beatific Vision of God’s essence in the next life”.
The writing style means that Graham frequents certain topics on more than one occasion (for example, a comparison between Aristotle and Bentham philosophy, and the “happy peasants and frustrated achievers”). Whilst this approach might present the text as a coherent argument which spans across all five chapters, the danger is that the reader is left feeling a bit disorientated, as to whether or not he or she has read the same points twice.
Finally, I felt that there are a few parts of the discussion which appear to have received very little coverage in this book, such as the role of personal life events on the happiness on an individual, or the impact of common conditions (such as ageing or dementia) on an individual’s well-being (or quality-of-life). In Graham’s defence, however, discussion of such topics would be to be take Graham’s discussion of the ‘economics of well-being’ more into the ‘cost of well-being’, which may be an area which has to be confronted at some stage. This could even make an interesting future book, if Graham and colleagues are able to find reliable econonometric measures for well-being which could guide policy?
One is wary about saying that this book is a “seminal contribution to the literature”, when Graham’s books and academic papers have all been greeted with the highest acclaim. Nonetheless, in my view, Graham clearly provides a convincing case that, even if there is a bandwagon effect in people wishing to be seen to studying and applying the research from happiness and similar concepts, the literature is making great strides. The case for this is even more compelling given the particular stakeholders involved in advancing the field. Whilst Graham clearly acknowledges the interdisciplinary nature of the topic, she provides “clear blue water” between economics and other disciplines.
The book is a superb introduction for anyone who wishes to get up to speed with the field of happiness economics in the year 2011, and will appeal to readers from a diverse range of backgrounds. Graham’s style is uncluttered, articulate, extremely informative, interesting, and, in places, even very entertaining. The text is elegantly crafted, with some fascinating and classic quotations, which are all entirely relevant to Graham’s overarching thesis. This book will do much to enhance the reputation of economics, and will leave the reader with the conclusion that it is far from a “dismal science”, and certainly very far removed from any notions of the concept from Thomas Carlyle.
Blanchflower, David. and Andrew J. Oswald (2011). “International happiness: An introduction and review”. Academy of Management Perspectives , 25, 6–22.
Easterlin, Richard A. (1974). “Does economic growth improve the human lot? Some empirical evidence” In David PA. & Melvin, W.R. (eds.) Nations and households in economic growth, pp. 98-125. (Palo Alto, Ca: Stanford University Press).
Graham, Carol, Soumya Chattopadhyay, and Mario Picon. (2010b) “The Easterlin Paradox re-visited: why both sides of the debate may be correct.” In Ed Diener, John Helliwell, and Daniel Kahneman, eds., International Differences in Well-Being. (Oxford: Oxford University Press.)
Graham, Carol and Eduardo Lora, eds. 2009. “Paradox and Perception: Measuring Quality of Life in Latin America”. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution Press.
Kahneman, Daniel, Ed Diener, and Norbert Schwarz (1999), Well- Being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Sen, Amartya. (1993). “Capability and Well-Being”. In M. Nussbaum and A. Sen, eds. The Quality of Life, pp. 30–53. (New York: Oxford Clarendon Press.
If I could subpoena Cameron and Clegg to do a leaders’ debate now, I most definitely would. As a student of a MBA course going at a very fast rate, it is easy to get a feel for a flavour of the management and leadership styles of David Cameron, and to understand why he personally, and his Tory-led government, are doing catastrophically badly. I exclude Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, whose ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity to transform the nature of politics on the left-wing has been utterly wasted. Nobody sane would expect Nick Clegg to face the music in a Leaders’ debate in 2015, for example.
The issue with the Tory-led government is that they have a sole core competency, that is to reduce the deficit. However, the mechanism by which they are doing it is causing considerable damage to the recovery which had started in the first few months of their current (and probably) last term of government. By having no coherent policy for generating growth, they potentially could worsen the deficit by decreasing tax receipts and increasing benefit spending. It’s like having a credit card when you’re unemployed, but you are sanctioned from having any source of income.
David Cameron also fails as a leader in a number of textbook ways. As a potential transformational leader, he does not have the support of key followers essential for a change management to succeed, say in the public sector. Essential in this change management is not doing the change too fast, and having some symbols of success. Instead, David Cameron faces increasing waiting times and a plethora of equally disastrous metrics in NHS management, and the ultimate accolade in manufacturing output, the GDP, is deterioriating all the time. His preferred management style for running the public sector is ‘lean management’, which runs two grave dangers. Firstly, it can be extremely difficult to do a root cause analysis of problems when things go wrong, and secondly there is little functional slack. Take for example the recent riots. In an overstretched, underfunded, police service, it is difficult for the police and justice system to mount a satisfactory response. Amazingly, they have, but despite a dangerous level of cuts.
David Cameron has equally proven himself as a poor crisis leader. Over the riots, where he was accused of spending too long in Tuscany, and over the hacking crisis, where the evidence provided by Goodman, Coulson and Murdoch continues to cause problems, Cameron has been seen naked in responding way too late after the events; and again he suffers from a lack of trust by his followers, the UK general public.
Furthermore, in textbook terms, David Cameron fails as a charismatic leader. This was first identified really by Mary Liddell who wondered some time ago whether the general public could grow to embrace David Cameron. Indeed, Liddell was right. They couldn’t. The result was a hung parliament, with a completely ineffective Nick Clegg, driven by a personal dislike of Gordon Brown and ‘liberal principles’, led his party at Westminster to vote against EMA and the rise in tuition fees. No wonder his political party was slaughtered in the local elections.
So, I do come back to my basic thought: if I could subpoena Cameron and Clegg to do a leaders’ debate now, I would. Tragically, the country is stuck with them until 2015.
Please vote for http://www.shibleyrahman.com in the Total Politics Blog Awards 2011.
This evening, I had a wonderful meeting. I have now spent 4 years and 1 month in recovery, and I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol in that time. I am having a wonderful time with my work professionally. In fact, I am completing a book review for a prestigious economics journal on the economics of happiness, which will take up most of the night and tomorrow morning.
Finally, I had a brilliant time in my recovery meeting this evening in North London. We discussed again what it meant to be living in a life of complete recovery, once you have overcome the initial challenge of maintaining abstinence.
We have a wonderful time, and indeed they have all gone off to one of the group members’ house for dinner to socialise; I have come back to have dinner with my Mum, as they appreciate; we live alone in Primrose Hill. I have a delivery coming tonight shortly, including a Lamb Chop Balti and Chicken Tikka (made with olive oil of course).
It is a massive privilege for me to be able to continue my legal training next year. I love the law, and I will maintain my interest in the operations, systems and leadership of business through my MBA tomorrow. My work experience is still going well, as well as my professional commitments, including being a Senior Partner, and other big projects in progress or pending. I think my “lease-of-life” arose from coming top in the MBA economics and marketing examination here at BPP Business School, and doing very well in the MBA overall so far.
In a week dominated by Rupert Murdoch and News International, we discussed, ironically, in our MBA course on organisations and leadership this famous speech by Martin Luther King. This speech was delivered on August 28 1963, and reasons for why it is such a landmark speech have been exhaustively discussed elsewhere. The oratory is masterful, and Luther King’s speech is enmeshed with powerful social values, such as law and justice, the American dream, and religion, in discussing a constructive non-violent response to segregation, overcoming any feelings of bitterness or resentment.
There is a concept in large professions such as law that no single person is more important than the profession. Many analyses have been written about the relationship between Tony Blair and his Party, and indeed subsequently between Gordon Brown and the same Party, and the concept has arisen that Tony Blair was more popular than Labour, making him such a formidable ‘election winning machine’. The electability of the Leader has always been cited by New Labourites as being pivotal to Labour’s ultimate electoral success, and I believe that this die-hard group of members within Labour still feel this today, with their eye on 2015.
This week was a ‘game changer’ for Ed for various complicated reasons. Having been stuck ‘on loop’ with the traditional Labour bust-up with the Unions, it seemed unlikely that Ed would be able to make a new, innovative step in Labour. A quantum leap. Thankfully, the Right seemed to resent that the group representing ‘It’s the Sun that won it’ had been caught up in such a robust scandal. Rewind – the Right seemed to resent the fact that the Left seemed to be enjoying it so much. What about Tony Blair’s transatlantic flight to court Rupert Murdoch once?
What about Ed Miliband and Douglas Alexander meeting Rupert Murdoch only the other week? Rupert Murdoch, more than the Left, is more symbolic of the corporate in US and UK life, and it is this maximization of shareholder profit which is about to come under enormous scrutiny in David Cameron’s single term of government. The NHS Health and Social Care Bill is (potentially) fundamentally flawed because it edges towards NHS institution becoming private limited companies, with legal corporate legal liability, with the function of maximizing shareholder profit, and becoming subject to the intense regulation of competition, insolvency, and employment law disciplines, but a few.
History has shown that, when corporate scandals of any description, such as ENRON, they have a lasting impact, because they force management analysts to examine how a toxic organizational culture has arisen, and how corporates must have a strong grasp on the triple bottom line ‘people, planet and profit’ (i.e. they must mean it), to survive. This is not however the same as a belief that pursuing profit is fundamentally wrong. This, so-called “corporate social responsibility”, can directly impact on their financial success, as investors can powerfully make a financial decision to go elsewhere. In the case of News International, investors can decide to shop around, but the genuine question is whether other entities are simply better at hiding their own brand of toxicity. The danger would of course be for the Left to conflate the toxicity of News of the World (“NOTW”) (evidenced, arguably, by the Management Board of News International deciding to dump NOTW in its last edition this Sunday) with any toxicity of the Conservative brand. A noteworthy success of David Cameron has been to detoxify his own brand.
You can often tell a lot about a leader by its followers in management analysis, but people are more interested in leadership than followership (reflected in fact in the relative numbers of books written on the subject on Amazon). The fact that David Cameron promoted Andy Coulson, after he had left News of the World, at a time when John Prescott had warned of there existing some ‘unfinished business’, is at best an error of judgment. A minority of people feel that he has handled the News International scandal well, and it should be of no shame to him that he personally gets well with Rebekah Wade and Andy Coulson. People are not so superficial to think that this impacts on running the country, but the corollary in business is whether a corporate should be able to make large profits at any cost. Interestingly, the Independent ran a story earlier this week suggesting that Directors could be negligent in spotting illegal phone-hacking activity through s.79 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act  (article by Andreas Whittam-Smith dated 7 July 2011, quoted by @charonqc on his blog).
In the far-from real world, the New York Times gave a glowing description of Rebekah Brooks’ leadership qualities today. In traditional MBA territory, Ed Miliband has in fact shown excellent leadership. He demonstrated risk-taking behaviour, in being the first to dare to break from the fetters of ‘It’s the Sun that Won it’. He showed emotional intelligence in agreeing to a discussion of the matter with David Cameron next Wednesday, and he also displayed cognitive intelligence in being able to analyse a case for regulation of the journalism profession this morning. He has inspired followers, but indeed books can be justifiably written about whether the followers are actually ‘susceptible’. This notion of susceptibility can arise from the view that David Cameron did not in any sense win the election, but Gordon Brown (predictably) lost it, and a lot of people (including a vast majority of English Labour supporters, but rarely social Liberal Democrat voters) feel they’re biding time until 2015. The severity of the situation has meant that people are not too concerned about whether Ed Miliband looks like Gromit the Dog, but feel that there is something toxic about the culture in some parts of the News International, from the past, if the allegations are to be believed.
However, an inquiry through the Inquiries Act [2oo5], and the various criminal cases, seem like a sensible way for the law to progress. David Cameron’s (and, now, by association, Nick Clegg’s) challenge is to try to ‘nudge’ a sentiment of members in the public being inspired enough to consider he will contribute in clearing up the mess. The ultimate challenge for Rupert Murdoch to survive through these challenges, and for Jeremy Hunt to avoid referring it to the Competition Commission which many believe he is still able to; and, of course, for the re-branding of a newspaper on Sunday to go smoothly. Whether ‘ringfencing’ will be sufficient is anyone’s guess, but we’ve actually been here before.
@legalaware is a full-time MBA student at BPP Business School, St Mary Axe, The City, London. This article is not to be taken as representative the views of the BPP Legal Awareness Society, nor of BPP University College.
This article was first published on the website BusinessBecause.
I am currently loving my MBA at BPP Business School. The mix of students, from all walks of life from public utilities to huge corporate industry corporates, are incredibly diverse in their views, but make the rich learning tapestry unique for me. Of course, the MBA is a very intense course, whatever anyone else tells you. There’s a lot of extra skills to learn, as well as reading textbooks and original papers (the ones from the Harvard Business Review are particularly high quality); such as giving presentations (such as marketing pitches), groupwork and teamwork, financial and managerial accounting, understanding (and appreciating!) the financial data of the FT and the WSJ, and much more.
In this intense competitive environment for law students, I would strongly recommend people to consider doing a MBA at some stage around their LPC. I will be doing my LPC at BPP in January 2012. I completed my LLM (Master of Law from the College of Law in International Commercial Legal Practice) between 2008 and 2010, across a wide range of subjects including international public companies law, international commercial law, international mergers and acquisitions, intellectual property, international arbitration practice, international joint ventures, and international capital markets and loans. Doing the MBA allows you to understand the huge amount of detail in the business drivers behind these commercial entities. I believe that such a learning experience is far more important than fulfilling the ‘commercial awareness’ box of training contract applications – it should be something engrained in the DNA of commercial lawyers, as the corporate finance departments subserve much of the other practice seats in other major corporate firms.
You appreciate very little of this when you complete the Graduate Diploma in Law, if you’re ‘converting’ from non-law to law; I suspect the amount of business and commercial law is not that huge in traditional LLB(Hons), including the one at the University I attended, Cambridge, some time ago. Learning how to talk to people and understanding the sectors of the clients you talk to are equally valuable skills to understanding the lex of the Romans, I’d humbly submit.
Being based near the Gherkin, you get a real sense of excitement of what the City contributes to London. I don’t say this from a political allegiance – in fact, my political sympathies lie elsewhere. However, seeing how the financial and legal words interact with one another makes me intensely proud of the work that the square mile does. This is revealed in the statistic that it takes around 16 different disciplines to produce a successful initial public offering (flotation) in London. England is incredibly lucky to have such a skills mix working very close to each other, which is clearly an inspiring environment to work in.