A puzzle in a picture

A puzzle in a picture

(Estimated reading time = 2 minutes)

The idea for this entry came from Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. I was listening to the episode about ‘The Foot Soldier of Birmingham‘ and half-formed questions were occupying my brain. I’m still not clear about the questions, so it’s not surprising that I don’t have any answers.

What’s the story?

This photograph became an iconic symbol for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. It was taken in 1963, when Martin Luther King visited Birmingham, Alabama. In the photo, it seems like the police officer is setting his dog on a ‘foot soldier’ of the civil rights movement. In fact, the young man – later identified as Walter Gadsen – was an onlooker. He was not part of the civil rights movement. The police officer – Dick Middleton – was restraining the dog.

But the photo – taken by Bill Hudson – was used to show police brutality. Some say that it had a major impact in changing views about the civil rights movement. This seems like a good outcome. But do the ends justify the means? By all accounts, Bill Middleton was a good police officer who treated people equally. Is it right that he should be portrayed as a villain?

Is it right that an incident that was distinct from the protest should be used to illustrate it? What are the responsibilities of the photographer and his editor? Is this an example of fake news?

The art

Much later, this incident was depicted in a sculpture. the details have been changed quite significantly to make a point. The young man is much smaller, the dog more vicious, the police officer more menacing.

Somehow, I feel happier with these changes. For me, the passing of time and the abstract nature of the sculpture lets me know that I’m looking at something that is conveying a message more than showing a specific act.

Is that right? Is my position ethically sustainable? Can my questions about the photo be swept aside when I look at the statue?

Let me know what you think. or what questions this generates for you.

(I also referred to ‘On the wrong side of history‘  while writing this entry.)

The importance of asking the right question

(I should acknowledge at the outset that this entry is a bit ‘nit-picky’.)

Yesterday I was at an event, which had a very positive vibe… apart from a couple of wee moments that niggled me. One was a deliberate, provocative act, which I didn’t think was necessary or helpful in the context. The second issue was a question that we were asked to discuss.

As I travelled back on the train, my mind kept going back to it. The question in question was:

What can we do to incentivise them?

I think it was clumsy. Firstly – and pedantically – ‘incentivise’ is  an inelegant word. I know this is a matter of taste, but does it really need to be a verb? Secondly, the question infers a ‘them/us’ situation, when we were talking about collaborative opportunities. Clumsy!

More importantly, the question has an underlying assumption that I am reluctant to accept. To assert that ‘incentivisation’ is necessary, implies that actions are only the result of a reward. That is, some form of extrinsic motivation is required to achieve the desired response. Presumably, if incentives are required to stimulate action, ongoing incentives are required to sustain action.

What about looking for intrinsic motivation? What about exploring how the desired collaboration might be achieved through encouragement; explanation; clarifying desired outcomes based on agreed values? What about giving people the credit for ‘giving a damn’?

What about being more careful and thoughtful about the way we ask questions?

Becoming a more authentic leader

true NorthBill George is one of my favourite thinkers/writers on leadership. Several years ago I read his book True North and it is one of my all-time favourites. It has influenced and changed me – hopefully for the better.

So, I was delighted to listen to him talking on the HBR Ideacast recently.

Here are some of the salient points.

  • To be an authentic leader is to know your inner self.
  • You must be true to yourself, but adjust to the prevailing circumstances. This is not always easy.
  • It’s easy to be real when things are going well.
  • You must be willing to admit mistakes, no matter how embarrassing.
  • You should show your feelings, to connect with the hearts of those around you.
  • You need to acknowledge that you need help – you cannot do/know everything.
  • You should celebrate diversity. Your organisation should reflect its customer base.
  • Trust is measured at the top of the organisation.

This is a very challenging list. I wonder how I’ll measure up to it today?

How to apologise

sorryI came across this apology made by David Pocock, the Australian rugby player. (HT: @ThorsborneMarg)

It’s worth reading the article (it takes about 5 minutes). It’s also worth learning from it.

I like the way that Pocock takes responsibility for his actions. But more than that, I admire the way that he sets a standard for himself that he knows he will be held accountable to – if he transgresses again.

This seems like a humble, genuine apology and a brave declaration about future behaviour. That is truly admirable.

(Image from pixabay.com)