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?

Culture fit

Do my daily routines and practices need to fit in with the cultural norms of the organisation? If so, to what extent?

This post is not a rant about the organisation that I work for. It’s more about beginning to explore how far counter-cultural behaviour is acceptable.

This thought first occurred to me when I read Al Pittampali’s ‘Read this before our next meeting’. It was stirred again as I was bowled over by Greg McKeown’s ‘Essentialism”. Now it’s the question is resurfacing as I’m about to jump into Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’.

I’m not talking about ethical standards, simply the way everyday business is conducted.

  • Do I need to comply with meeting-itis?
  • Relish busy-work?
  • Fit in with presenteeism?
  • Spend every waking hour perusing e-mail?

Given my tendency to non-conformity most of this is hypothetical, but I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Je suis Charlie


You can’t draw anything if you don’t pick up the pen.


So … an initial response.

I don’t understand.

I need to ask ‘Why?’

I need to reflect more.

How to turn anger, indignation, horror, revulsion into peace-filled love?

I’ve been inspired by the response of many from across the world. Here’s a small selection to help me think:

je suis charlie cartoon@TheMagnusShaw


cartoons dont insult me@humzayousaf 

muslim population


view of muslims


Rules for rule-makers

Rules for rules… the (il)logical sequel.  Bureaucracy doesn’t get any better than this!

If you feel the need to create a rule or two, I think you might need some guidelines.  So here are some suggestions (feel free to add your own):

  1. Start with why – understand what the rule is intended to achieve;
  2. Ask yourself ‘Is it really necessary?”, “What purpose will it serve?”;
  3. Listen to the answer.  No, REALLY listen.  You might change your mind;
  4. If you still feel the need, make sure that you understand the impact that it will have.  Insensitive regulations will annoy people;
  5. Take personal responsibility for the rule – keep it up-to-date and dump it as soon as it is no longer required.