Tuesday, April 25, 2006


There has been a rash of articles this year talking about Anzac Day and how it has become Australia's national day. My grandfather was an Anzac (a New Zealander - this has never been just about Australians). He wasn't at Gallipolli, but he spent a few pretty horrible years in France on the Western Front, where he was pretty lucky to escape intact. So in one sense, I feel part of the Anzac tradition.

But in other ways, the Anzac day traditionalism excludes a whole lot of people - Larvatus Prodeo has a post today that says this better than I could. E's grandfather also fought in World War I - as an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army. E's father fought in World War II - as one of Tito's partisans in Croatia - nominally on our side, but by the time he came here as a Displaced Person, Tito had become a communist and therefore bad, and E's father was excluded from right-thinking Anzac celebrations. So E has never felt particularly part of Anzac Day - although his other grandfather fought in World War I on the British side, it was simpler just to forget the whole thing.

So in some ways Anzac day can become a bit of a celebration of old Australian nationalism - have a look at the celebrated young faces in the crowd at a dawn ceremony, and it won't look particularly multicultural. But with a bit of imagination, it doesn't need to be that way. One of the best things about Anzac Day has been the way that, by being based on a losing campaign, it was about the futility of war. And the Anzac tradition, today, celebrates some great things about the Australian character - the daggy celebration of people who were willing to have a go and the ability to separate the heroism and sacrifice from the sometimes questionable political decisions that made them necessary.

And there are many Australians, E's father included, who are here because of the stupidity and futility of war. The RSL has got a lot more sensible about that in recent years - allowing soldiers of other countries to march. I'd like to think that Anzac Day will evolve to be simultaneously a celebration of the heroism of soldiers around the world, and a mourning of the lives cut short by the stupidity of war.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Fashion Industry

50% of Kathmandu, the clothing company, has just been sold by the founder, Jan Cameron. It made me ponder, in fashion week, just how snobby the fashion press is. Fashion week press is usually accompanied by articles about how Australian designers are just about to make it overseas, and isn't it great that those Parisians and Londoners are starting to notice us. Usually, there's an article about how some new name is being stocked in Browns, as if that proves how smart and sophisticated we are.

Meanwhile, Billabong, Rip Curl, Quicksilver, and even Mambo, make good money and export real original Australian style (not copycat European fashion) around the world. But they're generally only noticed in the business press.


Kathmandu, of course, is a New Zealand company (even though crikey, which alerted me to the sale, failed to mention it), but it's founded by someone born in Australia, who now spends half her time here, so as usual, that makes it an Australian company if you're writing in the Australian press.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Benefits of global warming

I've just had another idyllic Sydney day - a bushwalk by the harbour this morning, followed by a relaxing coffee in the sunshine - all brought to you by global warming.

It used to be that this time of year in Sydney was colder and wetter than the average now. Today wasn't that warm (21 degree maximum), but you can pretty much rely on having a fine day these days. And in the last two weeks, we've had two days over 30 degrees.

Right now, my life is probably improved by global warming - although I don't like the hotter summer, the rest of the year Sydney is fantastic, because it's warmer and drier. I can see why there are large swathes of the world thinking "global warming - how bad can it be?" - if you have the horrible winters they get in parts of the US, you'd be in favour of global warming, too.

But the main dam in Goulburn has just run dry. If you live in Goulburn, you're restricted to 150 litres of water per person per day for the foreseeable future. If you go a bit further up the coast of NSW, you're getting to places that are getting increasing storms, and are starting to get the chance of cyclones. Australia has probably got more to lose than most countries, but you couldn't tell by what we're doing about it.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Now that C is at school, he does scripture once a week. As an atheist household, we were pretty against the idea, but the alternative was spending the time colouring-in with the other children with weird parents, so the three weird parents in the class agreed to rotate the children one term at a time through the four options (Anglican, Catholic, Bahai and Jewish).

The problem with this exercise in comparative religion is that everything is, of course, presented as fact. So we weren't really prepared for C telling us seriously on Friday that Jesus died on the Cross at Easter. It's the heart of the Christianity, so of course Easter got a fair bit of attention (even if it is a bit gory), but we didn't really know how to handle it - we ended up downplaying it. When I started correcting C's interpretation (no, Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, not Easter Sunday), I think E was slightly concerned about reinforcement (disclosure: I went to Sunday School and Church weekly until I was 16 or 17, so I'm at least educated in the details).

Still, we've got it easy compared with one of the other sets of parents - their son insisted that they go to church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and has been telling his parents that he can feel God's love, which they're find a bit difficult to figure out how to react to.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Book Review: Nowhere People

This week's book review is Nowhere People, by Henry Reynolds. Henry Reynolds is probably Australia's most prominent exponent of what its opponents call the "Black Armband" school of colonial history. The Black Armband school of history (as contrasted by its originator, Geoffrey Blainey, with the "three cheers" school of history) focuses (in its opponents' views excessively) on the various wrongs that were done to the aboriginal people of Australia during white settlement:
The 'black armband' view of our history reflects a belief that most Australian history since 1788 has been little more than a disgraceful story of imperialism, exploitation, racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination. (John Howard - 1996 Sir Robert Menzies Lecture).

To me, the argument seems to be over focus, rather than fact. One thing that Henry Reynolds did in one of his earlier works was make an attempt to count the number of Aborigines who actually died from various frontier confrontations, add them up, and compare them with the number of Aborigines who lived at the time. Reading the detail of his books, it's hard to argue with his conclusion that there was a guerilla war going on at various times and places during the early days of Australian settlement; one which was almost overwhelmingly won by white people due to a combination of superior numbers, firepower, and occasionally, germs. That doesn't negate one of the other historical passions of Australians - that the ANZACs were a brave and heroic fighting force in World War I and particularly Gallipolli; but maybe it tells you that some of them had prior experience.

I've been a big fan of Henry Reynolds since I found his first books maybe 10 years ago (he's been writing a lot longer than that), so if you can't already, you can tell which side I'm on.

Anyway, back to this book. This book is a history of "mixed-race" people in Australia, and focuses on how much international theorising about mixing races affected the way in which mixed-race people were treated here. It has some high-level review of international thinking during the early 1900s, and then talks about the ways in which that thinking very much influenced the decisions of most state governments to try and separate mixed-race children from their aboriginal parents (an episode commonly known as the stolen generations). It's clear from the source documents, that Reynolds quotes quite extensively, that this was more than just children being removed from parents who neglected them; in most cases, the children were stolen forcibly and the state neglected them worse, and for ideological reasons.

The book is then topped and tail with Reynolds' story of his own family - it seems likely (although he doesn't and never will know) that Reynolds' grandmother had a fair bit of aboriginal ancestry.

I found the book heavy going; Reynolds seems to revel in finding quotes that sound unbelievably racist to modern ears (international ones talking about quadroons, mulattos, etc and the mongrelisation of the race), but apart from piling them on top of each other, doesn't do much with them. While he has a good high level survey of the stolen generation timelines, I've read better outlines of the facts elsewhere.

Sadly, the book didn't do that much for me; I suspect that Reynolds' personal interest has overtaken the need for good editing. Or maybe I'm just too politically correct (and squeamish) to be able to read that many racist documents in one sitting.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Household delegations

E is not feeling the best today, so I volunteered to take the boys and do the weekly shop. He decided against it, so we all did it together. The reason he decided against it? He didn't trust me to do it properly.

This is a classic (reversed) gender stereotype - the housewife (to use the word deliberately) refuses to delegate tasks to her husband because he is no good at it. Any discussion of who does housework (which includes both genders) will contain men complaining that their female partners don't trust them to do things properly, and it's their own fault that they have to do the work themselves.

My experience makes me realise that at least some of the housewifely refusal to delegate is sensible - E was behaving quite reasonably not to trust me with the shopping. Although I would have brought adequate food, and we wouldn't have starved for the week, the fact that I don't cook to speak of, and don't make the boys' lunches means that I am unlikely to have an instinctive memory of the state of our various staples (for example, we needed cream for tonight's dinner, which E cooked, and muesli bars for C's lunches as we had just run out). And on Tuesday, when I was back at work, he would have been the one stuck with my choices.

Any household is going to have some tasks that are done by just one person - generally other members of that household are not as good at them. The hard part is to understand and recognise the specialisations, not get sucked down into the gender stereotyping of them. I think we are both much happier with our current housework specialisation now that we have chosen it, rather than as it was when we lived in London, when I was more often the cook and the shopper by default, and did a worse job because I wasn't particularly happy with being the one who decided what we ate every night. Mind you, we had a lot of takeaway then, so I didn't exactly have a hard job! Perhaps it's just that I'm not cut out for being in charge of a household.

Or maybe it's just me who is happy because I do less of the housework than I ever have before? I'll have to see what E thinks.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Income inequality

A recently published summary of the HILDA survey got a fair bit of press - the AFR and the SMH both did front page stories on Wednesday, and both picked completely different angles. So I had to go back to the source, to see what interesting nuggets I could pick out.

The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey is a household-based panel study which began in 2001. It collects a stack of information about people - their income, wealth, families, whether they are in the labour market etc. etc, and it follows people - a longitudinal survey - so you can see what happens to them in successive years. They've done it three years in a row now.

There is a very interesting section on income and wealth mobility over what is quite a short period. The survey looked at household's income rankings (after tax and government benefits, and adjusted for household size). Over the three annual surveys, 10% of the top two deciles of income moved to the bottom half of the income distribution, and 8% of the bottom two deciles moved to the top half of the income distribution. Single mothers, though, even though they pretty much started at the bottom of the distribution, were very unlikely to move up in the period.

Using similar measure, the survey goes on to look at households in poverty (defined as income 50% below the median income - a generally used international standard - and even though it is relative, it can still vary substantially - depends on the level of inequality in incomes). Incidentally, this poverty level is $12,362 per equivalent person in a household, with first adults counting as 1, second adults as 0.5 and children under 15 counting as 0.3 of a person. So in my household (two adults, two small children), the total household income poverty line would be $25,960, or just under $500 a week.

Although 20% of the population was poor during at least one of the three years surveyed, only 3% was poor during the entire period. Around 12% were poor at any one time. This implies better mobility than I would have expected (although still a high rate of poverty, given that this includes government benefits, which are the current government's answer to the problems of big income ranges in the work force). Single mothers are the least mobile group of poor people, being less likely to move up the ladder, and more likely to be in the bottom deciles to start with.

The person most likely to be poor is a single elderly person (40 - 50% chance). Then after that is the single mother household (25%) and the lone person household. Elderly couples are about as likely as the population to be poor. Given that elderly couples, single mothers and single elderly people are all supported by government benefits, it says some interesting things about how benefits are targeted. Personally, I would rather that households with children in them were targeted than elderly couples, but then I'm not that likely to end up a poor elderly person, so it's easy for me to say.

I may pick some more out of this survey later - it's got all sorts of interesting snippets in it.

Female writers

Lazy blogging, but I found this very interesting meme from Under the Ponderosa. I had to add an extra categorisation - for books which I own, but haven't got around to reading, because there is an embarrassingly large number of those.

Bold the ones you've read.
Italicize the ones you have wanted/might like to read.
-Place a dash if you own the book, but haven't got around to reading it
??Place question marks by any titles/authors you've never heard of
*Put an asterisk if you've read something else by the same author.

* Alcott, Louisa May–Little Women
Allende, Isabel–The House of Spirits
Angelou, Maya–I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
*Atwood, Margaret–Cat's Eye
*Austen, Jane–Emma
?Bambara, Toni Cade–Salt Eaters
? Barnes, Djuna–Nightwoodde
-Beauvoir, Simone–The Second Sex
Blume, Judy–Are You There God? It's Me Margaret
* Burnett, Frances–The Secret Garden
*Bronte, Charlotte–Jane Eyre

Bronte, Emily–Wuthering Heights
Buck, Pearl S.–The Good Earth
Byatt, A.S.–Possession
? Cather, Willa–My Antonia
? Chopin, Kate–The Awakening
* Christie, Agatha–Murder on the Orient Express
? Cisneros, Sandra–The House on Mango Street
Clinton, Hillary Rodham–Living History
? Cooper, Anna Julia–A Voice From the South
? Danticat, Edwidge–Breath, Eyes, Memory
Davis, Angela–Women, Culture, and Politics
Desai, Anita–Clear Light of Day
Dickinson, Emily–Collected Poems
? Duncan, Lois–I Know What You Did Last Summer
*DuMaurier, Daphne–Rebecca
* Eliot, George–Middlemarch

? Emecheta, Buchi–Second Class Citizen
? Erdrich, Louise–Tracks
Esquivel, Laura–Like Water for Chocolate
Flagg, Fannie–Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
Friedan, Betty–The Feminine Mystique
Frank, Anne–Diary of a Young Girl
- Gilman, Charlotte Perkins–The Yellow Wallpaper
Gordimer, Nadine–July's People
* Grafton, Sue–S is for Silence
? Hamilton, Edith–Mythology
* Highsmith, Patricia–The Talented Mr. Ripley
? hooks, bell–Bone Black
? Hurston, Zora Neale–Dust Tracks on the Road
? Jacobs, Harriet–Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
? Jackson, Helen Hunt–Ramona
Jackson, Shirley–The Haunting of Hill House
Jong, Erica–Fear of Flying
Keene, Carolyn–The Nancy Drew Mysteries (any of them)
?Kidd, Sue Monk–The Secret Life of Bees
Kincaid, Jamaica–Lucy
Kingsolver, Barbara–The Poisonwood Bible
? Kingston, Maxine Hong–The Woman Warrior
? Larsen, Nella–Passing
* L'Engle, Madeleine–A Wrinkle in Time
* Le Guin, Ursula K.–The Left Hand of Darkness
Lee, Harper–To Kill a Mockingbird

Lessing, Doris–The Golden Notebook
* Lively, Penelope–Moon Tiger
Lorde, Audre–The Cancer Journals
Martin, Ann M.–The Babysitters Club Series (any of them)?
McCullers, Carson–The Member of the Wedding
? McMillan, Terry–Disappearing Acts
? Markandaya, Kamala–Nectar in a Sieve
? Marshall, Paule–Brown Girl, Brownstones
Mitchell, Margaret–Gone with the Wind
* Montgomery, Lucy–Anne of Green Gables
? Morgan, Joan–When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost
Morrison, Toni–Song of Solomon
? Murasaki, Lady Shikibu–The Tale of Genji
* Munro, Alice–Lives of Girls and Women
Murdoch, Iris–Severed Head
? Naylor, Gloria–Mama Day
Niffenegger, Audrey–The Time Traveller's Wife
? Oates, Joyce Carol–We Were the Mulvaneys
? O'Connor, Flannery–A Good Man is Hard to Find
? Piercy, Marge–Woman on the Edge of Time
Picoult, Jodi–My Sister's Keeper
Plath, Sylvia–The Bell Jar
?Porter, Katharine Anne–Ship of Fools
* Proulx, E. Annie–The Shipping News
Rand, Ayn–The Fountainhead
? Ray, Rachel–365: No Repeats
Rhys, Jean–Wide Sargasso Sea
Robinson, Marilynne–Housekeeping
? Rocha, Sharon–For Lac
Sebold, Alice–The Lovely Bones
Shelley, Mary–Frankenstein

Smith, Betty–A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
-Smith, Zadie–White Teeth
Spark, Muriel–The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Spyri, Johanna–Heidi

? Strout, Elizabeth–Amy and Isabelle
Steel, Danielle–The House
Tan, Amy–The Joy Luck Club
? Tannen, Deborah–You're Wearing That
? Ulrich, Laurel–A Midwife's Tale
? Urquhart, Jane–Away
* Walker, Alice–The Temple of My Familiar
? Welty, Eudora–One Writer's Beginnings
Wharton, Edith–Age of Innocence
* Wilder, Laura Ingalls–Little House in the Big Woods
- Wollstonecraft, Mary–A Vindication of the Rights of Women
* Woolf, Virginia–A Room of One's Own

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


I haven't bothered commenting on the AWB royal commission before, mainly because it seemed too depressing. Once again, a government has done the wrong thing and brazened it out because the voters don't really care about the technicalities, and they have enough "I didn't know stuff" to hide behind.

The latest evidence from Mark Vaile and Alexander Downer, and tomorrow, John Howard makes the whole thing worse. Alexander Downer cheerfully acknowledged that he could not recall being told about the issues surrounding AWB, and that he had not been concerned. And he thinks this lets him off the hook! What annoys me most about this is that the federal government, rightly, expects more from anyone running an organisation of comparable size in this country.

When National Australia Bank was taken to the cleaners by four foreign exchange traders in the bowels of the organisation, did anyone seriously think it was a reasonable excuse for the Managing Director to say "sorry, I didn't know our controls were broken?". No, he resigned. Not content with requiring that level of responsibility from the person who is leading an organisation on a full time basis (fairly similar to a minister, I would say, in level of responsibility), they also require it from a Board, which is operating on a part-time basis in an oversight role (which would be equivalent to the full cabinet, in this context). And institutional investors also expect that level of accountability - the Board of NAB has almost completely turned over since that loss, in a fairly public and messy way.

Corporations Law does not allow directors to use ignorance as an excuse. They are responsible for asking the right questions, and creating an organisational culture that means they are likely to get the right answers, and be told spontaneously if there is something they should know. We should hold our government to no lesser a standard.

Monday, April 10, 2006


At cake this afternoon a colleague was telling me this long involved story about his family, which ended with his six year old son telling his mother she was a hero and giving her three cheers for cooking tacos. So my colleague ended by telling me that all I had to do to get my boys to cheer me was to cook tacos.

He was a bit non-plussed when I told him that I never did any of the cooking in our house. To the extent that I backtracked and mentioned cooking pasta occasionally (true, but only the assembly kind). None of my colleagues are deliberately sexist, but he clearly had a "mother = cooking" mindset for home life, even though, like him, I am the work outside the home parent in my household.

Not sure what the point of this story is (I'm procrastinating from the work I brought home this evening) but it is nice to subvert the dominant paradigm occasionally, even if in a subtle way.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Book Review - The Great Influenza

This week's book review is The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M Barry. The book is the story of the "Spanish Flu" - in 1918 and 1919 (depending on where you were in the world) a deadly influenza swept the world, killing between 50 million and 100 million people.

The book tackles this from a totally US angle, topping and tailing the main story with stories of how US medicine changed from being close to being based on folklore, to being a scientific enterprise understanding the immune system and the way in which bacteria and viruses work. But the main focus of the book is the way in which politics, both on a local, and a national scale, managed to make the government responses not just inadequate, but, in many cases, contributory to greater death rates.

The outbreak started towards the end of world war I, which meant that US troops were packed like sardines into troop trains, ships, and training camps, creating the best possible environment for the spread of the deadly disease. And the focus on winning the war meant that almost always, anyone who tried to stop the transport of troops was howled down as being unpatriotic. And in many towns and cities, censorship and the desire to avoid panic meant that newspapers totally downplayed the epidemic, or said that the worst was over, at the same time as people were dying in every neighbourhood, and cities were running out of coffins - Barry argues that the contradictions made people panic worse.

I found it riveting, and terrifying. Surprisingly (as it's been years since I read a book about actually doing science), I found the bits about basic medical science fascinating, and it made me want to read more (always the sign of a well-written book). And the disaster stories were just the right mix of broad sweep of history and the individual tragedies. The story of someone having to hand the body of their 8 year old son wrapped in a sheet (no coffins available) to a wagon collecting dead bodies was almost impossible to read. But the stories with statistics of the various army camps and the number of deaths they had in impossibly short periods of time were unputdownable.

It made me wonder why this whole episode doesn't live in the collective memory the way World War I does. I've never read a fiction book that mentions it; I've never had parental or grandparental stories handed down, it's almost as if it happened much longer ago.

Barry has some theories about that too - mainly that the whole thing was just so unbelievably horrible that nobody could bear to write about it. While it was happening, everyone was too busy, and afterwards, you just wanted to forget it had ever happened.

Barry mentions in passing that the Australian experience was much milder than the US one (because we managed to quarantine the country for long enough that when it finally got in, the virus had mutated to a milder version), but because our experience was post-war related censorship, there was far more press about it. He also mentions in passing a story about Wellington, NZ being completely deserted and every hospital totally overwhelmed, so it certainly hit both the countries where I'm likely to get folk memories from.

Depending on where you were, and when the virus hit your area (it took 6-12 months to get around the world, and varied in virulence during that time), as well as how much you had been exposed to influenza in the past, the death rates varied from well under 1% (very early or late in the epidemic) to up to 25% (obscure pacific islands at the height of the epidemic) of the population. Some Inuit villages in Alaska were completely wiped out, as the people who didn't die starved to death because they were sick for too long to get food. Individual city episodes generally lasted around 2 months. I imagine if you had better public health (i.e. close the schools, etc at the first sign of infection) that the death rates would be lower, but the episode would last longer.

It seems, from the research, that this is the worst strain in the last 400 years or so, so we'd have to be pretty unlucky to have an experience this bad again. Influenza is still a pretty scary disease, though.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Part time work

I went to a lunchtime presentation today from one of last year's AFR Boss Young Executives of the Year, Jane Adams. She is a COO at a recruitment consultant, and is part-time - works three days a week (which was not part of the criteria for the award). She talked a little bit about how she manages being part-time, which she views as a very tricky skill.

She said that she tries very much to downplay it. She doesn't have a picture of her daughter on her desk, and she asks the admin staff not to mention it when she leaves on Thursday for her four days at home. She also asks them talk to her about changing her days, rather than refusing meetings on her days off. She also spends a lot of time being contactable on the phone or email at home.

I didn't ask this question, but it does sound as if she manages it by working more than three days a week, in reality. It is great that someone with such a senior role is working part time in a public way (it was mentioned in the magazine article about her award), and she is probably working to the same extent as someone full time in such a senior role.

I was talking to a colleague on the way back, and neither of us could imagine a way we could do our current roles part time. There is just too much interaction with others needed. If I worked in a less centralised company, with more meetings by phone, then maybe I could get away with doing some from home. But I do spend most of my time in meetings.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


C has come home from school lately telling me about our local history:

"We are white people. The white people came in ships from far away, and the aborigines who were here before moved to where Ayer's Rock which is in the middle of Australia".

His story is a very simplistic one, as befits a kindergartener, but it makes me very uncomfortable. For a start, two of the kids in his class are asian - do they get the same spiel about being white people? And, of course, there are aboriginal people in Sydney - not many around where we live, but not far away. And the aboriginal people who were here before the First Fleet didn't just move to central australia in an accommodating way - they died of smallpox, or were gradually forced off their traditional hunting grounds.

I'm assuming all that history came from the teacher rather than other children (who is american, but I doubt if it would make any difference), and I'd like to think there was a way it could be explained that was both understandable for a kindergartener, and not misleading about what actually happened, and continues to happen.

I'm not sure what, if anything, to do about it, though. Talk to C about the real story when we have enough time to chat about it, I think.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Book Review: Westpac: the Bank that Broke the Bank

This week's book review is Westpac: the Bank that Broke the Bank, by Edna Carew. Westpac started out as the Bank of New South Wales, Australia's first bank in the early 1800s. By the 1980s, it had become Westpac, Australia's biggest bank, with global aspirations, and a dominant position in many markets.

By the early 90s, it was a shadow of its former self, having narrowly escaped insolvency, (ironically rescued by AMP, which went through a very similar experience 10 years later). Edna Carew writes the story, having had huge access (but not authorisation) to most of the key Westpac players throughout the experience.

I read this book when it first came out, in the mid 90s, when I knew little about banking (just your average educated consumer, really) and enjoyed it then. But in the last few years, I've been educating myself fairly intensively about banking, particularly risk management in banking (as I think actuaries have a lot to add there), and thought it might be worth rereading. It didn't disappoint.

I was astounded at some of the things that Westpac didn't know about its risks. For example, it did not have a picture, across the whole organisation, of its total exposure to any given company. It was possible for there to be major loans from Westpac, its finance subsidiary AGC, and various other smaller subsidiaries, without anyone in each bit knowing about the others, let alone a central risk manager knowing about them.

It was also really interesting to read the culture of arrogance that Westpac had at the time. It took a lot for many of the Westpac senior people to believe that they didn't know everything about their organisation. One anecdote that pointed this up was when Standard & Poor came in and started asking questions about Westpac's total credit exposure to various companies. Westpac didn't know, and the senior people started to realise that other companies would. But before that, if you'd asked them, they would have said that they were experts at managing credit risk.

It's a lesson to any organisation that something that was world's best practice 10 years ago isn't necessarily best practice now. You have to keep on top of the latest thinking, and not be arrogant about what a wonderful organisation you are in. I do find that there are companies that are very arrogant about themselves, and I don't think they are necessarily the ones that an outsider would say were the best in their industry.

This is probably only a book that would be interesting to someone in financial services. But to me, it was fascinating.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Are books passe?

I read an article in the last couple of days quoting David Maister (guru to professional services firms) as saying that he's never going to write another book, and he rarely reads them any more, either. Instead, he's become a blogger, and says that he gets his best information from other blogs, or maybe magazine articles. The original article, which probably set this off, is actually much more insightful than this, and an interesting comment (from a new convert) on the whole blogging experience from a business perspective.

I had a quick look at his blog, and I think he's basically using it as a forum for shorter magazine articles (when he was just an apprentice guru, he published magazine articles in the American Lawyer, before people were willing to give him a book deal). What he's writing is very polished, and thought through - certainly more than this blog, and more than most of the blogs I read.

To me, blogging is a new medium, not just a replacement for other, older ones. The interaction, between commenter and blogger, on the best blogs, makes it completely different from a magazine or newspaper, and the rough draft nature of many blogs create an immediacy that other media simply can't match. David Maister is the kind of writer that thrives from that interaction, but it's a big stretch from that to say that the book is passe.

I love having a new text-based medium, but, just as television didn't kill film, but added possibilities, blogging adds variety to the many ways we humans communicate with each other.

I'm still going to add David Maister to my bloglines feed. While I was in professional services, I found him the most insightful business writer I've read by a considerable margin. In a 30-second trawl through his blog, I found a post on leadership vs management for professionals that I'm going to go back to for inspiration later.