December 20, 2012

Time Out

So, we’ve come to the end of the calendar year. If you’re like me, you’ll be tired and really looking forward to a break away from work. Christmas is a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends, but this can itself make for a busy (fraught?) few days. I started the negotiations with my parents, siblings and in-laws back in August as to who was going where, when and for how long over the seasonal period. The latest position is that my parents will be coming over on Christmas Day at either 5.30pm or 6.00pm – agreement has yet to be reached (and we think trade union negotiations are tough, I trust there’s an ACAS Christmas helpline?)

What I am certain about is that I will make the time to properly reflect upon the year just ending and consider the year to come. At the departmental Christmas meal and HR Exchange I shared with you some of our highlights, so I won’t repeat these here. I do however want to say how pleased and proud I am of the whole team. You’ve worked hard and achieved much, so thank you all.

As for next year, then I’ll be making a list of things to achieve in 2013; New Year’s Resolutions if you like. I have a few days left to finalise these, but I thought I would share with you my draft goals (in no particular order):

1. To buy a house (we’ve sold the family home quicker than envisaged, so I really need to crack on before the family becomes homeless, so no pressure then).
2. To launch and enact our new HR Strategy.
3. To attend fewer meetings than I did in 2012.
4. To send fewer emails than I did in 2012.
5. To run the Windermere Marathon quicker than I did in 2012.
6. To successfully deliver upon all my SRDS objectives (I have to say this really).
7. To complete at least two Olympic distance Triathlons (better buy a bike then).
8. To evidence that the University is a remarkable place to work.
9. To achieve a positive work/life balance (this is a standing item).
10. To challenge, to be challenged and to have fun.

A busy 2013 is on the cards then. In the meantime, I really hope you enjoy your time out and manage to relax and refresh. You may also want to prepare your own list of goals for 2013, and perhaps even share them with the team!?

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year.


December 7, 2012

The 'Historian's Fallacy'

I received through the post my first Christmas card on Monday. It was from an old school friend who moved to Canada in 2002. As you would expect, catching up with him and his young family in person is a challenge, so we both rely on email, twitter and Facebook to keep updated on what the other is doing. As well as the ubiquitous updates on kids, holidays, sport, jobs etc, my friend has a strong tendency to block up the FB news feed in support of the so-called 'truth' movement. Yes, my friend will invariably assume that every global event is in fact a conspiracy, usually orchestrated by a decadent and corrupt government and the Establishment. In my mind, these lurid conspiracy theories are a nonsense and shouldn't warrant much attention.

However, I'm always up for a challenge, so I set about trying to convince my friend of the error of his ways. I started by reading David Aaronovitch's book "Voodoo Histories". Aaronovitch considers how conspiracy theories have shaped modern history and culture, why people are so ready to believe in these stories and the danger of this credulity.

Within the text, he explains how the underpinning argument offered by the conspiracy theorists is to cite the establishment's failure to act during a crisis. For example, when the terrorist attacks commenced on 9/11, why didn't the Bush Administration act? Why didn't they evacuate the Pentagon, why didn't they bring down rogue Flight 77? The fact they didn't surely demonstrates complicity?

This argument was brought to mind yesterday when a member of staff explained to me that a work issue had escalated unexpectedly, that the situation had gotten worse not better - that things weren't going too well. Interestingly though, that member of staff really wanted to assure me that this troubling situation hadn't been deliberately created, that they hadn't sought to consciously create further problems, it had just regrettably happened.

So, this is the ‘historian's fallacy’. Coined by the academic David Hackett Fischer, it simply describes the assumption that the actors in a drama simply did not know, at the time, what was coming next. The reason the Bush Administration didn't act to evacuate the Pentagon was because they didn't know then, as we now know, that it was the target for Flight 77. Likewise, the member of staff hadn't remedied the work problem because they had not known at the time that it required additional intervention.

So, we shouldn't have to apologise when we don't foresee the unusual or unexpected things, or equally we shouldn't be excused of masterminding an HR conspiracy - things really do happen outside of our control.

What we should do is reach reasonable decisions based upon the information we have available at that time. Indeed, it often feels as if we're so busy with the present that we have little time to worry about the future. As someone tweeted earlier today:

Between yesterday's mistakes and Tomorrow's hope there is a Fantastic opportunity called Today!

As for my Canadian friend, today has been far too busy for me to remember to reciprocate and post him a Christmas card. However (and thankfully), he remains more than happy to blame a Royal Mail conspiracy rather than the tardiness of his British friend.