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Welcome To Unstructure

Years ago, while walking past the swimming pool at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, my good friend Kaushik Basu explained chaos theory to me. He used the example of Rubik’s cube where you took out all the middle pieces while leaving the corners and sides, thus increasing surface area, while reducing volume. And then if you keep repeating the process with each small square treating it as a replica of the cube itself, you reach a point where the volume tends to zero, while the surface area tends to infinity. This is the point where the system becomes non-determinate.

I’m reminded of that conversation often when I think of the world today. We are leaping forward technologically with robotics, artificial intelligence, drones, bionics and so much more. The world’s mysteries are being solved. We are making great headway with fighting cancer. We are unravelling secrets of the universe. And yet, in so many social and political ways we seem to be hurtling back into the dark ages. Centrist liberals are fast becoming an extinct (or at best, irrelevant) species, with the political landscape polarising sharply into the vitriolic right and the loony left. Crimes against women and minorities go unpunished in India. Racial hatred spews over onto the streets in countries like the US which for the longest time has been the epitome of the free, progressive and equal opportunity world. Capitalism has run its course – with inequality having long passed the point of stability. And all the while IS and it’s allies are trying to drag us is into world war 3. It feels like we’re approaching the same state of non-determinate chaos where we have lost control of the wheel completely.

Maybe it’s an illusion. Maybe it was always like this but with a veneer of control, or perhaps of ignorance. Perhaps there were just as many women being molested, wars being waged, or black people being shot on the streets. They were just not in our range of vision. Maybe this  is just a passing phase of actually being able to see the world as it really is, for the first time and the dark hour before the dawn. But maybe something more fundamental is at play.

The last century and a half, world wars and all were defined by industrialisation. The technological choices of the day defined work and social structures. Broadly speaking you can break this down into production technology, communications technology and media technology. The industrial revolution and the next decades of production technology factory-fied the world. Countries with advanced and abundant production technologies grew prosperous. Others remained rooted in agricultural economies. Even at the height of the first world war, Britain and Germany were trading industrial war materials (ref: To End All Wars – my mother persuaded me to read this book recently).  The role of communications technologies is probably under-appreciated. The rise of the telegraph actually enabled governments to rule countries with some idea of what was going on at their borders. (ref: The Victorian Internet).  Social, economic and political changes have all mirrored technology advancements. For example, the concentration of financial services in a few key centres like London are critically predicated on communications and information technology. In more recent times this combination of production and information technology has enabled the globalisation of production and services leading to the  rise of China and India. Meanwhile, the growth of radio and television enabled the mass aggregation of media. Millions of people heard and watched the same shows, at the same time, huddled around identical TV sets in replica living rooms.

The keyword for this world of the past 150 years was structure. Our factories and offices, schools and colleges, our religions and politics, all operated in a structure. Even our personal and social lives reflected this lattice of our universe. The global middle class grew up and grew old in this time, sent their children to competitive schools to become upwardly mobile and to survive and flourish in this system. The ubiquitous metaphor for the career was a ladder – which you climbed rung by rung. And fitting in by and large offered much more rewards compared to sticking out.

But something changed in the past 20 years. The next wave of technological evolution has seismically shaken this landscape. And those of us yearning for and living life as though it was still a structure are struggling the most to come to grips with it. It’s no longer a structure, not even a complex one. The world has not moved from a cube to a dodecahedron. It’s more it’s gone from a crystalline to an amorphous, gaseous and possibly a quantum state.

Nowhere is this perhaps more visible than in the current socio-political landscape, where the realignment of forces have led to quirky alliances, with David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn finding themselves arguing for the same cause in the Brexit debate. You wonder if that prevented them from really throwing themselves into the campaign as wholeheartedly as the ‘leave’ lobby. In this new world of unstructure, we have to rethink the world differently from the traditional ‘left’ and ‘right’ positions.

There is a phrase I see more in use in America – blended families. A single mother with kids is in a relationship. The biological father has children from his new family. Everybody gets together for family occasions. This is used  to be the setting of television soaps. Now it’s commonplace. In fact, it’s also the case that being single is easier now than ever before. There are so many ways to connect with circles of friends and family, who can become our selective confidantes  for all the issues we face on a daily basis, our emotional dependence on the one person has gone down proportionately. Families and personal lives are now unstructured.

Our work is unstructured too. No longer does the ladder adequately satisfy our professional needs. Perhaps it’s more like a jungle gym or a roller coaster. My friend Ade McCormack makes the point that the whole notion of work-life balance, did not exist before the industrial revolution and that our technology toolkit today takes us back to the world where we work when we need to and find leisure when it suits us. Perhaps the end of the ‘office rush’ is nigh. This is not an easy change either – we need to think hard about our  goals and our payoffs. The structured world allowed us to simply adopt the received wisdom of the  hierarchy and  aim for the highest possible branch of the tree we were on. What if there was no hierarchy? What if it wasn’t a tree at all but a flowing river, in which you’re on a boat, accumulating experiences and material  benefits as you go?  How would we reshape education to deal with this metaphor? How would we reshape our whole lives?

So also it is with our bigger institutions. In the structured world, we were limited in our travel, reach and even communications to national boundaries. There was a very distinct and visible difference between speaking with somebody in your city, or your country or elsewhere. Dialling codes and costs were all factored into this, with telephone systems. Thanks to the myriad ways of messaging or voice and video calling, the only things we care about now are timezones and connectivity. Multiple passports are common and the world is in our living room in so many big and small ways, that countries have come to matter less. The only scenario I can think of personally that would put me in a bind is if Britain went to war with India. But there too, we are assured of unstructure. Wars are no longer fought by countries but by ideologies, super-national entities, and they are fought on our streets, and not on demarcated battlefields.

All this unstructure therefore poses some very difficult questions for us. Identity is one of them. If I can’t define myself by my company, my stable family or even my country, what is the source of my identity? Who are we in this unstructured world? What ideas or ideologies define us? Most of us have not thought hard about this, and for those who have, very few have satisfactory answers. And what if those answers change from month to month, is that all right in an unstructured world? Sometimes we fall back on other surrogates for our identity – race and religion come to the fore. Sometimes even if we don’t do it, other will do it for us. Donald Trumpism is here  to stay.

And what do we want to fight for? Many of us are fortunate enough to live in a world where we’re not called upon to die for our beliefs every day. But the time is not far when we have to fight for them. So what do we represent? What are those ideas we cherish that are worth defending? After all, sometimes you even have to fight for peace. In fact, one of the biggest asks of this era of unstructure is that it requires each of us to make a stand for what we believe in. This doesn’t mean that we take up arms. But that we think about those issues we believe define who we are and be willing to defend it. The world of simply inheriting values, systems and answers has gone. We’re going to have to think hard about the new answers and  we’re going to have to teach our children to think, rather than to follow. Because even our newly minted answers won’t be good enough for them.
parched

When Lajo and Rani push the boundaries of their relationship beyond friendship and into the no-woman’s-land of sensual exploration, at least for the oppressed women they represent, it marks the point where Parched begins the journey to places you haven’t been before. The scene itself is erotic, healing, nourishing and as Linaa Yadav says later in the directors Q&A at the BFI, it’s every relationship between women. It’s mother-daughter, it’s siblings, friends and lovers. From that point on in the movie, you know that you’re on the edge of a great, soaring expression of self-affirmation.

Parched is a beautifully shot, and adroitly told story. It starts rooted in every cliche that you know about the oppression of women in suffocatingly patriarchal and rural societies in north India. But it engagingly and wittily twists and contorts itself into a stereotype busting tale that nonetheless keeps its feet planted in believability. This is one of the film’s great achievements. Its flights of fantasy are all so within reach that it feels truly empowering. No superheroes need apply.

For me, the film has 3 great themes. The first is sex. Sex as power. Sex as liberation. Sex as livelihood and bondage and exploitation and violence and love and procreation. And the deeply orthodox rural environment provides an even more dramatic offset and frame that further elevates the sexuality of the story.

The second is feminism. Not the preach-from-the-pulpit feminism that comes from the holier than thou social worker – a staple in many movies but refreshingly absent here – but from the dancer and prostitute who wants to live and work on her own terms. Or simply from the well of life inside women who are bludgeoned but not beaten by circumstance. And importantly, feminism as a pursuit of individual choice and expression rather than as a means of waging gender warfare.

The third is the way it uses men. The men are largely caricatures with monotone personalities – both good and bad. The abusive husband, the mystic lover and all the others. They are props in the story telling. And I was surprised when some of the audience members after watching the movie had questions to ask about whether men in Indian villages are really ‘like that’. It was a bit like spending half an hour gazing at the Guernica and then enquiring about the frame. In fact I think one of the film’s greatest achievements is that it manages a reverse Bechdel – the few conversations between the men are almost always with reference to the women.

It’s a gritty story told with a sense of humor and a human touch. And it’s hard not to be feel uplifted by its very profound yet matter-of-fact conclusion.


Disclosure: I know
Linaa Yadav personally. 
(But honestly, I had no idea that she could make such a fabulous film!)
As the news and speculation builds up to a climax about Jose Mourinho’s possible appointment to the Old Trafford hot, the vocal fans and pundits seem to be broken up into 3 camps. Fans of other clubs rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of Mourinho melting down and turning Man United into an ungainly circus; fans of United complaining that he isn’t what they would like and that Giggs should be given a chance, and those welcoming an (albeit short term) era of success.

I am actually thrilled at the possible appointment. And I think that there are reasons to look closely at the various forms of criticism and uncover them for the myths they are.

Myth 1: Mourinho is a short term manager.

Certainly feels like it, doesn’t it! Yet, here’s some data for starters: Counting the 2010-2016 period, Mourinho will have been the longest serving manager in each of the clubs that he has managed – Inter (108 games), Madrid (178) and Chelsea (136). Mancini (99 games) will overtake him at Inter Milan should he complete the next season, but seen in this light, you have to ask, is Mourinho the problem? Or is it the clubs themselves? Inter, Chelsea and Madrid are not exactly known for their longevity with managers. So why lay the blame on Mourinho?

Let’s look at the Premier League. Clearly Wenger is the outlier here, as Ferguson was. And even with him, the average tenure of the Premier League manager is 1.8 years, which is less than any of Mourinho’s innings. Take Wenger out of the equation and Mourinho will look positively long term! Again, in the 2010 – 2016 period, the three longest tenures (measured in number of games) amongst the ‘big clubs’ are as follows: Mancini (City – 191), Rodgers (Liverpool – 166), Mourinho (Chelsea – 136). Pochettino at Spurs is at 110 and Van Gaal, should he be sacked as widely reported, is at 103. Among the big clubs, he’s the 4th longest serving manager in the last 6 years, once you look beyond Ferguson and Wenger.

Also worth noting that Van Gaal has not reached 200 games with any club since Ajax in the 90s, and neither Van Gaal or Guardiola have hit 300 games with any club as managers. So the bar is not set particularly high in the longevity competition in today’s football management. But it’s much more entertaining to have a pantomime villain like Mourinho, right?

Myth 2: Mourinho Plays ‘Boring Football’

In 2014-15, Mourinho’s Chelsea won the league with 87 points and 73 goals. The goals tally wasn’t great. In fact the second half of the season was full of ground-out victories, rather than swashbuckling football. But 87 points and a 9 point lead over second placed City suggests that the title was never in doubt. Yes, it was boring because Chelsea got their noses in front and never looked like being challenged. I’m yet to meet a fan that would not like that kind of ‘boring’. If my memory serves me right, Hazard, Fabregas and Costa weren’t doing too badly in terms of on-pitch entertainment either.

Let’s go back, though to Mourinho’s Madrid. I was in Barcelona on the 27th of February, 2013, watching the Copa Del Rey semifinal second leg at a bar on the Ramblas when Madrid decimated Barcelona at the Nou Camp. The final score was 1-3 and Barca’s goal was a late consolation. Keeping in mind that Mourinho started his personal duel with Guardiola’s Barcelona by receiving a 5-0 drubbing, this paragraph from the Guardian sums up the transformation.

When it comes to head to head matches against Barça, Mourinho’s Madrid have become the better side: the past six meetings have seen Madrid effectively clinch the league, win the Spanish Super Cup and now claim a place in the Copa del Rey final, as well as drawing 2-2 here in October. Ronaldo too has become more dominant than Leo Messi.

That year wasn’t a success for Madrid (Barca reclaimed the League and Atletico pipped Real Madrid to the Copa Del Rey), but that same tigerish team that Mourinho built went on to thrash Bayern Munich – yes, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern Munich, 5-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-final the following year. And in-between, in 2011-12, Mourinho’s Madrid won the La Liga with 100 points, 121 goals and a goal difference of 89 points. Pretty boring, huh? I’ll have some of that.

Myth 3: Mourinho has an abrasive nature

This is actually not a myth. But for Man United fans to complain about Mourinho’s abrasive nature would be a bit hypocritical, don’t you think? Most United fans including myself enjoyed more than 2 decades of sustained abrasion that was the hallmark of Fergusons win-or-bust mentality. It worked because the club backed him to the hilt. From his initial clearing out of established players to serially rebuilding the team, can you imagine it working if the club or the president, or latterly the owners, were supporting player revolts behind his back? Even when he was wrong, he ultimately got it right. Whether it was Whiteside, McGrath, Stam, Beckham or Keane – all cult heroes in their time, they were all adequately replaced because the club was bigger.

Let’s also not forget, Sir Alex was always at war. With the referees, with the system, with any manager who dared to mount a serious challenge (he was avuncular to all the rest!). He is revered and admired by football fans across the realms today but in his time, he was hated. And United were hated. Mourinho is actually the closest thing to Sir Alex in terms of nature. With a competitive personality that lies somewhere in between a sandpaper and a nettle, it’s also what is often required to win serially at this level. They say Mourinho has too much of an ego, and it’s always about him, blithely forgetting Sir Alex’s brouhaha about the racehorse and his comparable ability to deflect from his teams performances by blowing up some other issue.

Mourinho is not foolish, nor insensitive. He’s much loved by the majority of his players. And if the club’s traditions were built around attacking football, promotion of youth and stockpiling the trophy cabinet, he would look to deliver on all fronts. Neither Chelsea nor Madrid had a youth policy that they championed and both clubs were focused on short term success that they were willing to fund. So why blame Mourinho for delivering what was asked? Let’s not forget the Porto success was not built on buying talent.

I don’t know if Mourinho will actually be appointed as Manager of Manchester United or whether Van Gaal will actually be asked to go, despite all the rumours. But should it happen, I would be a happy fan and keep my fingers crossed for a longer innings from the true successor of Sir Alex. It could all go belly up, of course, but I’d rather take a chance on Mourinho than seek the ‘stability’ without trophies in a period where the managerial stakes in the Premier League are higher than ever before. I’ll see your Pochettino-Conte-Klopp-Guardiola and raise you by a Mourinho, thanks!
A tweet from my feed posted by @zeynep snagged on my mind this week. Referring to the recent news article about some 500 people feared dead from a capsized boat carrying migrants from Libya, she says “… we don’t even know how many have died. 500 here, 400 there. World shrugs.” It’s true. Disasters have just become scoreboards, registering only in terms of the number of lives lost, and increasingly, only the figure lingers.

In very recent times, 600 people died in Quito following the earthquake. 27 were killed in the flyover collapse in Kolkata. 69 people were reported killed in Pakistan following a terror blast in a childrens’ park. And hundreds of people are killed every month in Syria. For differing reasons, some tragedies affect us more. Either because we have a connection with the place or people – the Kolkata flyover collapse saddened me a lot more than the Equador earthquake, or because in some way the tragedy affects us more directly. But in the main, I think we note the number  in our heads and move on, having registered the scoreboard of the disaster.

I remember very clearly an incident from the early 1980s when during the Punjab insurgency, a bus was stopped, some passengers pulled out and shot. It was stark. It felt scary, we hadn’t had anything so terrible happen in my living memory. (I was too young to remember the Naxalbari movement and it’s death toll). For me, it brought terrorism home in many ways – perhaps because I’d traveled in buses in Punjab and Himachal on family holidays. And yet, over the next few weeks and months, such incidents became so commonplace – to be repeated in Kashmir, that they too became just numbers.

Some part of this must be a natural defense mechanism – the way our brain protects us, by tuning out the horrors of the individual events, so we don’t become overloaded with grief. But also, thanks to the Internet, we’re now also exposed to every tragedy wherever in the world it occurs. To the toddler who accidentally shoots his mother somewhere in the gun belt of the US to the latest rumblings of the earth’s Pacific rim in Japan. We’re connected by just a couple of clicks to all these disasters. 30 years ago, depending on how far away they were, many disasters would just be column inches in a newspaper, and perhaps a brief few seconds on the television news. Today, we have cameras that linger on every tragedy and every strand of emotion is laid bare for our consumption by hyper-connected news and social media channels. Over time, we’ve been emotionally inoculated against the grief of each event unless they truly impact us personally.

Because, strangely, the opposite is happening to us, in our personal lives. A generation ago, you would start losing touch with school and college friends soon after graduation. And proximity would reshape your social connections. The limited access would mean that you would really know about the big and small events in the lives of a very limited set of people. Today, we’re hyper-connected to about a much larger number  of  people. On average this is probably an order of magnitude higher, or 10x the number  of connections.

One of the side effects of this is that we are now exposed to many more points of both agony and ecstasy. If we have direct access to over a thousand people who roughly form a cohort, then on any given day there will be significant news of some kind about somebody, whether good or bad. A macabre thought crossed my mind recently – as my generation of mid-to-late forty-somethings grows older, we are hitting a distribution curve of life expectancy. And the spooky reality is that every year, an increasing number of people ‘of my age’ will lose their lives, or encounter serious illness. Not to mention everybody we know from the earlier generation.

So it is that every other day we wake up to sad news that comes from lives very close to us – even if we haven’t met them physically for years. I don’t know if there’s a connection between this heightened tax on our personal emotions that is borne out of a larger and always-on social circle; and our increasing numbness to global disasters. Some days, I feel that we have a limited amount of emotional capacity, and that is getting maxed out with more stories of personal grief from those we know, leaving us bereft and unable to feel for the every increasing stories of larger human tragedies – be they the effect of war, disease or natural disasters. Paradoxically, therefore, the Internet is making us simultaneously feel more and feel less.

Steven Johnson, in his book “Where Good Ideas Come From”, highlights one of the most key aspects of innovation – Darwin’s Paradox. The phenomenon by which despite occupying under a thousandth of the words surface, the coral reefs support 25% of all marine species. A part of the answer lies in the cooperation and symbiotic relationships between species in the reefs. For example the algae Zooxanthellae absorbs carbon dioxide and provides the corals with growth materials in exchange for more CO2 and host services, protection and access to sunlight. Johnson highlights this cooperation as being just as critical to the evolutionary system as competition. So it is that all the tools and products that use Google’s map API actually make the maps stronger, and often better, by adding data back to it. Or the Twitter ecosystem, which works in a similar way, relies on third parties for many of it’s sustaining innovations.

Now take a step back and think about how today’s terrorism works. An attack on innocent people leads to intense and irreparable loss and damage to the immediate victims and their families. But then the media and the politicians naturally magnify the event and create giant ripples of emotion – fear, loathing and often hatred. Many politicians use these events to practice a divisive diatribe. Which sustains localised discrimination in some communities. Which in turn creates alienation of some individuals for whom joining the extremist movement becomes a response. I’m not suggesting that all terrorism or terrorists are the result of this alienation but even if a small percentage are, that itself creates another symbiotic ecosystem between the terrorist ideology and the reaction of the world.

Think also about how Uber, AirBnB and other similar successful organisations work. AirBnB does not have an global organisation, or assets such as leading hotel chains do. And yet is able to compete with them at many levels through clever use of the idea, and platform and open connects. The power of communication technologies and global connectivity is that once an idea and platform establishes itself and makes itself visible, it can rely on individuals and groups from across the world to reach it on their own accord. This ‘pull’ approach rather than a traditional ‘push’ approach is much more efficient and requires little capital or asset creation.

anonymous network
Once again, does this sound familiar? Of course there are disaffected people across the world. People with grouses, who are occasionally incensed enough as well as unbalanced enough to want to deliver their own version of retribution by hurting people. But now, they can sign up to a platform, access a collective intelligence, find methods and knowledge and potentially support, to carry out their misplaced acts of terrorism. Consider the numbers we’ve been seeing off late, about the number of people in the US who have victims of gun deaths vs terrorism. What’s the difference between the two acts? In one case a deranged lunatic with a gun creates mayhem in a college or a town. In another, the same lunatic can also justify his or her actions by joining a movement and pretending that it’s a ‘cause’. Is there really a difference between the two? Is the ’terrorist state’ as we know it just offering a symbiotic platform to people who want to perform these abhorrent acts? We know now that some of the suspects in the Paris attacks were probably not religious zealots over the course of their lives, though at some point of time they were quickly ‘radicalised’. I wonder if calling themselves jihadists is just an arrangement of convenience for some people who would like to perform such acts of mass hatred anyway. It allows the so called ‘terrorist state’ to claim these as successes and it allows the perpetrators to gain access to a platform that allows them to justify their actions to themselves and possibly to gain knowledge and support for their plans.
chartoftheday_3851_how_do_us_terrorism_and_gun_crime_deaths_measure_u_n

In a nutshell, the symbiotic nature of Darwinian cooperation and the platformisation that terrorist organisations provide are two of the pillars on which terrorism works today. Both of these are also at play in our worlds of business, and used for progress and growth. We understand how they work. So why are we continuing to fight them using more traditional tools? Remember, the reason the Internet was invented, back in the cold war years, was to create a network that didn’t have a hub. So you couldn’t bomb any one part and bring the network down. Now we’re trying to bomb some other part of the world hoping to bring down what is clearly a similar distributed network.

Democracy 2.0?

You know that thing that happens to couples who’ve been together for a long time – the talkative one becomes more and more talkative, and the silent one ends up getting three sentences out in a year? Yes, exactly! In my family, I’ve become lazier from the day we got married and K has become more and more efficient. She often gets ready, gets our daughter ready, organises breakfast, drops her to school and is halfway through housework before I’ve finished my morning cup of coffee and reading the news.

Anyway, I digress. It seems to me that this polarisation is what’s happening in politics as well. In most countries we now have boiled election down to 2 viewpoints or political philosophies, broadly identified as the left and the right. And from being left-of-centre or right-of-centre, over the past few decades, they have marched along, increasingly polarising each other to the point where they are starting to resemble their caricatures. Just look at Donald Trump. If you created a satirised and demonic version of an conservative nut job, you could not go as far as the real Trump has gone. He has crossed lines you didn’t even know existed, and uttered words you didn’t think you’d ever hear since Adolf Hitler.

The scary thing of course is that he’s not a fringe lunatic howling at the moon. His message is resonating with millions of people. In the cold light of day, you would think that the only thing any opposing candidate needs to be, to defeat him, is alive. But the truth is, Trump is reaching those parts of republican voters that other politicians can’t reach. Which suggests that deep down, these ideas exist, in the very societies we live in. And Trump may just be the tinderbox  that sparks the bigotry that has never really gone away from our so called civilisation.

And Trump isn’t really as much of an outlier as his pantomime villainy suggests. Consider the recent success of Marine Le Pen in France. You can’t really compare France with the US without offending both countries, but this polarisation of the electorate is apparent there as well.

And it’s not even just the far right, Britain, with Corbyn, now also has the loony left. Corbyn’s election to the leadership of the labour party represents just the other side of the coin of polarised electorates. It seems that to lead either the right or the left you increasingly have to represent their most extreme and unreal forms.

Why is this? Is it because of the hyper-blare of social media fuelled opinion making that moderate values have no reach, simply because they have no news value? Is it that because of the precipitation of what seems like word war 3, between jihadists and the free world, that taking sides dramatically is what people have come to expect? As though, if you don’t stand for an extreme view, you don’t stand for anything at all? So if you’re not a toupee wearing, muslim bashing fundamentalist, you have to be a placard waving, tree hugging pacifist?

It’s probably more correct to say that if you can’t occupy the central ground of sanity, your best bet is to take a very extreme position. David Cameron, Hilary Clinton or Francois Hollande don’t represent extreme points of view but their political opposition clearly does.

This video from the TED talks and delivered by Kenneth Kukier from the Economist, throws up the excellent example of apple pie, which is America’s favourite pie. That is, until you change the sizes they are sold in. It turns out apple pie is the favourite as long as you have family sized pies, but if you make individual pies, other flavours win. So apple pie is really everybody’s second favourite and wins on consensus. Looking at these extreme politicians, I can’t help wonder if we need an apple pie solution.

As a thought experiment, imagine what would happen if everybody cast two votes, and not one, with their primary and secondary choices. Let’s say we gave 1/2 a point for everybody’s second vote, and 1 point for the primary. Would that change election results and choices? What if we just counted every vote as the same, whether primary or secondary? I suspect we’d see a lot of centrist leaders. In a way, the current electoral system nudges you away from compromise to intransigency. Which then reflects in parliaments that can’t pass laws, because every victory for one side is a loss for the other, and the common man loses the most.

While we’re on thought experiments, consider that democracy as we know it, is by and large two centuries old, across the world. A lot has changed since we enshrined the basic rules of democracy. Isn’t it time to reconsider how we could upgrade the system? One of the most obvious flaws in the system is of course, that nobody wants to kick the proverbial ladder, so the very people who are entrusted to run and upgrade the systems, have no interest in doing so.

But if you could redesign democracy today, would you? For a start, consider that the electoral cycle means most long term and infrastructure projects get the short shift in many parts of the world because the effects are not felt within the incumbents’ term in office. Or consider that the current system assumes that once you elect somebody, even at a local level, you also agree to support them in every decision they make, unless you actually move to depose them. What if you could actually vote on everyday issues? After all, we can, at reasonably low costs, nowadays. It may not be too far in the future where everybody could have a vote button at home. You could vote every other day on issues ranging from investment choices in your local council to referendums about staying in the EU. To reiterate, I’m not suggesting we vote every day on matters of national importance, or even that we might be qualified or informed enough to achieve better results. But this is a thought experiment, so bear with me. The constraints on which democracy were built have changed – shouldn’t we upgrade democracy to take advantage?

What are the other ways in which you would redesign democracy?

Football Schmootball

So I was thinking about the nature of football managers, especially in such a topsy turvy season where it’s hard to find a single ‘big club’ who are actually happy with their manager. I’m sure Leicester City, Stoke City, Crystal Palace and Everton are all in thrall to their respective managers. Liverpool (yes, still a big club) are also currently infatuated by Klopp but to be scientific, we need more time to lapse. Spurs (almost a big club) are pretty chuffed with Pochettino, too. But Chelsea, Man City, Man United, Arsenal – the traditional big four of recent years are all at various stages of dissatisfaction with their bosses.

The shadow of Ferguson hangs very long over Manchester United, and that’s not just because of the stand named after him. Until United have won a few more trophies, people will be harking back to Ferguson’s days. The Man United board seem more than happy with Van Gaal’s methods. But on reflection, the difference between the two managers is vast. They represent the very chalk and cheese of football management. Ferguson – the firebrand, man manager and media manipulator, whose decades of success was built on long stints at two clubs, is in football terms a very different person from Van Gaal, the wanderer, who has won much, across countries, but never stayed on to build a dynasty. Van Gaal’s honesty with the media is as refreshing as his ego is occasionally jarring. Ferguson would bludgeon a probing question from a media person with the wrath of indignation and perceived audacity. Van Gaal dismisses it with candour and disarms people with straight talk.

But in football terms, there are two key axes along which they differ. Van Gaal is a theorist. A man who believes in the process. If you play football a certain way, the results will come. In this, he is like Wenger, Guardiola and Martinez. There is great focus on style of play. And consequently, there is great focus on retention and use of the ball. Or getting it back when it’s lost. Ferguson on the other hand was a thoroughbred pragmatist. His success was built on the ability to focus on what counted – i.e. results. This is why his teams over the years looked and played differently. But also why he packed his teams with great goal-scorers. A Ferguson team might play well, or badly, but they would almost always score. Other pragmatists include Ranieri, Pellegrini, Mourinho, Alardyce and Benitez.

I can already see your brows furrowing in disagreement. Ferguson like Benitez? Or Allardyce? Surely some mistake? Not really. They are all pragmatists, who eschew style for results. But there is another axis, so you can relax and exhale.

The second axis is offensive versus defensive focus. Once again, Van Gaal and Ferguson are at the poles. Van Gaal is a ‘build from defence’ manager. Who likes to get his team organised from back to front. Other defence first managers include Mourinho, Moyes, Allardyce and Benitez. Nigel Pearson even. Ferguson was clearly a ‘build from attack’ manager, like Wenger, Ancelotti, Pellegrini and Martinez. Given that Ferguson gave us the Bruce-Pallister-Schmeichel defence and also the Vidic-Ferdinand-Van Der Saar one, it may seem off the mark to suggest he didn’t ‘get’ defending, but I think it would be fair to say he saw defence as a necessity, not a priority. The same cannot be said for Louis Van Gaal. Similarly, Mourinho had great attackers at his disposal at Madrid, but the ultimate driver was the necessity of competing with Barcelona, rather than his priority.

So there you have it, the 2×2 matrix of theorist vs pragmatist on the one axis and attack first vs defend first on the other axis. And in my humble opinion, this is where these managers sit.

Theorist
Pragmatist
Build from
front
Wenger / Guardiola/
Martinez / Klopp
Ferguson / Ranieri/
Pellegrini / Ancelotti
Build from
Back
Van Gaal / Moyes

Mourinho / Pearson /
Allardyce/ Benitez

If you’re with me so far, we can move on to some interesting further observations. The attack oriented managers tend to be popular at top clubs. Because obviously, they bring entertainment and goals. Pragmatists are revered at relegation threatened clubs because they find a way to get to the results. The attack minded theorists can really come unstuck at small clubs facing relegation. You would not want Wenger (of today) in charge of Aston Villa, for example. And let’s not forget Martinez took Wigan down. Guardiola has only managed at clubs which were massively successful before and after him, so it’s hard to say how he would if he were to manage (say) Getafe or Hoffenheim. But given resources, and a demand for flair he still seems top of the pile. So any top club with funds could do well to get him. Pragmatists tend to do better at Cup Competitions. Yes Guardiola has been very successful in the Champions league but he has arguably been with the 2 best teams of the decade. The other winners all tend to hail from the Pragmatist church. Note, it’s not that pragmatists don’t have an established style of play but they are not wedded to that style, especially across teams and timelines. So you may not find stylistic similarities between Heyncke’s CL winning Bayern (2013) side and his CL winning Madrid side (98) but it’s likely you’ll see similarities across any side managed by Van Gaal or Guardiola.

But my most interesting observation looking at this is this: clubs get the best results by following a ‘build from back’ manager to a ‘build from front manager’. Local examples of this abound – from Leicester (Pearson to Ranieri), Everton (Moyes – Martinez), West Ham (Allardyce – Bilic), and Crystal Palace (Pulis – Pardew). Or even consider the trajectories of clubs post Van Gaal – both Barcelona and Bayern fall into this category. And do you remember the flair and style of Ancelloti’s Chelsea?

Bypassing the defensive organisation isn’t a good idea as it leads to chaos – think of all the years of Madrid’s obsession with the Galacticos. La Decima duly arrived when Mourinho’s defensive organisation was built on, by Ancelotti’s attack minded freedom. What this means is that United would do well to find an attack minded manager to follow Van Gaal – such as Guardiola or Ancelloti. If push came to shove, Martinez would be a better option than, say, Mourinho (who may well be available in 2017). Not because Mourinho would not be successful but because the pattern suggests that the offence-centric style is likely to lead to explosive success!

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