The Hungry Spirit

Today’s post is a very short and concise post, yet these are some inspirational quotes and extracts from two chapter’s of Charles Handy’s 1997 book entitled: “The Hungry Spirit“:

 

A Life of our own

Capitalism, efficiency and markets have their flaws, but also their uses.  They are neither the complete answer to our dilemmas nor the only cause of the.  They provide some of the context of our lives but not the purpose.  For that we need a philosophy not an economic system.

 

A better capitalism

Left to themselves, things do not necessarily work out for the best. Laissez faire is value free. No one is responsible for anyone else.  That is improper selfishness and can self-destruct.  We need something better.  Capitalism as an idea includes social capital as well as economic capitalism.  One without the other will not work for long.

 

theMarketSoul © 2010


The Morass of Mediocrity

We link today’s article to one of our main themes on our home page, namely the ‘Battle against the Status Quo’, or as per the title of this posting, ‘The Morass of Mediocrity’.

 

Helmet from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial 1, England.
Image via Wikipedia

The underlying intent and theme is that of competition and competitive behaviours and the difference between rules based and principles based standards.

 

It is our opinion that a rules based culture encourages more insular and introspective behaviours, where the rush is for the middle ground of mediocrity, rather than as the opposite principles based culture would be the encouragement for the search for innovation and competitiveness at the margins and extremes of the ‘functional envelope’.  By this we mean the parameters and frameworks set-out in the principles based environment, to ensure that a well-defined playing field (not necessarily level), is established and market participants understand their boundaries and culture norms they have to adhere by as part of the participation process.

 

Yet, apparently, a more principles based regulatory framework is exactly what is being blamed for the Credit Quake of 2008 – 2010.

 

And if we analyse the circumstances that led to the regulatory failure and debt driven imbalance we currently experience, we would discover that it is because we operate in a hybrid world with symbiotic elements in the relationships between the private, public and third sectors.

 

Some of these factors include, but are not limited to:

  1. Market structure – free market versus socialist structures
  2. Regulatory framework – the disjointed regulatory frameworks and mixed agendas and the sense of urgency in the global regulatory framework
  3. Cultural setting – Anglo-Saxon, European, Middle Eastern, Far East, etc.
  4. Reliance on macro-economic tools including monetary and fiscal policies
  5. Skewed nature of national performance measurement
  6. Balance between equilibrium and disequilibrium clearance mechanisms in the economy
  7. Erosion of moral hazard and other distorting signals

 

Régulation de la machine à vapeur Merlin
Régulation de la machine à vapeur Merlin (Photo credit: zigazou76)

However, as a mainly libertarian focussed publication, it would be remiss of us not to endorse the principles of minimal interference (small government in other words), yet we also realise that this has to be tempered with personal responsibility.  However, because the symbiotic (hybrid) relationships have become so skewed and dysfunctional over the last few decades, was it any surprise that the uncertainty this created led to opportunist behaviours?  Because a ‘moral compass’ is a very relative term, is it no surprise that depending on your own individual position and point of view, that the direction it indicates will be different from others?

 

The G20 are meeting again this weekend and the global regulatory framework will again be in more detailed focus, yet other priorities are again distracting the main thrust and issues on the agenda.

 

Therefore to conclude this brief interlude into the ‘morass of mediocrity’, the real question is:

 

If we all run and work hard for the centre ground, who will remain at the margins, pushing the envelope and ensuring that we break the tyranny of the status quo by exploring new unchartered territories and responsible risk taking behaviours?

 

theMarketSoul ©2010


Commentary on newly proposed UK Financial Regulation

 

The news headline: Osborne gives Bank of England top regulatory role

 

Our response:

Firstly, we are relieved to see no sweeping statements such as abolishing ‘boom and bust’, which by inference must mean that the ‘normal’ business cycles will from now on resume business as usual, albeit with slightly more volatile amplitudes?

The statement regarding more tools is interesting, because as far as we are aware there are two, maybe three specific tools available in the toolbox at the moment. Fiscal policy and monetary policy and the third one possibly being risk management. Therefore, as with the debate currently evolving between Efficient Market Hypothesis and the behaviourally focussed irrationality school of (economic) thought, that there is no unifying theory yet offered to explain market events, we are still searching for the ‘unifying toolbox’ or rather the Swiss army knife of financial stability and regulation?

“Huntsman” - Victorinox Swiss army knife with ...
Image via Wikipedia

So we can read into the statement that we will add more tools, rather than take tools out of the box never to be returned, such as the retention of Sterling and thus monetary policy.

Therefore, the one important tool at the moment that requires sharpening is the regulatory framework and structures that support both regulation, monitoring, enforcement and dare we say it ‘rehabilitation’, because just like of criminal justice system, even though we have both the laws and enforcement framework, we will always have the offenders and ultimately it is the ‘how to rehabilitate and re-integrate’ them issue that we have to deal with. If moral hazard has now been replaced by having to swallow ‘TARP’-entine (poetic licence evoked) and senior investment grade civil servants (RBS and the half of Lloyds they own), then the compensation schemes being touted and created via banking levies, is the wrong approach and signal to send to the market participants.

The G20 seems to be driving the urgency of the regulatory reform agenda, timeframe and tripartite of Financial Regulatory Standards, capital adequacy and strengthening Corporate Governance regimes as outlined by the Bank for International Settlements. However, some framework agreements have been in place for some time, such as the Norwalk Agreement between the IASB & FASB. Thus, it is not a case of the lack of effort and focus, but rather a lack of urgency and clear objectives in creating a global regulatory and governance framework.

As the BP debacle has illustrated, it does take some time to formulate a coherent response and action plan and if the Global Regulatory Framework is not given sufficient debate, design and implementation time (due to political expediencies), all we will do is sow the seeds of the next crisis, which, as stated before is definitely on the billing in a country near you very soon.

 

theMarketSoul ©2010

 


The Cost of a ‘Licence to Operate’

Reputation Risk and damage mitigation must be some of the watch words and the top priorities at BP at the moment. So how are they faring in the management this agenda item?

What ‘price’ or cost must we attach to a ‘licence to operate’?

BP Logo
Image via Wikipedia

It is interesting to observe behaviours of Chief Executives under the probing scrutiny of a congressional committee’s line of questioning and investigation.

Are we busy reshaping the competitive landscape and entrenching further oligopolistic market skewing structures? And this running in parallel with Financial Regulatory reforms encouraging more of an ‘imperfect competitive’ and fragmented (read more costly) landscape.

It is interesting how the issues and debates are being shaped by political expediency, rather than the true and honest ‘economic landscape re-alignment’ agenda we all deserve. And yet again timetables are being set to accommodate political schedules, rather than the issues and factors that we really need to address in order to encourage enlightened and informed re-balancing and redress within the economic frameworks we operate under. So the people who ultimately ‘pay the bill’ are having the fundamental issues clouded and waters muddied, with needless ill-informed debates and noise around reforms that are ill-conceived and containing basic design flaws.

We felt that there was hope back in late January 2010, when the Volcker Rule [video reference]was first muted, but as is now apparent, the agenda has been filled with noisy distractions and unfortunate detours that will ultimately deliver half-baked reforms and regulations that will sow the seeds of the next cyclical bubble of euphoria and the subsequent eye watering ‘pop’ once we come down with the inevitable painful bump. Timing is of the essence, yet the timeframes are uncertain and so they shall remain.

English: Paul Volcker, former head of the Fede...
Image via Wikipedia

The next few days and weeks will be crucial ones that will reveal what exactly the true (life-cycle) cost of a ‘Licence to Operate’ is and what price we have to attach to monitoring and managing a global reputation risk framework and infrastructure.

theMarketSoul ©2010


Sustainability I

The focus on sustainability and sustainable practices is a self defeating objective.  Sustainability means that business leaders take their eye off the equity holder’s value creation ideal, as it flies in the face of self-interest as promoted by Adam Smith some 234 years ago (The Wealth of Nations , 1776).

Profile of Adam Smith
Image via Wikipedia

Self-interest and the pursuit therefore is being clouded by a multitude of other non value adding factors that is diluting the message and contributing to more uncertainty and risk and therefore capital flight and volatility in the financial and capital markets as we have experienced over the last 2 years.

This process and Zeitgeist will not disappear or be properly understood, unless we develop a deeper understanding and familiarity with uncertainty as a driver of the innovative spirit of human endeavour.

Risk management per se is not the answer and panacea it is held out to be, and if it promotes a more risk-averse society, then we are heading for the middle ground of mediocrity, tyranny and decline in social values and structures that have taken many hundreds of years to create.

Being part of the system with a myopic view, rather than standing outside the system with a holistic and reflective frame of mind is causing more damage than good.

Yet how are we to live and deal with the cognitive dissonance that these two views by the very nature induce?

Let’s open up to good honest debate, search and reflection, rather than to dogma and a narrow focus on defending vested interests and old world models.

We are in the midst of a major cultural, economic and world order paradigm shift and the outcome is uncertain, potentially destabilising, but we must embrace this exploration of uncertainty and chaos the will inevitably ensue.

theMarketSoul ©2010


Short-sighted: Actor behaviour in the market for competitiveness

Competition is a good thing.  Of that we are sure.

It is one of the key ingredients of a dynamic market process, yet is competition and the potential negative consequences of short-sightedness a means or an end in itself?

Today we argue that the unfettered aspiration of competing for competition’s sake and the shedding of what is seen as non-core processes and competencies in organisation, will eventually lead to sub-optimal performance and is an unsustainable practice.

In the unrelenting search for shareholder value creation, which is the fiduciary and main responsibility of the board of any shareholder / equity owned organisation, we believe that sub-optimal decisions are being taken, both because of target operating model enhancements and short-term return of investment (ROI)

 

One of the underlying objectives of International Harmonisation of Financial Regulatory Standards (as currently promoted by the IASB & FASB) is the desire for greater transparency and ultimately more regular and frequent reporting cycles.  The view is that the greater the frequency in reporting, the less information asymmetry will be in the market, thereby eliminating insider trading and other undesirable ‘sharp’ market practices that regulatory bodies such as the SECLondon Stock ExchangeNYSENASDAQ, DAX, etc., are trying to stamp out.

 

But if we extend this logic, or rather shorten the current reporting cycles from the regular quarterly updates to say monthly, weekly , daily or even hourly updates, the already short-sighted mentality will become even more sharply focussed.  And this begs the question:  “How will CEOs and other business leaders have to ‘defend’ their decisions on a minute by minute basis under this unrelenting 24 hour news and sensationalism culture”; thus leading to an even more intense short term focus on their part.  Certainly, this must be the worst of all downward spirals and tyranny of information overload?

 

But, by logical extension, this is exactly where we are heading in a decade or two’s time.

 

So, if the focus is then on more short-term results and ‘core processes’ where does this leave the current wave of outsourcing, off-shoring or near-shoring of non-core processes?

 

We contend that the already well established trend of ‘letting go’ of all non-core processes and competencies has a negative effect on the longer-term sustainability of the organisation.

Succession planning could already be outsourced and thus not on the board’s agenda, as recruitment consultancies now fulfil the non-core ‘attraction of suitable candidates’ services, with the traditional Human Resources fulfilling a more Risk mitigation / management functions of ensuring compliance with Health & Safety Executive , employment law, equality laws, etc.

 

Another unintended consequence is the fact that because organisations more and more frequently utilise professional specialists to deliver projects and programmes, the esprit d corps is disappearing from organisational life.  It is difficult for managers to gain this motivational force of esprit de corps when they are managing ‘virtual teams’ and a cadre of temporary service providers through dysfunctional processes of ‘on-boarding’, induction, project management, quality control, motivational traps, engagement, focus, etc.

Therefore, to conclude this opening article in a new series around the ‘new labour market models [1] [2] [3], currently being practiced in the western free market democracies, let us ask the key question that is one of the foundations of the factors of production in achieving economic advancement:

“How do we recognise, incubate, nurture, develop and sustain talent and talent management in our organisation, when this critical activity is handed over to outside consultants who have a different business model and agenda to our corporate ambitions?”

We know that there are some ‘labour supply aggregators’ or forward thinking recruitment consultancies that realise that their own models of engagement has to change, in order for them to move into the value creation and value addition space, but there are still far too many ‘factories’ with conveyor belt mentalities out there.  Not to let the corporate ‘talent managers’ off the hook, because if you don’t have people and processes in place to manage the talent anymore, you only have yourself to blame when the ‘transparency machine’ of financial regulatory reform forces you down the channel of short-term decline…

 

theMarketSoul ©2010


Does Law inform or enforce culture?

If ‘the Law’ is the codification of cultural norms and practices, does the Law then not inform culture?

Policy, social malice and engineering of social outcomes bend these laws into legislative blunt instruments designed to enforce cultural behavioural changes on a grand scale, trouncing the common law of good judgment, neighbourly relations and common sense and thus freedom in their wake?

 

Within the above question and assertion lies the ‘malice of the free market’; where misguided and misinformed regulation channels behaviour and economic interactions in directions and with outcomes not anticipated or foreseen.  Thus unleashing the ‘law of unintended consequences’.

 

Take as an example the economic condition referred to as Moral Hazard.

 

A definition is:

Moral Hazard occurs when a party insulated from risk may behave differently than it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk.

 

Moral Hazard therefore flies in the face of the principles of personal responsibility and thus accountability for our actions to a wider stakeholder community.

 

Is Moral Hazard perhaps promoted and therefore amplified by the fact that business leaders are not more formally educated in their fiduciary responsibilities?

 

Is this a function of weak or inefficient corporate governance structures and frameworks, or merely an oversight that is readily addressed by ‘occupational licensure’ or the professionalization of directors by only allowing formally qualified persons to serve on certain corporate boards?

 

Would this formalisation process of understanding fiduciary responsibility hinder the spirit of free enterprise and risk-taking or enhance the governance and risk aptitudes in a controlled and more channelled and focussed practice?  Would it have as a positive consequence an amplifier effect for raising the corporate governance and Enterprise-wide Risk Management practices?

theMarketSoul © 2010