CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 53, 5th April 2004


  1. Editorial: A capable population
  2. Coaching notes: Lessons for young citizens (2)

1.     Editorial: A capable population

Richard Winfield - editor and principal consultantLast week Imentioned that I had facilitated the Birmingham event for the Royal Society of Arts Coffee House Challenge at which a group of invited guests discussed "Building a Capable Population".

I thought you would be interested in some of the results. Here is an extract of the notes from one of the groups.

Each participant in this group of six came at the issue from a different perspective. One was an educationalist who lamented the lack of creativity as a learning topic and the received view that competitiveness is a bad trait. Another stressed the importance of diversity – given sharp changes in demographics, the need to ensure everyone achieves towards their true potential. One stressed the pressures of an ageing population which brings not just the need for support but the obligation to be self supporting and adopt the “lifelong learning” mantra through a number of career changes. One came from a management orientation where a key philosophy is that of the continually improving organisation, peopled by individuals who understand what that means.

The group identified some characteristics of a capable population:

  • one that showed enthusiasm, a preparedness to take (considered) risks and to embrace innovation
  • one that was open minded, challenging yet showed mutual respect for the other person’s views and background
  • one that had basic skills of numeracy and literacy and, importantly, was IT literate
  • one that balanced the softer skills of creativity, good social and communication skills and an emotional skill, articulated as a “care mindset”.

All the participants in this exercise had been invited for their contribution to local society. I was very impressed by the quality of listening and the groups' ability to allow every member to contribute. There was real courtesy and quality interaction and a suggestion afterwards that, rather than formal activities, there is a need just to organise 'discussion opportunities'.

Last week, this weekend and today I have been studying hypnosis with Richard Bandler, so the newsletter was written in advance. Look out for some interesting reports of my experience in future issues.

In the meantime, I am pleased to include some more lessons for young citizens.


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2.    Coaching notes: Lessons for young citizens (2)

Here are some more concepts that I would include in my curriculum for young people: -

Tipping point

The Tipping Point is a book by Malcolm Gladwell - How little things can make a big difference.

I have long been fascinated by what it takes for public opinion to change. It is an important lesson for anybody to appreciate that each of us contributes to public opinion and that at a certain moment just a small contribution can hava a dramatic impact - a quantum change.

Many years ago I did a study for the Welsh Consumer Council and the officer managing my project asked me why I kept so enthusiastic about projects "when they never had any real impact." I was amazed. This was at a time when I was much involved in public transport and I was able to list several major changes where I believed my contribution had made an impact.

Gladwell suggests that ideas, behaviour, messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. It is an important message of personal empowerment. Without it, it is easy not to bother, thus proving that we have no impact!

One of the greaest sins in my book is to infect young people with "learned helplessness". As the saying goes - If you think you can or you think you can't; you are right.

Probability theory and statistics

There is a story about an old lady caught carrying a bomb onto an airplane. When accosted, she replied "I know that it is unlikely that there will be a terrorist bomb on this plane, but I have been told that probability theory says that the odds are very much greater against there being two bombs on the plane. I wanted to travel in greater safety."

Apparently the most dangerous place you are likely to be is in your own home, and you are significantly more likely to be injured crossing the road than travelling in an aircraft. And yet, in practice, people recognise fear on a different scale.

In most countries there is an unacceptable death rate on the roads, but we are inured to a large number of random small events. Rail crashes, by contrast, are dramatic - but rare. However, in Britain we are spending large amounts of money on 'super' safety systems that delay capacity improvements and cause more people to travel by (dangerous) roads. Last week I commented on opportunity cost. The opportunity cost of rail safety is the lost improvements in other services, including healthcare, that might have had a greater impact on death and injury.

The Law of Comparative Advantage

This law was postulated by David Ricardo two hundred years ago and is an argument in favour of global trade. It is a good basis for discussing the rights and wrongs of globalisation. According to the principle of comparative advantage, the gains from trade follow from allowing an economy to specialise. If a country is relatively better at making wine than wool, it makes sense to put more resources into wine, and to export some of the wine to pay for imports of wool. This is even true if that country is the world's best wool producer, since the country will have more of both wool and wine than it would have without trade.

A country does not have to be best at anything to gain from trade. The gains follow from specialising in those activities which, at world prices, the country is relatively better at, even though it may not have an absolute advantage in them.

Because it is relative advantage that matters, it is meaningless to say a country has a comparative advantage in nothing. Same arguments for individuals; few of us now make our own shoes - or even grow our own food.

Put simply, do what you are best at. Even though there may be others that are better at it, you will still benefit by focusing on your best attribute.

Compound interest

I recently heard that Einstein considered compound interest to be the ninth wonder of the world. It is indeed magic as it leads to continually increasing rates of return for no effort. If you invest a fixed amount of money, for example, and reinvest the interest, then the principal increases and therefore future interest at the same rate also increases.

Compound interest is why it is sensible to start a pension plan early in your career. The converse means that if you build up a debt on your credit card it can rapidly get out of control. Beware!

Marginal cost

In the late 1970s I was involved in public transport planning in the UK. At that time many of the bus services were run by the National Bus Company. Under pressure to reduce losses the company in our rural areas had withdrawn lots of services because they made a loss. When I came to review the situation in the villages I found that buses services could be introduced and cover the costs. I then discovered that the services that I was proposing were the loss makers that had been withdrawn.

How did this make sense? The bus company used a costing system that ensured that services contributed to the 'whole cost' of running the service. That is the depots, the management and the buses and drivers. I used marginal costing which took account of the fact that drivers were being paid to sit in the depot during off-peak periods and that the busses were lying idle. The cost of running the services, therefore, was just the cost of the diesel and some tyre wear. Not even any extra servicing, because the buses were serviced by time rather than distance.

A win all round. Drivers being more productive and villagers getting a shopping service.

But beware. Overheads have to be covered, and a business run on marginal costing is likely to get a false confidence and soon go bust.


BUILDING A BUSINESS CONSULTANCY PRACTICE: Advance notice. This two day workshop will be held in central London on Monday-Tuesday, 10-11 May. Since the CoachVille annual conference in Orlando is on a similar subject, creating a thriving coaching practice, we plan a follow up workshop, "Lessons from CoachVille", on Monday 21 June.

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We hope you enjoyed this issue of CorporateCoach. If you would like to learn more about how we can work together, then please contact me, Richard Winfield:

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