Old school manners and Mahatma Gandhi

Posted by on Oct 2, 2007 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments


As of this week, the Zoological Society of London (the “Zoo” to you and me) have put their historic photographic collection online. A fantastic source of crimble gifts, methinks (even if I couldn’t download an original to show you from the site – this one is of the original Jumbo the Elephant.

I know our views have changed about what is and what isn’t acceptable about how we keep animals like this but I really love Zoos – my inner 5 year old emerges pretty quickly. In the last 12 months, on my travels I’ve been to Washington, Berlin, Chicago and London Zoos and loved all of them (apart from the new Gorilla enclosure in London). Something about the smells, the excited crowds and the surprising discoveries.

If our ideas about what is and isn’t acceptable in animal husbandry have changed very much in the animal’s favour, it occurs to me that our working lives have gone in exactly the opposite direction in recent years. Not, of course, in terms of child-workers, gender equality or employment law generally.

No, in a very simple and important way. I’ve noticed that the amount of discourtesy and really bad behaviour which is tolerated (and I believe encouraged). I know this sounds very old-school Spectator magazine or a bit girly but bear with me.

We all know that you don’t need to be unpleasant to be creative or innovative. Indeed, it seems to be negatively correlated.

And yet in the past few months in the interaction with one client:agency team in particular I’ve seen people shouting and throwing things at each other and generally trying to humiliate those who disagree with them or challenge their point of view. Bullying and unpleasantness seem the norm. Fortunately, I’ve rarely been the object of such abuse but that’s more good fortune than anything, I suspect. In my last job, despite an ever expanding army of HR professionals, bad behaviour was legion (and to be honest, one of the reasons I found the job intolerable) so I’m not sure this is all that new.

I remember Russ once commenting on how he hated confrontational stuff at work and yet few of us would imagine we’d done better or more creative stuff in terms of the industry or our discipline than him. The same is true of most of the folk I admire in whatever business or field.

Last night the lovely Judie Lannon and I debated why that might be. I suspect it’s something to do with our individualist obsessions (natch!): in particular with how KPIs (key performance indicators) are used to squeeze the last drop out of individual performance – folk will do anything to hit their own objectives….and just being decent to each other is always going to lose out to this. Remember the “WAR for talent” nonsense? About disaggregating collective efforts into individual ones.

And I’m sure that one of my old bosses is not alone: he used to revel in what he called the “creative conflict” of setting folk running with not just overlapping but downright conflicting KPIs which inevitably led to clashes and direct competition. Another was fond of the Gecko Cliche, “it’s not enough for me to win, everyone else has to lose”

Deep down all of this denies the essential truth of how things come about: with, by and through collaboration and interaction with each other. Which is of course the central insight of Web 2.0 and the social media revolution.

Regular readers will know that Africa has its version of this truth – Ubuntu . Other cultures, too.
Gandhi – whose birthday it is today – was convinced of the interconnectedness of everything.

Now I’m not asking you to seek the nobler spiritual heights that he sought

“I offer you peace. I offer you love. I offer you friendship. I see your beauty. I hear your need. I feel your feelings. My wisdom flows from the Highest Source. I salute that Source in you. Let us work together for unity and love.”

But I am just asking if we could bear the fundamental truth of our interconnectedness and the fact that this is where the good stuff comes from.

Let’s just stop with the conflict and bullying schtick.

It’s just not necessary and actually counterproductive to making things better.

PS Happy Birthday MK


  1. shabbir
    October 5, 2007

    i would like to correct u its bot ghandi its gandhi n plzzz put mahatma before gandhi

  2. shabbir
    October 5, 2007

    i would like to correct u its bot ghandi its gandhi n plzzz put mahatma before gandhi

  3. Mark McGuinness
    October 7, 2007

    I like Thomas Crum’s take – conflict is inevitable, even necessary, but what we need is a creative/collaborative response to it.
    But people confuse conflict with competition, where you have to lose for me to win.
    A bit like two frisbee players, with one of them spoiling the game by trying to beat the other or score an (imaginary) goal – when the aim of the game is to keep the thing in the air between you.

  4. John Dumbrille
    November 16, 2007

    …re-engineering some old “Command and control” marketing literature for a client as I read this…
    Maybe ‘social marketing’ can be defined as just the non-appearance of bullying. Here in Vancouver, I’m seeing a lot of the old thud of marketing contrivances about as right as tasering disoriented people at airports.