A friend who’s known me for nearly 10 years recently observed: “Everyone’s life turns in circles – it’s just that yours seems to spin faster than other peoples'”. There’s a lot of truth in that.
One of my professional areas of interest is strategic analysis, which I’ve taught to undergraduates and postgraduates in universities in China and the UK.
The tools of strategic management can also be used by individuals, to help plan career directions, and to make significant life choices in an informed way. This is becoming essential; powerful forces of change are overtaking us, and we should all be planning and preparing.
The main issue is that the globalisation of the world economy, a process that’s been underway for almost thirty years now, has reached its limits. Indeed, it’s going into reverse, which is likely to have unpredictable and unpalatable consequences for its biggest beneficiaries: those of us who live in the West.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been on the move. The lease on my Soviet-era flat in Primorskaya ran out, and I’ve moved into a new studio apartment right in the centre of historic St. Petersburg. The availability didn’t quite match, so I had to spend a couple of weeks living out of my suitcases in a temporary apartment in Dekabrovista Ulitsa, just around the corner from St. Isaac’s Cathedral. This is one reason why I haven’t posted any updates for a while – but not the only one! I’ve been setting up some online learning systems, and listening to what my students would like the world to know about their country…
A slightly delayed post, due to Easter!
Spring has finally arrived in St. Petersburg. Yesterday and today had temperatures of 20 degrees celsius, clear blue skies, and bright, bright sunshine. It’s wonderful after the cold and darkness of winter. Patches of green grass are appearing, and the buds are swelling on some of the bushes and the trees. The pastel colours of the city centre, which looked faded and drab in the faint light of winter, now glow intensely in the late afternoon sunlight. It’s light now until just after 10pm, compared to 4pm when I arrived; soon, the sun won’t set and the famous White Nights will be here – that’ll be interesting!
Looking back, it’s been a very busy week, both personally and globally.
Last Sunday I went into central St Petersburg with the aim of going to the Defence of Leningrad Museum. It was the day before the anniversary of the German blockade being lifted, and it seemed like a good time to see the exhibits of life in a modern city under siege conditions.
It turned out that I didn’t need to get to the museum – the exhibits had come to the people! One of the central streets, a couple of blocks away from Nevsky Prospect, had been turned into a siege re-enactment. Tank traps sealed the street off; wooden barn doors were leaned against building walls to protect some windows, while others had sandbags stacked up against them. The barn doors were covered with posters, exhorting the citizens to maintain their defence efforts, as well as with hand-scrawled messages. Trucks, trams, motorcycles, and anti-aircraft guns from the period were parked here and there, monitored by museum staff and volunteers dressed in period Red Army costumes – and who were fighting a losing battle, trying to stop crowds of hyper-excited small children from clambering onto the vehicles!
I wrote in my last post about my apartment here in St. Petersburg, which very likely would originally have been shared by multiple generations of the same family, despite seeming to me to be only big enough for a single person – or at most a childless couple – by contemporary western standards.
Of course, it was never designed for so many people. However, under the Soviet Union, resources such as apartments could not be built, bought or sold privately. Everything was done by the State, and allocation was supposedly done in order, according to where your name was on the relevant list. Unfortunately, of course, the State was incredibly inefficient and slow, so it would hardly be unusual to wait ten or even more years for your name to come up. Until then, you shared.
When I mentioned that, under these conditions, people got things done through personal networks instead of official channels, a friend commented on Facebook: “Isn’t any system e.g. blat, guanxi, enchufe in Spain, that is subverting the sanctioned system better known as corruption?”. It’s an excellent question, getting right to the point I wanted to talk about this week, because it brings us straight to the underlying assumption that the “sanctioned system” is itself fair. This is rarely the case, much as we might wish it to be so.
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist” – Kenneth Boulding
It seems hardly any time ago now, but in August 1989, I was heading into a revolution, and the birth of the world as we know it today.
That summer, I wasn’t long back from a year working in Southern Africa. I had a bit of money from a temp job in my pockets, and two months to kill before I started at university. While I’d been in Africa, I’d been reading Time and Newsweek whenever I got the chance, and I knew that things were stirring in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe. I decided to take the train to Poland to see… well, whatever was there to be seen. I tried to persuade friends to come along but no-one was up for it so, armed with Fodor’s Guide to Eastern Europe, I went alone. What I found was an upswelling of hope and idealism; a feeling that a better future was on the verge of arriving.
It may be that, like myself, you’re about to move to another country. Perhaps you’re engaged in some kind of international business. Almost certainly, you deal with people from different parts of your own country. You may be pondering the best way to handle a proposal, or assessing how someone will respond to a new project. It may be, as the economists would have it, that we are all rational actors make decisions according to our own best interests – but it would be foolish to deny the influences of national or group culture when individuals make choices.
Regardless of our particular situation, it would be helpful to have a method for evaluating the nature and degree of that cultural influence – it might help avoid a great deal of misunderstanding and disagreements!
There is in fact a very useful tool to do just this.
After three years at Swansea School of Management, I’m moving on. It’s been an eventful period of my life, and one with a lot of positive takeways. I’m pleased with the work I’ve done under challenging circumstances, and I’ve learned a great deal from my interactions with a diverse and interesting student body.
However, as I teach my students in my Strategic Management modules, the environment is always changing, and we have to change with it. The skill set that I’ve built up over the years is no longer appropriate to the new direction my role was taking; at the same time, the strategic direction that the organisation has chosen wouldn’t help me achieve my personal or career goals.
Taking the decision to leave wasn’t easy. Contracts for lecturers require a full term’s notice, which at best means around three months. Since I was leaving the Higher Education sector, this was a problem. I interviewed with a few potential employers who were interested – but the three-month wait was a deal-breaker. In the end, I had to jump without a parachute, and hope that something would turn up…