I get what you're saying, but you sound like a douchebag

This is largely a re-write of an article that I read last year but cannot find anywhere. It will have been written by someone really smart like Ben Casnocha, Seth Roberts, Justin Wehr, Robin Hanson, Tyler Cowan or The Last Psychiatrist ... but I can't find it. And it needs to be online.

At a design firm you talk a lot about communicating clearly. This goes against most business communication where relationships and value are often built on obfuscating information, managing egos and pandering to hierarchy and expertise.

Problem is, we're not good at hiding the truth. This is probably why most people complain about their boss, their clients, their suppliers and their colleagues. We all know what everyone thinks but no one is saying it clearly.

The but-head

n. the section of a sentence before a 'but'. Used so that you you feel better and the listener feels worse.

We're all dicks on the job sometimes but it's nice when we stop pretending that we're not. Here are some examples of the but-head in action:

I'm sorry but, we're going to go with Speights as the beer sponsor for the event because it's the best.

You're not sorry - that would imply regret. But you don't regret what you're doing so don't say it. It's actually quite cool when you step up and make a decisions by the way

Your ideas are really valuable to us and you definitely have the experience in this area but we're going to release the application only on Windows Phone 7 Series because it's the future.

This is even worse because you're pretending to compliment someone before you insult them. Really you're just insulting them and aren't even being honest about it. That but-head was just so you could feel better about yourself - that feeling won't last.

"Don't take this the wrong way, but your idea is a bit immature"

Sometimes you specifically intend to hurt or offend someone with your comment, but use the but-head as if it is some kind of free pass. This but-head makes it their fault if they're offended. By giving yourself the free pass you have a license to be more offensive than you would normally be. This is a dick move.

Look how much less offensive it becomes if you drop it.

"I don't think your idea will work. This is why..."

That's respectful.

"I don't mean to be rude, but..."
"I don't want to be hurtful, but..."

All of these use the but-head to telegraph that your agenda really is to be rude and hurtful. Talking straight about what we think and why is better for the listener. More than that though, it's recognising that the main audience for that sentence is you - so that you can feel better about what you're saying. One more.

"You're obviously the expert on this matter, but..."

This is usually followed by a statement about how you know better. It's condescending and contradictory - you also likely have a good reason to disagree so just say it.

Taking this crap out of your sentences does wonders for your communication - people will respect you for saying what you mean. You'll also think more before you say things that, if you were honest about them, you might not be willing to say.

Bottom line: We need to stop pussyfooting around what we mean and we need to be excellent to each other more.


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Masters Thesis: An Epilogue

Update: Masters Thesis has been marked with a grade that suggests it’s not terrible, you can read it here.

Doing this work provokes a lot of questions from people about what I really think about leadership development, much in the same vein that most people want to know what leadership really is; as I’ve seen from doing this research, there are a lot of people who would love to tell you. As I said in my prologue, I’ve embarked on a leadership development journey of my own with all the bells and whistles we’ve discussed. Many people assumed that working on an industry I participate with in a critical way would make me cynical about the whole thing, but that’s not what a critical perspective means to me.

I think being critical on a subject stems from being exceptionally passionate about that thing; from caring about something so much that you want to understand it, and then caring about it so much more that you want to make it better. That’s how I feel about leadership and leadership development.

So despite engaging in this work, the world’s problems will continue to look to me like they can be solved by more and better leadership, you’ll still hear me debating what the true meaning of leadership is or what real leadership development is. Because I love the idea, I like the fact that it escapes comprehension so much that we have to continually reinvent our understanding of it and that there is something undeniably romantic about being given opportunities on the basis of possessing some indefinable quality, even if that notion is a little narcissistic.

This work is important to me. As you read this I’ve already stepped into the door of my new job where people are expecting me to do leadership everyday – apparently I now have the credentials. So I’m going to take this work, which in part is about how ideas become important, and I’m going to help other people do that with theirs. One day sometime soon, that idea will probably be leadership, or, whatever they think will save the world next. But for now, leadership will go back to being something I partake in, promote, practice, and (even if I’m afraid to admit it) believe in.

Masters Thesis: A Prologue

I can’t remember the first time someone told me I could be a leader or that I needed to show leadership. But the idea has permeated my life for as long as I can remember, at least as far back intermediate school I can re-call the adult world telling me about it. They wanted more of it on the basketball court, in the orchestra, in the classroom and the community. I didn’t even notice the ambiguity of the concept, being developed as a leader seemed a totally natural thing.

After a while it became addictive, it was both empowering and legitimising for me. Leadership was a defining part of my identity and I had an almost uncontrollable urge both when I was in a group or when any type of leadership role was on offer to be the one in front. As an older high school student I would frantically buy and read any luminaries book with leadership in the title, most of which would discredit my work if I was to disclose them now.

Through my undergraduate degree the word began to pop up more and more although the lines between leadership and good management were being blurred as the roles were mixed both on campus and within my workplace. Even so, the leadership development opportunities propagated themselves through my timetable. I was even involved in the Massey University Leadership Programme: a ruse for outsourcing student retention to other students in exchange for development opportunities.


Future Leaders’ programme.  I first got told I should do this programme when I finished a management paper on leadership in my honours year, one of my lecturers was a facilitator on the programme and thought I should do it. I guess you can display leadership in the classroom after all.

I always try to place myself inside my research in some way. I’ve embarked on this journey to make sense of the cultural phenomena called leadership which I grew up surrounded by. It has shaped the decisions I’ve made, the expectations I put on myself, and the role I saw myself playing in the world. The more I think about it the less natural it seems.

Brigid Carroll, likened it to a hockey match; you're dribbling, passing, stealing, intercepting, but at some point you just push the ball out into a new empty space. In that moment you create potential, opportunity, tension and energy for something great to happen. I’ve been given a few of those passes this year, and the challenge of doing this thesis was one of them.

So now I’m going ask you to put down your reverence for the word leadership, like I’ve had to, and put something out into space for a while so that you can help me answer the question; why and how has leadership played such a big role in my life?

The Arrival: Stage Production

The Below is a review I prepared for the Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust.

Kate Parker and Julie Nolan’s Red Leap Theatre adaptation of Shaun Tan’s The Arrival was a visually intriguing and remarkably authentic production of the universal migrant’s tale. The story we all know where danger forces us away from where we are from and what we know, to a new place where we must overcome obstacles in order to reunite with what was left behind. This adaptation of The Arrival powerfully illustrates this through movement, shadow, music and puppetry.

The movement on stage demonstrates fantastic power and fluidity. Performances from the cast demonstrate their prowess in puppetry, dance, acting and even becoming part of the set. The puppetry brings a whole new layer of visual intrigue to the piece. There is phenomenal attention to detail with one of the largest pieces of puppetry on display for only a few seconds. The production shows us that what can be deemed a puppet is simply any prop that that can be brought to life by an actor and that puppetry is not about making the puppeteer disappear, but about bringing an inanimate object to life. This is done with enormous success as the cast mix with the puppets recreating their movement and sound as they skirt around the set.

Naturally, in any adaptation between mediums there are numerous artistic decisions to be made and with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival being such an original book, the translation was bound to be a challenge. Like the book, the production recreates the universally mysterious and unidentifiable new land that, aside from our own empathetic understanding of it, is a mystery. However, the protagonist himself must also represent everyman; as such, the decision to have him speak any language (particularly English) detracted somewhat. The Arrival is equally accessible to people of all languages, cultures and backgrounds. This is a reflection of the true universality of the story told, that in all parts of the world the things we take for granted are often baffling to outsiders.

At the end of the opening show there was tumultuous applause with perhaps a dozen of us on our feet. I do, however, suspect that those who joined me are either familiar with Shaun Tan’s books, or linked with the theatre production themselves. The Arrival stage show is definitely a production best served as a complement to the original piece. At times the ambiguous nature of the action on stage had me confused; but thinking back to a conversation with Shaun Tan during his time here in 2007, The Arrival isn’t necessarily there for interpretation, if you don’t understand what’s happening then you’re probably getting the message.

Image Credit: Shauntan

Angus Blair: Failure 1.0

This post is a bit depressing so you might want to skip to the end where I try to impart some wisdom from this mess.

The story so far

I spoke about it's merit a lot last year, but transparency is often a huge problem when shit hits the fan. I wouldn't have put this information up last month when applications were still flying around the place but I'm happy to be honest about it all now. Last year when I was a fresh idealistic student to Auckland University, I applied for and received an offer from Deloitte consulting.  This was the only company I applied for and though I was ecstatic to receive the offer I do admit to feelings of incompleteness about it.

So when we got to November, this feeling of incompleteness crept over me. 2008 had been so good to me, for the first time in 4 years I was surrounded with friends that were actually like me, I was having a lot of fun and really enjoying the work I was doing everyday. The club scene was fantastic with opportunities abound for involvement if I stayed. All this combined the the ambition of an international PhD on the long term horizon, the Masters programme just made sense to me.

So I chose. I would pull out of my contract with Deloitte, in the middle of a recession, and pursue my masters degree as well. Despite all the reasons above, I'd be lying if that was all there was to it. Of course I wanted to try my hand at other more prestigious opportunities, coming back represented a chance to live the dream. And I went for it.

However this year didn't really go as planned, lots of scholarships were not on offer, because it seems a recession can get you even inside this ivory tower. What's more the job market is of course much worse. So the news finally broke this morning, I will officially not be working at Deloitte next year. In addition, none of the other four consulting applications I put through panned out as planned either. This essentially puts my ambition to go into consulting, an ambition that has driven my entire professional development 'til now, quietly to rest.

Tell me about a time you have failed?

This was the question I answered most poorly at the Deloitte Assessment centre last Thursday (Think 8 hours observation while we chat, solve cases, interview etc). I talked about my time on the New Zealand Tae Kwon Do team, coming 2nd in an Australasian invitational, but to be honest it's a bad story to tell, there is little to be learned from what happened. But I also realised I've been extremely lucky or quite oblivious when it comes to my experiences with failure. Before this year I haven't had many failures, at least none that I have been wise enough to rigorously reflect on.

Now, after the last few months, I have a better story, one truly worth learning from. Simply I think it goes as follows; sometimes in life we take risks that we assume don't apply to us. What's worse, we take psychological and practical precautions so we can at least partake in the illusion that we ourselves are not to blame.

I spoke to six mentors last year before making a decision to do my masters instead of take the job offer with Deloitte. But sometimes getting this sort of advice is an engineered fallacy, deep down I knew I could convince them all that I was making the best choice. I would rather lie to myself and them so as to at least create the illusion of consensus that I was making a good decision. Again, arrogant that since I thought it was a good idea they all should as well, better to convince them of that than be wrong.

Where to from here

When I look all around at my heroes and successful people in general. They've all had there fair share of setbacks but they somehow make them look like they were meant to be. It was Steve Jobs who said that it's only with hindsight that you can connect the dots and this was after flunking out of college and getting kicked out of a company he had co-founded, sure he was a millionaire, but kicked out nonetheless.

So it's my turn to make it look easy, or 'meant to be' as everyone keeps telling me. I don't believe in any higher power or fatalistic bullshit though now would be a good time to convince myself on it. But I do believe that good, talented people, know how to make the most of their failures. I'm not one of them yet, but this might be the time I become one.

Angus Writes

I've decided to post some of my academic writing online for anyone interested.  Having the thesis online as I work on it is kind of experimental, but I'm hoping it will provide some insight into the writing process of a grad student.  The material on this post will be available permanently on a tab at the top: Angus Writes, and will hopefully be expanded on.

Master of Commerce

An Examination of Management Consulting firms as a leadership Industry: A Production of Leadership Perspective

Thesis (Working Document): Here you can watch as my thesis this year develops. It is most definitly in the embryonic phase at the moment; a haphazard structure loosely filled with stolen quotes and jests of futility, enjoy.

Bachelor of Commerce (Honours)

Conceptualising Leadership in the Context of Mergers: Merging Cultural Leadership and Organisational Culture Theory

Dissertation: The biggest and most challenging thing I have written to date. For those writing a dissertation in management at Auckland University, please feel free to steal the formatting and structure if it suits your topic. It has served me well.

Team analysis and Reflection: Antecedents to Dissolution

Journal: One of the most unique pieces I had to put together in 2008 year. This is a reflective journal that draws upon social loafing theory and connectivity issues in a team environment. Reflective journal writing is a popular assessment form in postgraduate management studies and the University of Auckland and I was really baffled by it so I hope this helps anyone wanting to put one together.