Sunday, 26 September 2010

Q&A: Changing minds with language

People don't like to complain. No-one wants to be thought of as someone who makes a fuss. For a few years now I've been suggesting to people that we shouldn't think about complaining, but to remind ourselves that we are reporting a problem. Organisations who hear about a problem should thank the people who let them know about it, go off and fix it and be grateful for the advice.
If you smell gas in the street, you call the emergency number and report the leak. The gas men come and fix it; it saves money - all that costly gas floating off into space - and it means that nearly buildings are less likely to ignite. Everyone wins. Imagine we called it "complaining about a gas leak" instead of "reporting a gas leak". People would no longer think if it as a public duty, but something they didn't want to do in case they were classed as moaners.

You can do that with language.

Think for a moment about NGOs, non-governmental organisations. Things like the Big Lottery Fund, the Sports Council, The New Economics Foundation, the Joseph Rowntree Trust, organisations that get useful things done.

Then think about Qangos, those cash-frittering, unaccountable think-tanks that were the bane of late 20th Century life, which we thought had disappeared. No-one knows what they are or what they do. So if David Cameron wants to get rid of them, what could possibly be wrong with that? But why haven't we heard anything about them for 20 years?

David Cameron worked in PR; the man is self-winding spin doctor. He's taking NGOs, putting the Q&A back on the front and making the institutions that currently organise a lot of his Big Society sound as if they are wasting public money. A Qango is a Quasi-Autonomous Non-Govermental Organisation. He's trying to make NGOs sound useless by renaming them, taking an old term of abuse and applying it to justify cutting them to save taxes.

But quite a few of the ones he wants to get rid of don't use public money; some of them are profitable. The British Film Institute is one. The Heritage Lottery Fund is funded by - no prizes for guessing - the National Lottery, not taxes. Nope. Chinless porridge-faced Dave is cutting (qa)NGOs because they aren't run by exclusively by his mates. Look closely at his proposals, then be outraged. Then do something. Look up the NGOs that affect your own life in a good way. Think what would happen if they disappeared. Write to your MP.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Cut the Capitals. Do Good Things.

On days when you think the world is all falling to bits and no-one is trying to fix it, go to see Ted. Pick a lecture and watch it. Each of their speakers is extraordinarily bright, positive, interesting and reassuring, in that you find out that someone is indeed working on fixing the problems we think everyone has forgotten about.

Last week I watched Nic Marks' talk about the Happy Planet Index, and as a result I joined his organisation, the New Economics Foundation, "economics as if people and the planet mattered". One of their suggestions is that in order to measure a country's success we ought not to look at growth or how rich everyone is, we ought to measure how happy the people are, measured against ecological sustainability. Using the HPI, Africa and the USA come out terribly. Latin America is miles ahead of the rest of the world. (Costa Rica wins.) Go visit and find out.

Coincidentally, I met a friend of mine last week at a do and found out that she works not far from me now, in the CSR department of a big multinational company.
"Let's get together one lunchtime," I said, and her brows furled.
"One evening?" I said.
"That would be better, because we don't really do lunchtimes," she said.

Now 'scuse me, but CSR stands for corporate social responsibility. I've long had a thing about CSR. I think that as soon as you reduce it to an abbreviation, and give it to a department to take care of, then it stops being a real responsibility for the company, and becomes the small place where you get to spend your tax deductible charity budget and make your organisation look as if it's behaving ethically. I was at a fundraising lunch given by Breast Cancer Care one day, expressed this view to the woman sitting next to me (from a huge UK retailer) and got a wry smile.
"Don't tell me! You work in the CSR department," I said.
"Yes, she said, "But I agree with you."

So what we end up with is a slight nod in the direction of doing some good things - because that's what corporate social responsibility is supposed to be about - while the rest of the organisation goes about the daily business of making masses of cash for the shareholders which, according to the New Economics Foundation's research, is pretty much guaranteed to make everyone concerned less happy sooner or later.

We know that volunteering makes people happy, and yet big organisations with their relatively large CSR budgets don't want happy staff; they want profitable staff. They're content to give money to charities so that someone else can do their social responsibility for them, but they still treat their own people like caged hamsters.

Let's dump the abbreviation, and even the silly name: corporate social responsibility. That only got invented so that it sat nicely on the agenda with financial reporting structures or management information systems or customer relationship marketing. Call it doing good things. Then do some. Start by giving your own staff enough time to take a walk, read a book and eat their lunch somewhere away from their own desks.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Hot Air, on the inside

I don't like putting the heating on. I like it when it warms the house up, of course, but I don't like to think that I'm spending money or using up the world's piffling gas resource, so I had an idea.
It's not a new idea, it's a recycled one. This is a good thing.
If you'd like to know the whole story, and get the instructions, then you go visit 4160Tuesdays' sister blog at
The long and the short of it (and the thick of it) is that if you take all the spare yarn you can get your hands on, and a huge pair of needles, you can create a piece of clothing that's 5 degrees warmer on the inside than the out. Use your body to generate your own little micro-heating plant, and turn the heating down. I finished this one earlier this week. It's time the British got back into the habit of saying. "It's a bit chilly, I'll put another layer on," instead of heading off to the thermostat, don't you think?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Here's another plinker for you

This woman completely misses the parking space and plinks herself down on the hatched area which Waitrose have put there so people with children can easily open the doors and get the little baskets out. (That's not me being rude about children, I mean those things that people carry babies about in.)

And, you'll never guess, she parked- badly -  in the parents and children area and SHE DIDN'T EVEN HAVE ANY CHILDREN WITH HER! Karma points to Waitrose for the disabled spaces and the parents spaces. Minus karma point for the owner of RE08 ONP.

Spread the word and maybe next week there won't be any plinkers to photograph. If they know we're watching, pointing fingers and laughing at them, perhaps they'll stop. That solved, we'll move on to the larger problems.

Don't do this

This Tuesday's comment on doing something different is very specific. Don't park like a complete arse. Here is the second in a series of "People who Park Like Complete Ejits, in Ealing Waitrose Carpark".

Now this one wasn't illegal or putting anyone's life at risk, just being a selfish plinker. It made life tricky for me and my little Clio (on the left). But if they park like this, do they also lob their fag ends in the street thinking that they'll magically disappear into nothingness, then wonder why the street looks a bit untidy?

Observing what's going on around you, taking responsibility for your actions, being kind and considerate to your fellow man (and Waitrose shoppers), these are things which make people happy. They make the doers happy as well as the done by; they add to the quality of our life in just a little way.
When I find myelf getting miffed at something so small, I remind myself that I'm not being shot at and I've got running water. Life's pretty good when you can afford to shop at Waitrose, unlike 99.9% of the world's population. Life's good for the owner of FL53 SYC too. So why not appreciate it, show that you are glad to be alive and share your good fortune by not being such an arse?

Selfishness is infectious. If other people do it, and get away with it, then it starts to look like it's acceptable. It's not. Be kind; that's infectious too. Start by parking in a straight line and maybe it'll spread to not shooting people on the other side of the planet. Or the other side of London.