Performing expertise: Getting drawn into the showbiz

How to become an expert in your niche (even if you are not)In an earlier post I’ve talked about how ‘performing’ government drives a range of pathologies – in the case of the post I was suggesting it generates a kind of soft-secrecy. But it drives other pathologies – like bullshit. I put it thus:

Imagine you’re a journalist who has to cover a story on red tape and regulation. Or a politician who has to have something to say on it – or a bureaucrat within government or the BCA who has to come up with a policy on it. What are you going to do? You can’t just sit there and say “I don’t really know”, or “nobody knows more than a tiny part of the puzzle”. Deloitte will be putting its finger I the air and estimating the cost of regulation to the whole economy ($250 billion p.a. since you ask). Why saving just 10 per cent of it would be a huge micro-economic reform. What are you going to say? (Quick, you’re on Insiders on Saturday, cameras will be rolling. Remember, John Kerrin got sacked in the early 90s recession when journalists asked him when the recession would end and he said “Your guess is as good as mine”).

Well there’s only one way through.

And here’s an example of the power and the subtlety of the phenomenon. The other night I did an interview. I was rung at around 4.30 and asked if I’d talk about unemployment. The HALE index had received a lot of publicity about long-term unemployment the previous weekend. I was extremely pressed for time when rung, but said I’d be happy to do so when rung back at 6.15 when the program would be live. I’d been very busy ever since that weekend.

As the presenter voiced over the intro he said that new unemployment numbers had come out that day. “Holy crap” I thought. I didn’t know. What was I to do? Fortunately as the introduction went on, the announcer did introduce long-term unemployment as a major theme. But he’d be reasonably entitled to think that I knew that there had been some fresh numbers out. I was trying to work out what I’d do. The incentives were to brazen it out and bullshit on. But before it became clear that he was going to talk about long-term unemployment I had decided I would just have to come clean and say that I was there to talk about LTU and not the numbers that day. It turned out he was happy with me focusing on what I’d thought I was agreeing to talk about.

Of course one incentive I’m facing is not looking like a nincompoop myself. But I’m also trying not to embarrass the host. And that fact subtly draws one into a role play that isn’t entirely comfortable. In this interview the host said Lateral Economics had done a ‘study’ of long-term unemployment. Well the segment was only five minutes and everyone’s busy pumping out the programs. So that was said on the fly. It wasn’t true. We’d got ABS numbers and run them through the HALE methodology and the story was what that methodology told us – that long-term unemployment had cost the economy nearly $4 billion that quarter – more than the terms of trade. Obviously I wouldn’t have lied if pressed, but I let it go through to the keeper. And so was drawn into the not-entirely-accurate narrative.

 

Calmly considering ABC cuts

abcThe announcement by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the ABC’s budget will be cut by $50 million per year for the next five years has generated predictable kerfuffle in mainstream and social media circles. Whether it will have any real effect on the broader voting public is much more questionable, but it’s still worth talking about in policy terms.

The predictable line by left-leaning commentators is that Tony Abbott has broken a promise, or even “lied” when he said before the election that ABC and SBS funding (along with health, education etc) would not be cut. In a tit-for-tat sense I guess that’s fair enough, because it’s exactly the same accusation that Abbott successfully prosecuted against Julia Gillard in relation to her backflip on carbon pricing.

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Turnbull

Following David’s excellent post on the NBN, a somewhat related aside.

Malcolm Turnbull was interviewed on AM yesterday about the NBN review, followed by a brief minuet around some current political dramas.

What a contrast. By comparison, his colleagues still seem be struggling with the basic craft of politics. And, for that matter, with the English language.

Ben Hills’ monument to newspaper journalism

Ben Hills has a new book out – Stop the Presses! How Greed, Incompetence (and the Internet) Wrecked Fairfax. It’s published by (surprise!) News Corp’s HarperCollins. Its essential thesis is that the Fairfax media group, owner of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, is in trouble because it has been run by nongs. Boards and managements have been too dumb to exploit the opportunities of the Internet, Hills reckons. He thinks Fairfax should have bought Seek and carsales.com.au and realestate.com.au. Fairfax also needs to be run by “people who know about media”, he complains.

Hils has done some great journalism over the years, notably on the asbestos industry and medical scams. But this book looks like a mis-step.

Since Hills is making a virtue of plain language, I’ll copy him: Hills’ theory is tripe, and I’m surprised more people aren’t calling him on it. In the media, most people seems to be treating him very politely.

But Stop the Presses! also has its lessons – though perhaps not the ones Hills draws.

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Operation 2770: TACSI’s Family by Family expands to Mt Druitt

(For the full 27 minute video from which this 6 minute video has been extracted, click here.)
Family by Family about which Troppodillians have heard before is spreading its wings. We’ve started in Mt Druitt where we’ve scoped the program which means investigating how it should be changed to optimise it to the local community. Here’s the Scoping Report which I think makes interesting reading.

Anyway we launched the scoping report with the Minister who’d commissioned us to establish the program – Pru Goward. And here’s my speech at the function. One thing that got my attention was the fact that, according to the scoping report, quite a few people from the area have tattooed their postcode – 2770 – to themselves. And the supporters of Greater Western Sydney take signs of their postcodes to fixtures against Sydney Football Club – which is now more explicitly the team from the leafy suburbs.  I’m thinking that that pride about their postcode has the same kind of glorious defiance in it that Nicky Winmar showed one day at Victoria Park, when he pulled up his jumper and pointed to the colour his own skin to insist that it wasn’t his problem – it was the Collingwood outer’s problem.

Here also is the audio of a recent interview on this by Alex Sloan.

Notes for a Speech by Nicholas Gruen, Chairman of the Australian Centre for Social Innovation at the launch of the Family by Family Scoping Report for Mt Druitt, 12th March, 2014

I

Welcome to our modest function at Postcode 2770

Still, I’m reliably informed that from little things big things grow.

These are the words of Mystic (pronounced Mystique). She’s 21 now but was in out of home care since she was 3.

It happened so quickly. Once I turned 18, they sort of kicked me on my arse. They said ‘here’s $750, see you later, thank you’. And I’m just like ‘what the hell?’. A book and $750. That’s for being in care all your life.

Actually it makes you feel like an outsider. It makes you feel non existent on this earth. Like you are an alien. It does. It affects when you go to school too. You’re so used to being called ‘client’ and stuff that you start looking at yourself different to everyone else.

This example is not from NSW, but it’s not such an extreme example for those who know the system. And this is after what must be a decade, perhaps two of talking about “citizen centric services”!

II

Family by Family is different.

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What’s wrong with TED talks – hint: quite a lot

I have almost certainly fulminated in various asides against TED talks on this blog, and even one full on cri de coeur against retail profundification. (I promised one on business class profundification but I haven’t managed to do it yet.

Anyway, a friend sent me this TEDx talk which is about what’s wrong with TED Talks. It’s terrific. Indeed, if you want to watch it you can, but you can also see the text of the speech reproduced on the speaker’s website and in the Guardian. It’s always annoyed me that transcripts aren’t provided as a matter of course. They save a lot of time.

My favourite quote on economics:

Our options for change range from basically what we have plus a little more Hayek, to what we have plus a little more Keynes. Why?

Enjoy.

Profundification – a trend of our times: Part One

OK so you all kind of know this, but I’m going to go out on a limb and just put it out there as one younger member of my family has been heard to say. It’s depressing how much stuff is sent our way which repackages what’s already in the ether – stuff we already know, indeed stuff we may have grown up knowing, which is then fed back to us as AMAAAZING new insights into our contemporary world. You’ll laugh, you’ll gasp, you’ll savour those ‘aha’ moments – NOT.

This is the profundification of the commonplace.

The TED Talk above is on a subject that’s dear to my heart. It’s on the over-reliance on experts, the way experts can worship their paradigm and ignore what’s pretty obvious, and in the process tyrannize the wisdom of the lifeworld. I’ve even written whole essays on subject suggesting some possible ways to tackle the problem. So you’d think I’d love a TED Talk on that subject, especially since I agree with it.

Now I’m not expecting rocket science. I know that this is retail speechifying. The speaker is trying to explain ideas about which they’ve thought for some time to people for whom it may have no special significance. They need to be engaged and, dare I say it entertained. That’s as it should be. But lots of talks like that can be really interesting. I’m sure you can point us to some in comments. (On a second run through this I offer this TED talk as an illustration).

But really, having endured the hokeyness of the introduction, gritting my teeth thinking “this is the price of her TED Talk, this person will know something or say something of interest, perhaps compellingly, with cool illustrations” it turns out there is virtually no there there. Just the rehearsal of platitudes we already know – plus the obligatory reference to a brain scan. (Having invested in the technology, Troppo is scanning your brain as you read this and in the future you can be the first to learn the amazing fact to which our research will lead simply by staying tuned to Troppo.)  Continue reading

High tide in the Anti-ABC slops bucket

Remember the last time the Coalition government was insinuating treachery on the part of the ABC, and making like it was about to take a cricket bat to it? That was back in the days when Prime Minister Howard’s government was keenly promoting our mission to bring freedom and democracy to Iraq. (And by gee didn’t that turn out well?).

Back then Senator Richard Alston was considering installing an independent censor with powers over the ABC , if they didn’t answer the 60 charges of bias against the AM Program who had offended the government by improperly focussing on the quagmire aspects of the Iraq adventure rather that the glorious patriotic motives behind the decision to send brave lads off to war. Then as now the government reaction was just the pointy end of a broader campaign by the New New Guard to dismantle the national broadcaster.

Nothing much happened that time of course other than the ABC getting a bit of a rap over the knuckles, and installing some board stacks , it all eventually just ebbed away, until we returned to the general background noise of the quasi-conservative bloggers and their semi-literate fanboys muttering their incantations and poking pins in their ABC voodoo dolls.
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Crikey Subscription: It’s on again

It’s on again folks – or at least I’ve started to receive emails about it from you people. The incredible Troppo Crikey Sub. I’ve not been able to find, on a quick search, the savings on a one year subscription, but if you can give us the link, please do so in comments. We typically get enough subscriptions to get to the lowest price.

You know the drill. Send me a request at ngruen AT gmail. Please keep it as easy for me as you can. With over a hundred subscriptions, I don’t like answering questions etc. Just send me an email which I can put in a ‘folder’ to eventually send Crikey.

Postscript: Ignore most of what’s above. I’m just leaving it up there because we get remunerated by the word here at Troppo. But the bottom line is that if we get over 50 subscribers the price goes down to $99 – they’re clever these marketers, they know that we think that 99 is less than 100 which is quite a bit of money. In any event, Crikey are now sending out reminders to you if you’re already on the list. If so, and you want to proceed, please proceed with them. Deal done. There are 58 reminders going out and we have to get 50 subscribers to hit the psychological $99 price mark. If we don’t we’ll go over $100 and that’s a fair bit of money. If you are not an existing Tropscriber, or don’t receive an email by the end of this week, send me an email at ngruen AT gmail and I’ll swing Troppo’s bargaining muscle in behind your own (evidently) puny market heft.