Mad Management: Don’t get sidetracked by Brexit - because the Cyborgs are coming!

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In last week’s Mad Management on Brexit I ended by offering a “how” to negotiate Brexit this week. I will focus on one element in two key areas: planning and people.

When I was at Huthwaite, our research finding that 80 per cent of the success of a negotiation lies in the planning, was confirmed over and over again. Here is just one principle: do not plan sequentially – we will go for this and when we get it we will then go for this, and then this etc. This will only work if you are the much more powerful party, which is why I call it the Godfather strategy. And this is what the EU negotiators have done. They have proposed the agenda. We have to adapt to it.

My advice, therefore, would be to kick out the current Brexit political negotiators, as leopards don’t change their spots.

We need to go for the Issue planning option, which is less “logical” but very adaptable and therefore more suited to the weaker party – us. The Brexit team needs to brainstorm what the key issues are that are negotiable (some are not) and then plan issue by issue independently. Skilled negotiators would consider issue C, for example, as if issues A, B and D didn't exist, and nearly always from the other side’s point of view or interest as well, and not rely on achieving issues A and B first.

The clear advantage of Issue Planning over the Sequence Planning (the Godfather strategy) is, once again, adaptability.

And now, people. Professor Gerald Williams’ research revealed that cooperative problem-solvers were more likely to be perceived as “effective” or even as “average” with 97 per cent of them getting positive reviews – more likely to get a good agreement, as opposed to the 67 per cent of the competitive adversarial negotiators.

My advice, therefore, would be to kick out the current Brexit political negotiators, as leopards don’t change their spots, and replace them with a set of cooperative problem-solvers that would include, inter alia, representatives from the civil service, law and business. Part of the new team would include Barbara Cassani (who launched the very successful Go Fly airline), Frances O’Grady, Kenneth Clark, Nick Clegg and Jeremy Corbyn, and should follow the Japanese style, which is that the most senior person does not have to be the lead negotiator.

This worked very well for the DSS in about 1990, when a colleague and I helped their planning team in the PES negotiation with the Treasury. The late Tony Newton was the Secretary of State. A lovely man, he confessed to me that he found negotiating uncivilised and was anxious about heading it up.

My advice was to pick someone who actually enjoyed negotiating as lead negotiator. Tony should then lead the planning team, which he did very well. They actually got as much a win/win deal as was possible from HM Treasury, due in some measure to my colleague, Marjatta van Boeschoeten, who steered them wisely.

(Incidentally, Tony Newton, a Conservative, unsuccessfully fought Sheffield Brightside in the 1970 General Election.)

I will discuss more of the planning strategy in more detail next week. In the meantime, let us look at the dark cloud that is looming on the business horizon – monopolies and cyborg leadership.

It’s a funny thing that, in our neo-liberal capitalist dispensation where competition is a key principle, there is a swathe of takeovers attempting to dominate the market. The controversy in the financial press about Sainsbury’s takeover bid for Nisa Retail is overshadowed by the Jeff Bezos’ (Amazon) purchase of Whole Foods for £10.5 billion.

This, says the Sunday Times, “sends a shudder through the retail world”. Walmart shares fell by 4.7 per cent ($11 billion).

However, there is a phenomenon much more sinister than the monopoly. It is the mind-set that underlies the tech industry. These tech giant leaders have an image of the human being that is frightening. Some of their organisations – Amazon warehouses, Uber – are designed as machines where people are treated as robots (cyborgs) with enough intelligence to be useful as employees or consumers at the service of this machine.

It is a soulless, and therefore dangerous, attitude. A mixture of the old slaver and new kind of cybernetician with the aim of robotising employees until they have invented robots that are better. These leaders contribute significant resources to developing ‘post-human entities’, designed to control our desires with artefacts that encourage vicarious and copycat behaviour, using the mimetic theories of the Peter Thiel’s (Facebook) philosophical mentor, Rene Girard.

Oh, and Elon Musk of Tesla fame wants us to go to Mars in case there is a world catastrophe.

This is the left brain gone mad, spending billions on space travel and gadgets while the environment of our wonderful world is going to hell. Just where is their discernment?

Compare this self-aggrandising, accumulative behaviour with Ray Anderson, the head of Interface, the carpet company, whose vision was for his company to have zero waste while providing the floor coverings we really need. When he died in 2011 his European company had cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90 per cent and water use by 95 per cent. Now, that is a real contribution.

And, closer to home, Borough Markets, a charity that runs the market where the terrible terrorist stabbings took place, has written off the rent owed by its tenant traders for the 11 days they were forced to close. It will also help traders works through any resulting financial problems. That’s a company to be proud of.