100 years ago…

One hundred years ago, in August 1917, my father was born.

Born in the First World War at a time his uncle was about to become involved in the battle of Polygon Wood. He was a teenager during the Great Depression and fought in the New Guinea islands in the Second World War. He died a few months short of his 65th birthday from emphysema – passive smoking did it because he never smoked. This is the eulogy I should have given at his funeral, but was too young to give – maybe a little shorter. You do not have to read 😛 Continue Reading →

London – Wallace Collection

One of the most intriguing finds of my visit to London was the Wallace Collection. I found it by accident while walking the back streets when there was a tube strike. I had visited Regent’s Park and saw a sign for a free museum collection. Of course I went in. I took the photographs in August 2015. It took until yesterday for me to process them. It has been a busy time for me this half of the year.

Short History

Wallace Collection 1The Duke of Manchester was a traditional English hunting man. Regents Park is right next to Manchester Square where the Wallace Collection is located in the Duke’s hunting lodge built in 1776-1788 – because the duck shooting was good nearby. The house is known as Hertford House, having been acquired by the 2nd Marquess of Hertford and passed on to the next two generations and then to his illegitimate son Sir Richard Wallace.  On his death and that of his widow, the complete collection was donated to the British people and the museum opened in 1900 in this building. At various times the building has been the Spanish and French Embassy as well as hosting the Allied Sovereigns Ball celebrating the defeat of Napoleon in 1814.

The wealth required to accumulate such a huge and valuable collection is hard to imagine. It says a lot about England and its wealth in the 18th and 19th centuries. It also says a lot about French and English relations at the time because Sir Richard Wallace lived mostly in Paris until late in life. By the way Sir Richard’s widow left the Chateau Bagatelle and several apartments in Paris to a friend – and there was a second Wallace Collection of art of “substantial size” that was dispersed through inheritances via the 4th Marquess of Hertford under Feudal property laws.

The Museum

The museum contains a static collection that was bequeathed on the condition that it not be added to or taken from. Therefore it is a snapshot of late 19th Century cultural history and taste.

According to Evan Dunstone, the furniture is very worth studying – he did so some 20 years ago. The cabinetry I saw is made from rare timbers and so richly decorated that it is hard to comprehend the pieces themselves. Seeing so many pieces of furniture in a single room is quite overwhelming. I was overwhelmed! I need to return and spend more time there.

The collection of armour and weapons on the ground floor is large and impressive. It consists of more than two thousand pieces ranging from horse armour, large canon through to spears, maces, swords, daggers and then to firearms. It could be more impressive than the collection in the Tower of London.

The collection of paintings is amazing, consisting of Dutch Masters, Renaissance Italian masters and a wish list of French 18th century artists. I probably should have taken photographs, however I was a little travel weary at the time – and overwhelmed.

It was the ceramics that really caught my eye. Read to the end to see what is really interesting.


Wallace Ceramic 6This is an example of intricately illustrated ceramic work that must have taken a lot of time and effort to produce. The Sèvres porcelain was what impressed me the most. The Sèvres porcelain factory was established by Louis XV and continued as a Royal factory until Louis XVI was deposed. The 3rd Marquess of Hertford collected a large amount of the porcelain through purchase of the Chateau de Bagatelle in 1835.  Located in the Bois de Boulogne, Paris and re-built by a brother of Loius XVI in 1775, it was probably the royal connection  that caused the collection to be kept in the Chateau.

It was hard to avoid reflections from the windows and keep myself out of the picture as well. I was not expecting to need the polarising lens filter.


Wallace Ceramic 5There are four large cabinets like this with treasures that are hard to come to terms with. Each piece was made to be purchased by royalty with deep pockets and was able to be bought at auction when the original purchaser needed money or more often when property was inherited and valuables sold for cash. A collection like this could be a life’s work to assemble.


Wallace Ceramic 4More exquisite detail and hand painted work. Even the best potters had a failure rate in the kiln that makes such fine work so expensive. The colours and even having more than one colour on a piece were licensed to the royal porcelain factory so that most people could not have anything this good. That changed after the French Revolution when the factory was “privatised” and looking for customers anywhere.



Wallace Ceramic 3

Royal patronage allowed risky works to be created and much experimentation to be possible like for this pot-pourri vase and lid. The Louis XV period pieces (like this one) were possible also because of the use of a soft paste porcelain method that could be fired at lower temperatures and therefore allow a greater range of pigments. Later advances also allowed kaolin based “hard paste” porcelain to have a greater range of colours. The French royal porcelain factory, Sèvres, competed primarily with the German makers in Saxony of which Meissen was the first (and in Europe too) and most renown.


Wallace Ceramic 2

While most porcelain was made to be useful for something it is likely that these pieces were more for decoration and to impress visitors. Candle holders were probably used because it was a sign of wealth to have expensive ones. The Flower vase (pink) might have been used as well, for special occasions. The elephant heads with trunks connecting the candle holders would have been very delicate.

Richard Wallace left Paris after the Siege of Paris by the Prussian army in 1870-1 and the establishment of the Paris Commune with its “bloody week” aftermath. He had kept most of the art, furnishing and weaponry collection in Hertford House and took the majority of the remainder from Paris with him.


Wallace Ceramic 1Another set of candle holders and pot-pourri vase in gondola style. It was probably bought from Madame De Pompadour, mistress to Louis XV.

That brings me to a most intriguing fact I saw on the wall of the Museum. A portion of the Wallace Collection was most likely bought from auctions resulting from the French Revolution where the contents of Versailles, particularly the apartments of Marie Antoinette were confiscated and sold. Successive Marquess of Hertford seem to have pursued these auctioned items with the 4th and Richard Wallace being the most dedicated. They all spent a lot of their time in Paris, even those who were members of the British Parliament.


Auction notice

Quite a number of items of Sèvres porcelain appear to have once resided in Versailles, according to the historical notes. This is a notice for an auction of articles from Versailles that appears to have been in the family archives. I understand that the furniture collection has a considerable selection from the royal French houses.


Issues in Communication Part 3

Why don’t people listen?

The marketing ideal is to get “The right message to the right people at the right time” and while it works, it is not that easy to do. This is the third in a series looking at communication and some of the issues we face in consulting.

Part 1 covered issues around Hierarchies.

Part 2 covered issues around how you cannot expect that the message you send is the message received.

I put forward five answers to the question. I discuss this communication issue in the context of change initiatives.

Continue Reading →

Issues in Communication

Communication is undoubtedly one of the keys to success in almost anything you do. Good communication is valued and poor communication is considered a career breaker. Why is it then that we see so many problems that are attributed to communication breakdowns?

This article discusses three of the systemic and personal issues that make communication difficult in larger organisations. While understanding the issues does not solve the problem it at least helps to know what to look out for.

This article discusses three fundamental issues with communication and provides some real life examples to illustrate these:

  • Organisational structure
  • “My e-mail said precisely what I meant. Why are you reacting this way?”
  • Why don’t people listen?

The first part of this article focuses on how organisational structure affects communication. From what I have seen, this is one of the biggest factors in poor corporate communication. Restructure of an organisation more often precedes implementation of a new strategic direction rather than being in response to the new strategy. Discussion on how communication Context matters and the role of the Participants in communication will follow.

Continue Reading →


This is a starting point on my new approach to working.

Last month I resigned form Oakton to essentially do nothing. I did that for entirely personal reasons that I will not go into for the moment. What is important is that I have a renewed desire for doing high value consulting work where I can help others make a significant difference.

Here are the things I will focus on:

  • Strategy design and implementation. Working with people to understand organisational purpose, values and what matters most.  Establishing what needs to be done to achieve what is wanted. Then gaining agreement as to how to achieve it all.
  • Business Transformation. Working with organisations who see the need to change what they do and how they do it.
  • Program design and delivery. Designing larger scale initiatives intended to achieve agreed outcomes and objectives. Navigating the uncertainties when you have to take the first steps before you know what the third and subsequent step will look like.
  • Service improvement. Working with people to rethink how business services should best be delivered.
  • Business change. Usually embedded in Business Transformation and Program design, providing a focus on the organisation-level people, process and systems changes that need to be undertaken.
  • Operational performance. Working out what needs to be measured and monitored in order to keep operations aligned with changing business priorities and purpose.

Because this is a change from what I have been doing in the past few years I will also be doing a few things to build relationships with other organisations:

  • Offer services through other companies where I know and trust those companies
  • Offer independent consultancy advice to clients directly where this makes sense
  • Build (once again) a solid personal reputation for delivering value
  • Make a difference to people’s lives

More on this soon …


Passchendaele Book Cover Passchendaele
Robin Prior, Trevor Wilson,

The carnage on the Western Front at Passchendaele, where 275,000 Allied and 200,000 German soldiers fell, was neither inevitable nor inescapable, the authors of this gripping book insist. Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson here offer the most complete account of the campaign ever published, establishing what actually occurred, what options were available, and who was responsible for the devastation."The clearest and most balanced picture yet of a battle whose very name evokes the horror and supposed futility of World War I". -- John Grigg, The Spectator, "Book of the Year""The authors should be commended for writing a balanced, convincing work that reveals the devastation of the First World War and the failure of military and political leaders to recognize this horror". -- Virginia Quarterly Review"This book will appeal to both the scholar and the general public and belongs in every World War I collection". -- Agnes F. Peterson, History"Robin Prior and Trevor Wilson have written an excellent, carefully researched, and dispassionate history of the Passchendaele campaign.... It must now become the standard scholarly work on the grim battle of Passchendaele, integrating as it does, both politics and war". -- Tim Travers, Journal of Military History"The authors excel in their thorough use of original sources to provide a masterly account ... clearly related and supported by admirable maps". -- Brian Bond, Times Literary Supplement"Well-represented, lu

This book gave me an insight to the warfare around Ypres and especially for Polygon Wood, where a Great Uncle fought. Much was said and unsaid about this uncle and of the suffering of returned soldiers. While the book presents facts and historical information, it was written 80 years after the events and that perspective provided me with a sense of the meaning (or really not) of the warfare, the political systems of the time. It made me wonder how these people could possibly risk their lives to achieve – nothing.

Read it if you dare.

The chapter on Polygon Wood (Page 125) gives an idea of what my Great Uncle went through.

Managing to an Inflation figure – Who does that benefit?


What is growing in price/cost? Investment products or daily consumption products?

In Australia, successive Governments since the 1970s have focused on Inflation as the main driver of monetary policy. Some of what I have been reading lately suggests that this is more about protecting established wealth than it is about protecting the general population. If this is the case then why are we stressing about inflation rather than GDP growth, which is a better indicator of how well most people are living? Continue Reading →

David and Goliath

David and Goliath Book Cover David and Goliath
Malcolm Gladwell
Decision making
Allen Lane

'Gladwell's most enjoyable book so far. It is a feel-good extravaganza, nourishing both heart and mind' Financial Times'I devoured in a single reading' Richard E. Grant'When you read it, you feel like you can topple giants' Jon RonsonWhat if everything we thought about power was wrong? What if, in the ancient story of the shepherd boy who topples a giant, David actually had the advantage? This thought sets Malcolm Gladwell on an extraordinary journey that takes him from art to basketball, the brain to revolutions, along the way weaving unforgettable stories of misfits, outsiders, tricksters and underdogs who have faced outsized challenges and won. With his trademark warmth, humour and gift for showing us the world through new eyes, Gladwell lets us see why the powerful aren't always what we think they are - and that some of us have more strength and purpose than we could ever imagine.'Intoxicating, powerful and morally engaged' Guardian'Truly intriguing and inspiring' Los Angeles Times' Breath-taking and thought-provoking' The New York Times 'An energetic, counterintuitive exploration of why (and how) underdogs succeed' Guardian, Books of the Year 'Continuing to gently but persistently blow my mind' Lauren Laverne

So this is the fourth book I have read by Malcolm Gladwell. I read it in less than a day and it was genuinely hard to put down.

Sadly, I am not a big fan of the author’s style. I do like the core of his ideas but the writing style grates a lot. North America centric and what appears to be analysis that is overly rooted in middle class privilege. That is despite his subject matter looking at almost everything but that cohort of humanity. Or maybe not – I cannot decide and that is where my difficulties lie. The choices of example and how they are presented appear to me to be more like proselytising than an unbiased examination of facts. I find some of his arguments by example worrying.

I do like the subject matter and the footnotes a whole lot more.

The book makes a case for some counter-intuitive understanding of how and why the strong are beaten by the weak. The most important thing I got from the book is to make sure that any analysis of “weak” or “strong” is done from an independent standpoint and with a deep understanding of the circumstances that influence relative strength. The next best thing from the book was to understand that we have to work hard to understand ourselves if we want to get the best out of our lives. Something that should be obvious but is easy to forget when trying to live our daily lives.

Oddly, but at the same time quite common, this book refers to other books I have read recently. In this case Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Seven Pillars of Wisdom Book Cover Seven Pillars of Wisdom
T.E. Lawrence
Biography & Autobiography
Penguin UK

Although 'continually and bitterly ashamed' that the Arabs had risen in revolt against the Turks as a result of fraudulent British promises of self-rule, Lawrence led them in a triumphant campaign which revolutionized the art of war. Seven Pillars of Wisdom recreates epic events with extraordinary vividness. In the words of E. M. Forster, 'Round this tent-pole of a military chronicle, T. E. has hung an unexampled fabric of portraits, descriptions, philosophies, emotions, adventures, dreams'. However flawed, Lawrence is one of the twentieth century's most fascinating figures. This is the greatest monument to his character and achievements.

I decided to read this book after viewing the “extras” on the remastered 70th anniversary edition of Lawrence of Arabia. It is a film I saw in the mid 60s and I remember clearly the quicksand scenes and blowing up of trains from my youth. The background to the film suggested a story richer than the film and so I ordered it from Paperchain in Manuka. Over the past two months I have read the book slowly, a chapter or so at a time. It is that kind of book. It makes you think. It leads you to do some research to fill the gaps in your knowledge that you suddenly realise should not be there.

I have really enjoyed the book. It is of the time and its casual racism and British Dominion language serves as a reminder of how thinking changes over time. The book goes a long way to explaining why we have the problems that we now see in the Middle East. 100 years and two World Wars (plus a half dozen localised ones at least) later the world has still not managed to overcome the consequences of colonial power broking and oppression dating from the Crusades and Ottoman Empire in the Levant.

The writing is heroic. It is also very British. If you did not know it was near as reasonable to fact then you would think it was a great adventure story. I have been appalled and amazed by the events described. I have felt resonance in the analysis of the region put forward in the book.

So many what-ifs are presented in the book (albeit often from the perspective of hindsight) that make you think of what might have been and how much suffering the world might have been able to avoid. Then, on reflection, I am reminded that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.