David Boyle

Rule 1: Recruit staff for their personality not their qualifications

Taken from The Human Element, by David Boyle

 

“We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers, who begin to interest us at first sight, somehow suddenly, all at once, before a word has been spoken.”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

 

“Things that succeed have a personality behind them.”

Pat Brown, chief executive of Central London Partnership

 

You can always recognise a failing school.  The mini-class of naughty pupils doing their work in the headteacher’s study.  The coats all over the floor.  The bored faces of the children sitting at their desks with the sun outside. 

I went into one primary school recently where the headteacher said: “You feel like weeping at the end of the day”.  If ever there was a sign of something not working, the abject misery of the person in charge is probably it.  So when anyone can turn round a failing school, it has to be a clue about making other systems work too.

So take a journey with me for a moment to one school which turned around: Mitchell High School, right in the middle of an impoverished but energetic housing estate on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent.  Back in 2001, one senior member of staff faced down a furious local parent, who was waving a pair of muddy shorts at him, and was smacked around the face with them.  Three years on, an amazing transformation had taken place.  The angry parent was a member of staff, as were many of her friends, and – here’s the strange bit – they were paid partly in chocolate coins.

This unusual approach to turning round a big secondary school came at a time when other schools were putting in extra cameras and security gates just to avoid violent confrontations like that.  The fact that Mitchell went a different way, and became such a success story – as it did – was largely down to the new headteacher, Debbie Morrison (called Debbie Sanderson in those days). 

A closer look at the way she works reveals a great deal about the human dimension and why it is so important.  Because if you hang around successes for a long time, you realise that one of the things they have in common is the people, like her, who are at the heart of it – and who seem to be able to make a difference when everything else seems to point the other way.  I call them super-catalysts, and it doesnt have anything to do with qualifications.

             

When Debbie Morrison took over, shortly after the shorts incident, a fifth of sixteen-year-olds left without any qualifications.  A few years later, that figure was down to four per cent and two thirds of the school were getting five or more GCSEs at grades A-C.  You might think that the basis for this success was some kind of innovative government programme that could be rolled out anywhere. 

There were government programmes, of course – there always are – but the truth is that this didn’t really apply to Mitchell High School.  The key to Mitchell’s success was partly the very human skills of the headteacher, but taken to a whole new level.  In was, in fact, a dramatic demonstration of how people have skills that go some way beyond government programmes, and it had knock-on effects in the local community too.

             

Debbie Morrison may have been a born teacher, but she actually trained as a chartered accountant.  In a disaffected moment, she saw an advertisement for a teaching job in a local school in Derbyshire and applied for it.  She rose quickly through the ranks until she arrived at Mitchell, thrilled by what she describes as “the life and dynamism” there. 

But behind that buzz, the neighbourhood was not exactly going places.  “It was a highly depressed neighbourhood with a self-limiting belief system,” she says.  “They really didn’t believe it could be any better, across the whole community. It had become self-fulfilling.  There was real aggression and real disaffection there, and a kind of acceptance that they had no influence over their own futures.  Everything was always done to them.”

             

Worse, when she arrived at the school for the first time, Debbie was warned not to walk along the corridors on her own.  Local parents told her that she had no chance of sorting things out, because two strapping men had failed before her and she was just a young woman.  Nor were the parents just apathetic about learning – some of them were downright hostile.   Only a week into her job, as she locked the school gates, one parent holding a spade threatened to “kick your f****g head off”.

             

Her strategy was to engage with the most vociferous local mothers, not just to listen to them but to ask them for help.  She pursued one of the loudest from the local estate, a mother of two particularly challenging twin boys.  “We kept phoning her up,” she says.  “We kept asking her to come in, and I thought, if I could get Donna on board, I could get the whole community.” 

Some people might not have the human skills to engage in this way, possibly even most people.  But within a few months, Donna had enrolled alongside the children in the health and social care course.  This was a major success in itself.  Her mere presence in the classroom gave a message to the other children that learning was respectable, and she was also able to tell them some first-hand stories about childcare too.

             

The next step was to employ Donna for an hour a day during the lunch break to stand at the school gate and take the names of any children leaving for the afternoon wandering round the shops.  Some of the staff were nervous about rubbing shoulders with a parent in the staff room, especially such a difficult one – even sharing the staff toilets with them.  But Debbie knew the strategy was working when one of the other local mothers took her aside and said: “I want to do what Donna’s done”. 

“You’ve given me a bite of the apple,” said another one later.  “Now I want the whole apple.”

             

Others came in as classroom assistants, but Debbie refused to accept the usual boundaries between school and the outside neighbourhood.  There were self-esteem classes for adults, and courses on basic literacy. Other local parents were employed in various outreach work. 

There were lots of award ceremonies, prizes and awards afternoons.  There were grants to take over empty buildings near the school.  “I tried to find something that somebody was good at and build on it,” says Debbie.  “When I managed to find space at a minimal rent, I had somebody in mind and said to them: ‘If we put ten computers up there, can you manage that house in the afternoons?’ ”

             

In her new school, Coundon Court in Coventry, she has launched an ambitious project to train pupils, teachers and parents in life-coaching skills, beginning with an intensive course in the summer holidays for 350 children, chosen – not because they were the brightest and best – but because they most wanted to take part, and give something back.  Fourteen went on for a four-day training course, covering everything from emotional intelligence to ethics.  Even before the end of the course, it was clear that twelve-year-olds could be brilliant coaches of fifty-year-olds.             

One of the pupils is now coaching Debbie to organise a better work-life balance, go to the gym and drink enough water, and is sending emails to remind her of the goals she’s set herself.

             

The chocolate coins began as a thank you gesture at Mitchell, and they are a clue to the meaning of this story.  “OK, it was cheesy but it worked in that context,” she says.  But how did it work?  They are not exactly a payment: you can’t put them in the bank and they tend to melt if you keep them in your pocket.  They have no value, and yet Donna valued them so much that she still keeps some of hers, locked away in a cupboard.  They are a delicate balance as well. 

You can hardly imagine government guidelines for payments with chocolate coins.  Anybody else shelling out chocolate coins might just irritate people, or worse.  But Debbie managed to pull it off.  The chocolate coins worked, not just because they were an informal, human touch, but because they were very personal.

             

What seems to me to be amazing about her success at Mitchell High School is that she had no obvious plan in mind when she set out.  “I had a vision of self-supporting communities and a sense of how it could feel, but I didn’t really know how I was going to get there,” she says.   “It was like lottery balls flying in the air.  It was about jumping from ball to ball, riding on the energy.”

Much of the success came from talking up the school and the community, helping pupils and parents realise they could achieve things if they set out to.  But by itself, that’s just spin.  The point is that Debbie Morrison is a brilliant example of someone using their human skills to dramatic effect, cajoling, challenging, comforting, imagining.  You could never boil down how she works into some kind of computer programme, still less deliver it virtually.  She knows instinctively how people work, and forges relationships with them to make the change happen.

             

Of course, there are lots of people like her, though they are rarely given the credit they deserve.  They succeed because they can look at other people and see potential in them that officials and institutions don’t see.  They don’t just re-categorise them, they engage in such a way that change takes place. 

This isn’t just a matter of leadership – there are leaders out there who don’t know where to start when someone is in front of them.  General Montgomery was a disaster on a one-to-one basis.  These are people who make things happen instinctively, often in tiny ways, and do so brilliantly.  That is what makes them super-catalysts.

**

When I first ran across Debbie Morrison, it was at a government conference about ‘extended schools’, for which Mitchell provided a blueprint.  She gave the keynote address, packed with inspiring stories, which made you believe that anything might be possible. 

The next speaker was the civil servant charged with rolling out extended schools across one of the English regions, and within a minute or so of him beginning to speak, it was pretty obvious that he would fail.  He was revealing the besetting sin of officials, which is to boil down successful examples to universal principles which they believe can be applied anywhere.

             

This is how the process goes.  First, they take an intractable problem about neighbourhoods, communities and places, then they remove all of what they see as the dull and mundane but essentially human details.

             

Second, they formulate some abstract maxims that can apply to any situation or any community.

             

Third, they appoint somebody who can be trusted to put those maxims into effect without taking any notice of local peculiarities.

             

Fourth, they assign a narrow measure to every aspect of the task, and convince themselves that you can somehow capture and pin down the progress by measuring it.

          

The trouble is that you can’t actually separate the general from the specific.  It is the little things that matter most – the looks exchanged between neighbours, the small repairs to minor pieces of vandalism – that will make the difference between success and failure in a neighbourhood, the human encounters that make such a difference in the school.  Rolling it out like this pretends that the people aren’t crucial. 

It imagines that it can all work fine if individual relationships aren’t forged.  The thing about super-catalysts is that they turn their visions into reality in their own way, not according to the boiled down maxims preferred by those who employ them, but using their human skills in the way they know best.  This can make them the objects of suspicion in hierarchies which have become too divorced from the way people actually behave.

             

Debbie Morrison revealed that the head of the coaching programme they brought into Coventry called her a ‘deviant’, in an admiring kind of way.  She smiles at this.  “Unless you have a perception of the norm, you can’t really deviate from it,” she says.  But there is no doubt that others like her, particularly in public services, are seen as exactly that by the authorities, especially when they dealing directly with the public. 

             

If care staff help disabled people back into wheelchairs when they fall out, and they are not insured to do so, they often get reprimanded.  One local government officer told the Guardian in 2008 about a boy with learning difficulties who loved swimming, especially with his brother.  But the brother didn’t have learning difficulties and the swimming group was only for those who did, so he was barred for “health and safety reasons”. 

You have to be a deviant, at least a bit of a dissident, to break rules like that and stay a little bit human.  It may even be this very ability to break rules which makes all the difference between success and failure.

A decade on, Mitchell is facing closure again.  But what is most important about its renaissance under Debbie Morrison is that, if the human element had been removed, in case staff didn’t follow the correct procedure, or because the risks to children were too high – or maybe because a computer programme was considered more efficient – then Debbie could never have done her job. 

This matters enormously because it is at least a clue to the key question: why do things go wrong so often?  Why, after huge investment in systems and the latest management consultancy, are so many schools still failing?  One answer is that the super-catalysts are either missing or their skills have been deliberately frustrated.

It is rather an urgent question.  Businesses call people like that ‘entrepreneurs’.  There are even ‘social entrepreneurs’ in the voluntary sector, but there is no equivalent word in the public sector.  In fact, people who work imaginatively or emotionally are occasionally objects of suspicion in public services, especially when they are manning the phones or looking after children.  Even in business, there are moments when magnetic entrepreneurs are not quite as welcome as you might expect, especially when they are in a hierarchical system that tries to control their script and reaction. 

             

No, being an entrepreneur is usually about generating money.  That is a related but different skill.  Super-catalysts are people who are brilliant at dealing with other people.  They are often leaders, but they are not just leaders.  Of course, they are often entrepreneurs, but they are not just entrepreneurs either.  And their absence in our public services is at one explanation of why they are sometimes so intractable. 

**

It has taken a long time for policy-makers to re-discover the crucial importance of human relationships in education, but they have done so faster than most other areas.  The teaching consultant Doug Lemov had been a big advocate of data-driven programmes and standard tests to improve schools, but he changed his mind after a particularly depressing visit to a failing school in Syracuse in New York state.

             

They seemed to be doing all the right things.  They had caring teachers and small classes, and sophisticated software to analyse every pupil’s test results, but the classrooms were a disaster.  Lemov watched while a teacher launched a long debate with a pupil about why he didn’t have a pencil.  Driving home afterwards, he reflected that – despite his battery of techniques, software and analysis – he had little idea how to help schools actually teach.

             

His confusion coincided with a series of studies in the USA into the success of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind programme.  When they looked at the statistics about all the huge number of factors which schools have some kind of power over, all the usual ones showed just a tiny impact.  What really made the difference was which teacher the pupil had been given. 

There were huge gaps between the achievements of pupils when everything was exactly the same – the same curriculum, same school, same background – but different teachers.  Parents obsess about the right school to send their children to, but the latest research suggests that actually the school is only important because it houses the teachers.

             

It is only common sense that individual teachers make a difference, but these findings were a shock to the teaching establishment, largely because it implied there was something indefinable about individual teachers which couldn’t be measured.  One leading education policy analysts told the New York Times magazine that it was “voodoo”.

             

The accepted solution now, at least in the USA, is to give teachers performance-related pay, as if somehow low standards was the result of them not trying hard enough.  Lemov didn’t think that was the best way forward and set out to define what made a good teacher, travelling around the country filming the most successful teachers at work.  The result was a set of techniques which came to be known informally as ‘Lemov’s Taxonomy’.  They are little things, like standing still when you give instructions, that Lemov believes can turn ordinary people into brilliant teachers.

             

The charity Teach for America was also puzzled about their research findings.  Their teachers were doing good work, but a handful of them were succeeding way above the others.  They asked a philosophy graduate called Steven Farr, their head of research, to find out why. 

Starting in 2002, he tracked down teachers that were making a big difference and found they had a number of things in common: they constantly re-evaluated what they were doing, they obsessively recruited the families of their pupils into the process, and they battled bureaucracies that were betting in their way – they were ‘deviants’, like Debbie Morrison, in that respect.  But by the end of the research, two things stood out above all others as a measure of successful teachers – and it wasn’t background or academic achievement.  It was perseverance and determination, but it was also satisfaction with their own lives.  These were secure people, at ease with themselves.  Teach for America now tries to identify people with a track record of carrying on trying when they recruit them.

             

The implication of this, and of the work done by academics in the same field, and on both sides of the Atlantic, is that you can learn to be a super-catalyst – at least in the classroom.  The sum total of all Lemov’s 49 techniques would be a great teacher.  That is why philanthropists like Bill Gates have got involved in finding out what makes teachers brilliant. 

It is why the Obama administration decided to double the funding for teacher training in one year.  It may be that being a catalyst is something that you can learn.  It isn’t clear what the balance is between learning and genetics in the super-catalysts.  Perhaps it doesn’t matter.  The real point is that success or failure is primarily down to individual human beings.  That is the human element.

             

When the New York Times devoted an issue of their magazine to the question of whether individual teachers are important, they described Lemov at the back of a class watching a really brilliant educator at work.  “You could change the world with a first-year teacher like that,” he said afterwards.  People make a big difference – so much so, that in a world of systems and processes, it looks as though they could create serious change.

**

The man who has emerged as one of the most successful advocates of recruiting by personality in the UK is John Timpson, the maverick chairman of the high street shoe repair and key cutting chain that bears his name.  He organised the management buy-out of his family firm from the Hansen Trust in 1983. 

Fifteen years later, they began to face nose to nose competition from Mister Minit Worldwide.  Timpson had a disturbing interview with the owners – the Swiss bank UBS, a rival with bottomless pockets – where they told him they made a speciality of swallowing up family firms. 

Chastened by this threat, he struggled with the question of how to fight back, and realised they had only one asset available to them to compare to the UBS billions: their shop managers.  But how could they use them better?  The answer Timpson came up with was to give them more flexibility to adapt to the local situation, but not just that – he decided to give them total control, and to trust them to get on with it.

Timpson called this new doctrine ‘Upside Down Management’.  He wrote about it widely in the staff publications and urged it every moment he could.  Nothing much changed.  He realised he would need a symbolic gesture to make staff understand: he gave each of them, however junior, a budget of £500 to settle complaints, and – much more radical, this one – he also let shop managers decide what prices to charge for their products.

             

Timpson’s had been started by his great grandfather 140 years before, but never had any of predecessors flown so much in the face of conventional business wisdom.  It still took three years to convince the staff he was serious, and even then there were huge implications to be faced, but it was a huge success. 

Timpson eventually took over the loss-making Mister Minit, and made it profitable, and at the same time grew the business from 200 to 820 stores around the UK.  He continues to make acquisitions, and has a tough time inculcating his management system on the new executives.  Yet it is also a showcase for how super-catalysts can work in business when they are encouraged.

             

But the key to employing more super-catalysts is picking the right people.  Timpson’s magic decision was to stop recruiting staff on the basis of whether they could mend shoes or cut keys, which – as Timpson said – reduced their pool of potential employees to about 30,000 people in the UK, and start recruiting them on the basis of their personality. 

This is a theme which is repeated over and over again through those few organisations that genuinely understand that people are central to success, rather than just using the rhetoric.  They have faith in their training to fit anyone for the specifics of the task, but they want the right people to begin with.  They don’t worry too much about qualifications or paperwork.  Like the recruiters at Teach for America, they look for what the people are

It seems such an obvious way of going about recruitment, yet so many businesses go about it in a completely different way.  The vast majority of public servants, in this country and abroad, and those who work for large organisations public and private, are recruited using formulae, given an equally formulaic training, and then abandoned on the job. 

Lip service may be given to their ability to make things happen and their entrepreneurial flair, but that is not actually what is expected of most of them.  People in big organisations tend to be expected to keep rules, not bend them.  The fact that so many people do actually make things happen every day, especially in public services like the NHS, is simply evidence of their potential to do more. 

**

Some of the most successful companies in the world have shifted over to recruiting more super-catalysts.  Procter & Gamble now looks for what they call ‘in-touch capability’, a fancy way of saying emotional intelligence.  Southwest Airlines, one of the few profitable airlines in the world, deliberately now hires people on the basis of attitude and leadership, not on their technical skills or experience. 

But the company which has thought most about recruiting differently, and re-organising the business around super-catalysts, is the giant conglomerate General Electric.  When Jack Welch took over GE in 1981, one of the world’s wealthiest companies, it was earning $1.5 billion a year and had 400,000 employees.  When he left twenty years later, it was earning $126 billion. 

The number of employees had long since been slashed to 270,000, earning Welch the nickname ‘Neutron Jack’, a reference to the bomb which kills people but leaves buildings standing. Welch was the son of a railway guard from Peabody, Massachusetts who joined General Electric as an executive in 1960.  In fact, he had accepted another job quite early in his career at GE, but was taken out to dinner and persuaded to stay by a young executive called Reuben Gutoff, who promised to work with him to cut bureaucracy and create a small-company environment.

             

Welch set about transforming a corporate monolith that he believed was throttling itself in its own processes.  That meant dumping the idea of strategies.  Who reads them after they are written so laboriously?  It meant abandoning the great edifice of corporate measurement.  “Too often, we measure everything and understand nothing,” he said.  Under Welch, GE would just measure customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction and cash flow.  It also meant, as far as possible in a huge company, striving for informality.  It wasn’t a small company, heaven knows, but Welch wanted it to feel like one.

             

None of this suggests that Welch was a leader to be copied in any other way than this – his record on the environment was appalling.  But he knew that the kind of people he needed would sometimes be different from the ones he had got.  Take away the structures of bureaucracy and people look different.  “Now you see some of them wilt,” he said, about some senior executives after the process of ‘de-layering’.  “That’s the sad part of the job.  Some who looked good in the big bureaucracy looked silly when you left them alone.”

             

That is what happens when large organisations transform themselves into effective ones.  The people who made the wheels of bureaucracy go round, who felt more comfortable preventing useful activity, lost their role.  Those who were held back from making relationships work by the bureaucracy are set free to set the place alight, but sometimes it is horribly obvious that many of your staff aren’t suitable after all.  So this is one of the keys to putting people back at the heart of organisations.  It means making recruiting absolutely central, which is why Welch said he spent half his time recruiting the top positions in the company. 

             

Two decades on, the Welch message has filtered down through corporate America.  McDonalds CEO Jim Skinner now personally interviews his top 200 managers.  Welch’s successor at GE, Jeff Immelt, meets his top 600 staff before they are appointed.  Medtronic boss Bill Hawkins spends half his time dealing with the careers of his key managers.  These are huge commitments of time, and there is little point in doing it if you are then going to constrain managers with processes and peer over their shoulder all the time once they are in the job.  What’s more, generally speaking, we don’t do it like this in our public services, yet who is to say that hospitals and schools are any less important?

This all assumes that every staff appointment is going to work out, and – as managers wander around their domains – they are bound to find areas that are not really working.  Of course, most staff will not attain super-catalyst status.  Some will also actively frustrate the others.  The real question is not how you control the organisation to regulate this minority, but how you can help the rest learn and how you can exclude those who won’t or don’t.  The challenge of Upside Down Management is the same as the one faced by people like Jack Welch.  It is not just getting hold of those super-catalysts in the first place, but how to deal with those who won’t learn.  There is a tough element to this, which Timpson typically expresses in stark terms.  You need a policy of what he calls “getting rid of drongos”.

             

Usually the drongos are obvious in interviews, he says.  One brought his mother who answered all the questions; another listened to his headphones throughout. But sometimes you don’t, and then they have to go. Timpson always asks himself whether he could last through lunch with the person before him.  If not, and he has inadvertently employed them, he recommends telling them as directly as possible, rather than pretending that this is a disciplinary matter and going through the motions to avoid action for unfair dismissal.  He gives them a big pay-off, helps them find another job and breathes a sigh of relief.

             

Upside Down Management means putting training at the heart of the enterprise, as companies like Eli Lilly and Nokia have done.  It means mentoring and coaching have a central role.  But it also means people who don’t shape up have to go.  Welch set up a particularly ferocious system that graded all GE staff every year as A, B or C.  The As were promoted and the Cs sacked.  “Move them out early,” he advised.  “It’s a contribution.”  But then, as I said, not everything about Welch’s reign over GE was admirable, and it isn’t clear that terrifying your staff is any more effective.

             

Even so, this is the most uncomfortable aspect of the human element.  It means people have to be easier to dismiss, not because there is a downturn or for reasons of economic expediency, but if they just can’t connect.  If they can’t read or write, then everyone accepts that they can’t do the job.  If they can’t relate to people, can’t influence or make things happen, and no amount of training shifts their attitude, then they should not, for example, be teaching children or healing their parents or serving customers.  But if Teach for America and Doug Lemov are correct, and these vital skills can be taught, then the main question is how to teach them.

**

Unfortunately, and for many good reasons, we have come to believe in processes more than we believe in people.  We have bought the argument that human beings are fallible, and worse than fallible – we are afraid they are racist, sexist, accident-prone brutes (not us, of course).  We don’t believe that recruitment or decisions of any kind can possibly work without the whole process being taken apart, set down and made visible.  Many people, especially in the public sector, are actually hostile to the idea that people can make a difference.  A friend of mine shocked a room full of health administrators by suggesting that different surgeries have a different atmosphere about them.  They objected to the implication that the smooth system could be over-ridden by individuals.

Timpson has flown in the face of all this by launching a radical experiment to recruit his staff directly from gaol, and is doing so already from Wandsworth and Liverpool prisons.  This looks like he is testing Upside Down Management to destruction, but it is also pushing to try to recruit catalysts, no matter how they appear on paper.   There are already a number of success stories – at least one of the former prisoners they employ is now a branch manager.  But Timpson is constantly stymied by the prison officers who send him candidates because they have kept to the rules or kept their head down.  “We don’t want that,” he says.  “We want personalities, who are hard-working and keen.” 

The problem is that the system wants to systematise.  Of course it will systematise the definition of the ‘best’ candidates.  It is also true that trashing the system might make it easier for racists or morons to abuse their position in the recruitment process, but actually the system only gives the illusion of oversight.  You do need some kind of transparency as a safeguard, but processes – because they are usually based on apparently objective measurement, which can’t sum up people – only seem to provide it. 

             

The alternative is that the organisation slowly fills up with the wrong appointments, and they make more wrong appointments.  “If you recruit drongos, they will bring in more drongos,” says Timpson, “because they feel comfortable with other ones around them.” 

No, the solution has to be asserting that people have human capabilities which are the most important of all.  If we are going to treat people as potential catalysts, it means we have to put our faith in them again, though not without oversight, and put aside our misplaced faith in processes.  It means asserting that management, government and administration is about leadership, not about the manipulation of programmes, however visionary.  “Our whole belief now is that running things is about process, and that all you have to do is follow the process and all will be well,” says John Timpson.  “But if you recognise who are good people, you don’t need processes, you can run the business much more efficiently, with fewer people, and you can have more fun.”

That is the key to it.  Super-catalysts are life-enhancing.   Working imaginatively with people who can make a difference is exciting in a way that watching over processes is not.  Watching over systems is little better than machine minding.  It’s no fun.

**

Can you recognise super-catalysts in the street?  I don’t think so.  They’ve certainly got energy, and instinctive sympathy, maybe even charm, but my experience of those people you run across who really transform situations around them is that you can’t generalise about their personalities.  Some have huge self-belief, but that can also get in the way of making relationships work.  Some make things work in a very modest way. 

What I have learned from researching this book is that super-catalysts are not strange and unusual people with a genius for relationships.  They are not people with psychic gifts or knowledge that is shared by only a handful of people.  This is not an assertion that can be proved one way or another, but I believe they are using skills that we all possess as part of being human.  They just manage to exercise them in an intense way, and despite all the organisational barriers against them.  They are awkward people.  They don’t accept defeat.

       

When I think back to all the examples of people who make things happen that I have seen – as we all have – it seems to me that situations are changed, not just by headteachers or chief officers or business leaders, or anyone with a reputation as a transformational person, but by very ordinary people in playgrounds, front rooms and front gardens.  The important thing to remember about human catalysts is that we were all born with the necessary skills.  We see them put into effect around us every day, in families and neighbourhoods.  We need them to bring up children, make relationships work and make any kind of living.  The fact that many of us make a mess of these tasks proves nothing; most of us manage it in the end, and many of us do so spectacularly. 

That is what super-catalysts mean.  They have managed to hone and transfer to the workplace the human skills that most of us already have.  Most of us learn to live, to bring up children, to lead generally happy lives where we fall in love and make things happen all over again.  This awesome individual genius is the key to the Human Revolution.              

In these areas, so much does work.  Children are socialised and turn out humane and imaginative.  People look after their neighbours in their hundreds of thousands every day, despite the rhetoric about ‘broken Britain’.  There are super-catalysts everywhere, and the best way to make our organisations work is to recruit them, then train them, and – as far as possible – to get out of their way.

 

 

 

title: books by David Boyle
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