Educating for uncertain scenarios that await us

In the latest edition of the London Business School Review I was pleased to see an article by my dear friend Charles Handy on how business schools must adapt for the future.

He opens by recollecting that 51 years ago he returned to England from America to join the fledgling London Graduate School of Business Studies, now the London Business School. There he launched the Sloan Masters Programme, in which I was a student 46 years ago.

“A business school was then an American import,” he writes, “largely unknown in Europe.” He recalls that a friend wondered why he wanted to teach typing and shorthand, assuming the school was another name for a secretarial college! Since then of course such institutions have become widespread all over the world, and an almost essential basis for a business career.

However new times bring new challenges, warns Mr Handy, with multiple opportunities and dangers. So it is not enough to learn from the past, increasingly an inadequate guide for the uncertain scenarios that await us. Business schools have always been educational pioneers, he acknowledges, with their simulations and case studies and live projects.

But now, in this era of fast-changing technology and political disruption, they risk becoming “out of touch, irrelevant and over-priced” and so must change radically if they are to avoid losing their influence.

Next, absorb this great to-do list for business students from my favourite management guru: they should take nothing for granted, question accepted wisdom, and display boundless curiosity and unrestricted imagination. They must be bold but humble, respectful of authority but doubtful of its conclusions.

As far as their teachers are concerned Mr Handy sees them as only first among equals, who must learn to act more as mentors and encouragers rather than as experts laying down the law to obedient listeners. Amen to that.

And to reflect the new form of learning not only will the design of the lecture theatre have to change, but its very name. (In the spirit of this radically different concept I have been saying for some time that I would ban the term “lecturer”, thanks to the know-it-all attitude implied and applied.)

I am familiar with William Wordsworth’s quote that for him poetry was “emotion recollected in tranquility”, so I related well to Mr Handy referring to the form of learning he is advocating as “experience understood in tranquility”.

Ideally, he suggests, students would be thrust out alone into the world, to return after some months to the tranquility and reflection of the classroom.

Who are most suited for such programmes? Not necessarily those with the highest academic scores – despite these being easier to assess, he acknowledges. His final plea for the business school of the future is that it should not provide an overly academic environment, and so faculty selection and promotion too should be based on broader criteria.

Only when the faculty list includes professors of philosophy and drama, education and psychology, will business schools be appropriately equipped for the very different world ahead, he concludes.

Leadership styles

Imagine how good I feel remembering that among the undergraduate subjects I took within my economics studies was one on French existential literature, and that later at the London Business School our class reflected on different leadership styles by analysing the writings of Plato, Shakespeare and others.

So this is my message to both faculty and students of business schools: take note of what Mr Handy recommends and dramatically expand your comfort zones. (You can read his full article at

Through my involvement with tertiary education over the years I know only too well how hard this will be, for most teachers and for the overwhelming number of learners. I say this as whenever I lead undergraduate and even graduate classes I always find it so hard to get the students relaxed enough to contribute substantively.

Given common practice such active participation lies way beyond their expectations. Yet when I nurture their confidence, gently but firmly, they eventually find their voices.

Therefore to have our education be fit for purpose in these demanding times, big doses of “tough love” will need to be dished out… not least to our very traditional lecturers.

Top managers need to boost leadership skills

We are all so busy these days, and the more senior we are as leaders the busier we are. In among the frantic activity and the e-mails, with our ambitious targets and tight timescales, there’s no time to reflect – never mind to invest time in doing so with others at our level.

When I entered the workplace in the late sixties we only talked about “management”. The “L” word emerged later, but now we talk more and more about the need for enlightened “leadership”, almost looking down on mere “management”.

Yet our most senior leaders are the ones least likely to get together and invest time in reflecting on how they can further develop their leadership skills – in particular the non-technical ones, those that inspire and motivate and bring together those whom they lead so they may perform at their best, individually and together.

When in the early seventies I was facilitating IT strategy workshops for top leaders in the UK, I remember how hard it was to get the targeted participants to attend. Their immediate instinct was to consider whom among their subordinates they should send, rather than benefitting themselves. While some may have genuinely imagined they knew enough about the topic so as not to need to invest in the time required, I suspected that many feared their sheer absence of expertise would be revealed if they were to be in the room.

Here in Kenya, the widespread absence of our most senior leaders from such workshops and seminars is worrying. The common practice is for the top dogs, particularly in the public sector, to come and open or close a workshop (often reading a speech written by others), avoiding being present throughout and hence missing out on the opportunity to listen, to learn and to share.


The consequence is evident, as far too many of our leaders have never been exposed to what it would take for them to fulfill their potential in leading others. They have risen through the ranks, through functions such as finance, production and marketing in the commercial sector, and also through other technical fields in government, but without actively learning about what it takes to lead others.

They have had to progress by trial and error, and by emulating their predecessors and elders – however good or bad they may have been. (I should add that much of what I learned about leadership stemmed from reacting against what I considered to be the poor style of those who have led me over the years.)

Education sector

Take leadership in the education sector. When I served on the council of the Kenya Education Management Institute – responsible for developing the capacity of head teachers and education officers – I was impressed by the quality of its programmes, helping participants to become strategic thinkers and contemporary leaders.

But when it comes to leadership at the university level, our dons have enjoyed no comparable source of guidance. (Some programmes are at last being introduced.) No wonder that these former lecturers and researchers face the challenges they do. What about our Cabinet Secretaries and PSs, our Governors and County Commissioners?

The Kenya School of Government has for some years been running the successful Strategic Leadership Development Programme for upper-middle level technocrats, but nothing comparable exists for the top of the pyramid.

My perception? Despite the infinite need, there seems to be a lack of a want. So this is a plea to the highest level leaders in our country.

However busy you are, whatever pressures crowd in on your time and energy, please do yourself a favour and reach out to each other and to those who can bring you together for purposeful reflection on how you to exert your leadership responsibilities to greater effect.

All of us can benefit from rising up to our mental “balconies” from time to time, to look down on the arena in which we operate day to day, look back on where we have come from, look ahead to where we wish to reach… and above all to look inward and re-evaluate and adjust, maybe even to transform.

It’s not all gloom and doom in government

We are at a time when we’re not sure whether to be depressed by all the bad news regarding the debt, corruption, unceasing politics and other ills that continue to drag Kenya down, or to be hopeful that initiatives such as the Handshake, the Big Four and the Multi-Sector Anti-Corruption Programme will lift us to a higher level.

Following the media it’s too easy to buy wholesale into the doomsday scenario, where our cynical mindsets see only more horror stories, ongoing impunity, and mere idle talk about dealing with all our very serious challenges.

In my column however, I do like airing positive stories, about earnest efforts that are constantly taking place behind the scenes to get us closer to fulfilling our extraordinary potential. On this page I can occasionally shine a light on the unsung heroes who do what they do not for the publicity and their ego but because they simply want to contribute to building a better Kenya.

Regular readers are familiar with my involvement with the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa), much of whose work – by design – takes place away from the glare of the media. And today I want to share something about what happened at a recent meeting between the Kepsa leadership and CS Fred Matiang’i, in his capacity as Chairman of the National Development Implementation and Communication Committee.

First, I was so impressed by the deep analysis that had been carried out by the relevant sectors – manufacturing, agriculture, health and housing. They clearly laid out the bottlenecks they were facing, coupled with very specific practical proposals on what the various arms of government must do to create a more enabling environment for the Big Four.

As I listened to the four presentations one thought was uppermost in my mind: the wish that Dr. Matiang’i would simply take the whole list of proposals and just have them be implemented. For I am convinced that were he and his colleagues to do so, we would indeed see our productivity and competitiveness transformed, and the desired national goals fulfilled.

Then, when Dr. Matiang’i responded he affirmed the basic premise that “the private sector is the engine of growth” and that “the business of government is to support business”.

He said the mission of his cabinet committee is to make the government more aligned and cohesive, readily admitting that bureaucracy is the enemy – as a result of which “nothing gets done, with those involved just going round in circles”.

“What matters,” he said, “is getting work done. It doesn’t matter who is boss; we are just concerned about outcomes, not just process.” He talked about taking decisions together, with courage and commitment, so as to resolve bottlenecks and fast-track project implementation. And this without endless memos and meetings, never mind having to go to Naivasha to hold them!

He explained that his cabinet committee meets every Tuesday morning, and then on Wednesday mornings the Technical Committee, composed of the PSs, immediately follows up.

The CS appreciated the pragmatic ideas offered by the private sector, and looked forward to building the partnership with us to the next stage. Specifically, he invited us to work with the Technical Committee, holding them accountable for delivery of the agreed actions and desired impact.

All this was music to the ears of us private sector listeners, and as the encounter reached its conclusion we heard expressions of feeling “refreshed” and “rejuvenated”, as we looked forward to a swift re-engineering of government (June of this year is the target), with fewer competing and conflicting institutions and regulations among other initiatives. It reminded me of the Rapid Results Approach, which to date has been applied in only a scattered few and ephemeral cases without it in any way building to the intended “new normal”.

So now we are at least seeing a serious opportunity to break through the stalemate. Let us not be unduly cynical, appreciating that much of the important work must be done without fanfare. So, as I have said before, know that there are plenty of very good and very impressive Kenyans – including in the public sector – who are working very hard at proving the naysayers wrong.

Why I feel sorry for senior state officials

I feel very sorry for those who work in government, and almost as sorry for those who interact frequently with them. For the public servants, it is not aspects like their remuneration or their office environment that I worry about, however inadequate these may be for some of them. No. My sympathy for them – and for those who meet with them – arises from how frequently their daily schedules are convulsed by someone “from above” who hauls them off without prior notice to attend another meeting now. It doesn’t matter whatever else they may have been doing or planning to do, and no matter with whom.

No effort will have been made to ascertain if at the time they were just sitting around idly, like an Uber driver waiting to be booked for a ride, or pursuing some insignificant task that could readily be postponed. And there will have been no evaluation of the relative urgency or importance of what they were involved in relative to what they were being called away for.

So very frequently, “above” imposes and decides. Like a spoilt child. It’s the way the government does things, and everyone submits, knowing it is just not possible for the summoned to explain why now would not be convenient and to offer counter-suggestions.

It is not surprising therefore that many government officials reach their offices well before dawn, so they can at least progress the critical items on their agenda for a couple of hours before the expected chaos kicks in. The more senior they are the more common this is, and I really admire these victims of top-down summoning for their sense of responsibility. (I just hope they are more sensitive with those around them when arranging meetings of their own.)

I have written in a previous column about showing up for appointments with top level government officials, only to be informed on arrival that they had been “called away”. I received plenty of supportive messages following that article, thanking me for airing the common grievance. Not surprisingly though, my writing led to no improvement in the situation! On the contrary, my sense is that meetings in government have become increasingly more disrupted.

It’s a much more serious matter with large meetings than for ones with just a few participants. To give a recent example, on the second day of the National Anti-Corruption Conference the programme was due to start at 8.30am, but we only got going three hours later. Well over 2,000 of us were seated at Bomas, being entertained by choirs while we waited, so the man and woman hours wasted can readily be calculated.

I know that at the topmost levels of government crises explode every day, in any country in the world. It is why, when asked what he found most challenging in his job as Prime Minister, the recently retired Harold Macmillan is said to have replied, “Events, dear boy, events.”

Yet some administrations deal with unforeseen issues in more considerate ways than others. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, for instance, is much admired for the disciplined way he keeps time, arriving at meetings on schedule, and expecting others also to do so.

So this is another appeal to my brothers and sisters at the pinnacles of government, and to those responsible for scheduling their meetings, to be more sensitive to the disruption they create when they summon others to instantly convened functions. I do so with utmost respect, appreciating that they are not acting frivolously. But my suggestion is that they should at least first ask whether the person being requested to cancel other plans abruptly had another commitment of equal urgency and importance, and so if their meeting could take place later or if someone else could represent them.

For that is another challenge. When called from above, no delegation is possible. But the consequence is that someone else will have to represent the one called away at the function they were due to attend, or it has to be cancelled or postponed. And so the chaos cascades downwards and outwards.

Too much of senior people’s time is being wasted. We can do a lot better.

Leadership in and beyond Rotary

A speech held by Mike Eldon at the Rotary Club of Nairobi on 7th February 2019

In Rotary we are all leaders in our profession, and here today we are all past, present or future leaders in Rotary. Sometimes we lead, and sometimes we are led, and in Rotary we must establish our reputations as performers and leaders afresh. We are all of equal status, and in this flat organisational pyramid of ours we must remain humble.

We are amateurs (from the French ‘aimer’, ‘to love’) and volunteers (again from the French – ‘vouloir’, ‘to want to’), leading other amateur volunteers, all professionals. And this profoundly influences the appropriate leadership style we should adopt.

We must first create and communicate the vision and values of our Club, in the context of the District and of Rotary International. We must inspire our members, appreciate and respect them, consult with them, coordinate them, delegate to them and empower them. We must do all this with a sense of humour, with a light touch – and not least at the weekly meetings, where we are the MC for 52 shows, plus at other social and project events. And we must not be ‘know-it-alls’, but rather, as I wrote in one of my recent articles, to practice ‘humble inquiry’, asking more than telling – and hence building trusting and positive relationships.

Then, we must deal with the egos of our members, some too high, some too low. We must handle their sensitivities and insecurities, that too often lead to conflicts and tensions and require us to pour oil on troubled waters, to negotiate, to mediate and help mend fences. For this is how to motivate and engage them. This is ‘talent management’ everywhere, and not least in the context of Rotary.

But possessing the soft skills necessary for all this, however necessary, is still not sufficient. For in addition Rotary leaders must also be professional managers: of projects, of processes, of finances, so that the Club runs like a well-oiled machine.

When I joined this Rotary Club in 1978 the members were predominantly older men and overwhelmingly white, with just a few Asians and Africans. I was in my early thirties, and by far the youngest. Of course there were no women! What a contrast to our membership composition these days – so diverse, of gender, of age, of sector, with several sub-cultures, each possessing different interests and preferences. The challenge to our leaders is to find ways of bringing them all together so that everyone is adequately happy, and accepting that many activities will appeal to some members much more than to others.

Today too we are all subject to the far greater pressures on our time that this 21st century has imposed on us, making volunteering that much more challenging.

These were key themes of last year’s PETS, and it was good for our incoming leaders to have the opportunity to discuss such issues. But PETS is a one-off, and Rotary leaders need ongoing opportunities to review their leadership styles and challenges. The DG, AG and Country Chair are available as mentors, but leaders should also reach out to others among us who can help coach them along their yearlong journeys.

Our Club used to be known as The Rotary Club of Nairobi. We were considered cocky and arrogant, imagining ourselves to be above and distant from all others. I never related to those images of us, but happily I believe we are no longer perceived in such ways. We are still respected and admired, but not with those negative connotations of years gone by.

There is so much expertise in our Club, so much institutional memory. We have held on to longstanding members, while attracting vibrant young men and women to join us. We have a rich array of vibrant, high-impact projects. And we enjoy good and productive relationships with our Rotaractors and Interactors.

What has enabled all this? Consistently good leadership down the years, generating positive energy among so many of our members, from the newest to the oldest.

The title of my talk was to do with leadership ‘in and beyond Rotary’, and it leads me to suggest that of you can lead peer volunteer professionals such as we are in Rotary, with all our expertise and all our egos, who can you not lead? It is for sure why many Rotarians, like Manu and Joe and Yusuf here, who have learned so much about leading volunteers in Rotary, have gone on to lead so many other important organisations as volunteers.

In conclusion, let me ask each of you: where are you headed in contributing to the leadership our Club so it can continue into an equally successful and sustainable future? How much are you learning about and practicing leadership here – bearing in mind that this is a cost-free risk-free opportunity to have a go, and so to learn and to grow? And finally, how are you applying what you are learning about leadership in our Rotary setting to your day job and to all your other activities?

What I have been trying to do here today is to stimulate you to reflect, and to do so purposefully. I wish you well with your reflections… and to their positive consequences.

Turkana County is a study in how to treat refugees

A few years ago I moderated a series of workshops for UNHCR to help them and their implementation partners strategise about the future of the Dadaab refugee camp. Their then Deputy Resident Representative Kilian Kleinschmidt (who is now active in Syria) dreamed of seeing the hand-to-mouth refugee camp dependent on mere humanitarian assistance transform into “the City of Dadaabia”, where mere recipients of humanitarian assistance would become self-reliant citizens who participated actively in their community and contributed to its wellbeing.

Sadly, it was not to be. For security and other reasons there was no appetite from the Kenyan government for contemplating a more ongoing and sustainable scenario, given the expectation (however unrealistic) that in the foreseeable future the refugees in the camp would return to their countries of origin.

Much has changed since then, both globally and in our immediate region. The UN’s Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) recognised that there was no need for either the host community to feel they were less well treated than the refugees, or for the refugees to be so restricted in their movements or activities. The new school of thought was to support the refugees in ways that were fully integrated into the overall local development plans.

This new sense of realism accepted that the conditions in the countries from which the refugees had migrated may well continue to be such that their return would be far from imminent. Beyond this, that the consequence of the ongoing existence of a refugee camp should be beneficial to the host community.

Turning back to Kenya, let me share what I have been learning about the Kakuma camp in Turkana, home to 186,000 refugees from various countries in the region. Here, the Turkana county government has been working closely with the national government, development partners such as UNHCR, the World Bank and its IFC, GIZ and others to bring about precisely such an enlightened win-win situation. Under the visionary leadership of Governor Josphat Nanok, great strides have been made to achieve the global vision as foreseen by the UN.

Turkana’s current County Integrated Development Plan spells out how the host and refugee communities will develop together, with an appropriate allocation of resources and in collaboration with development partners, NGOs, the private sector (not least Tullow) and other stakeholders.

I recently accompanied an IFC-led mission that also comprised representation from UNHCR and GIZ to Lodwar to hear from a number of senior county officials about how they are progressing, as a result of which I was keen to share my reactions to the extraordinarily impressive culture I found. In each of our meetings we met with men and women who were open and energetic, collaborative and purposeful, eloquent and cheerful. How refreshing that was.

Clearly the Governor has gathered around him a cohesive team that under his overall leadership plans well and then fully expects to execute on those plans – delivering the desired development impact. It’s like there’s a permanent Rapid Results Initiative mindset – without the chaos or bureaucracy one finds in so many parts of government. Kudos to them.

We visited the citizen-enabling Huduma Centre and Biashara Centre in Lodwar, as the visiting team explored how to support the establishment of a one-stop shop for such services in the Kakuma refugee camp. Everywhere we went, the people involved were knowledgeable and infused with an impressive seriousness of purpose.

No wonder I had heard that Turkana has been rated the best county in how it conducts monitoring and evaluation: it’s thanks to the healthy performance culture that has been nurtured. And no wonder too that when I asked the Governor to what he attributed this perception his reply was as modest as it was aspirational: “We’re on a journey,” he told me, “and we still have a way to go.”

I for one will be following their journey closely. And from what I saw I predict they will go from strength to strength, neither becoming complacent nor being overly dismayed by the challenges that will no doubt continue to confront them. Not least, they should become a global role model for constructive coexistence between a host and a refugee community.

Drop the know-it-all attitude to become an effective leader

In my last article of 2018 I promised to write more about one of my favourite management gurus, Prof Edgar Schein of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

I described this 90-year old as the father of organisational psychology and organisational culture, and praised the way he was so ahead of his time when he published his ground-breaking 1965 book, Organisational Psychology.

I first came across his work around then, when I was an economics undergraduate in London and my father was the head of Shell International’s Worldwide Management Training Department. I remember that as he was preparing his programmes for Shell executives from around the oil company’s global operations my father paid a visit to America to inform himself on the latest management thinking, and that Prof Schein was among those he met.

I have applied Prof Schein’s insights on culture and organisational development over the years (knowingly or unknowingly most of us have), and late last year when I was visiting the bookshop of the London Business School following at the place where I earned my Master’s degree in 1974 I bought his 2013 book, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling.

The book’s title immediately tantalised me, but I did wonder how a whole volume could be dedicated to just explaining why asking works better than telling. How could one possibly fill over a hundred pages elaborating on such a straightforward statement? Well, Prof Schein did, so valuably and in such simple language, offering us the benefit of his many decades of experience as an academic and a consultant.

By the way he hadn’t finished with the subject, as he followed up with a complementary offering, Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness and Trust, published last year and co-authored with his son, Peter. Here again, vital clues to Schein’s message are already offered in the sub-title, provoking instant important reflection.

Prof Schein rails at leaders — and there are so many, not least in America, he says — who pose as know-it-alls, whether they actually believe they do or if it’s more because they believe others expect them to. The sad thing is that they lack the humility to admit that they do not know it all, never mind in this fast-changing, complex and interconnected world.

With such an I’m OK — You’re not OK, Parent — Child, attitude comes the assumption that those around them do not know, which is demeaning and disrespectful to them. So they feel demotivated and the leader’s relationship with them suffers, not least in terms of trust.

Next comes the undue focus by leaders on tasks, at the expense of taking time to build relationships — again, according to Prof Schein, particularly in America. Yes, that takes time, whether in the workplace or even better in a social setting. But he has seen — as I have — that this is time well spent, for it allows for the development of openness and hence effective communication among people of different functions, levels, cultures, generations and so on that would otherwise not be possible.

He also notes that when organisations look to cut budgets one of the first items to suffer is teambuilding sessions — for the same reason and with the same unfortunate consequences.

Prof Schein wants to see us draw others out, ask questions to which we do not already know the answer, build relationships based on curiosity and interest in the other person. And at several times in the book he takes us to the healthcare sector, one that too often falls short. Doctors often do a poor job not only with their patients but also with nursing staff and technicians. While being insufficiently curious about their patients they intimidate their staff, leading them to being too shy to speak up when they should. Sounds familiar?

Whatever leadership position you find yourself in, whether as a board member or in management, whether you are young or old, do reflect on how much humble inquiring you indulge in. Allow yourself to appear vulnerable; risk being thought of as less than all-knowing. And as Prof Schein concludes with his final sentence: “Take charge with Humble Inquiry.”

This is a must-read book for job hunters

Exactly ten years ago I wrote a column on careers guidance in which I described how when I joined the Rotary Club of Nairobi in 1978 the first job I was given was to take care of the careers guidance portfolio.

Like most young people making their way through their school years I had never received any serious help in deciding on what I should be doing after emerging from my education, and so it was – and still is – with just about every young Kenyan today.

There was no Google to consult on how I should approach my onerous new Rotary responsibility, but happily I came across What Colour is my Parachute? by Richard Bolles, a brilliant book that was to become my bible on the subject – and that of so many others all around the world, with over ten million copies having now been sold, in twenty-two languages.

What Colour is my Parachute? has been around since 1970 and revised every year since 1975, sometimes substantially. The transformation of the workplace environment and the arrival of the Internet have resulted in job-seekers having to adopt radically different approaches to matching what they have to offer with what employers are seeking, and this brilliant book has always kept pace with the evolving trends.

The edition I first bought was the 1978 one, and just recently the 2018 version, in which I read that Mr Bolles died last year at the age of ninety. I felt I had lost someone precious to me, and so this article serves as a tribute to him, a celebration of his life.

With Google now at my elbow, I found the New York Times obituary to Mr Bolles, in which it quotes him as writing in his book that “job-hunting is an art form, more like dating than like selling a used car. You may never understand why things sometimes work, and sometimes don’t.”

What I so appreciate about the book today, just as much as I did when I first stumbled across that much earlier edition, is that beyond being a guide to the job market it offers a powerful yet straightforward way of helping readers understand themselves — the most neglected of all aspects of the process, I have consistently found. They are helped to figure out what they really like doing and are good at, so they can then find the job that would let them do it.

The obituary informs us that it had never entered Mr Bolles’ mind that he would write a blockbuster. “I was just trying to help people be better prepared than I was when I was fired and started looking for a job,” he said in an earlier interview.

Mr Bolles explained that the title was inspired by the expression, common among people weary of their jobs, that they wanted to “bail out”. “I always thought of an airplane,” he explained, “so I playfully would respond, ‘What color is your parachute?’”

He put little hope in job postings and CVs, and instead encouraged job seekers to form personal connections through means such as the informational, or exploratory, interview – which I also strongly recommend.

He pushed readers to treat a job search like a major project, a full-time occupation. And as for job interviews, these should be seen as conversations between the two sides, to see if what one is offering the other is seeking, and to determine whether the chemistry the culture fit, is right.

The central wisdom of “Parachute” has remained constant, whether I go back to my 1970s version or consult the current one.

Yes, people conduct job searches differently, but how interviews unfold hasn’t changed at all.

“It’s still two people circling each other,” he pointed out, “trying to figure out if they like each other enough to actually spend time together in a productive relationship,” explaining “I think that has remained the same because human nature has not changed.”

So my advice to job-seekers – at any age – is invest in a copy of Mr Bolles’ masterpiece. You’ll be really glad you did. And good news: his son will be continuing to update the contents in future editions.

How to nudge citizens to do good for society

After my last article on econocracy I don’t want my review of economists to end on a negative note (several readers wrote to tell me the field is more diverse than I had indicated), so today I celebrate the winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics, Richard Thaler, co-author with Cass Sunstein of the 2008 book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness.

The book popularised nudge theory, the idea that governments can design environments that change the way we think and make it easier to choose what is best for us and the societies in which we live. It revealed how to nurture our higher instincts and so do a better job saving for retirement, holding back on excessive consumption and in other ways serving our longer term interests.

Advised by Mr Thaler, David Cameron set up a nudge unit – his “Behavioural Insight Team” – and President Obama introduced a similar group, led by Mr Sunstein, where they brought together concepts from behavioural science, political theory and behavioural economics. Here, and at similar think tanks elsewhere (including in the World Bank and the UN), they came up with policies that use positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence behaviour and decision-making.

Nudging complements other ways of achieving compliance with policies, such as education, legislation and enforcement. It alters people’s behaviour in ways that are voluntary and easy. Like putting healthy foods at eye-level on supermarket shelves or near their check-out points, rather than just banning junk food.

Another impressively effective example from several countries is a nudge that has led to a huge rise in organ donations. They switched to an opt-out system from one where one had to opt in: citizens were now automatically registered for organ donation as the default option unless they chose to state otherwise.

At a lighter level there’s the etching of the image of a fly into the men’s room urinals at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, intended to improve the aim. (Males who visit the men’s facility at Sarit Centre’s Newscafé will be familiar with this target!)

Key to nudging people into actions they otherwise would not have undertaken is to make them much simpler to undertake – particularly complex ones such as applying for higher education or registering into pension funds. And beyond process simplification, easily accessible human assistance has also proved helpful.

Reducing income tax debt is one of the UK’s longest-running and most successful nudge projects. Revised reminder letters informed non-compliers that most of their neighbours had already paid, positioning them as tardy outliers.

But the letters had little impact on the few who owed the most tax, and here the message that worked best was that not paying tax would mean everyone losing out on vital public services like healthcare, roads and schools.

Another project seriously cut the high dropout rate on government-subsidised adult literacy classes, simply by sending students a personalised text message every Sunday night that read: “I hope you had a good break, and we look forward to seeing you next week. Remember to plan how you will get to your class.”

We humans are not fully rational beings, so how we behave is not always aligned with our intentions. We will often do things that are not in our self-interest, even when we know that to be the case. When situations are complex or overwhelming, or when we are under time-constraints or other pressures, we often reach decisions too hastily, too automatically, which can easily lead to sub-optimal judgements. Too few of us take time for adequate reflection that allows us to support our longer term wellbeing.

Some nudging efforts work better than others, but we learn from experience and get wiser over time. It may well be overambitious to nudge our matatu drivers into more responsible behaviour, and for those who drink and drive alcoblow is definitely the surer option.

Finally, it is not just national policymakers who can nudge others into better decision-making. Let me nudge you into having a go, in your workplaces and also in your families. Think of using the carrot as well as the stick with those around you, tickling them into more enlightened behaviour.

How economists have lost touch with reality

A few weeks ago I wrote about the need to amplify the voice of economists in our country. In my article I spoke glowingly about my own experience as an economics undergraduate, acknowledging the way my professors opened up my powers of critical analysis and connected me so fully to the economic issues of the day.

I mentioned that I was still in touch with Vicky Chick, one of my lecturers from those times, and I sent her the article. She immediately wrote back, telling me that the education from which I benefitted was “so different from the usual fare dished up to students now”, and that I was lucky to study economics when I did. I was “educated”, she stated, while today’s students are “trained, indoctrinated or brainwashed”.

She remembered how we used to sit around working things out from first principles, but nobody does that today. Students are over-reliant on multiple-response based assessment, with limited opportunity to critically or independently assess alternative approaches. She then recommended the book The Econocracy: The perils of leaving economics to the experts, written by three dissenting students, members of “Rethinking Economics” (now active in 15 countries), who were fed up with the state of economics in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. They wanted to see economist teachers and technocrats engage much more closely with the economic issues on the ground, and to communicate their proposals more simply.

My story moves to London, where I was recently. During my time there I met with now Emeritus Professor Chick for a coffee, and we returned to the subject of how the teaching of economics has degenerated – and not just in the UK. When we finished we walked across to the nearby bookshop where she bought me a copy of The Econocracy, which she signed below the message “Enjoy and share”.

So, obedient to my mwalimu, here goes. I’ll start by taking from the foreword to the book, written by the chief economist at the Bank of England, Andrew Haldane. He is unreserved in his condemnation of his fellow economists, citing their woeful inability to influence the Brexit battle that preceded – and is now succeeding – the referendum over membership of the EU. With their linguistic complexity these “experts” failed to win over the heads, never mind the hearts, of the voters. As a result, those who took part in the referendum won the day for democracy, marginalising the elite… the “econocracy”.

The book shows how the long-lasting crisis in the economy has led to a crisis in the field of economics itself – fuelled by disgruntled and hitherto compliant students who now rebelled against their obstinately disconnected professors. Faced with freezes on hiring and suffering under the burden of heavy student debt, they now found a bold anti-establishment voice – reinforced by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn in Britain and Bernie Sanders in America.

The book castigates the narrowing of economics to a mere mathematical cost-benefit analysis of alternative policies – applying a mechanical logic that delivers solutions to economic challenges such as harsh austerity programmes – while ignoring broader adverse social consequences and in particular the likely exacerbation of societal inequalities.

No wonder populist politicians assert that we have had enough of experts; no wonder that economist graduates are not fit to advise politicians on how to tackle economic challenges; and no wonder we have become divided between a minority who feel they own the language of economics and a majority who do not. I have no space to elaborate on the CORE (Curriculum Open-access Resources in Economics) economics education – founded at UCL, where I studied – but I urge those interested to look into how this initiative uplifts students of “the dismal science” to a much more positive, realistic and relevant place.

The messages of The Econocracy apply to us here in Kenya too: take a holistic view of policy-making – beyond the confines of narrow economic theory based on the unrealistic assumption of rational human behaviour, and taking account of social and moral perspectives; accept the uncertainty and unpredictability of our world so as not to rely on rigid and perhaps obsolete economic theories; and communicate technical complexities in ways that everyone can follow.