Saturday, July 27, 2013

How information distortion works - starring the Birmingham Mail and Guido Fawkes

I'm carrying no particular candle for Birmingham City Council, but this is a great example of how something actually pretty reasonable a council does gets frivolously reported by the local media, and then downright distorted by a prominent blogger with an ideological agenda. 

I've never caught one of the classic 'loony left council' stories as it evolved, so this is exciting and disheartening all at once.

Two days ago the Birmingham Mail ran an article on the news that councillors were being offered some leadership coaching and Myers-Briggs personality testing. A service which senior officers already have access to, by the by, and sounds about as mainstream as it gets.

It's worth saying - if you didn't know already - that Birmingham is the largest local authority in Europe - with a 3.5 billion pound budget despite the cuts. I don't know about you, but I'd like the people running this behemoth to stand a better than average shot of being more than competent and emotionally intelligent. I'm not hugely fond of Myers-Briggs, from personal experience, but I'll forgive indifferent methodology if it gets results.

And we're not talking huge sums of money in those terms either - £1,600 per person is quoted in the article.* 

While the Birmingham Mail article appears at first sight reasonably balanced, it's showing its silly-season hand from the first paragraph by suggesting councillors are visiting 'shrinks', conjuring up the cliche of Sir Albert on the couch of some pipe-smoking wooly-jumpered intellectual.

An anonymous councillor ticks more psycho-cliches by suggesting you don't have to be mad to work in politics but it helps...

One said colleagues’ personalities were already known – as “generally narcissistic, controlling or both”

And then the story brings in the sceptical Councillor Philip Parkin (Con, Sutton Trinity) for the pull-out quote, who doesn't quite seem to know what he's being asked to comment on.

It seems slightly crazy. I’ve a problem with being pushed into stuff like that anyway. I’ve also a feeling that subjecting me to psychometric training might come up with some disturbing results.

Dude, it's mainstream executive coaching. No-one's going to ask you anything about your oedipal complex.

I'm sure the journalists LOL'd their way to the printing press with this piece - and to be fair to them it is quite droll.

But I came to the article via blogger Guido Fawkes, who needs no introduction here. He glossed the article in the Mail a little like this:

Labour-controlled Birmingham council have called in psychiatrists so councillors can undergo “personality tests”, presumably to make sure they are loony lefty enough. £1,600 of taxpayers’ money will be spent on the Carl Jung-inspired sessions.

Do you see what he's done there? Psychologists become psychiatrists, executive coaching becomes personality tests, and the stuffy respectability of Myers-Briggs becomes Jungian psychology (and while M-B is inspired by Carl Jung, he's also associated with a wide range of ideas from the respectable to the decidedly New Age, not to mention downright wacky).

And that's information distortion.
An executive coaching programme you could make a case for one way or the other becomes by misinterpretation and insinuation an impractical left-wing boondoggle.

C'mon people - we can do a better job at raising the standard of public debate than this.

*Some of you might think that's a grand and a half that could be spent on people in need. And you have a valid point, but there's enough frivolous expenditure reported in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs column to make the counter-argument that it's the vanity spending we should be clamping down on, not investment in leadership.

1 comment:

  1. Crazy that anyone would get excited about dull corporate training. Pretty much every place ive worked for does these daft profiling exercises as part of management training IIRC My SDI conflict sequence is RED RED GREEN. Assertively intimidate opponent into accepting my point. Get angry and shoutdown opponent until they cry and give up. If opponent still undefeated, achieve preternatural zen calm and focus on conducting detailed research into weaknesses into opponent's case and then destroy them utterly ;). The thing is a week after the course you forget the lot and rarely have the luxury of time to refer back to some supposedly awesome mgmt approach before making a decision.