What one thing would you change about anti-corruption regulation or enforcement?
We talk about corruption as a concept, but in practice, it’s driven by human behaviour. I’d like to see solutions that reflect this. We often think of “bad” people who intentionally set out to do “bad” things, but there’s far more complexity to this.
Of course, there are intentional wrongdoers, but there are also people who, for understandable reasons, get swept up in corrupt practices that are going on around them.
There’s a world of difference between a criminal mastermind and someone who accepts a bribe to be able to feed their family. I don’t have specific answers, but I think we need to move beyond enforcement to deal with some of the root causes of corruption – there are very real issues that drive otherwise “good” people to do “bad” things. We shouldn’t be surprised that in a world of huge inequality, that we see corruption.
On that note, my second wish is that we’d address kleptocratic practices. Cities like London, that ostensibly promote order and the rule of law, effectively allow corruption to flourish elsewhere. We need to address that as a matter of urgency.
What is your current favourite book or podcast, and why?
I’ll avoid promoting the Human Risk podcast (available wherever you get your quality audio content) and instead highlight Spectacular Failures – a show that explores things that have gone spectacularly wrong. That might be companies with questionable business models or just one-off examples of really poor decision-making that had major consequences. The key focus is on things that have gone badly wrong and what we can learn from it. Host Lauren Ober approaches her subject with a sense of fun and curiosity that is infectious and engaging.
Book-wise, as well as Tom Burgis’ Kleptopia (that deals with the corruption issues I highlighted in my earlier answer), I loved John Cleese’s recent book on Creativity. It’s a quick read that highlights some of the things he uses when he’s creative. Lots of practical tips, fun stories and, for anyone whose job involves creativity (so that’s anyone except those in safety-critical industries), it highlights some excellent practical ideas.
What action could a company take that would make a difference to successful recovery from the pandemic?
I think the pandemic offers the perfect opportunity for companies to think about what they are doing and whether their business model still makes sense. Of course, some business models didn’t actually make sense pre-pandemic!
So it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on what a company is there to do – its purpose – and how it goes about doing it. What COVID has exposed are inefficiencies, flawed presumptions and perceived wisdom that actually wasn’t so wise. I think we can learn from this experience and challenge orthodox thinking – if you’re having to make changes because of COVID, then you’ve got the opportunity to think about what other changes you could make.
Equally, I think it’s a good time to “read the room” and recognise social, environmental and ethical dynamics. Many business practices might be legal, but that doesn’t make them right. Thinking about how you run your business is important. Companies can no longer operate in a vacuum – transparency and stakeholder activism are powerful forces that will drive change. Much better to embrace this than try to pursue legacy strategies.