Apologies for this very British post! Hopefully, the international audience of the blog will find it relevant and interesting too.
The BBC broadcast a thought provoking programme this week – “Posh & Posher” presented by Andrew Neil (former editor of the Sunday Times). Although the programme focussed on the British Education system – and the dominance of Public School (that’s Private Education) and OxBridge (educated at Oxford or Cambridge University) politicians running Britain – the main point I took away was that Personal Networks can bring influence and power. Alongside this was a more worrying trend that the increasingly closed network of “old school chums” in government leads to our politicians being out of touch.
On the first point, the programme traces an amazing story of the transformation of control of British politics. From the end of the Second World War, British politics was dominated by the “Grouse Moor set” (another great place for high power networking). Public School education politicians took the majority of power (from the likes of Eton and Westminster Schools). Then in the 60s – there was a change, to more working class, Grammar School educated politicians. However – and this was the most surprising part of the programme – UK politics in the last 10-15 years is back to a privately educated dominance. Stats like 10% of the Coalition Cabinet being from one school (Eton), 66% being privately educated – and 16 being millionaires.
In my view, this says more about the Personal Network built up through the private education/Oxford & Cambridge root than what has been taught.
Although the programme focussed on education and the old boys network, I found the most worrying aspect to be the similarity of backgrounds (and the density of the connections) of the people who lead Britain. If any of you read my blog on Martin Gargiulo (and listened to his interview) – you will have heard him talk about “Echo”. In academic terms:
The echo hypothesis – based on the social psychology of selective disclosure of informal conversations – says that closed networks do not enhance information flow so much as they create an echo that reinforces predispositions. Information obtained in casual conversations is more redundant than personal experience but not properly discounted, which creates an erroneous sense of certainty. Interpersonal evaluations are amplified to positive and negative extremes. Favorable opinion is amplified into trust. Doubt is amplified into distrust.
This is from “Bandwidth and Echo: Trust, Information and Gossip in Social Networks”, published by Ronald S. Burt of University of Chicago and INSEAD in December 2000.
It’s a lesson for everyone – your Personal Network should not be made up of one group of people. Your judgement will be impaired by the “echo”. You should keep an eye on that – and I’ll continue to worry about the government of my country!