Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Sunday 20 June 2010

Today, Home Secretary, you're going to be a beansprout


More like WTF, as in 'WTF is a purveyor of new-age psychobabble through a company of that name* doing in 10, Downing Street?' It's like a frightening throwback to the days of Carole Caplin - any minute now Cameron's rubber mask will slip and we'll see that he was really Tony Blair in disguise all along.

Here in the Tavern, we normally try to moderate our language but even we are reduced to Anglo-Saxon profanity in the case of Cameron's newest recruit. According to the Times, Australian psychologist Kris Murrin (as seen on TV) is to be 'in charge of ensuring the Prime Minister's policies are delivered and that staff work effectively'.

So far, so reasonable. But Ms Murrin's methods are somewhat unorthodox - when she's not confronting weeping parents with grotesque images of their obese, diseased children half a century hence ('Honey, We're Killing the Kids' - BBC) - she's showing office workers how to "build a personal bravery plan" and "fill their minds with freshness".

Her methods have included shamanic rituals, African drumming, fortune-telling and temporary tattoos. And the benefits are as tangible as the Emperor's new clothes; according to her (inevitable) self-help book, "Nobody tries to explain what we get out of it directly - it's understood. It's our freshness store cupboard".

Her book describes a role-playing exercise with employees of a food retailer in which she "made a wok out of beanbags and asked them to act out being a stir fry". Participants were "a bit uncomfortable at first" - surely not! - but "soon overcame their shyness and were throwing themselves into the wok".

Since this kind of exercise is likely to be the first casualty of projected cuts, its creators are looking for another source of income. Turns out Ms Murrin's a bit of a canny political operator, working on a school food quango and as an 'associate of Tony Blair's delivery unit', whatever that may be (White vans? Babies?) while acting as a consultant to the Conservatives.

Well, some of them, at any rate - when she proposed psychometric testing for the shadow cabinet, one Conservative MP said he was not prepared to be subjected to a "mumbo-jumbo psychobabble experiment". Well said, that man!

So here's a bit of free advice for David Cameron. Firstly, if you're cutting the public sector to the bone, people won't take kindly to "stimulus sessions" and "freshness store cupboards" at Number 10. And secondly, if you're looking for sensible people for Cabinet posts, be very, very wary of anyone who actually wants to be a beansprout.

*As their website has it, 'The focus here is on the systematic design of addictive customer experiences'. Sample case study: 'Helping Boots' Medicine Customers Buy Better, and Buy More' .
Yep, folks, that's what we really need - more medicine!


  1. "Her book describes a role-playing exercise in which she "made a wok out of beanbags and asked them to act out being a stir fry". "

    It's been my misfortune to have attended some events where this sort of thing has been suggested, by some bright-eyed, bushy-tailed consultant.

    The last one who tried it won't be trying it again, however.

    In fact, her eyes were suspiciously glassy once we finished our little 'discussion' over the merits of her approach and she removed herself to the ladies for a long time at the first tea break...

  2. JuliaM, it looks like you are fortunate in your colleagues.

    Sadly, one of the reasons for the proliferation of this kind of thing is that if your boss is fool enough to buy into the whole 'blue-sky thinking' package, he or she is likely to listen attentively to the organisers' feedback.

    It's a foolproof way of selecting sycophants and those who enjoy role-playing games for promotion - for the rest of us, it's a worryingly short step from, "No-one tells me to make like a water chestnut!" to "What do you mean, you aren't renewing my contract?".


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