Investing in human capital

Investing in human capital for innovation are buzz words. Politicians love them. They use them willingly and with palpable smugness, but it is hard to understand quite what they mean when they do. Obviously, it involves spending money, EU money, possibly even on training programmes advertised to make participants more flexible, productive, even innovative. But what are they actually trying to achieve?

Most training programmes have little long term value, simply because people do not learn to change the habits of a life time through the short immersion method. Would anyone be expected to play tennis to any standard after a two day training programme? Of course not.  Why, then, do politicians and some business leaders pretend that they can change long established working practises and attitudes by “investing in human capital” rather than addressing the source of the problem? There is a double deception which needs to be addressed.


In early June the Polish Chamber of Commerce, Krajowa Izba Gospodarcza, organised its second innovation congress. Two days were spent discussing innovation: the concept of innovation and the urgent need for innovation. The great and good of the nation from the President of the Republic to the youngest entrepreneur all said their bit about innovation….. Yes, we must develop innovation but, even so, we are not doing badly, not badly at all (if only we really knew what “innovation” means!).  It was only when Prof. Michal Kleiber, President of the Polish Academy of Science, the penultimate speaker of the final session took the stand that the audience became noticeably uncomfortable.  He pointed the finger of blame, and the academics and politicians didn’t like it.


 Obviously, every country, not only Poland, must modernise and innovate if it is to survive in the world. However, the Polish education system, with rare and notable exceptions from primary school to university,  remains solidly in the 19th century, with the emphasis on fact cramming rather than the exploration and implementation of ideas. Charles Dickens` Mr. Gradgrind, the well-meaning but intelligence crushing schoolmaster in “Hard Times” is still to be found alive and prospering in classrooms across Poland.  There is not much space allowed for thought and innovation under the tyranny of tests and exams. Worse still, very, very few schools have any sort of arts education (or well organised team sports, for that matter.) 93% of Polish children probably never have any meaningful practical experience of music making at any time throughout their school careers. The consequences are tragic for the individual child and far reaching for the economic prosperity and political stability of the country. Answers must be found and found quickly.


Academics? Watch out!

Sunday night was a joyful evening. Warsaw Camerata made its all new music programme debut with new compositions inspired by Milosz and dedicated to his memory. The audience at Polskie Radio Studio One was sparse but those of us who were there recognised that this was an event. Six Polish composers and seven new pieces: some less interesting than otherwise, but others, especially those by Marek Zebrowski and Barbara Kaszuba, very good indeed.

Well done Pawel Kos-Nowicki, who not only conducted but fixed the orchestra, organised the hall and the printing and was still writing invitations an hour before the concert.

If I had any complaint it was that some of the composers did not always know how to express their ideas on paper in a way that was intelligible for the musicians. Some of the scores were unduly difficult to read. This indicates a gulf between the composer and the musician which is not a healthy state of affairs. Such are the dangers of becoming too academic.


I was less thrilled at the end of Monday morning. The Italian Cultural Institute invited me to the Warsaw leg of an EU funded series of conferences on Baroque studies. I decided to go for the second session which concerned musical influences between Rome and Poland.

When I arrived, 20 minutes late, the first session had still not finished and the last speaker had not begun. Apparently, the first speaker had been allowed to take an hour instead of the half hour or so allotted. Not surprisingly, the lax timekeeping had repercussions for the scholarship and the effectiveness of the speakers as the day went on. Most had to cut their papers and little time was allowed for discussion, not that anyone seemed to want to discuss anything when time was allowed. Strange people, these academics.


The final speaker of the first session was a Spanish professor who chose to speak in English. I found him unintelligible, an utter waste of time as far as I was concerned and I cant believe that anyone else understood anything either, though a young German was nodding and smiling in all the right places, so I may be wrong (but Germans are quite gifted in that area, I’ve noticed.)


Apart from his insecurity with English, the Spaniard had all the habits of the bad public speaker, habits certain to make listening difficult for the audience. These included clearing his voice while facing the microphone, moving in and out of range when speaking and he had no slides to help us understand what he was talking about. Why has he not been taught communication skills? They are not rocket science.


The 10 minute pause between sessions became more like 20 minutes thanks to problems with the IT and the fact that there was only one lavatory for thirty or so people.  The day grew longer.


Three Polish musicologists spoke in Polish on aspects of Roman and Polish music.  The first paper concerned illusions to Wladislaw IV and Jan Sobieski in opera and cantatas in the years 1625 to 1680. Two works were cited by the speaker, two in which I had sung at their first modern performances: Il Sant` Alessio, at Teatro Valle, Rome in 1983 and San Casimiro, re di Polonia, at the Saxon church in Rome in 1986.


Something that really surprised me was that the speaker, a musicologist from Warsaw University, completely ignored the Swedish invasion of 1660 and the ransacking of Poland between 1660 and 65.  When question time came I asked her whether the Roman Church had celebrated in music the Polish victory over the Protestant invaders, a very relevant question and one that really interests me and should have interested her too.  All she could say was, “I don’t know!”

The chairman tried to encourage her by saying that she could reply in Polish. All three musicologists shook their heads in dismay. None of them knew anything about what was probably the most important event in Polish history in the 17th century. Staggering!


Well, if you don’t know, you don’t know. I was taught that there is no shame in admitting to not knowing if there is no reason why you should know. It is certainly better than inventing an answer. However, I contest that an academic who fails to know anything about such an important event slap bang in the middle of the chosen period of a paper is no academic. To say “I don’t know in these circumstances is mind boggling. Pathetic. I mean, how could you understand the first performance of Parade in Paris in 1917 without considering the First World War or the collapse of Lehmann Brothers without some study of the wider economic picture?


With this level of academic achievement, delivery and organisation the unavoidable question has to be asked. Who really benefits from this sort of EU spending? Surely shipping a band of academics around Europe at our expense only has value if ideas are exchanged. Yet, in the two sessions I attended there was no discussion at all. Everyone could have stayed at home and read the papers in the comfort of their arm chairs. But, of course, delivering papers at prestigious conferences looks very good on a would be professor’s CV.  But this does not answer the question.

Why is the EU spending so much money and getting so little? Who is in charge?


Of course academic study is important but I sense it is going the wrong way: composers who cannot communicate with musicians, speakers who can’t express themselves, academics who can’t see the bigger picture. What all this leads to is irrelevancy. At a time when governments throughout Europe are looking for ways of reducing spending on education, especially higher education, it is obscene and absurd that academics seem to be weaving an ever tighter and impenetrable cocoon around themselves. They had better watch out. It is time they woke up or they will be swept away by the politicians` broom.

City of Culture 2016: Perfidious PO!

Dear, oh dear. Lots of Warsaw based “artists” and culture workers who put their faith in Mr. Zdrojewski and PO to award Warsaw the title of “City of Culture 2016” are sorely disappointed. A sense of disbelief and betrayal is written across their poor faces.


Silly fools. This cynical government was merely going through the motions of holding an open competition. Warsaw never stood a chance and all that money spent on promoting its chances could and should have been better spent (by putting policemen back on the beat, for example.)


Nor did Warsaw deserve a chance, if truth be told. With failing state institutions in every aspect of the arts, with its bevy of self-serving bureaucrats and arts managers, Warsaw is hardly a model to hold up to the nation or the world.


Nor, for that matter, is the winning city of Wroclaw, the city of which Minister Zdrojewski was mayor before he moved into the Ministry of Culture. Despite all the talk of an economic and cultural miracle, the reality is far less tangible. (Read my blog on Boleslawiec.) More a case of PO PR.

And, by the way, did the Minister really announce the day before the vote that he would give Wroclaw a massive handout of Ministry money if it won, then claim afterwards that he had been misunderstood?  He would have given the money to whichever city won. Heaven forbid that the judges were influenced.

Isn’t this something a court should decide? I hear you say. Clearly, the Gods think something should be done. Shortly after the vote a thunderbolt was dispatched from Heaven. It landed in the Minister`s home, tripped him up and broke his leg.



Without a shadow of doubt, the city that should have been awarded Culture City was Lublin. True, its state institutions are probably even more rooted in the Soviet mould than elsewhere in the country. But, isn’t it time something decent happened to the south east? Isn’t it time that the south east was made to feel that it is not second rate, a Poland B? Isn’t it time the more prosperous regions of Poland turned their attention eastwards to that impoverished land where, after all, the soul of Poland resides?


Bank Holiday Interlude 2

The other nice discovery of the day was the Bielany Forest, a wild place in the heart of what seems to be an unmemorable suburb. When we arrived people were leaving in their cars and on foot. Michael said that there is a famous sanctuary somewhere in the woods which is probably where the people were coming from following the Corpus Christi mass. Alas, we were unable to find the church but we followed the road through the woods and down a hill. We passed a handsome and authentic Baroque fountain where an elderly but extremely fit looking cyclist was taking the waters.


Soon after we came to a lovely spot, cobbled, with a grass covered slipway running through the trees down to the river. The only other car was a police car which was parked in the bushes almost out of sight.

“Let’s get out and see the river,” said Michael, stopping the engine.

Getting out, like getting in, is no easy matter. Everything to do with a classic car has to be premeditated and planned. Bottom first or foot first? But, before I had had time to decide a youngish police man was upon us.

“Nice car, sir, but cars are prohibited here. Didn’t you see the sign?”

“What sign?” asked Michael, in barely detectable Polish.

“Yes, what sign?” I chirped in for solidarity in the face of the law.

Apparently, there was one further up the road that we had missed.


A second, younger, policeman got out of the police car and came over. The language barrier was proving insurmountable for the first policeman to take any further action other than to ask us to leave. The second man just stood there beaming, whether at the car, at us or at his colleague’s inability to communicate with us I could not make out. One thing was clear, we had to go.


Regretfully, Michael put his driving gloves back on, turned the key and pulled the starter. Staring classic cars is always a tense moment. It requires the concentration of both driver and passenger. Mercifully, the engine roared into action. We pulled away, and as we did, I couldn’t help wondering what those two men had been up to before we arrived. “Shirking,” said Michael. I thought something else, but he was probably right.


Re-tracing out steps, try as we might to find the no entry sign we were confounded. There were some no-parking signs which may have been doubling as no entry signs. You can never be sure.

“Did you know there used to be 240 different signs in Poland signifying no parking?”  asked Michael.

“No, Michael, I didn’t, but then, nothing surprises me about Poland.”

I suppose sitting in the bushes with your mate beats defending mothers and innocents from drunks on the street. Any day. 


Raport o Innowacyjności Polskiej Gospodarki

 Pages 49 and 84 might thrill you especially:)    


o Innowacyjności Polskiej Gospodarki


Zakończył się II Kongres Innowacyjnej Gospodarki, w związku z tym,
przedstawiamy Państwu opracowany przez zespół ekspertów Uczelni
Vistula, pod przewodnictwem prof. Krzysztofa Rybickiego Raport
o Innowacyjności Polskiej Gospodarki.




a w nim:

Mocne i słabe strony polskiej gospodarki.

  • Rekomendacje działań dla sektora publicznego, rządu i samorządów.
  • Wskazówki dla przedsiębiorstw, jak zostać globalną firmą.
  • Rady dla młodych kreatywnych – jak zarobić na pomyśle.

    II Kongres Innowacyjnej Gospodarki, organizowany przez Krajową Izbę Gospodarki,
    był jednym z najważniejszych wydarzeń na skrzyżowaniu biznesu, świata nauki
    i instytucji rządowych.
    Podsumowanie Kongresu, prezentacje prelegentów, zdjęcia i inne materiały dotyczące
    kongresu umieszczane będą na:

    Honorowy Patronat Prezydenta
    Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej



  • Bank Holiday interlude, ossia what makes Poles smile!



    About a month ago I met a neighbour of mine in the street outside her front door. Though married to a Pole, if anything, she is Italian and, in that capacity, not unknown to the television viewing public. She told me that a few nights before she and her child had been attacked by drunks.


    “Here, and I am sick of it. Not a policeman to be seen.”


    On Wednesday night I invited my young cousin, her husband and nine month old baby to dinner. They arrived 90 minutes late. No one in my Polish family is punctual, so certain tardiness is always written into any arrangement to meet. But 90 minutes is unusual even by their standards. When they finally arrived they looked shaken.

    “Sorry we are late. We were attacked.”

    “Where? By whom?”

    “On the corner of Kwiatkowska and Narbutta. A drunk.  We`ve been waiting over an hour for the police.”

    And this is supposed to be the best part of town!


    Until about 6 months ago, the police was omnipresent. Pairs of young men in black cotton, para-military uniforms roamed the streets, note books in hand, stopping every so often to jot down reports (which, judging by the expression on their faces seemed to be the toughest part of their duties).


    Alas, no longer. Look for a policeman in these parts and you certainly won’t find one.

    Government, please note: a police presence on the pavement is worth 10 times a squad car on the road in the fight against crime.


    The following morning the sun was shining so I got into my car and went to see Michael M.

    “Feel like a ride in the MG?” Michael asked. “Just the weather.”

    Having never ridden in the MG, a 1947 two-seater, open-top contraption, I agreed, though not without reservation. I could not imagine how I was going to fit in, but I did. Just.


    As we sped down the Wislastrada effortlessly overtaken by the usual detritus of modern motoring one fact was overwhelming. Everyone who passed us was smiling at us. Joy was written on every face. And when I waved, they waved back.


    Only two days ago, sick of the miserable, sour-faced young women who greet me everyday at the gym, I was mulling over ideas how to get Poles to smile. A national smiling day? Give a zloty to a smiler? Expensive but worth every grosche. No, the solution is much simpler. Simply drive around in a classic car. Of course, there would be a cost as my back will attest. 60 year old suspension offers little protection from modern Polish roads. (Much worse than they were in the 90`s, claims Michael.) But a bit more smiling might even reduce the dependence on alcohol. A bit of back pain would be worth every pang if it got people off alcohol and on to smiling.

    Lewiatan and the Minister 2

      I suspect that very few people at the Gala were interested in culture. Even if I am wrong, since many had come up from the provinces, a discussion of culture was nowhere near their list of priorities for a night out in Warsaw. A business mixer, food, drink and a chance to meet more of their own kind would have been more to their liking.

    The first part of the Gala consisted of an award-giving followed by a “discussione alla Polacca.”  I should explain what I mean by this. A young Polish cousin of mine recently returned to Poland after three years at Oxford University. I asked him how he was settling in. “You know, Poles don’t discuss. They make statements” was the biggest difference between the cultures that had so far struck him.


    This, indeed, is the greatest drawback facing any conference and, one might say, the development of democracy in Poland.  Speakers are paraded on the platform. A host asks them a set question to which they reply. Rarely, very rarely, does the host have the temerity to challenge or question any aspect of the statement. Even more rarely is time allowed for questions from the audience. A few debating societies at schools and universities would make a great difference, though I can’t imagine anyone in the present body politic being keen to lobby for them.


    I’ll breeze over the prize winners: one outstanding businessman; couple of politicians: Michal Boni, (who should be running the country) and the upstanding Minister of Culture himself. Krystyna Janda represented the theatre. It was her contribution that was the most relevant to the discussion, though it was pearls to swine in the environment we were in. In front of the Minister she called for more transparency in the allocation of public money to private enterprises. In other words, an explanation of why certain projects are accepted for ministry patronage and others are not. One suspects politics and deviousness. Even though he knew he would not be called upon to answer, I thought the Minister squirmed in his white arm chair under the spotlight high above us on the concert platform.