Sunday, December 28, 2008

..of women bosses..hehe

Hang on, hang on... I know what you're thinking ladies...its not like that ok?..hehe. I am still in my springkleening mode and again, I stumbled upon this newspaper cutting (The Sun, UK, Sunday March 9, 1997). Please do read what John Kelly wrote above, of a survey by Dr Syeda-Masooda Mukhtar of women bosses. It would be really interesting if a similar survey is done here with Malaysian Women Bosses! haha. This was more than 10 years ago. Perhaps today's generation of lady bosses may be totally different (I hope). But seriously ladies, please read and tell me if at all, the findings describe you or your managerial style (evil wink) or that the author's findings were totally preposterous! hahaha. Salam Maal Hijrah to all my muslim visitors...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

...heroic or engaging management?

As I was I springkleening I came across the above scanned page from the book 'Managers Not MBAs' by Henry Mintzberg the Canadian Professor of Management. I am a Mintzberg convert sort of (management thinking-wise lar..hehe). So I thought perhaps I might attempt to influence your thinking as well? If you are an upcoming or CEO-aspiring young management rookie, you should not bypass this view. You may have already been 'awed' by the superstar, evil-knievel, Jackie Welchie or the 'Johnson-clap' ( evil wink) of leadership and management style...that's ok. It's again a matter of preference folks. Or you think that by emulating the likes of honchos like the Lehman Brothers CEO or the CEOs of the big '3' US auto Kings (well...but oredi brought down to their knees by the US senate...somewhere closer to the levels of unicellular organisms haha no not that far down the food chain..hahaha). Or you are smitten by Barrack Hussein Obama's engaging style? Yes, engaging is the new currency. The flavor of the month. I suspect it will be the flavor for 2009. Engaging Economy? Engaging Dad? Engaging Boss? Engaging employees? Just like...hmmm when you get into your car...don;t forget to engage your gear....cos if you didn't...the car would not move right? Similiarly with your people...employees, colleagues et al. The argument is, you need to engage...I am not sure if it is similar to the engagement before marriage tingy....LOL hahahahaha). Please feel free to let me know what your thoughts are....

Friday, December 26, 2008

...of privatisation and creative destruction?

Ya ya..we juz had Christmas holiday (to those who celebrates it), Monday 29th will be Awal Muharram holidays and January 1, 2009 will be another holiday. The office was rather quiet today but thank gawd, Razali Yubong texted me earlier this evening to let me know all the board papers have been delivered. Thank you Li, what would we do without you, man? I know it is holiday mood but I have this burning desire well it hasn't come to a stage of violent objection (not yet lar so far...can still bear with it leh? hehe) to debate..oh well, discuss about privatisation ( an intervention that was soo fashionable in the early 90s...).
I remember in 1993 when I attended the International Youth Council (IYC) meeting in Fukuoka with one of my former bosses, the late Dato' Abdul Malek Nahu (Malek Grammar as he was fondly referred to from time to time, then), Datuk Abd Wahab Adam (Secretary General of Youth & Sports Ministry at the time), Saifuddin abdullah (now a Datuk and Deputy Minister of Entrepreneurship & Cooperatives) and a few other government and NGO officials. Datuk Wahab was reading a book on the (orient express wannabe) train to Oita (about a 3 hour ride up the mountains). It was called "Reinventing the Government" by Gabler. Apparently all SecGens and top civil servants at the time was required oh well, recommended by the Prime Minister at the time (Tun Dr Mahathir) to read the book I was told. Essentially, Gabler's message was: there are things that are best left to market forces (laisse-faire) to encourage competition and thus achieve the desired efficiency and effectiveness and economies of scales...thus the deja vu and the obsession with corporatisation and it seems; Some other things must still be in the control of or best be in the hands of the Government (like basic health care, utilities and public transportation); and for a much more equitable wealth distribution, the cooperative would appear to be the best tool to use. Over time we have all seen the foibles, follies and both the functional and dysfunctional consequences of privatisation. It was not totally excellent in some areas and totally disastrous to0 in some others. I shall not elaborate. You can be the judge of that.
On December 15th recently, when I gave the keynote address at the 3rd International Borneo Business Conference (IBBC), I said that if you put 200 economists in a room, you will get 200 different opinions and strategies. They can all be right and they can all be wrong too. Prof Dr Kassim, Dean of School of Economics and Business of Universiti Malaysia Sabah in his summary, agreed with me (hehe). Sometimes I too get confused (haha). One moment I am Malthusian, another I am Keynesian (by the way, in the current global crisis...we are all Keynesians now! hahaha), at the same time I could also be a Milton Friedman convert (hehe). But I am also a fan of John Kay, Paul Romer, Krugman and Lester Thurow....see? The list is endless. We also see a hugh following of the works of Joseph Schumpeter and his famous 'creative destruction' theory. Some say he is the father of modern entrepreneurship. I suspect much of the argument for privatisation seems to have been motivated by his thinking.
There has been lots of debates, views, comments etc both in blogosphere and in mainstream medias about the privatisation of a certain medical entity (?). In management there is no right or all depends. Pledges, promises and objectives are but one thing, the outcome of the execution, implementation and as I said earlier, probable dysfuntional consequences, are another. It is not rocket science, to come out with the best justification in the world to go ahead with the intention (to privatise). The UK's NHS is 60 years this year. Perhaps we can learn from some of their good and bad experiences (which I suspect we may have) so that we can balance both the corporate and public sector objectives or end in mind as Covey always calls it in his 7 Habits Model (hehe) .... my 2 sen views.... It would be interesting to re-examine all the privatisation exercises over the last 10 to 15 years hehe. I do know of someone whose PhD thesis was on privatisation (heehee.. not sure if she is reading this blogpost though..hahaha)...My stand? I am not totally fond of privatisation. Sorry folks...if its a bit too long and heavy....enjoy the long weekend.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008 it safe anymore?

Is there any place safe anymore? Safe is a relative word. Worry is the accompanying relative word too. Izzit safe to fly? You might juz be on a flight that might be on the hijacker's list. Izzit safe to take a cruise or travel by ship then? hmmm you might juz be visited by Somalian pirates hehe. What about spending time at the hill resorts? Oh no...not another landslide....uwaaa. What about spending time with the kids by the seaside resorts? Huh? Have you not forgotten the Boxing Day Tsunami? So? Where does that leave you then? Staying at home is also not safe (depending which neighbourhood you are in...hehe). You may juz be visited in the wee hours of the morning by people with parangs or whatever sharp object...asking you for money or your life? We live in really interesting and scary times. Not at these levels of heightened security consciousness. Even if you have guards combing your neighbourhood, they could still come. Can you imagine that it is unsafe for me to even walk to Nathijah Maju the mamakshop for my roti canai at the back of my house? At the Isle of Wight, just across Portsmouth, there are cute lil ole English thatched country houses where their cute little gates and front doors are without locks. I dunnno if it's still without locks! hahaha.
I guess nothing is safe anymore...even your jobs? (evil wink). Guard it with your life. Can you imagine...even the stores in UK are advising parents to try not to steal anything for christmas cos they know parents are being pressured by their kids what with the new generation of digital toys, the ipods, PSPs, iphones, Wii, macbooks and what have you....hahaha...anyway, have a great christmas folks. Drive safely, if you are travelling....

Monday, December 22, 2008

of lockerbies and tis a season of weddings again...

Not many of us remember the Lockerbie Tragedy. The plane that exploded over a Scottish agricultural village, 20 years ago, yesterday. How could I forget? A dear friend and a colleague, David Trimmer-Smith marketing director of OUP New York was on that flight. We were together having a great time at the Annual Frankfurt Book Fair (Buch messe as we say in German) in September 1988. I too had planned to visit my cousin who was attached with MIDA New York at the time but changed my mind and spend a couple extra days in London instead. If you'd like to read about it, see here.
Two weddings today, one was at noon at Shahalam, daughter of our SVP Human Capital Management, and the other was later in the evening at PJ Hilton, daughter of an old close friend who was formerly executive chairman of a second board (which later moved to the main board, I think..hehe) technology company. I wrote an account of she and her brother's ordeal...swimming back to shore at night in PD in my earlier blogpostings.
Its 4.25am and somehow or rather I don't feel sleepy despite the heavy food especially the uish..irresistible 'rendang tok' at PJ Hilton a few hours ago. Saw this HBO movie "Man of the Year" (Robin Williams) and am always amazed at the speed of how Americans do things. They can be really swift. As I watched the movie, I couldn't help analysing...hehe. The movie is full of sarcasm, making fun of politicians well American politics more like it, hehe. Very well articulated by Robin his usual style... The Japanese are very quick too. Every new book published in English, they would have a japanese translated version in their bookshops within a month, So I was told, in those days (late 70s, 80s). I don't know what it's like now but my guess is, with today's technology, aaasssooo should be even faster neh? Have a great week ahead folks....

Friday, December 19, 2008

learning to compete in european universities?...

Professor Rajah Rasiah FEA Universiti Malaya, chairperson, summarising Professor Maureen McKelvey, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, Public Lecture this morning ...

I was invited to a public lecture at the Faculty of Economics & Administration (FEA) Universiti Malaya this morning at 10 am. A great priviledge indeed to meet Professor Maureen McKelvey, Professor of Industrial Management and Dean of the School of Business, Economics and Law, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, in person and to listen to her about the new book she had edited, which will be published in February 2009. Its called 'Learning to Compete in European Universities: from social institution to knowledge business'. The crux of her book is about why european universities are changing and learning to compete. Our local universities, both public and private, can certainly pick some relevant tips and strategies these european universities have adopted. Or at least understand why all these (change, competition) need to take place. Must it take place? I ask. Must they be pressured by market demand or put it in another way, must universities be market-driven? Yes and no, perhaps... haha.. always paradoxical and ahem...oxymoronic right? Sorry folks but my stand has always been similar to those echoed by professor William Taylor former professor of education and vice chancellor of the University of Hull, where parallels are drawn between universities and commercial or industrial enterprises. Such parallels have a number of defects and dangers. They fail to bring out the real and essential differences between educational considerations and market considerations. Which is not to say that there is nothing in common between running an industrial enterprise and running a university (hehe). It fails to take into account of certain characteristics of the values inherent in a market structure as compared to those characteristics of educational structures, the point had also been well made by Jules Henry.
Prof Maureen pulled together a great list of contributors and organised it into four themes: emergent strategies; diversification and specialization; rethinking university-industry relations; and reflections. My thinking may have been outdated or archaic (evil wink) or have been too influenced by the olde school hehe. I did get a chance to share my opinion at this morning's lecture and my candid remarks from the other side of the table. Problem is, while I give my corporate overview, I am most often trapped within my pseudo-academia mindset...because of my occasional adjunct role teaching MBA students! hahaha. Also at the lecture was Kamaruding Abdul Somad, PhD (Prof Maureen's colleague at the University of Gothenburg), Assoc prof Dr Nik Rosnah, Head department of Administrative Studies and Politics, FEA UM, and Assoc Prof Dr Chia of the Inst of Postgrad Studies & Research Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR). I wished more people at the helm of our local universities were there this morning to listen to her...hmmm

...the reluctant chairperson?....jeng3x

ya 3 pm the day before, I got a SOS SMS...similar to the radio distress signal sent out to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) by crewmen of the China-registered ship stormed by nine armed pirates off the coast of Somalia! hahahaha. No lar...hehe it was from Umi of ABF. Asking me to replace my gudfren Deepak and chair the 2nd day of the ABF Legal Technology conference at the Grand Millennium Hotel. Small but lively, interesting knowledge and information-hungry crowd hahaha. I was nothing but amused, when I got the feedback from Umi over the phone hehe. She read it quickly and it seems the feedback written by participants ranged from gud to verigud, well ahem... mostly excellent (hehe...sorry folks...) but the last one really chuckled me. It said: eccentric but entertaining....hahaha which confirms my suspicion earlier, if you had been following my blogposts, that I am very much a court jester!?......uwaaaa...uhu hu hu hu... thank you umi, and fellas, for the kind remarks...hehe

tribute and in memoriam...

Yesterday I visited a dear friend and professional industry colleague Khoo Khai Jin whose wife passed away. He stays at USJ9 somewhere near Taipan. The cremation was to take place at 2 pm. I didn't stay long. Left slightly later then our two other common friends Donzubir and Ismail (who is now political secretary to YM Tengku Razaleigh).

Yesterday too, the VC of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) wrote a special article (see article) paying tribute to the late Datuk Professor Dr Nik Abdul Rashid Ismail former Deputy Vice Chancellor. He was fondly known as Pak Nik too and was almost always confused with another Pak Nik Rashid who passed away much earlier. That Pak Nik was from the Law Faculty of Universiti Malaya and on the Coop Board when I was GM in the late 80s and he subsequently became ITM (UiTM now) Director.

Datuk Prof Nik Rashid Ismail was a dear friend and we were on the committee of the Malaysian Association of Productivity for quite sometime since the late 70s where Tan Sri Arshad was national president, he was Deputy President and I was Secretary-General. I was last with him and tan sri, a few months ago at the court of appeal, putrajaya for a long overdue case hearing where we had to testify. I have been told that the presiding appeal court judge would be passing the judgement over the long overdue case, this coming january 5, 2009. His daughter Farah visited us one weekend at our home at Loughborough, UK when my wife was doing her MA in 1990. She was doing her medical degree then at Nottingham University. The late poknik did tell me that her daughter, now married, is in the US. Datuk Hapsah VC of UKM in her article, could not have worded a greater tribute to the work of this man. I was shocked and saddened by the news which was relayed to me only a week later by Nik Hussein, former UM Bursar...when I met him at breakfast at Nathijah Maju mamakshop behind my house. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat keatas roh YBhg Datuk Prof Nik A Rashid Ismail dan semoga beliau ditempatkan bersama-sama orang2 yang soleh...amin.....

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

..of hainanese kopitiam and suspected pyramid fraud?

Ya ya, well over a week now, that I have not been blogging. Sorry folks, busylah, year end, springkleening, kids to attend to.. its the school holidays still you know? December has always been a crazy month. People are all over the place. Some missing in action (hehe) and ya ya...I can't ( if...hmmm). But...they only want my signature and I will say, all the time (which may have irked some people hahaha). What's all this for? If I am going to jail, at least I like to know why and what I am going to jail for (evil wink)... Wish I was still in KK. Got back last night after delivering a keynote address at the 3rd International Borneo Business Conference 2008 (IBBC) at Universiti Malaysia Sabah. There were about 150 delegates from a few countries but mostly academics from economics or business schools of local universities. The theme for this year was Global Changes: Corporate Responsibility (whatever that means..hahaha). The best part was, my schoolmate who had just been posted as Deputy Commander of the GOF Sabah (Police Field Force as it was previously known) came to the conference with a few of his officers just to listen to me. The organising committee thought they were my bodyguards! hahahaha...what a pleasant joke and morale booster for me hahahaha. Tenkiu bro Tuan Hadi Ittam for the your most esteemed presence. I will upload the text of that keynote when I have converted the powerpoint slides later (hehe).
The world continues to be painted red. Today's NST reported that Europe's biggest bank, HSBC, joined the list of top names in the world of finance admitting huge potential losses in a suspected pyramid fraud scam run by Wall Street figurehead Bernard Madoff. But that news did not spoil my appetite hehe. I had a great lunch at my favourite Hainan Chef Kopitiam just now with the always attentive service by my good fren Mr Lim (above). Hahah...nothing like a damn good fish & chips with lime and assamboey. And yes...I am somewhere between finishing off some old untaken leave and being in the office on and off.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

...of rojaksellers, reflections and responsibilities?

Pak Ali Rojak, my favourite your neighbourhood rojakseller (ya... jangan lupa sotong lebih sikit aah?...hahaha) always there, at the same spot in front of the Old Giant Supermarket, Kelana Jaya, been there more than 22 years ago...

Salam Eid Adha for those celebrating Hari Raya Haji (or Qurban) on Monday 8 December, and that is tomorrow. There's a long history to it. Google it ok? I have received mixed reactions to my blog entries. Some say they like the oxymoronic combinations (serious stuff with intermingling of satire, sarcasm and humour), while some others take it personally and interprete what I write as reflecting what I feel (which I like to qualify...not necessarily, sometimes agreeing to disagree?). Having observed and taken note of all that, thank you folks, for those of you who are loyal and regular visitors, I take full responsibility of what I write and/or all the materials I have uploaded. Due credits are acknowledged (for intellectual property rights infringement purposes). Surely I am not one of those who uses other peoples' intellectual property to pass on as my own? The idea is basically to share with you what I stumble upon, or express my candid spontaneous views of a particular issue. In general terms, not referring to anyone in specific terms, whether dead or alive, unless otherwise specified. A few days ago I was mulling to lock my blog url and make it private by invitation only as some of what I have written may have been interpreted as self-serving, or may have offended some people, and as I always say too, from time to time, its also like my virtual diary. I guess its eclectic nature may have confused some of my visitors (hehe). Again, I apologise.

For a long time I have not said what I believed, nor do I ever believe what I say, and if indeed sometimes I do happen to tell the truth, I hide it among so many lies, that it is hard to find. Nicolo Machiavelli, in a letter to Francesco Guicciardini, May 17, 1521

Do enjoy reading some of the stuff I just read at the links below (evil wink). I have decided to be slightly more economical with the truth and space on this otherwise freebie site..hehehe...have a great week ahead, folks....

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

So you think you're an oxbridge wannabe?... hehehe

One of the many things I enjoy doing and had perhaps also become a habit sort of (hehe) is to always read online the UK news, whenever I can. Just two, mostly (telegraph or timesonline). Awhile ago I was checking out timesonline UK and came across this interesting entry on their typepad (blog). I thought that it may be of some interest to my frens be they parents or students who drops by at my blog, who has a penchant or who yearns to be an oxbridge (hehe) or would like their child to go to oxford or cambridge ...perhaps motivated by the perception or the stories going around that much of the nation's backroom boys advising both the corporate and the public sectors, are predominantly oxbridge (mafia) it seems(?)...hehe. Well, its all mostly about networking I would imagine, about your peers and your alma mater. We have the malay college connection, the royal military college connection, the british, american, australian, new zealand or the canadian universities connection..etc etc... Hehe, perhaps connection may sound a bit intimidating, much like the French Connection which denotes something to do with drugs and smuggling hehe. So, I guess, networking among chappies who went to the same institutions of higher learning..would be more palatable, I would imagine... enjoy the oxbridge interview tips below:

Would you rather be a novel or a poem? Oxbridge interview questions and how to answer them...(

Interviews for Oxford and Cambridge are imminent, and 6th formers across the country are panicking. Everyone has heard about the strange questions which are sometimes thrown at prospective Oxbridge applicants, and we're sorry to say that they're all true! However, help is at hand - we have some real Oxbridge interview questions, and some tips on how to answer them.... Oxbridge Applications helps hopeful students find out more about the application and interview process. And MD Chloe Palfreman says that the key is not to panic, but instead to see the interview as a kind of mock tutorial."You should see it as an opportunity to show your knowledge and powers of lateral thinking," she adds. Palfreman says that not all interview questions are strange, and that they do make sense in the interview situation. "What they're trying to get you to do is show how you can apply your existing knowledge in a new context. They're often subject specific." So here are some recent interview questions* - and tips for how to go about answering them...

1) Talk about a light bulb (Engineering, Oxford)
The question makes two main demands: firstly to structure your ideas logically in response to such an open question and secondly to use this open forum effectively to show a good range of your Physics knowledge. Armed with this awareness, one approach would be to define what a light bulb is (a replaceable component in a lamp, which is designed to produce light from electricity); then to give more detail about how the light bulb has been designed to do this effectively; then to talk about different types of light bulb and finally to discuss the current debate about light bulbs and how we will be tackling illumination in the future.

2) Would you rather be a novel or a poem? (English, Oxford)
The question is asking you to consider the differences between the two literary genres. Traditionally the novel is a lengthy prose work, often rooted in reality, while the poem is usually shorter, focusing overtly on style and form, and often based on fantasy. Having made this distinction, you could go on to qualify it with the observation that these definitions are difficult to maintain when considering epic poems such as The Song of Roland, which narrates historical events; or perhaps the prose Arthurian romances - identified as novels because of their length, despite their magical content. A possible conclusion would be to see it as simplistic to divide literary works into rigid categories, or indeed to describe a person with a one-word epithet. As an individual, you would rather combine the novel’s pragmatism with the poem’s idealism.

3) How would you market a rock band (Economics & Management, Oxford)
This is an opportunity to show that you understand the basic principles of marketing. Beyond this, you should also show that you have the commercial awareness to apply and adapt these principles to the specific product you have been asked to market in the relevant industry. First you need to define the product by talking about what type of rock band it is, how well known the band is already, who is in the band, what they look like and the nature of their songs and music. With a clearer idea of the band, you should start to work out its most obvious customer target groups, through which channels the customers could access the band’s material, and where the access points to market the band would be. You would also want to include some examples to back up the ideas you outline from existing bands who have marketed themselves in a similar way. This should make your answer more tangible to the interviewer. Finally, to show that you are up to date with current business and marketing ideas, you might want to talk about how you could use the Web to do this even more effectively, for example creating a Myspace page for the band, putting videos of them on YouTube or other suggestions you can think of (a blog, perhaps?!)

4) How does Geography relate to A Midsummer Night's Dream? (Geography, Oxford)
According to Oxbridge Applications, this is a "wonderful chance to show that you can adopt an interdisciplinary approach and that you enjoy lateral thinking in the abstract." Phew! It is also "wide open to a completely personal interpretation, as long as it is presented logically and uses clear examples." One possible angle would be to look at how the play presents the human world at the mercy of the natural (fairy) world. The fairies dupe the humans with tricks and potions thus changing the course of their lives. Despite all the advances of mankind and our feeling of being in charge of our environment, we remain very much controlled by the natural stirrings of the Earth, at times with devastating effect – drought, storms, tidal waves or earthquakes. Our being in control is very much an illusion.

5) How many of these pebbles would fit in that car? (Natural Sciences, Cambridge)
It is likely that on asking this question the tutor might show applicants an average-looking pebble and point towards a car outside the window. From this, you then need to show that from a few basic pieces of information you can make a few sensible calculations to work out a plausible estimate. Obviously, getting exactly the right answer is near impossible but the real test is showing that you can use basic problem-solving techniques on your own. This is a question about volume. Firstly you need to calculate the volume of the pebble and then the volume of the car. To accurately estimate the volume of the car, you should take account of the boot as well as the main passenger section. You should also think about whether any additional pebbles will fit in and around the engine area under the bonnet and if so, what the volume of this area is. Once you have these two approximations, you then need to divide the total volume of the car by the volume of the pebble to get the number of pebbles that would fit inside the vehicle.

6) Can History stop the next war? (History, Cambridge)
This question tests an applicant’s wider understanding of the academic discipline. To answer it effectively, you first have to decide whether or not you interpret ‘History’ as an active player in world events. If we understand History to be the study of past events, the immediate assumption is likely to be that History itself cannot actively prevent a war. History does nothing. It would be possible, however, to broaden our understanding of History. You could say that those who participate in an in-depth study of the past are necessarily more attuned to the local sensitivities as well as being more aware of the horrors brought by previous conflict. If these people are in decision-making positions, perhaps they're politicians, armed services commanders or international advisers, then this knowledge may make them less inclined to use war as a solution. Therefore, through these agents, History could end up preventing a war. That said, this still beggars the question of how wars are started and whether they are the result of conscious decisions or more intrinsic and deep-rooted local circumstances. The conclusion here may well be that in some instances knowledge of History could help to prevent tensions being escalated into a war, but there are many other wars where this is not the case.

7) Would you say that greed is good or bad? (Land Economy, Cambridge)
This question looks at the conflict between self-interest and the overall common good within the disciplines of Economics, Law and Geography (the three subjects that make up Land Economy at Cambridge). Taking this interdisciplinary approach to answer the question would show an understanding of the course content. A memorable way to tackle the question might be to take examples from each discipline and talk through them in a structured way using a cost/benefit analysis framework to measure the outcome of different scenarios where greed is to be found. So, in classical Economics all individuals are assumed to be homo economicus (economic man) - self-interested actors motivated by the desire for wealth and the need to avoid unnecessary labour. There are many instances in which this ‘greed’ conflicts with the common good. A strong applicant may want to make a reference to recent investment bankers whose greed for bonuses has now affected the world economic system. There are other instances, however, in which greed produces economic benefit, e.g. entrepreneurs building businesses and thus creating jobs, paying taxes and generating wealth. So within Economics, the case seems balanced, greed drives growth and prosperity, but at what cost? Within Law greed is seen as a ‘bad’ thing, e.g. theft or murder. It is hard to find an example where the law looks upon greed favourably. Within Geography, greed is also more often than not detrimental, such as developed countries’ desire to burn fossil fuels at the expense of the environment. Overall, greed can occasionally be seen to be good, but is not necessarily to be encouraged to an excess. A strong applicant could then discuss what criteria we might put in place to manage greed.

8) Should we have laws for the use of light bulbs? (Law, Cambridge)
The question first raises the issue of the extent to which a law should intervene in people’s lives. To have a law on the use of light bulbs (a 'Light Law') would equate to a law that restricts an individual from freely employing a good to which he has a legal right (the right being derived from the contract of sale between the individual and the light bulb seller). Obviously there are certain overarching laws that do just that, for instance the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 severely curtails to what violent use you can put a light bulb. However, such laws primarily impose negative obligations (you may not assault another with a light bulb), whereas a ‘Light Law’ seems to envisage specifying to what positive use a light bulb can be put. Should we dictate the individual’s right to use his goods in such a manner? To do so we would need some type of social justification i.e. that for the benefit of society as a whole, the individual's freedom to act ought to be constrained. As the global supplies of oil, gas and coal dwindle, there may indeed be such a justification in the future. In answering this question, however, you should also be considering the purpose of laws and what the law is trying to achieve. This raises a second issue around limitations of laws. You may want to consider situations in which it would be unsuitable to use the law to attempt to achieve certain aims. For example, controlling the use of light bulbs may achieve the aim of reducing electricity usage which would be good for the environment, but introducing a law may not lead to changes in people’s attitudes to environmental matters. Educating people about the environment would be a more suitable method for achieving this aim.In considering the purpose of laws, you should consider the value that society gets from them. Laws may be expensive and difficult to enforce and it could be argued that this expense and difficulty are not worth the small gain which will accrue from a particular law, meaning that a particular law cannot be justified. It will also be necessary to address the need to balance intervention through laws with the need to respect civil liberties and you should be able to give an opinion about where that balance should be struck.

9) Is there such a thing as an immoral book? (French and Spanish, Cambridge)
You may want to start by questioning the question. Can an inanimate object have a moral value? Is a book made immoral if its author is judged to be so? If the subject matter of a book is immoral, can it be defended as being a moral work which serves to educate the reader on the dangers of immorality? You could then proceed to explore examples. The 18th century French works by de Sade and Laclos are compelling examples of literature which explore immorality. Laclos defends his epistolary novel Les Liaisons dangereuses by claiming in the prologue that he is simply warning innocents of the dangers of Parisian society. Perhaps then it is not the book which is immoral, but rather the reader who is seduced by it.
10) If you are not in California, how do you know it exists? (PPE, Oxford)
The main issue here is defining the ‘know’. The question strikes at the heart of the rationalist, as opposed to empiricist, schools of philosophical thought (of which any candidate seriously interested in studying Philosophy at Oxford should have at least a basic awareness). Rationalists, such as Descartes, claim the criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual and deductive. Empiricists, such as Locke, believe in a theory of knowledge which asserts that knowledge arises from experience (i.e. what your senses tell you). So, do you trust your senses or rational thought? Sure, you may have experienced ‘California’ through your senses by going there, seeing it, hearing about it, etc., but how do you know you are not being tricked and misled into believing its existence? A strong candidate would discuss an awareness of these two arguments, stressing there is not a right or wrong argument, and then settle on one side of the debate. They should then expect to be cross-examined as to why they chose that side.

*All questions are based on the findings of a survey conducted by educational consultancy Oxbridge Applications of over 4000 students who went through the Oxbridge interview process in 2007.