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To have created a window of opportunity is the British genius as producing Obama was the American genius

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A very British hang over!

Today, we still have a hang over. We agonized about how to vote and we trudged off to vote with sinking hearts.  Few of us voted for someone we really wanted to represent us.  We voted to hang parliament.  And we achieved our goal.  Somewhat improbably I think.  In a surprising example of the possibilities of crowd sourcing without central control, a highly irritated British electorate set out to hang parliament and achieved its goal.

Regretting that we did it our way?

This would be story enough but I noticed today that the #ukelection #ge2010 stream on Twitter is jumpy and nervous.   The politicians are doing their thing.  They seem to be acting responsibly.  Though the press have tried to exaggerate the odd moment, no one has made a rash intemperate move.   Talks are continuing.  Leaders and party members are consulting.  Discussants on programs like Any Questions are providing good thoughtful background pieces.

Why are those of us who wanted a hung parliament panicking now that we have it?

Making sense of success and failure is hard

I once did some research with a then-student, Phil Mlambo, on student politicians who elbow their way onto committees and don’t do what they promised.  This is a fascinating psychological phenomenon.  When we have gone to such trouble and made promises publicly, we should be motivated to do what we said we would do.  Though in many ways the opposite to pursuing a hung parliament and panicking when we get one, we may have something to learn from what Phil discovered.

Phil did a fantastic piece of fieldwork.  He tracked 50 student politicians who had made a public promise to do something for their group the very next day.  And he interviewed them again the following evening.  They had all started. They had all set off confidently with no doubt that they would do what they promised.   But only 50% succeeded.  The 50% who succeeded remained confident.  The 50% who failed were disconcerted and unsure how to interpret their experience.  Disappointed, frustrated & embarrassed, they felt they were to blame.

Phil took down the full story of their day and as we untangled events,  in every case, there was no sign of laziness.  Nor was there any sign of undue external events.  There was simply daily life mixed with inexperience and unexpected conditions.  The students had assumed the person they had wanted to see would be available. They had assumed goods they wanted to buy would be available in the quantity and sizes that they imagined.  In all cases of failure, students had been thwarted by a mixture of chance and an absence of contingent  thinking.

So here we are.  Surprised  by our success and alarmed by our success.  Are we just inexperienced and startled that we moved into the next stage of negotiation quite so easily?  Are we surprised that Plan A worked and now find ourselves without Plan A2?

Reflected best self

As a relative newcomer to the UK, I must say that I am impressed.  Migrants took a battering in this election and it might surprise Brits to know what migrants think of you.  OK, I tease a little.  Positive organizational scholarship has an interesting technique called “reflected best self” – RBS – not to be confused with the bank, of course.

In reflective best self, we take the good things that people say about us, and ponder on them.

A long standing migrant, who is now a  British citizen, told me that although the English are very inefficient (you do know people say that about you?), though the English are notoriously inefficient, when it matters they come through.

We have a very short election season here of 6 weeks.  I noticed  the quality of debate did pick up markedly but it was still weak.  By the time election day came around, I felt depressed.  I dragged myself to the polling booth bribing myself with the chance to use a pencil tied to a piece of string (yes, that’s true).

But when I woke late on Friday and heard the balance in power had been achieved, my first thought was “We have given ourselves a chance.”  I felt relieved.

Most of all I was amazed that the electorate had done what it said it would do.  That was a difficult feat.  I felt proud for the British.  My estimation of their ability, character and judgment shot up.   My sense of collective efficacy, my sense that people around me can and will do what they say, shot up.

To have created a window of opportunity is the British genius as producing Obama was the American genius

I am relaxed about the political discussions going on right now.  For the first time, I feel that the British political system works.  Yes, we have a period of hard negotiation to get through.  But to have created a window of opportunity is the British genius as producing Obama was the American genius.

I feel good, not in that heady I feeeel  gooood way that presages a fall.  I feel good in that way we feel when we are rolling up our sleeves and getting down to work.

Well done, Britain.  We are proud of you!

Published in Business & Communities


  1. Good perspective. I agree with most of your analysis except the window of opportunity and allusion to genius. The elections results were predictable and consistent with social science. The Brits are to be lauded for exposing the inherent limitations of a de facto 2 party system which reduces elections to voting more of the same. The binary mindset which gives voters only two choices is under scrutiny. Ironical and amusing similarity with the Zim situation. I may be a bit overreaching but the logic is the same.

    • Interesting. It made me feel better. It even made me feel better about Zim.

      I agree fundamental forces were at play. My description to Alois is that it is like a flock of birds. Follow everyone else, go at roughly the same speed, keep a safe distance. And you get a flock that looks like leaders and followers but it can be explained more simply.

      But we can crash into each other. And we can fly into a wind turbine. When we are willingly to join a flock because it seems to flock along well together and because it seems to be going in the right direction, we feel good. There is truth as in description of the world and truth as a truth I am willing to make happen. Management is about the latter not the former.

      I am always looking for some momentum that will carry a system along through its muddle and uncertainty. And that’s what I see happening. I’ll catch that carpet ride! I haven’t felt this positive about wider events in years!

  2. I am fascinated by how it all becomes relevant to today’s political events after all those may years of the Rubicon research.

    • Yup, the Rubicon study resolved several important ideas for me.
      1. Self-efficacy is about ‘will to live’ – not competence.
      2. Though we like to interpret performance in terms of competence, is often a matter of chance.
      3. Coaching matters. We can’t tell the wood from the trees or the figure from the ground. When we are in the thick of it, we need another person to separate the context from our own actions.

      It was as a productive piece of work!

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