If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Eureka by Ben+Sam via FlickrMake yourself lucky, be happy, BS?

If you hang out with management theorists, you will know by now the essence of the prevailing zeitgeist.  Whether Richard Wiseman is talking about luck; whether Martin Seligman is talking about happiness; or John Seeley Brown is talking about edge, we have a common formula that is applied over, and over.

Following are some notes I made reading a paper by Keith Grint of Warwick Business School on leadership in local government.  He begins with a great question 🙂

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Keith Grint of Warwick Business School asks:

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

The questions (I think) are

  • How do we do local?
  • Why is doing local better than doing central?
  • And, does ‘doing local’ work better than doing central?  After all, surely the whole idea of politics is to seize the commanding position and dictate terms?

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local, at least to answer the how, why, what and whether of local using theory, we need to begin with the theory.   Let’s check our assumptions first.   At the same time, we’ll see that we are assuming, rather than proposing in scientific sense, that local is the “dog not the tail”.  (If anyone knows a non-dog metaphor that will work as well, please let me know!)

Once we’ve grasped, the idea that we are dog, and political change is the tail, then we want to know “how”.  And the task of popular writers is to explain the “how” well enough to stop people disappearing into the bottomless pit of despair and victimhood that is part of the self-story when we think of ourselves as the tail.  That Brits love the victim story is a different post.

Today, I’ll try only to explain how we start change at a local level which is what I think Keith Grint was talking about and what management scholars and their ilk can tell you a lot about.

The theory of act local

The theory of “act local: begins with some beliefs about leadership.  If you have differing ideas about leadership, nothing else I write will make any sense at all.  So, try these on for fit.  If they don’t fit, all else will be a logical exercise. If they do meld with your beliefs, you might find a sense of relief in the account of “lead local” that follows.

Two basic beliefs about leadership

Leadership is not air; it is the wind.  When leadership is there, it is there. We might be able to see it coming.  We might in odd circumstances be able to build a wind tunnel.  But for the most part it is ephemeral, situational and transitory.  Nonetheless we know it when we feel it and we know it when we see its effects.

Leadership is not a map; it is a place.  When you are there, you are there.  When you are not, you are not.  You are not a leader-in-waiting.  You aren’t leadership-material.  You are either leading right now in this place with these people.  Or, you are not.

One basic proposition about national leadership

UK’s future is not made in Whitehall.

It is made by us. Because leadership is like place and wind, the UK is made and led through our local squabbles and the place-by-place, moment-by-moment decisions we make where we are, where ever we are and whomever we are with.

So, how do we set about making UK’s future at local level?

So far so good – if we believe that leadership, of necessity, of its very essence, is a local, situational and transitory phenomenon with nonetheless real consequences, how do we act as a local politician?

One basic assumption about politics

Politics is about defining space.  Politics is about defining who gets to be here and who get to talk.

One basic proposition about leading the politics of radical change.

Cynically, party politics is a device for keeping us apart.  Defining history is about connecting with people we don’t normally talk to.

I’ll repeat that.  The politics of change, the politics of defining history, is about connecting, not with people like us, but with people we don’t normally talk to.

The nexus of leadership and politics

So, to pull together ideas about leadership and politics – we believe leadership is in its very essence local but nonetheless we have political structures which determine who is in and who is out – or in plain terms, who gets to be part of the conversation.

To set off radical change, we have to change who talks to whom.  Or natural instinct is to huddle with people with ‘common interests’.  Actually, we must do something else. We must expand the conversation to a ‘complete world’ of everyone who has an interest.

To take a stark example, if I were campaigning to reduce immigration (which I am not), the intelligent political approach would be to include the immigrants (and their employers).  That the campaigners don’t shows us that they aren’t really serious and that they will always be somewhat surprised by the results of their political initiatives.  They simply haven’t done the work of connecting people who have an interest.

Changing the future of our country, then, is changing who we speak to!

The “how to” of modern politics

And now to the “how to” because after all, the reason why I am writing this at all is because people think they are not able to affect the future of their country (preferring to whinge but that’s another post.)

Is politics viral?

Sometimes it seems that politics can be viral.

Take Egypt.  Wael Ghonim puts up a Facebook page at just the right moment.

But, was the page just timing or relevance?  Without being a historian of Egypt, I think the page became a lever on a fulcrum of wide-spread concern among people who have generally have neither need nor opportunity to speak to each other on a daily basis.

And with lever and fulcrum, as Archimedes said it would, the world moved.

The page was the lever.  The fulcrum was the concerns of many people partially connected and ready to be connected further.

Is viral politics enough?

Some people thing viral politics is enough.  I don’t think so.  We still have to do the ‘foot slogging’ of door-step politics. We have to build relationships painstakingly.  We have to build our coalition (woops, dirty word in UK).

Simply, if defining history is building new connections with people we don’t normally talk to, we have to build those connections.  We have to initiate the connections and we have to sustain them with repeated contact and mutual respect.

What’s more, we have to engage with people who not want to connect with us.  It might take a while to build the connections we need.  But of course we don’t mind if we really believe in the future we are imagining!

Is success assured?

Again, without being a historian, the Facebook page in Egypt came at the end of an era of making connections and making connections and making connections.  Wael Ghonim didn’t intend to start a revolution.  He put up a Facebook page, and while he wanted to connect with others, he had no idea how important those connections were to become.  The Facebook page might not have succeeded.  There had been many attempts to rally Egyptians.  This was the rally cry that came when the connections were enough.

Simply, change will not happen unless we believe in it enough to begin without any guarantee of success.  If we don’t believe in our people enough to begin, if we don’t believe that we are enough; we will never make enough connections and we won’t have the Facebook page, or whatever happens to be the lever in our movement that tips the final balance.

We never know exactly when the tipping point will be.  We have to begin in faith of our dream and our people.

And is one big viral event is enough?

Sadly, not.  A big viral event may give us a head-start.  A big viral event like Tahrir Square dramatically improves the self-efficacy of everyone takes part.  They will volunteer readily next time and won’t be easily put off by challenges.

But as one swallow only makes us think of summer, we need many successful events for active citizenry to be the norm.  Actually, we need many successful events to trust each other.  We need success to offset the disappointments and to build the momentum.

If we believe in the future that we say we want, we need to do the hard slog of building the connections and maintaining them over the challenges, triumphs, disappointments and tears of real world politics before we will be rewarded with deep and longstanding change.

So if you are banking on one big viral event, you will squander the benefits of the event, for benefits are huge but not enough on their own.

And should we wait for politicians?

I wouldn’t!   Old guard politics will produce more of the same.

What can you and I do?

What has to happen is you and I connecting to people we think are worth listening to.  No proclamation from Whitehall will ever make that happen.  This depends on whom we believe are worth listening to and whether we can be a****d to make the connections.

What we get back depends on what we are willing to do.  England, Britain, United Kingdom is us. If we want change and we haven’t changed something small today, we are simply talking BS (oh dear, what did I say?) 🙂

Change something today – get lucky!

The advice for starting change at local level is the same advice that psychologists will give you for making yourself lucky (and happy) (and indeed for giving up smoking or losing weight!)

The advice from psychologists is simply this.

Do something different today.  Drive to work a different route. Speak to the person next to you on the train.  Give up your seat for someone on the tube.

Mix it up.  Connect.  Connect.  Connect.

  • Complete your world by connecting with everyone you need to take part in the conversations you know are just waiting to happen.
  • Start to tell the collective story.  Start to tell the story of your collective .
  • Learn what other people want too.  See where you can help them and see where they are delighted to help you.
  • And, include the people you think you can’t stand (But talk to them later! Start with someone who is just new or different!)

How long will it take?

I don’t know for sure. Psychologists aren’t  hot on time.  But, the poets and gurus say you will see results in three months and life-changing experiences in a year.

Will you begin to lead locally?

What have you got to lose by trying?  You only have to talk to someone new each day and do something different like take a new route to work?

What will you gain?

A more interesting day for a start.

A life experiment second.

Maybe something bigger third.  The curious will go for that I think.

Resources

Leading questions: If ‘Total Place’, ‘Big Society’ and local leadership are the answers: What’s the question? Leadership February 2011 7: 85-98,

To get a copy of the paper, you’ll have to email the author Keith.Grint at wbs dot ac uk.

Dissolve your recession blues with 3 questions (and a Posterous blog & camera)

The mark of a good businessman is that he can succeed in bad times

Anyone can do well in a rising market.  When an economy is doing well, people trade with each other.  I make bread and I swap it for your milk.  While I am making bread, you plough my field.

In a sophisticated economy, we make the exchange process easier by swapping goods & services for money.  It’s easier all round.  And the sovereign ~ the king, queen, president or government ~ demands their share.  That’s called taxes.

In good times, we simply slot into the system.  Its easy.  Somebody wants something done. We do it. We get some money.  Our options improve.

In bad times, everyone tries to do everything for themselves.  It is harder to specialize because no one wants to trade their speciality for yours?

Is it?  Why is it so hard?

Why not just walk up to the person who has what you want and make an offer. I can do this for you if you do that for me?

Why haven’t you just done that?

Some where along the line we’ve lost our ability to think for ourselves

If we intend to be successful, in bad times and good, we have to be a little clearer about what we offer.

Here are 3 questions to ask and answer.

#1   What do I really enjoy doing?

Think about when you experience ‘flow’, that wonderful feeling when you are so engrossed that you loose track of time (and are late for the next think.)  Young people often experience flow in sport.  Where else have you experienced flow?

Now commit yourself to doing more of that.  Commit yourself to remembering when you experience flow.  Commit yourself to experiencing more flow, more often, and very frequently (every hour?).

Good.  Now we are enjoying ourselves we help others enjoy their lives!

#2   When do I bring the light to other people’s eyes?

When you are in flow, it’s unlikely that you are looking in the mirror.  If you were, it is likely you would see a magnificently radiant and happy person.  You eyes will be alive and dancing.

Everyone wants to feel like this.  When do people around you feel flow?  When do their eyes light up?

What is that you do that brings the light to other people’s eyes?  Which things do you love to do and which of these make other people so happy that their eyes sparkle with pleasure?

Where does your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet?

It’s a humbling experience to think of these sweet spots, isn’t it?  We don’t feel bold and brazen. We feel shy.  We feel hesitant.  We feel gentle.  We feel calm.  We know that this is our mission.  This is what we have been called to do in the ‘family of things’.

#3 Why do their eyes light up?

But we aren’t sure how to begin.  How do we grow this sweet spot where we are bringing a light to other people’s eyes?  We ask “why?”  When their eyes light up, what story are we helping them live?  What “flow” are they experiencing at that moment?  Who are they at that moment?  What is their purpose?

What essential information did we provide in that moment that helped their story come true?

We need to tell their story.  We need to take a photo and write a blog post.  Day-to-day, let’s document the place where we made someone’s story true.

That’s the point where we have something to trade

And to return from the poetic to commerce, it is at this point that we have something to trade.  We understand what we love to do.  We know when our pleasures are pleasures for others.   We understand their stories and we able to make them come true.  We can walk into someone’s shop or business and say to them, “I can do this for you.  Would you be able to do this for me in exchange?”

Capture those micro-moments when someone in your life lit up!

Now get on with it!  Opening a Posterous blog will take you a few minutes. Getting out your camera will take even less.  And send me your link!  I want to see you capture those micro-moments when someone in your life lit up!

Before you rush off again, slow down and touch the luck

Luck – some people have it!

A few days ago, Stumbleupon quite appropriately threw up an old Telegraph article on Richard Wiseman’s work on luck, or luckiness.

Quite briefly, Wiseman showed in an experiment that unlucky people have tunnel vision. They are so focused on what they want that they miss good stuff happening under their noses.

More interestingly, Wiseman ran a ‘luck school’ and helped luckier people get luckier and unlucky people become lucky.

The ‘luck school’ is hard to find

I’ve searched and searched but I cannot find the Wiseman’s exercises Nor has the work developed much traction under Google Scholar. It seems that Wiseman is breaking his first principle of luck – get out there.

Firewalls, copyright, hopes for a bob or two from a book sale, consigns interesting work to oblivion.

Failing in my search for what Wiseman actually did, I reverted to first principles – in plain language, worked it out for myself. Reinvented the wheel!

Luck & positive psychology

Since Wiseman did his work, positive psychology, positive organizational scholarship and the mytho-poetic tradition in management have burst into bloom. So I’ll start there. Does Wiseman’s work add to what we know about having a good life?

#1 Wiseman talks about self-fulfilling prophecies, which are devastatingly powerful ,as we know from Pygmalion and My Fair Lady. When you are treated like a lady, you act like a lady. We are immensely influenced by 0ther people’s expectations of us. And we are also influenced by our expectations, when we believe them.

Simply put, it’s a good idea to work on our story and to write down the best one that we can believe in. And then write it again, and again. As we live out the best one that we believe in, we’ll create opportunities that allow us to imagine another, and then another!

#2 Psychologists are wizards at ‘reframing’. That’s what most psychologists do for you when you have a bad case of the blues. You can teach yourself to reframe too. That’s what a gratitude diary does. I stumbled over a permutation of the conventional gratitude by playing with the Montreal app Inpowr.

This is what you do. Jot down what happened in your ghastly day and ask what went wrong – just as you normally do.  Remonstrate with yourself – why did I . . . etc. etc. etc. When you are done beating yourself up, ask yourself what you will do better next time. Great. That’s where most coaches take you.

Now fly! Ask yourself this: why did I do so well? You are not saying you did well, but why did you do  well? And then you notice the positive mechanisms that were jumbled up in the mess. You’ll feel better immediately andsee your ‘pushing off’ points in a flash. A good night’s sleep, and you approach the next day positively.

#3 Psychologists, and even more so positive organizational scholars and mytho-poetic practitioners, also encourage us to think through our story.  What brought us to this place?  What is the road we are travelling?  What is our journey?  We are often in tizz because we feel rejected. Bad events challenge our sense of self-worth.  When we recall our journey and see the hazards as part of that journey, then we put them in perspective. Yes, the situation is bad. The situation is bad. We are not. If we have done bad things, we can make amends. But we should never, ever confuse the bad situation with ourselves. We should also watch out for people who try to confuse us with the situation. People who are insecure in themselves think because we are confronting bad situations that we are unlucky and edge away from us.   Reassure them. Then, see if they come to help. If they don’t, fine. Every journey includes people who help and people who obtruct!

In short, we chose the story we live. Something brought us to this place. We must own our story that led us to encounter the bad stuff, but not the bad stuff itself.  That’s just bad.

#4 And then get out there! We can’t win the lottery if we aren’t in it. If we meet the same people every week, we cannot meet anyone new. The trick in life is to add a little variety and chance to our daily comings-and-goings. We can take a different route home. Or, sit in a different carriage. Or, travel at a different time. We can talk to people in a queue or to our neighbours on the street. We can take a walk at lunchtime or do something uncharacteristic – go to a museum, buy lunch for a homeless person. Mix it up, a little.

This too is a feature of the positive approach to psychology in this way. Just as we are not bad because the situation is bad, we are not good in and of ourselves either. We are our interactions with the world. Our life is situated in those interactions. If our relationship with the world has got stale and boring, then we can give it a quick fluff up as we might a cushion. Now remember, don’t give the world a fluff up, and don’t give yourself a fluff up – give your interactions with the world a fluff up!. That is why makeovers are so cheap and easy to do. A smile rather than a frown. A different route to work. A quick polish of the glass after you washed it. Little acknowledgements that the world is there.

Poet David Whyte says: when our eyes are tired, no part of the world can find us. Relax your eyes and let them wander. You will be amazed at who & what says hello.

Luck is more than positive psychology

What does seem to be different about the work on luck is its attention to variation.

So much of western psychology tries to remove variation from life. We are expected to walk in lock-step like soldiers on parade. We are taught that mistakes are bad. We demand punctuality (yet we have inefficient transport and we lose data on trains).

Everyone who has studied stats knows that we look at two numbers : the average (or mid-point) and the spread.

If we just attend to the average, we would be like an army that buys the average size boots and asks every soldier to wear them whether they are much too big or much too small.

There is an old joke too that armies line up the recruits on the first day and send away the tallest and the shortest – because they didn’t buy uniforms in those sizes.

When an army does that they have recognised that they have variation – but they are still trying to make variation go away.

There is an alternative. To ask how variety will work for us. That is what we can learn from the work on luck.

Our personal goals and stories should embrace the richness of the world, and the variety out there. Our personal goals and stories should embrace what we don’t know and the way other people can surprise us.

A colleague of mine, a British/Norwegian psychologist, trained executives to listen to presentations and to hold back their reactions until they had asked these questions:

  • What surprised me about what you just said?
  • What would I like to know more about?

Once they’d explored disconcerting events or requests, then they could make decision.

Slow down, and put your finger on the luck, before you rush off again?

Renewing relationships

“To attract good fortune, spend a new coin on an old friend, share an old pleasure with a new friend, and lift up the heart of a true friend by writing his name on the wings of a dragon. “

Chinese proverb