Monthly Archives: August 2014
Joseph Kony persuaded his kidnapped child-soldiers that a cross on their chest, drawn in oil, would protect them from bullets.
I’ve recently attended training sessions where trainers have taught young political activists to strategise using systems that are terribly incomplete and inadequate. Elsewhere, I’ve seen business advisor gurus press under-researched, cookie-cutter and cliché ‘strategies’, onto companies that are struggling to keep going.
With resources always short, social change organisations and businesses of every kind, need to properly plan their way ahead, or they are in trouble.
How do we avoid adopting strategies that aren’t much more than a badly-drawn oily cross?
A few thoughts for testing what’s on offer:
- The strategy must be consistent with your organisation’s future culture and values, and brand;
- The process of developing the strategy must be transparent, rigorous, demonstrably logical, and backed by diligent research;
- The objective at which the strategy is directed must be possible: difficult maybe, but possible;
- The major elements of the strategy must be both necessary and sufficient, to deliver on that objective: there can be no leaps of faith;
- The detail of the strategy must reflect all of the most difficult obstacles, and strongest opportunities, that you have identified as laying between where you are and your objective; and
- Assessments of what’s possible, and what’s necessary and sufficient, must be objective, and reflect the whole of the environment in which you operate – particularly the personal and organisational negatives that so many advisors and strategists are reluctant or unable to articulate.
Is there more? Are there better tests?
(Originally published on Mike Smith’s personal blog)
We’re often told “politics is the art of the possible”, by politicians and political operatives.
The problem with “politics is the art of the possible” is that it’s both a little bit right, and terribly wrong. This wrongness is important, because this innocent-seeming aphorism is misused to stifle debate, and kill off change.
As an injunction to only chase what’s achievable, “politics is the art of the possible” (hereinafter “PITAOTP”, because I’m sick of typing it in full) is pretty unremarkable, but that’s never how it is used. It’s always used, in my observation, to reject something that’s politically unpalatable, not necessarily unfeasible – and “unpalatable” and “unfeasible” are very different from one another.
PITAOTP is always used with a powerful implication that what is being sought is intuitively impossible, hence unreasonable, hence not merely rejected but emphatically never to be considered.
And that’s where PITAOTP is dead wrong – because politics should also be the art of changing what’s possible. Just dealing with today, and the here-and-now, is only part of the job – our politicians must look to tomorrow, as well.
If PITAOTP actually said “politics today is the art of what’s possible today” it would be unobjectionable – particularly if supplemented by “and politics tomorrow is what’s today invested in”. (And by invested, I mean much more than just demanded – identified, evaluated, strategised, advocated, and planned).
To the extent that PITAOTP stops the search for what’s possible tomorrow, and stops us investing time and effort in making our aspirations possible, it’s a (convenient, lazy, dishonest) device for blocking change, and particularly progressive change.
And the politics of the guy who first said it should tell you that, too:
“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable … the art of the next best.”
Otto von Bismarck, August 11, 1867
Politics IS the art of the possible – if your politician aspires to the easy life, the easy half of the job. For a good politician, politics is the art of making more things possible – the art of making the impossible possible.