Talking about partnership
Talking about partnership, no matter how entertaining you are, is akin to watching bread rise. The process of actually making it happen – cooking or building relationships – and enjoying the fruits of the labor, are infinitely more compelling.
So it was with some trepidation I recently accepted the invitation to speak to 400 music teachers at the annual North West Music Mark conference in Knowsley on… partnership. More specifically, developing partnership approaches that encourage large-scale collective impact. Told you. Put another way, working together in a way that allows you to change the lives of millions of children, something you can’t do on your own. I know, still not exactly riveting.
As it happens, the speech got off to a good start courtesy of a cheap trick on my part – taking the p*** out of politicians. Given their current standing it felt like an act of bullying – actually, maybe not.
To do so, I asked a friend – who happened to be the creator of the series – for a clip from The Thick of It that best captured the limited capacity of politicians to tackle complex problems.
He immediately responded “series 1, episode 2”. It has a fantastic two-minute clip that for me illustrates it perfectly. And boy did it play well with teachers.
Essentially, the Minister and his advisors are weighing up two main contenders for a policy. ”We change arts and music policy to basically give most of the money to the bad kids…to stop them turning into tomorrow’s crims” or ”we punish the disruptive kids by cutting them out of extra arts tuition, show them the carrot and the stick early on”. The Minister feels ”they could both play”. They want Terri, the head of communications to choose. She retorts ”they are fundamentally contradictory…it’s not my role to have a preference. I sell the apples, if you want me to sell the apples I’ll sell the apples. If you want me to sell the oranges, then I’ll go and tell people that the apples are shit”. Minister, ”but which to do you prefer, apples or oranges?”.
Copyright law prevents me from showing this clip but go check it out if you want a brilliant satirical snap shot of a far too common political discourse.
Now, I’m not saying that all politicians are as clueless or amoral as their representation in the clip. The point though is that the political system’s ability to tackle complexity is limited because of its desire to make things ‘apples or oranges’. It is inherently binary: right or wrong; quick impact or you get no funding; fast empirical evidence or disbelief; a total solution or it’s not useful. Ring any bells?
This way of thinking is totally unsuited to tackling long-term, complex problems that require long-term, deep-seated commitment and an ability to address mistakes and adapt forward. Like transforming the education system.
Obviously, this does not mean that politicians are irrelevant or stupid – far from it. But it does mean we have to be extremely savvy to get the best out of them and encourage them beyond binary thinking patterns. One of the great arts of working with politicians is answering their unspoken question ‘what’s in it for me?’ And one of the vital skills of running a great campaign that involves them is ensuring that they enable through their unique powers and permissions, but don’t dominate the actions you take.
Through my blog I’m going to be sharing some of my experiences and insights from having worked with politicians and leading campaigns. More importantly, I’m going to be reflecting on the value of collective impact, driving change and transforming your own practices and behaviours to lead it.
Oh, and by the end of the speech they where clapping not snoozing. Mainly because I compelled them to do so with a heartfelt thanks for what I regard as the most important job in the world – enhancing and transforming the lives of children.