Several things have come together in my mind recently which tell a story about the process of social change – first, an interview with the British radical politician Tony Benn in which he rehearsed his story about the process of change, second, the first screening in the UK of the PBS documentary about the Freedom Riders, shown in the US in 2011, and third the case of the Arctic 30 Greenpeace campaigners. Together, they seem to tell a story about the role in creating change of the body, the person, who puts themself knowingly in a place of danger. Tony Benn first. His quote goes like this:
“How does progress occur? To begin with, if you come up with a radical idea it’s ignored. Then if you go on, you’re told it’s unrealistic. Then if you go on after that, you’re mad. Then if you go on saying it, you’re dangerous. Then there’s a pause and you can’t find anyone at the top who doesn’t claim to have been in favour of it in the first place.”
Benn’s model of change, which I’ve blogged about before (though it seemed to new to the Guardian interviewer) seems to come from Schopenhauer via Gandhi. It’s a memorable idea, but it has a big gap in it: what is the mechanism by which ideas move through the phases?
I read earlier this year Richard Rumelt’s book Good Strategy Bad Strategy, much acclaimed when it was published in 2011. And you can see why: it is lucid, well-writtem, and largely free of jargon, which already marks it out from the average business book. It also has a clear view of what strategy is (and what it is not), which is welcome, given how much the word is abused. And the business stories he tells illuminate his argument.
Rumelt is entertaining on the differences between bad strategy and good strategy – and I’ll come back to the bad strategy later. Good strategy, he says, is composed of a kernel of three elements (p77):
- A diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge. A good diagnosis simplifies the complexity by identifying the critical aspects of the situations.
- A guiding policy for dealing with the challenge.
- A set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy.
In particular, I found his advice on diagnosis valuable. A good diagnosis “should replace the overwhelming complexity of reality with a simpler story, a story that calls attention to its crucial aspects.” This is, in effect, a sense making exercise. And a good strategic diagnosis does a second critical thing: “it also defines a domain of action.” Good strategy can then be built on a diagnosis that points to areas of leverage over outcomes. (more…)