A blueprint for Transforming Protest into Change

I wrote a while back in this blog that the huge protests against Donald Trump are not enough in themselves to bring about change. My concern at the time was that protests will not persuade Trump supporters to change their positions on Trump.

So what will work? Greg Satell offers a list of the “more that is needed”

  • commit to an identifiable goal
  • build a coalition step by step
  • find and use power levers
  • attract don’t overpower
  • survive victory

It is an interesting list and I agree that each idea is important.

So how will this turn out?  We don’t know yet.  All we know is that large numbers of people have turned out  on various occasions to protest actions taken by the Trump Administration. Passions are high.

Greg is offering cautionary wisdom against trying to move too quickly from passion and protest to concerted action. I agree. At the same time, I would argue that Greg concerns are more tactical than strategic — and that strategy matters.

What is the difference between tactics and strategy? Good strategy and good tactics are both needed to win, but strategy comes first.  The reason is that strategic goals transcend what can be achieved by tactical maneuvering. Bad strategy and good tactics are not a winning combination.

So how to look at this situation from a strategic point of view? The first strategic question is what type of future do we need? What is it that we lack now that must be achieved? In this case, the discussion of this strategic question must include how we got to where we are. What caused the problem? That cause or those causes are our enemy, not the people who are on the other side of the argument.

Once we have a more clear sense of the “enemy”, we can think how to build conviction around the mission of achieving the future we want. This opens the door to tactical considerations of how to do it. As we do this, we “gamify” the conflict. We create a logic that makes the path towards winning possible. It also  starts raising the level of communication to a strategic level.  Messaging can “scale”.

Of course, timing is everything. It may be too early to decide these things. But at some point, decisions will be needed and they will be needed fairly soon — or the conflicts that are growing from expressions of heightened passion will start to splinter.

How Do We Measure Learning?

by now, it is beyond debate that success in the 21st century will go to those who have the greatest learning capacity. These folks will be the ones who stay “ahead of the curve” and will add the most value to society. And they will be rewarded for that.

So how do we measure learning capacity? It is a critical question. Despite this, we can only answer the question based on school performance – success in exams.

BTW, some challenge the idea that those who score highest in exams are the best prepared for life.

Let’s assume that they have a point So what is the best indicator of learning capacity? How do we test ourselves and measure our improvement?

Sadly, we can’t, except in given contexts. So we might learn how to play the piano, or how to fix a leaky pipe. But learning these things doesn’t tell us much about our “learning IQ”. Mastering those challenges, for example, will not necessarily help us learn ho w to be a better parent or teacher or boss or citizen.

I am inclined to agree with Sir Ken Robinson. We need to re-think what we mean by learning and measurements of learning in order to help more people succeed in 21st century life.

Will we do this?`Stay tuned!


Microsoft’s Strategic Pivoting

During its dominance of operating system phase, Microsoft became a lumbering giant. Those days, however, are long gone. Here is the new mantra from its CEO

— Nadella got at the core of his “growth mindset” philosophy. “We need to be willing to lean in to uncertainty, take risks and move quickly when we make mistakes, recognizing failure happens along the way to mastery,” Nadella wrote in a 2015 memo to Microsoft employees.

Failure happens on the way to mastery. That is a nice expression,  if it is elaborated more precisely. Failure — if recognized for its significance — happens on the way to mastery. Failure, when not recognized, happens on the say to disaster.

Strategic Advocacy

Let’s assume for a moment that you have mastered the basic concepts of strategic decision making. What do you do with it? One direction is to use strategy to get people acting in concert. To form community around an idea and to develop value in ideas. We might call that last concept “advocacy”.

How can we level up in that area? Here are some initial themes that we might work on

  • Advocacy is not the same as problem solving
  • Advocacy requires a long term commitment to a value for building context that we call stories
  • Stories must add value
  • added value must be reinvested
  • investments should build learning

This is an initial path that takes us from trying to scale messages beyond a given problem to building capacity to add value that will endure.

Can we do this. Stay tuned!

Scaling Teamwork

When i was a lad, I thought that teams were somewhat generic. A person would either be good or not so good at being a team player.

As I have gained experience, I have come to realize that this is not an adequate explanation why some teams work and some do not. There are other factors at play. And one of them is the fit between the skills people bring to the team and the challenges the team is designed to meet.

In other words, you can assemble a great team that will fail because it is not great at what the team is supposed to do. And what a team is supposed to do evolves over time. Fred Wilson brings this out very nicely in the start up world. The team that is great at the initial phase of a company is not the team that will be great after the company scales.

That is easily understood in an institutional context. But it also applies to teamwork organized around problem solving. The team that starts figuring out the solutions to a problem may not be the best team to test ideas or implement the solutions that work.  If this is so, folks engaged in problem solving may need to think more carefully about  scaling teamwork.

Iceland’s Strategic Insights into Teens

Here is a question – how long have western societies fretted over teen abuse of alcohol and drugs? As far as I can tell, it has been at least a half century, if not longer.

So how do we develop strategies to counter this disturbing trend? Many countries have tried education. The presumption is that teens lack information about the negative effects of what they are doing. This has had marginal results at best.

You might reflect why this has been so. It may be that the presumption is wrong. Teens may be attracted to this behavior by other factors. And if so, giving them information about health risks may be a futile gesture.

Folks in Iceland have taken this view. And they have gone further. They are using an evidence based approach to find out why teens are abusing alcohol and drugs, and developing strategies that directly confront those causes.

They have discovered something that many would not like to admit.  Teens drink because of “angst”. They need to cope with their angst. Drinking etc. is nothing more than the best available —  if less than perfect — coping strategy. From a strategic point of view, you might call this a “foundation decision” on the part of policy makers .They can test it by providing alternative structures — including reducing freedom and offering activities — that help teens use other strategies to cope. The tests provide a path towards more efficient tools to deal with the problem, and so far, it is working — at least in Iceland.

That raises an interesting question which is posed in the above linked article – is this strategy transportable? There certainly is interest in it. That leads to an exciting ongoing story – learning from best practices!

Stay tuned!

The Strategic Reality of US health Care

From Fred Wilson

Our problems in healthcare are largely structural. We have allowed employers and insurers to finance our healthcare system and take control of it. We need to get people back in control of healthcare. Technology can be the lever that will do that. If we allow it to happen.

This is not the way you hear health care discussed in Washington. Could it be that our lawmakers are not listening to the people?

Heaven forbid!

Why Does Trump Play the Bad Boy?

Watching Donald Trump play politics is alarming for many. They worry about  the wild things that he says and fear that he may do something truly terrible.

Some think that he is just bonkers, and to a certain extent I think they are right. The Donald does have an ego problem. He needs to be the center of attention. And he can’t help saying and doing stuff to keep himself there — even if it gets him into hot water. In other words, his behavior is compulsive rather than methodical.

At the same time, there are some strategic concepts that can help us predict how Trump will act. Here they are

  • he knows that he can’t succeed without being the center of attention. So he picks fights over trivial issues and such nonsense solely to keep the cameras trained at him You might call this “GENERATING FOCUS“. This may appear to be foolish, but it has value to Trump as a testing tool. I elaborate a bit more on that below.
  • He believes that entertainment is everything. If he can entertain, he can sustain keeping your attention, which he needs to do. If he gets in trouble by being too outrageous, he will say “I was just joking”. You might call this “PLAYING THE CROWD“- Of course, he can always blame others for failures.
  • part of the entertainment is creating situations where you — and all other people that may be affected by what he says and does — don’t know what he will do next. He creates unknowns and that keeps people mesmerized by the spectacle. It matters less whether the uncertainty leads anywhere.. You might call this “USING THE MACGUFFIN
  • he uses the “mad man” gaming theory to create movement. That theory goes like this – suggest that you are considering doing something that scares the other side. You don’t have to actually do it. If the other side gets scared enough, they may offer you something not to do it. You might call this “PLAYING THE VILLAIN
  • he doesn’t really care what you think about him. He is much more interested in congratulating himself for how well he can manipulate people and getting the game to move so that he doesn’t get bored.You might call this “OBSESSIVE GAMING“.

Think of the above as a “conflict management” strategy. In conflict there is a certain amount of heat that makes people uncomfortable. That heat may be a direct threat or just the unknown. The more heat, the more the discomfort. The more discomfort, the more people take steps to reduce the discomfort.

Trump likes to turn up the heat to see how people will react. He shouts out “build the wall” or “ban Muslims! not so much to reflect any deeply held idea.  To Donald, it is just having some fun, and it is helpful to learn what motivates people. This is how he stumbled onto the idea that a significant segment of the voting population believe Washington is systemically corrupted (drain the swamp). He then played that theme to electoral victory. It mattered not that his own propensity for shady deals (like Trump University) would suggest he will be part of the problem, because he was the only one offering that extreme message.

Is this nasty? Yes. And part of the game is to desensitize folks to this nasty quality. To advance the proposition that being nasty is necessary in a dangerous world. Among the nastiest scenarios are those where Trump threatens to “destroy the thing you love“. So Trump is testing China this way on trade. He thinks “You, Chinese leaders are basking in your high export growth. What if I strangle it?” Putting this idea in play forces the Chinese to react. Trump hopes they will react with an offer for a deal. Trump’s controversial  telephone conversation with the president of Taivan is another aspect of the same game.

Equally nasty may be the way Trump deals with decision makers in great need of something. They may be rolled. So Trump knows that Mr. Putin needs sanctions lifted. While many speculate that Trump has been playing nice with Putin because he is in Putin’s pocket, it is also possible that Trump is seeing if he can play Putin – suggest great things can happen and see what Putin offers him to stop being a pain in world affairs  to claim victory for America. BTW, this second scenario does not rule out the first. Both games may be at work. Trump already floated the idea of lifting sanctions for a nuclear arms deal. He may come back to that idea or try something different. Meanwhile, this has the added advantage (in Trump’s mind) of frightening Europeans who might decide to contribute more to European defense.

These are “bargaining” tactics — Finding the leverage in a situation and using it. Will they work? Bargaining can get people to act and even can produce agreements in situations. But bargaining like this does not build relationships. Why not?`It destroys trust. Worse still, it risks creating conflict that may get out of control and may have long term negative consequences when trust is lost. The bottom line – one should not be fooled into thinking that Trump’s tactics are genius. He has some strategic ideas, but he is also playing with fire. If the fire gets out of control, we are the ones who get burned. He talks about the strategic value of “playing with other people’s money”. He is playing with other people’s futures. Again, nasty? Yes.

So that is Trump the strategist deconstructed. I predict that just about everything he does will fit into the above model.  Let’s see if I am right.  Meanwhile, keep in mind that he is an  actor on the stage. He knows as well as you do that this is all theater. It is not real. That is why those who call Trump a con man are 100% right.

Sp where will this likely come apart? It is too early in this game to tell. Opponents so far are focused on attacking Trump directly. This is understandable. At the same time, these folks should understand the limits of this strategy – it does not build their own credibility. Victims of cons often retain their emotional connection to the con man even after they learn what is really going on. You might say that they have “drunk the kool aid”.  That is what Trump hopes for here. If he can “spread the blame” for failures — which are certain to come  —  he may retain the affection of his core supporters.  Opponents would be wise not just to attack Trump’s credibility but also to help those folks see something better than Trump. Then the con will not look so attractive.

Folks watching from the outside might reflect as well that Trump’s gaming approach to politics might encourage local actors to mimic it. It would be a mistake to think that this an “America only” concern. These things do tend to snowball.

After You have Climbed the Mountain …

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to chat with a good friend about what his organization is up to. I was most interested in its strategic thinking – less interested in what it does now.

Sadly, the chat did not go very well. I was barraged with success stories. Successes already achieved, reputation already gained, growth already accomplished. In other words, I was hearing a lot about the past and present and virtually nothing about the future.

I was disappointed, but I realize that this is the story you hear from organizations that have achieved a certain amount of success. They put their future on auto pilot – future success is improving on success already found.

You might consider this quote

“Optimization is about working within an existing framework, while innovation is focused on developing new frames of reference,” says Experian’s Eric Haller. That’s the tradeoff between optimization and innovation. It’s not enough to continually get better at what you already do well, you also need to charge boldly into the unknown.

And how does one focus on developing new frames of reference? To do that, you need to have a dialogue with others about the problems you are solving. That dialogue can open your eyes to the problems that you are not solving.