Don’t f**k with the formula

This is cross posted from a series about the state and future of the campaigning sector I’m writing jointly with Esther Foreman, CEO of the Social Change Agency. In 1966, while Brian Wilson was radically innovating, and creating new works of musical genius, other members of the Beach Boys remained sceptical. Fellow band member Mike Love’s famously bad advice to him at the time (at least apocryphally) was “Don’t fuck with the formula”. Don’t move away from what works, i.e. in their case (formulaic) songs about girls, surfing and cars. But then again if the formula’s no longer fit...

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Closing the strong and stable door after the horse has bolted

Well we’ve been here before I think. Not exactly here, but there’s a pattern. Pretty much everyone was wrong about what would happen before this election – as they were before the 2015 election, the Brexit referendum, Trump. Then afterwards, (often the same) people start offering explanations for why things turned out the way they did. And we hold onto those explanations until the next time we’re all wrong. I don’t want to be too critical. I rely on much of this analysis to try and get my bearings. And analyse wrongly all the time too. But I can’t help thinking that if...

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We like to think we’re Stevie Wonder; we plan like we’re the Jesus & Mary Chain; but we’re not even the band in Rick’s Bar in Casablanca

In the way we plan, think about and evaluate campaigning, it’s too easy to put ourselves at the centre of everything: It’s your campaign, you’re the change maker. You’re Stevie Wonder. You’re recording ‘Superstition’. You’ve written it. You’ve arranged it. You produce it. You play almost all the instruments on it. You’re in complete control of all aspects of it. Or perhaps it’s not just you, there are some others supporting you. You’re Brian Wilson. You’re recording ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’. It’s not just you, but you are in charge of how it’s going to...

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Bending the arc of the moral universe

A bit after the tooth fairy debacle, I took my daughter to see where they held the Putney Debates. She was a bit puzzled at the time (and, to be honest, since as well) why we lugged all the way over to Putney to look at a church. But I thought it would be good to visit somewhere that’s important in the development of ideas of democracy. The quote displayed in the church is from Thomas Rainsborough: “the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he”. Rainsborough was making the case for universal manhood suffrage, speaking on behalf of the Levellers. They got...

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Post tooth

As her milk teeth fell out, my daughter got into protracted correspondence with the tooth fairy. The requests for robust evidence of the fairy’s existence ratcheted up and the responses became increasingly unconvincing. Meanwhile, her cousins – motivated by a devout need to obliterate false idols – told her that Father Christmas didn’t exist. Plus, through a series of misunderstandings, it transpired that the Easter Bunny wasn’t real either. So, early on, all that was behind her. Unencumbered, she went off to school to have a load of facts shovelled into her. And that’s...

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Much SMARTer

Fifteen years ago I was a big proponent of campaigns having SMART objectives; these days very much less so. It’s good to inject some discipline into campaign planning processes, and to build from a good sense of the likely change dynamics, and to make sure your ambitions are not woefully misplaced. But SMARTifying campaigns can be a great way to crush aspiration. It makes it easy for any kind of transformational change to get dismissed as fanciful. Anything difficult to get thrown out. Clear objectives are important for accountability. But SMART campaign objectives encourage a false sense...

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