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The Politics of Change

With another presidential campaign season upon us, I'm reminded of a quote I read about 10 years ago, by a film producer:

If you really want to change the world, don't go into politics. Make movies.

As a public relations consultant with some experience shaping public opinion, I had my doubts about this notion. While film can certainly introduce ideas, its influence is limited by the one-way flow of communication. To inspire audiences to action, you must do more than simply present to them. You must listen, and listen well.

The truth of the matter is most people aren't really interested in your vision unless it happens to dovetail with their own, and nobody exploits this more so than Washington. Through public hearings, polling and endless media outlets, campaign managers determine what positioning will make their candidate palatable to the majority, and then shift their strategy accordingly, resulting in the election of "wishy-washy" candidates. Politicos do the same when proposing new legislation, socializing drafts with Congress and incorporating so much feedback (and pork) that the final version voted into law often bears little resemblance to the original bill. This extreme degree of "listening" is why Washington no longer works and probably why the producer was suggesting one's vision may be less prone to distortion in Hollywood.

In many ways, we incur similar political risks with the work we do in technology transformation. We obtain input by gathering requirements, and whether this method clouds or crystallizes the solution vision depends on the balance of our stakeholder engagement. We must ensure that "listening" to users does not result in a foolish attempt to blindly obey their every command. While incorporating functionality people want certainly engages them, not every idea is a good one, and, as with legislation, by aiming to please the majority we risk watering down the solution to the extent that it serves no one in particular. To avoid this dilution without losing engagement, we need leaders willing to make hard decisions and communicate them effectively -- not just one leader, but an army of ambassadors with the ears of their specific stakeholder groups and the influence to put key decisions in the strategic context, continue to champion adoption and report back on questions and concerns. It's the quality of this feedback loop that keeps people focused and engaged, and makes all the difference between a successful go-live and a failed one.

Add to this political dance the inherent complexity of technology and project management and the ever-increasing pressure to cut costs, and it's a wonder we ever succeed at all. But we often do, and when we do, the payoff is immense. Since the industrial revolution, technology has been responsible for more economic impact and social progress than all the movies ever made combined. And unlike film producers, we do our jobs not by thrusting our singular vision upon our audiences, but by working hand-in-hand with them to help them realize their own. It's exponentially more challenging and rewarding, as well.

So if you really want to change the world, don't go into politics and don't make movies, either. Join forces with the people who are using technology to facilitate scientific advancement, ease human suffering, and create economic opportunity. Because that -- not the Silver Screen -- is what's going to shape the next 100 years.


Kelly - A very thought-provoking message. A dilemma we often face on projects especially as OCM team members. I loved the analogy with politics. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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