Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein
I was at the Strive (our East Lothian Third Sector Interface) conference this week; it was all about doing things differently. A great day and it really got me thinking for the umpteenth squared time: why is it so hard to change? Even when we really, really want to change the world and make great things happen and we get the logic and sense of it all, even with all that, why is it so hard? We talk a lot, read a lot, go on training courses, draw, sing, get creative and then revert to old habits, often with a hearty shove from the cultural, electronic, process ridden worlds we inhabit – nudge applies to paid people not just us punters! Even when we get a clear list of simple and easy things to start doing now, laminate and stick it in front of our screens; changing ourselves is not as easy as we’d like to think.
But doing things differently is exactly what we need to do to reform public services.
Twenty years ago (gulp!) I evaluated an innovative restorative justice pilot run by SACRO. It provided mediation for victims and offenders in lower tariff offences . Working with economists we showed that not only did victims, offenders, Fiscals, almost everyone I spoke to think it was great, but it was cost effective and gave better outcomes (yes they did exist in those days). Despite saying how much they valued the project, Fiscals struggled to remember that this was an option and referrals were low. Despite a rigorous evaluation, decision makers didn’t fund it beyond the pilot stage. Just one of very many similar great, transformational ideas that didn’t happen.
There have been hundreds of research reports that have highlighted what stops us doing things differently. Research shows that in the public sector the key thing is that we feel empowered to change – skilled, authorised, knowledgeable and motivated. I had to ask myself what’s stopped me in the past?
Before I left my job at the end of the year, with the heady scent of freedom in my nostrils, I started to do things differently. Why not? I had nothing to lose, what were ‘they’ going to do? Sack me? I started small, under the radar, safe. I started to share things. Obviously nothing I wasn’t supposed to, I just re set my default to share. A piece of published research I’d read; a draft of a presentation I was doing on assets sent to people who know much more than me. The world didn’t end, sharing helped to build connections and relationships and got things moving. I read an article in the Psychologist about how to use conversations to support change. I shared and that helped me find my way to expertise in NES on dialogue. I joined the dialogue community of practice – a growing body of practitioners in a key skill.
When I left the Government I really had to start doing things differently. Making things happen in the community is all about making contacts, sharing visions and joining and creating networks. It’s about cups of tea, new friends and introductions,. It’s about finding your place and space in a complex world. Talking and listening are what you have to do when you’ve no power or money, no role or job spec. All you’re left with are relationships, negotiation and influence, the ability to communicate with other human beings.
My mission is to make life great for older people, especially people with dementia like my Mum. One of the discussions at the moment is about setting up Dementia Friendly Towns in East Lothian. The first questions is who else round here is up for it? Who’s out there with the vision, passion and the time and energy to make things happen? Where do I find people with common cause? Who can I work with? Who wants to work with me? Everywhere I go, almost everyone I talk to wants to get involved and do something, the energy is amazing and heart warming; it’s personal and crosses professional and personal boundaries. How do I draw this out, support and focus it to make things happen? I talk, I share, I listen, we co create.
There’s the same buzz at the Social Enterprise in East Lothian (SEEL) events. Busy business people, whether they run social or private enterprises don’t waste time. The SEEL events are busy, buzzing and totally inspirational. People go because they see the value of hearing what others are doing, sharing great ideas and supporting each other. Networking is great for social and community business, formal meetings are often seen as a waste of time. When it’s your time and not your organisation’s, meetings look very different.
As the Christie Commission reminded us, none of this is new. Our great public services are here already, our new ways of doing things are all around us, despite everything. Our challenge is to make new ways of doing things happen everywhere, make them our new norm. The importance of building relationships and quality conversations between service providers and patients/clients/service users is recognised and supported through things like Talking Points, Caring Conversations and Appreciative Inquiry. Without these ways of interacting, co-production can’t happen. People are already starting to apply these ‘new’ ways of talking to how policy makers and decision makers talk, going beyond just using them in the critical relationship with service users and communities.
But there’s a way to go! Conversations with communities need developed. Public servants, and that includes people in Third Sector bodies paid to deliver public services on their behalf, have to get better at having serious and meaningful conversations with communities. Not just because communities need to be engaged and involved if public services are to survive and thrive, but because if we don’t, our public servants won’t do things differently enough. I’ve got a bigger rant on that to come…
I’ve recently been seeing a personal trainer to help me run better. I know that to do this I have to change how I run, muscle by muscle, joint by joint. Some muscles have to stop working, others have to start. Sometimes I don’t even know I have a muscle there, so I focus on that area until eventually something starts to twitch. It’s similar to Yoga practice and similar mind/body disciplines. To make this my new normal, I have to embed the change in my physical muscle and sinew memory through repetition.
It’s more or less the same whatever change we want to make from losing weight to stopping smoking, Changing our work habits is just the same. Take a look at how initiatives like the Entrepreneurial Spark, Early Years Collaborative and the Improvement method in health see change and compare with what a sports coach or personal trainer would say.
- Remember that if this was easy, you’s be doing it already
- Define your goal and focus with the intent and attention of Mo Farah and the mindfulness of the Dalai Lama (feel free to swap heroes there!)
- Experiment like Einstein – look at what’s worked for others, make things up, read books, share ideas, be creative, dream
- #GODO like the Entrepreneurial Sparks – start doing things differently and see what happens, observe what works when you push your boundaries, stop doing what doesn’t work
- Start small so mistakes are easily dealt with and so you can manage risk
- Keep learning, keep learning, keep learning
Dan, my coach, says that he does things differently as a matter of course. He carries his bags in a different hand. He starts his run on a different leg. He says the discipline of doing things differently requires the focus and practice we’d apply to any other human endeavour we want to achieve. It’s quite fun to try and of course we know that the longest journey starts with the first step.
Now which foot do I usually lead off with?
Have a great week. Be different.