The sticky pole

March 19, 2010

Why does anyone want to be a politician now?

There are a number of factors counting against it as an attractive career: comparatively poor salary (one reason it seemed acceptable to top it up with expenses); general mistrust – if not downright dislike – by the public at large; unsociable hours & travel; astonishing bureaucratic lethargy; etc.

However there are two really big ones that stand out for me, and there is something to be learnt here.

1) They all seem mediocre, because no-one really believes that they sign up in the name of public service. We tend to think of them as middle managers who’ve slipped sideways, in it for the duck islands because they couldn’t get onto the Boots grad scheme.

I have to say I don’t hold with this; if nothing else, look at the battery of reasons to do any other job. I believe only a genuine sense of duty, a desire to improve and to shape, could get someone over that hurdle. I’m sure that’s not always how it pans out, but I think it’s a valid hypothesis for a starting line.

You might say that power is an alluring bauble, but it is plainly evident to any observer, potential applicants included, that any power that does come is extremely hard to achieve and obviously very unwieldy. I don’t think anyone thinks that you can start banning people called Gerald and cut all diplomatic ties with the Shetland islands in your third week.

2) In our public lives, we as a country have become physically allergic to failure. ┬áThis is dangerously insane – learning lessons this way is the fundamental reason humans have risen to our status as Earth’s pre-eminent monkey, and we all constantly do it in our own, private lives.

I see this dichotomy every day; we can run a tactical online ad campaign, and discover that one particular site or format just doesn’t perform. We don’t run around screaming, or write to the Daily Mail and demand the nostril hairs of the buying team are plucked out one by one. We compile the results, establish what works and then repeat that bit. Of course we do.

I fail to see the difference between this and PFI IT schemes, or ID cards, or buying helicopters.

OK, so in the public realm then the money being apparently wasted is our money – but in my private realm, the money being spent is my client’s, so I am immediately and constantly accountable.

There is a separate issue of doing it once and failing to learn the lesson – and of course that should be highlighted as failing to perform, just as we should be slapped for recommending a website that has not delivered time & again.

There is a management concept specifically called ‘rewarding failure’ – because if you don’t accept that not everything will work, then you will never try anything new and your company will wither & die. It’s not like this is new news.

So why would you be a politician? Everybody starts off hating you as a matter of course, assumes you’re an imbecile, you can’t really get much done – and in any case if you try anything new then you will be burned as a witch.

Lesson: give people who at least should be helping you the benefit of the doubt, and be prepared to learn that some things don’t work.

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