On the new guerrilla initiative hype/enthusiasm cycle, the uses of naivety, and becoming a Jedi

A couple of recent conversations, and noticing a recurring pattern, have got me thinking. I have observed loads of movements come and go in public services, enthused usually by a methodology or similar ‘thing’: TQM, KM, joined-up government, eGoverment, zero based budgeting, lean, service design, agile, digital, etc etc etc. They are all different and many of them make their mark.

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There’s usually an initial phase of naive enthusiasm — lots of people recognising each other and realising they all disagree with the way things are done, and they know how to change the world. Great things are sometimes done in this phase, because you don’t know any better. But this is usually swiftly followed by (and overlaps with) the commiseration cycle, where everyone gathers and commiserates with each other — if only They wouldn’t stop us, we would change the world (a side-bar here is bitter criticism of those who used the community to succeed, but are seldom seen at the events any more). Then things go mainstream, the vim and vigour is lost, and there are just a few holdouts meeting for drinks every year and talking about ‘if only the pure way had ever been implemented’.

Well, that’s a little broad. But my point is that each of these movements seems to be blind to the pattern of previous movements — what worked, what didn’t. So they’re all like Luke Skywalker playing with a light saber, striding out and thinking they are Jedi Knights when they’re still in training.

Every movement needs a Yoda (or two) — a grumpy, demanding kind of wizened old expert who has seen the cycle many times. I recently showed an experienced colleague the results of a particularly exciting #unconference, which launched a new thing. He saw some good stuff in there, but proclaimed ‘it’s as if the Knowledge Management Wars of the 1990s never happened!’ It’s a classic, and a typical, example.

You have to be careful your Yoda isn’t actually a bitter old guru, desperate for fresh followers. But, at the height of naive expectations, if you find a good Yoda, you have a chance of not repeating the cycle. And of really changing the world.

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