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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 18-Dec-08


Thursday 18-December-08

Changing a politician's mind?

Last night I went to another excellent lecture at the RSA in London. The speaker was Peter Mandelson, a famous and controversial political figure here in the UK. He spoke eloquently at length on British business and how the government was helping it all along. He used neat terms like 'industrial activism' and talked about the need for competitiveness to survive on the global stage.

Afterwards, there was the usual round of questions, though as he had to shoot off there were only five allowed. The trick here is to catch the eye of the chairman who chooses the questioners. I got to ask the final question, partly because I kept my hand up when the fourth question was being asked and the chairman nodded at me so I would put my hand down. Maybe also he knows me by now and that I try to keep my questions sharp.

Most questioners tend to ramble a bit or ask several questions, which can be rather vague. For politicians, this is manna from heaven as it means they can answer however they like. I thought hard about how to phrase my question. This is what I said:

'David Straker, Changing Minds ... I like your idea of industrial activism and the role of government in competing with other governments in developing and supporting British business. Businesses compete through a set of core competences which are hard to duplicate and thus provide sustainable competitive advantage. I'm not asking about British business. I'm asking about the British government. My question is 'What are the core competences of the British government?'

This caused a ripple around the room, which told me that I'd got it about right and also told Peter Mandelson here was a question he'd have to think about carefully. He answered the other questions well enough, then joked about not having much time left to answer my question. He had a fair go, which was good, though I could see he was struggling a bit.

I don't remember the detail of his reply and in fact it doesn't really matter. What mattered for me was first that the name 'Changing Minds' got aired in company of a Minister, the press and other luminaries. Secondly and more importantly, I think it made Peter Mandelson think about the subject. Maybe it's wishful thinking but I hope he went back to his department and asked the same question of his team. If the result is that they consider the question of core competences and change their approach as a result, then I will have influenced central thinking in British politics and perhaps helped the country a little.

Whether I really made a difference or not, I at least enjoyed the event, though I do have my fingers crossed. In the current global climate and international competition, governments and their competitive abilities are critical for national commercial success.

Your comments

 Maybe you should start writing this short essay all over the internet, or throughout other sources of communication, until you accomplish the goal that you know should be accomplished. It has inspired me to start doing similarly, preferably right here in the United States. In which country are you residing?

-- Arnold K.

Dave replies:
Hi Arnold. Great to hear you like the idea. It's not often you can get to speak with top-level politicians, though you can start at any level. You're right about 'spreading the word' in that when others 'get the idea' they will also pass it on. It's not a job for the faint-hearted, though, as you often have to spread a lot of seed to get enough corn to grow.

I'm British and live in England, though have an affinity with the US as I worked for HP for many years and travelled there often. There's an enormous challenge for politicians over the coming years in sorting out economies and I guess they will need all the help they can get! My limitation is bandwidth -- I've a day job, I'm completing a master's degree, I've a family and of course there's the websites to maintain. I can fit in the RSA, where politicians sometimes appear, but that's about it. My approach is to do what I can when I can.

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