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So here's the ChangingMinds Blog, from site author, David Straker. This is my more personal ramblings, though mostly about changing minds in some shape or form. Please do add your comments via the archive or the right-hand column below.  -- Dave


Sunday 15-December-19

Well, at least Brexit is on the road to somewhere now

Historic election, landslide for the Tories, Labour meltdown. All terms that have been bandied about after last week's UK General Election. Followed with macabre interest around the world, Brexit has been a partner to Trump in international bafflement in how turkeys will sometimes vote en masse for a slap-up Christmas dinner. Labour lost seats it has held since the 1930s. The Liberal Democrats, the only straight-up Remain party, went nowhere. And the Conservative party got a thumping majority that will allow it to steamroller through whatever laws it likes.

So what happened? Labour's leader, Jeremy Corbyn has come across as a ditherer, trying to appeal to both the Leave and Remain parts of his party. He then offered a huge spending budget including such strange items as free broadband for everyone. With financing by swingeing taxation on the rich and big companies (many of who were ready to leave the country as needed).

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, the recently-elected Conservative leader, kicked out the remainers in his party, including well-known and long-standing MPs. He then suspended parliament in an attempt to force through Brexit, though he lost the legal battle over this. By the time the election came around, he had a clear reputation of being very serious about getting Brexit done (indeed, that was his slogan). And other than some promises about spending on the police (restoring numbers to pre-Conservative levels), health and education, he got through with a bunch of corny stunts and bashing the Brexit message at every opportunity.

It was very much a battle of personalities. While Corbyn came over as authentic and caring, against Boris' thuggish and even dishonest assertions, the Conservatives caught the weary mood that, after three and a half years, people really did want to get past the endless Brexit debate. Despite officially leaving the EU in January, Brexit will be far from done as trade negotiations will follow. It seems the Conservatives are setting up for a hard Brexit at the end of the year if agreement is not found, thereby laying down a potentially catastrophic walk-away. Yet the Europeans really do not want this and it seems a hard-edged negotiating ploy that could lead to agreements more beneficial to the UK than might have been otherwise.

Already, the Conservatives are flexing muscles for very controversial changes, with suggestions that they may weaken and potentially kill off the BBC through indirect funding cuts. Expect more shock as great power stalks the corridors of Whitehall. There are libertarian idealists supporting behind the party, with smaller government and huge tax cuts potentially in the offing. There are also hints in the Conservative manifesto of gerrymandering and weakening the ability of the courts to hold politicians to account.

And yet this is democracy in action. People vote for politicians who seem to resonate with their mood, not those who have their best interests at heart. And authoritarians in power can work to sustain that power for the long term, until fairness is forgotten and the class system reverts to something closer to the old aristocracy. Boris might become a British Trump. Or he might yet wrest free of the right-wing manacles that have bound him, and become a much-loved leader. This is not an empty idea -- he is a biographer of Churchill and likes the Great Man Theory, to the point where he probably believes himself such a person, and consequently does enough good to gain the respect of the common person.

Alternatively, the opposition may reinvent itself and build a huge social power base that seizes power in a flip leftwards, as might happen with the rising younger generations, for example. Power, in practice, is often a pendulum, swinging from authoritarians to socialists and back.

I guess we'll see.

Sunday 03-November-19

The Power of Credibility in Politics (and How This is Not Always Enough)

We are going through a radical time in politics at the moment. In particular if you are in the US or the UK you may be glued to the reporting on the Impeachment proceedings of Donald Trump or the UK General Election that is coming up on 12th December. In these, the power of credibility is being shown as critical to success.

In the USA, career diplomats and those in administrative posts have been clear and very credible as they gave their testimonies. Many have a strong history of unstinting and loyal service to their company. Most had comprehensive notes about key moments in the past. When asked questions they largely were able to give concise answers. Republican attempts at confusing or trapping them were largely rebuffed. Indeed, some of the questioners gave up on this and resorted to simple and repetitive monologues in their allotted time periods, rather than being shown up by the clear and credible witnesses.

In the UK, a recent edition of Question Time, where members of the public asked sharp questions to party leaders, brought credibility to the fore. Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish National Party leader, was adjudged to be the winner. She listened to the audience, avoided traps and spoke clearly (although her unsurprising focus on Scotland and independence did not really help her credibility with the rest of the UK). Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats got mired in defending past actions rather than owning up and moving on. Boris Johnson of the Conservatives came off worst. Already known for his Trumpian looseness with the truth, he seemed cynical in his turning everything to the subject of Brexit. Perhaps the best for credibility was left-wing Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, who was straightforward about his strong social policies, even though these are loudly ringing alarm bells on the political right.

Credibility comes from a combination of competence, clarity and honesty. If you seem to know what you are doing, are communicating clearly, and are honest even when it does not quite serve you, then you will be taken more seriously. And yet this is not always enough. In the USA, Trump may be acquitted by the Senate. In the UK, Boris's Conservatives are way ahead in the polls. Which perhaps goes to show that, while credibility is important, politics and its accompany persuasion is more complex than we at first might suppose.

Sunday 03-November-19

To change lives, change what people tell themselves about the world, others and (most of all) themselves

When you think about yourself, how often do you think about your past and things that have happened.

One of our deep needs is to explain. When we understand why things happened as they did, we can predict the future, avoid threats and take advantage of opportunities. When we think about events in our lives, this explanation comes in terms of cause and effect, with the effect being on ourselves.

The bigger question in attributing cause is in what is called 'locus of control'. If we blame other people or natural events, the cause is external. We are victims who deserve help, not punishment. We are fatalistic in thinking there is nothing we can do, and so we do nothing other than to perpetuate a 'poor me' pattern.

The alternative locus is internal, where we causally link our own thoughts and actions to what happens to us. Taking this path is not that easy. It means taking responsibility for one's own life. It means being adult as we leave behind the last vestiges of childhood. It means accepting failure as a natural step on the way to learning and improvement.

These two approaches can be found in many writings. In Petty and Caccioppo's Elaboration Likelihood Model, we may think peripherally, with heuristics, schema and other cognitive short-cuts, or we may think centrally and consciously. In Carol Dweck's 'Mindset' we are divided into fixed and growth mindsets. In fixed thinking, we assume we are who we are and cannot change, while the growth mindset assumes we can be who we want to be and achieve anything.

In his marvellous book 'Redirect', professor Tim Wilson investigates large-scale US social change programs aimed at such problems as teenage pregnancy and drug addiction. Notably, he finds that hard-hitting approaches fail. These include such as 'Scared Straight', where police officers and former offenders go into schools and tell it like it is. This seems puzzling as you might think in-your-face hard truths would make teenage realize the folly of such ways. The reality was the opposite. Seeing the short-term buzz above longer-term costs, offending rates actually rose. The teenage brain is designed to make risks attractive and their under-developed prefrontal cortex is not yet equipped to see far into the future.

What Wilson found did work, was simply to change the story that children told themselves about themselves. Our sense of identity is tied strongly to our self-narrative. Change the narrative and we make different decisions. This can work with adults, but is massively more powerful with conflicted teenagers who are still figuring out who they really are. Of course this is not always easy, but Wilson did find that it works.

So to create change that people will buy, it seems you should create and tell inclusive narratives that draw people in, connect themselves to the storyline and follow it to a new path.


Sunday 29-September-19

The Boss Whisperer

Power is, for some, so attractive they are driven to endlessly climb the tree. The greatest pleasure for them is the acquisition of power, followed by the exercise of it. Like an ardent lover, they relentlessly seek to possess their goal.

There are two routes to this. One is to be the boss, the person out front, the visible face of power. The other is to be the power behind the throne. Which one the person takes depends on personal preferences. If they are extraverted and enjoy the limelight, then they will likely seek the leading role. If they are more introverted thinkers, then quietly pulling strings may be more their style.

A common problem is that while the extravert, the public face, can hold an audience in thrall, they may lack ideas or execution and so need additional support. This is where the backroom leaders come in.

The whisperer role, the svengali, is the thinker. They come up with ideas to feed the front person, who often presents these as their own. They also watch from the shadows, noticing the detail of who says and does what, and advising the boss on what to say and do next. There are several traditional positions that can take the whisperer role, including the grand vizir, the fool or the spouse. Each may use a different style, but the role is largely the same.

There can also be a third role, of the implementer, the person who gets things done. The whisperer can take on this mantle too, but not necessarily so. Whether they do depends on their skill and preferences, as well as the boss's concern about investing too much power in one person.

This partnership can serve positive or negative purpose. Positively, their combined skills can transform communities and countries for the better. Negatively, they can do much harm as power corrupts. At the extremes of this negative frame, the front person may be a narcissist who basks in all the glory they can get, while the whisperer may be a psychopath, not needing admiration as ultimate control fulfils their deep needs.

Positively, I held this role a number of times across my career. I specialized in research, insight, business methods and psychology, but had no desire to lead. Indeed, I hated the idea even as I found it fascinating. And so I found leaders who appreciated my discoveries and together we pushed the envelope for a while.

In recent times, Steve Bannon in the USA played whisperer to Donald Trump, though he paid the price of becoming too visible and stealing too much of Trump's thunder. In the UK, Dominic Cummings has gained this role as chief advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Cummings is a shadowy figure about whom little is known, yet played a central role in the 2016 Brexit referendum, including coming up with the powerful clincher 'Taking back control'. Whether Cummings survives the brighter spotlight depends on his ability to steer Johnson and avoid the limelight.

Sunday 22-September-19

How Norway sold salmon to Japan by changing its name

In the 1980s, Japan was running short of wild Pacific salmon, due to overfishing. Meanwhile, Norway's domestic salmon farms were doing so well they satisfied their home market with fish to spare. Looking around the world, they spotted not only that the Japanese were short of salmon, but also that good raw fish commanded a much (often ten times) higher price than cooked fish.

Here's where their problems started.

Raw fish must be pure and free from parasites, which Pacific salmon are not. So the Japanese always cooked it, to kill these nasty bugs. The Norwegians knew they had a marketing challenge on their hands, so they hired a celebrity Japanese chef to create new sushi dishes and front the local operation.

A classic marketing ploy, but sadly it did little to stimulate the market. When the Japanese thought about eating raw salmon, after years of earnings about cooking this fish, they just didn't feel good.

So Norway tried something else. Something ridiculously simple. They changed the name. In Japan, salmon are called 'sake'. The name they now used was a rather European-sounding 'samon'. Different fish, they said. Cook salmon, but this one is healthy raw.

This worked! Sales of raw Norwegian fish-farmed 'samon' took off.

But why? It shows the power of naming. When we assign a name to something, we also include a z whole set of additional meaning, scripts, schema and other rules about how we respond to the word and the thing itself.

So the answer to the question 'What's in a name?' is 'Everything!'


Sunday 14-April-19

Grumpy taxi drivers and the power of positivity

My daughter told me the other day that she got into a taxi recently and said hello, but only got a grumpy response. Most people would take this as a signal that the driver did not want to talk and would just be quiet. My daughter is not that kind of person as she reads grumpiness as a challenge. She said 'Hmm. Looks like you got out of bed the wrong side.' She didn't get an apology, but did get a conciliatory 'Mmm'. She then kept up the positive approach and the conversation emerged. And by the end of the journey she knew a lot about the driver, who had cheered up considerably. Feeling good about spreading a little love and light, she walked into an important customer meeting.

It is so easy to be dragged down by people who are negative. Or, worse, we assume that other people are already thinking negatively and get infected by our own assumptions. In either case, it can put us into a poor mood and a potential slippery slope where we all go downhill and bad feelings just get worse.

When I had a day job, I would deliberately bounce into the office on a Monday morning, smiling and complimenting people. I'd get a 'what are you on' type of comment, but generally I found being positive raised the spirits of other people and gave me some brownie points that led to people being more open to listening and agreeing than they might otherwise be. At worst, I just felt good as the general mood improved.

Being positive is something you can do to yourself. Identify negative thinking before it gets to your body language or speech. Turn it around and see the positive side of things. Or just kick it into touch. Avoid blame, regret and other negative emotions that do no good whatsoever. Even if you don't feel to positive, act positive and the virtuous spiral you create will eventually make you happier.

And just smile! You'll be happy that you do.



For more, see the ChangingMinds Blog! Archive or the Blogs by subject. To comment on any blog, click on the blog either in the archive or in the column to the right.


Best wishes,



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