Come to the cutting edge, where Competitive and Collaborative Advantage meet

Most people it seems, would agree we’re facing some pretty big challenges in our times. What we think the challenges are – and so what we think we need to do about them – depends very much on which way around we’re looking at things.

In one camp, there stand large numbers who feel life is a ruthless competition where winners take it all, and losers deserve their fate. In the same camp, but looking the other way, are those who see themselves as part of a greater whole where our best interests are woven together. The former are on a constant war footing, taking advantage where they can, while the latter are often pushed onto their back foot because they’re playing by different rules. One strives for ‘power over'(Competitive Advantage), the other for ‘power with'(Collaborative Advantage).

For players who prefer the rules of Collaborative Advantage, it can often feel like an unequal contest. The natural urge of this group to form partnerships on common ground is strong, but the will to make things work is not enough. Things can (and do) all too easily go wrong. The truth of course, is that both ‘sides’ are in the same camp, and we all have experiences of harnessing both perspectives in our lives – so the question (for me at least) is not, ‘how do we level the playing field?’ but ‘how well do we understand the game?’

I’ve been involved in partnership working for 24 years, constantly seeking to learn from those who seem to have the best grasp of the game. That’s enough time for 7 PhDs, so I reckoned by now, I surely must have something worthwhile to share.

The result is a day’s workshop on How to make partnerships work really well, which I’m offering on 8th April in Oxford as part of the utterly brilliant 2019 Campaigning Forum.

The session is relevant to all kinds of partnership work – within teams, between departments, in coalitions/alliances or for commercial purposes – the ideas and skills will all still apply. 

I’ve done some testing, and am confident the workshop brings genuinely fresh perspective which can take our thinking into new partnership dimensions. So much so, I’m prepared to bet it will work just as well for people who are old hands at partnership work (maybe looking for a ‘next level’) as it will for those dealing with partnership problems, or those who are thinking about their first partnership steps.

Come to the cutting edge with me and let’s see what we can do to overcome the social, economic and environmental problems of the world. Together is the only way we can.

Levelling the paying field

I trade in ideas and thinking skills. I’m very experienced, good at what I do, and I really want to help people who share my passion for ‘making a difference’ in society. If this is your ‘thing’ too, you’ll probably be familiar with the twin problems of pricing your offer:

i) People tend to undervalue learning investments, and
ii) People passionately keen to ‘make a difference’ are often undervalued themselves, with relatively low incomes

This presents us with a problem. It’s important to address i) by valuing your teaching appropriately, or you’ll be in a Catch 22 situation, embedding the very idea that the learning isn’t valuable. However, if the people you want to help can’t afford it, the temptation is to set a price and then discount.

Unfortunately, in spite of our best intentions, discounted pricing for ‘people on low incomes’ presents a second Catch 22. It reinforces a subconscious idea of deficiency by emphasising income rather capability and value to society. In fact, there’s a second nasty virus embedded in this approach, as it attacks self-esteem because capable people quite reasonably feel they shouldn’t lack the money.

So this year, rather than making ‘pay as you feel’ or ‘pay as you can’ offers, I’m experimenting with a new approach to try and break the vicious Catch 22 cycles above. I will budget in the normal way because a) I need to be clear about my value proposition and my break even, and b) some people just prefer to be given a price – but I’ll also set out a new option below.

How would it be if I used a ‘Fair Equivalence Exchange’ (the Z FEE ©!)? The idea is to shift the emphasis from the money you pay to the relationship we have. It assumes I am no better than you (we’re both capable people) and ensures we remain financially eye to eye in a relationship that levels our paying field. Here’s how it works:

The Z FEE involves working out my earnings on your payscale. It is based on conditions of Trust, Context and Conscience which need to be agreed before a calculation is made. Here are the terms:

Trust We will assume goodwill and good intent of each other, building Collaborative Advantage together with openness and constructive honesty
Context I appreciate the full value of this work may not be obvious because: i) it stretches into the future, ii) it takes unseen efforts of thought, travel and administrative time outside the room, and iii) it may feel right to take the credit for progress if the process has been manged with great skill
Conscience I accept the invitation to pay ‘fair equivalence‘ by working out the hourly rate Mike (who directs companies) would be paid if he was part of my leadership team.  

Since most of the things I do are delivered in hours or days, a calculation has to be made to work out what Z FEE results from annual earnings. Here’s how to do it:

Gross earnings, divided by 261 (working days/year), divided again by 7.5 (hours/day), times X (where X is the duration of event). 

Here are three worked examples for pricing per head, assuming a 3 hour event:

i) Someone unemployed. Let’s assume gross earnings are the same as the maxiumum Job Seekers Allowance, which is £3010/year.  Divided by 261 working days, the equivalence is £11.5/day. Divide this by 7.5 working hours, and you get £1.53/hour. A good conscience payment for this 3 hour event would be £4.59

ii) A lone trader/organisation where directors earn £20k
Divide the £20k gross by 261 gives £76.62/day, and divide again by 7.5 to get £10.21/hour. A good conscience payment for this 3 hour event would be £30.63

iii) Someone working where directors earn £50k
The same calculator gives £191.57/day, or £25.54/hour. A good conscience payment for this 3 hour event would be £76.62 

Since Trust is the first term, nobody has to show their workings and good conscience payments are unlikely to be that precise! My theory is that everyone I work with will feel better valued, and that wealthier clients won’t feel they’re being mugged by a Robin Hood crusader.

I’m still left with a question. Will the fees/head add up to enough to cover all the unpaid time in admin, travel etc. which a salary still covers? Many salaried people read freelancers fees as ‘very high’ because they’re not thinking of the time they’re paid, when freelancers are not. So to find out, I’ll apply the Z FEE day rate to all the time spent before and after a job to see if it really does level the paying field.

The first test is to see if anyone’s prepared to give it a go. If you fancy trying the Z FEE idea yourself, please be part of the experiment, using the Creative Commons licence below, and sharing the results so we can aggregate and compare notes.

Language & Leadership (Gurteen Knowledge Cafe, Bristol)

This Script is what I intend to say at the Gurteen Knowledge Cafe at Pervasive Media Studios in Bristol on 26th November.  At least, that’s the idea – I retain the right to digress at will….

Judge me by my own criteria… one of my central messages is that if you are clear for yourself about the purpose of the language you are using then you are far more likely to achieve that purpose.  Continue reading

999 It’s Time

Today is 999 day (09.09.09) and the 999itstime crew are on full throttle.  Their point is that you call 999 in an emergency, and we have a climate crisis on our hands. Fair point if you ask me – in the Observer last weekend, Robert McKie wrote about the latest research suggesting that we’ll see more volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunami’s as the weight of  ice is lifted off the earth’s crust. They’ll be discussing the detail at UCL’s ‘Climate Forcing of Geological Hazards Conference’ on 15th Sept if you’re interested.

Anyway – all 999 are asking you to do today is to switch to green energy, commit to the 10:10 campaign at and to plant a tree on-line.  Baby steps to real change…