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.

The democracy we deserve

Elections ought to bring out the best in people. People are passionate about positive change, whether they’re standing for appointment or not.  So why is it politics seems permanently shrouded in a toxic haze of negative aggression?

There are two actors in our democratic process – the would-be leaders and the voters*.  We judge the candidates endlessly, but perhaps it’s time we took ourselves more into account.

There is an expectation that leaders should be ‘strong’ and somehow omniscient. We want them to have all the answers, and be right all the time.  This last, in spite of the certain fact that everybody knows, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Politics, and all of the machinery surrounding it, colludes in this fantasy – each party** saying how well they did, and how hopelessly wrong their opponents have been.  There has never been, nor ever will be, a government that got it all right.

Democracy presents leaders with the great challenge of balancing the apparently conflicting requirements of inclusion and decisiveness.  That’s probably one of the reasons Churchill so famously said ‘democracy is the worst form of government – apart from all the others’.

So is it fair to criticise as sharply as we do, or to protest about things with such vehemence, without taking into account the complexities of life?

We are all very quick to claim our ‘rights’ – the right to protest, the right to freedom of speech, and all of the other freedoms which the ideals of democracy bring.  People know they can fight for their rights – and this familiar territory is the arena in which we choose to hold our democratic debate.

This is where it seems to me our problem with democracy lies. As long as we assume our leaders carry all of the responsibility, and that we are merely spectators, we will continue to get the hefty servings of disappointment and failure that are our just desserts.

So whilst it’s important to point out the problems, and protest about the things which don’t work, it’s equally important we ourselves are not unreasonable in making our points.

Reason is at the heart of the ‘scientific method’ and we constantly turn to science for the comfort of facts which reassure us we’re heading in the right direction. When scientific researchers select only the evidence that conveniently fits their theory, they are quite rightly condemned for bad science.  And yet, this is exactly how most of our political debate is conducted – both by the politicians AND the electorate.

For leadership to function well in a democracy, the first task is to accept that democracy, reflects our experience of life – it’s a continuous process of learning, adaptation and change.  If we want our leaders to succeed, ALL of us need to take responsibility for being constructive in our dealings with differences, and for checking our own assumptions as closely and objectively as we can.

If we’re able to do this – resolutely focused on the development of our collaborative skills – then democracy has the potential to serve a very different dish from the one we currently find so distasteful.   If we build on the best of what works, we can be magnificent.  Or we can fight amongst ourselves around the dustbins of failure.

So draw a breath next time you’re about to weigh in to a political debate. Consider your purpose, the thing you’d most like to achieve. Ask yourself if the question or opinion you’re about to offer will help us move forward together. And be prepared to learn something new.

Challenge by all means, but before you criticise this or that political figure, remember that only the very brave or the foolhardy are prepared to step into the today’s deeply hostile gladiatorial arena.  They are forced by the baying of the crowd (that’s us) to adopt aggressive tactics in a battle for survival in which everybody will get maimed. Think how much you’d like to stand before the crowd before you raise your voice.

We can change the game.

If we claim our share of responsibility for the way our democracy conducts itself, and look to be constructive, we can effectively move the contest to a festival ground.  We can mix without fear of mortal attack, and explore the richness of difference the world has to offer.  In our collaborative mood of acceptance and accommodation of each other, we can reasonably expect to find improvement, and at times delight.

If we escape the the toxic haze of that claustrophobic arena, we’ll make leadership a much more attractive proposition.  A place where inclusion and decisiveness can sit more easily together.

We have to watch ourselves as closely as we watch those who would lead.  Then, and only then, will we truly be ‘all in this together’.

That’s the democracy we deserve.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Sustainable Change

Indiana Jones is a committed pioneering, flexible, multi-talented, adaptable, high energy risk taker at the cutting edge of his field.   I always believed he was just an archaeologist who liked adventure holidays – until I was approached by Chris Chapman.

Chapman visited me in June 2007 on the pretext of interviewing me for his Masters degree on “Change Agent Skills & Strategies”.  I remember that the sun was out and my guard was down as we sat in the garden chatting about ‘making  a difference’.  At the time I had no idea how I was being manipulated, but  soon came to see I’d been stripped like a bamboo in a Panda Pen.

Chris used his considerable charm to talk to 5 other unsuspecting Change Agents, before retiring to his Irish bolthole to hatch an audacious plan.   He used the information we gave him, studied, added his own experience, and set out to describe in detail the traits of exceptional Sustainable Change Agents. He later returned with a plan for world domination. It’s time to tell all…

Continue reading

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



The central ideas behind ‘Western’ thinking about economy and society are pretty straightforward. It goes a bit like this: People desire things, people work to make more money to buy more things, people buy more things, more things are required, more work is created, the economic output of the country increases (ie GROWTH), and everybody gets richer & happier (well in principle anyway). Continue reading

Book Review – Power Vs Force

This book was recommended to me about 3 years ago, and I’m glad I kept it on my list. Written in 1995 by David Hawkins, the book explains the value of Kinesiology in testing universal truths.  There – that was easy wasn’t it?!

What I really liked about this book was the way in which it relates observable reality (the way your body reacts to stuff) with the best of modern science.  Oh, and there’s some chunky philosophy to chew on as well. That said, it’s not a hard book to read and although 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…