william isaacs

Don't be an expert - at least, not yet

The trouble with being an expert is that you are expected to come up with solutions really fast. Or you think you are. Doubly so if you're an advocate or a campaigner. You can be tripped up by your own assumptions about your role, and stumble into taking a position much too early. And once you've taken a position, it feels hard to climb down from it and explore other options.

Which can be a big mistake.

Don't be an expert, yet

Pretty much every project you'll ever work on has more than one noble aim (or, at least, more than one legitimate aim). On time, on budget. For people, profit and planet. Truth and beauty.

Not much point designing the shiniest, coolest, sexiest thing that can't be built.  Or the safest, most ethical, handcrafted whoosit that's too expensive for anyone to buy.  Or running an organic, fair trade eco-retreat which can only be reached by helicopter.

If a critical variable needs to 'lose' in order that the thing you have committed yourself to can 'win', you've set it up wrong.

Why set it up as a zero-sum game, when it could be that there's a win-win solution enabling everyone to get everything they want?  (I could tell you about boogli fruit, but once again I'd have to kill you.)

Not everything is a fight

If you frame it as a fight, you'll get a fight.  If you frame it as a complex problem with a mutually-beneficial solution that hasn't been found yet - you may just get it.

But how can you help the conversation be a dialogue rather than a gun-fight?

You need to stay in that uncomfortable place of not knowing.  Listen well.  Ask questions.

Above all, maintain an attitude of respect, curiosity and trust.

Want to explore further?

I'll be talking more about this at #DareConf Mini on 20th January - still time to join me and some awesome speakers.

And here's a New Year's gift to help: £100 off if you use code PENNY when booking.

Plenty more fish in the sea?

Why should environmentalists (in all our various guises) get into stakeholder engagement? Sometimes the problems are just too complex to be solved by one party acting alone.

If you can bring people together in an atmosphere of dialogue (a 'conversation with a center, not sides' as William Isaacs calls it), then the chances of finding that sweet spot where everyone's interests coincide is so much higher.

Now this is a bit like an optical illusion even in principle - the concept slips in and out of focus.  It's even harder in practice.  There are, though, some institutions and processes that get close, and have resulted in some interesting collaborative work.

Take, for example, the Marine Stewardship Council.  It's built on the idea that lots of different people have an interest in the sustainability of fish stocks, even if those interests are driven by different motivations.  It's an example of sustainable development happening because of people working together.

There's more about this in my article for the environmentalist, here (pdf).