What an experience having just visited and worked in Egypt, a country that is going through a political revolution. There were times when I thought I was going to die. I saw my life flashing before me, and thought this really was the end. But enough about being a passenger in a Cairo taxi!
Seriously, I was greatly privileged and honoured to work with some great groups of people during my time in Cairo last week, teaming up with a team of teachers and also a network of young social entrepreneurs, sharing my teaching on innovative creative thinking skills.
Witnessing the revolutions in the Arab lands from afar, in the safe confines of the UK, it is hard to appreciate the impact and changes that have taken place.
I was working with people who had been at the centre of the demonstrations – who had the rubber bullet wounds to show for it. The encounters and experience has given me great further insight and understanding into my passions on how to achieve and communicate change, which I would like to share
1. The Facebook Revolution
Without a forum like Facebook the events of January 25th in Tahrir Square would not have happened.
Egyptian people, I have found, are very much consensus-led. The ability of Facebook to connect a growing army of like-minded people, revealing and sharing their intent to take action, enabled a consensus view to emerge, of: ‘There are many others who think like me, have also had enough of the regime, and I can join them.’
Ideas often need to have the right time and place to happen. The advent of social media tools like Facebook provided the missing building block to create the critical mass for change.
Are you using social media to build your army for change for what you want to do?
2. The unFacebook activity
Recognising the ease Facebook offered for mobilising mass action, the authorities responded by shutting down all electronic media. The demonstrators resorted to a fundamental tactic of word-of-mouth communications: keep your message absolutely focussed on the basic, simple to understand, easy-to-pass on: ‘Just be at this place, at this time.’
So, the message could still get around using, what some might call ‘Off-line, peer-to-peer communication’, or I would just label plain old-fashioned, word of mouth. How memorable or ‘sticky’ are your messages?
The real reason the pro-democracy movement succeeded was their persistence. They kept going. They demonstrated, and demonstrated, faced resistance, but still kept up their protest with great numbers. The dedicated had to face violence from a brutal opposition, but also overcome objections from friends and family: ‘Why are you going, risking your life?’
Through their resolve they eventually succeeded in turning the tide.
In my creativity teachings I highlight how it is not how good you are at creating original thoughts and ideas. It is more down to picking yourself up again, when you have been knocked down, your Adversity Quotient; when someone has said ‘No’, or worse, and you still battle on to achieve your goal. That is the mark of the creative person.
The Egyptian people demonstrated great Adversity Quotient as much as making an appeal for democratic change. How strong is your Adversity Quotient?
4. Icon Judo
The reason the demonstration took place on January 25th was that it was the country’s ‘Police Day’, where the institutions of government celebrated its force. Hatred for the police provided the trigger for change, and seemed a good opportunity to provide a focal point for their anti-police/pro democracy message.
In communications’ terms, the demonstrators had half their work done for them by hi-jacking the existing ‘Police day; the story agenda of a focus on the police had been set. All they had to do, rather like a judo wrestler was to transfer the latent energy of that into their wider, bigger message of the need for change. What ways can you use your opponents’ icons to create opportunities for you?
5. Managing the creative personality profiles for change
In my teachings I shared my insights on different creative personality profiles, where I propose that there are four key personality types.
The challenge for the revolutionaries is that it is often led by what I call the ‘Illustrations’; the people with high energy, great early adopters, and comfortable with dealing and harnessing embryonic ideas. They counter-balance this however, with a weaker attention to detail, and a higher boredom threshold.
The challenge for the revolution will be to ensure those who spark and light the torch for change, follow-through sufficiently to manage the detail of change. It is at this stage, where the counter-revolutionaries can be strongest, battling over technical detail, scrutinising the finest of points, to dilute, divert, and divest the real tide for transformation.
Having created the momentum for change, the danger is they will lose the full realization of their vision and energy to make a dramatic difference.
When it comes to change in your world, have you been the revolutionary destined to be disappointed; because you didn’t sufficiently check the small print.
6. They need for their version of ‘Nelson Mandela’
People need simple stories. It is not that they are simple, but in a complex world, particularly where information is driven by a fast-moving media (both mass media and networked social media) the story that will survive and thrive is the clear-cut one, either of a hero overcoming a challenge (the ‘David v Goliath’ model), or of people coming together to face adversity (the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ model).
The Egyptian revolution has a Goliath’ – President Mubarek and his hated police regime. It however seemingly has a vacancy for a ‘David’.
The equivalent in recent political history would be the peaceful revolution in South Africa, starring Nelson Mandela as the good guy.
At the moment there is a vacuum in the narrative of the Egyptian revolution. I just hope there is a man or woman out there big enough to deliver, and match the media’s desire for ‘the good guy’ with the capability of being able to deliver real genuine change.
What ways in your life do you have the right brand story to achieve what you want?
A prayer for the Egyptian people
I sincerely hope my new friends, and the people of Egypt, secure a positive, peaceful change in their political future which respects the things woefully taken for granted in the UK – freedom of speech, to have our political regime accountable to the people it governs, and ultimately, the ability to vote-out any political master.
Having studied a fair bit about the English revolutions of the 1650’s it has made me fully aware that every revolution has its counter-revolution. (I believe for example that Oliver Cromwell was in reality a champion for the evolving establishment, a counter-revolutionary, actually limiting democratic change, rather than his mainstream image of being a revolutionary in the story of British political democracy.)
The Egyptian revolution’s future success is still heavily dependent on the munificence of the army.
I just pray that the Egyptian people can get their expectations balanced and matched with the eventual outcomes: the person who told me that ‘the revolution will solve the country’s traffic problems’ take note!