Sunday, 9 May 2010

Instant action

I tell a lie, I need to put up a post while this idea is still fresh in my head, its a concept I'll be working on more in the future.

I've talked a lot about activity and action in this blog. A campaign is, after all, a series of actions, based on sound strategy. The OODA loop has been discussed at length, and it is on decisions and actions which I want to focus.

In previous times the gap between decision and action was significant. Think of the general on the battlefield, his orders must first be formulated in his head, with advice from staff and intelligence, his fingerspitzengefuhl (trans: intuitive feel) and so forth, then delivered via messenger, radio or other technology.

As technology has advanced however this gap has shrunk and we have now reached a point where the transition between decision and action, and indeed the phase of action itself can be as near to instantaneous as I believe it is possible to be.

This applies primarily to the case of campaigning which utilised modern technology and social media, where communication and calls to action are conducted via electronic means. Although our ability to undertake other pieces of activity is also accelerating. Labour's virtual phone bank for example, made it possible for anyone, anywhere in the country, to become a telephone operative for the party, within minutes. Staggering when you consider the implications.

If I decide I need all my supporters to march on a government building then the only activity left which takes time is writing an email and hitting the send button. Assuming a good campaign structure where my work only has to be signed off by one, or at most two, people, I can and have turned around this sort of thing in 15-20 minutes. Influencing the actions of hundreds of people in next to no time, certainly quicker than anything which could have been done a decade ago.

The Obama campaign, with its embracing of the internet, may have recognised some or all of this. Certainly they were putting out material too often and too quickly to be spending vast amounts of time considering it. Decisions were made, and within hours there was a youtube video, an email to every supporter with a link, and tens of thousands of mobile phones were bleeping away merrily.

Gordon Brown did it after Bigotgate. upon realising the damage it might do, an email went out to every Labour supporter (or most of them, I know a few people who didnt get it who probably should have), apologising and making a clear case for continued support. If the lack of damage in the polls is anything to go by, it worked. Rapid, direct communication, empowered by technology may have significantly mitigated the damage which could have been caused.

This may not seem like a big deal, but I believe it is fundamental to effective campaigning in the modern age. Understanding that the boundaries of our potential speed are no longer limited by anything other than our own ability to decide what to do.

It affects everything, your ability to undertake action, your ability to redirect a campaign's focus, your ability to react, everything.

Campaigns need to start embracing this fact, and modifying their structure accordingly. More streamlined working arrangements with greater power pushed towards staff at the appropriate level, so they are empowered to act faster, are vital. Building trust within your team so you know that people will make the right calls at the right time is equally vital.

I admit that the scariest part of this is the speed. Can you and a small team make a snap decision and carry it through? If you can't, then why are you doing the job you're doing? You might not be right, you might jump left and realise that you should have jumped right, but the important thing is that you jumped. There is no shame in being wrong so long as you took decisive action based upon the best evidence you had avaliable to you. If nothing else, you'll know next time to jump left, and thats a worthwhile piece of knowledge.

It can no longer be acceptable to take days to make a decision. It needs to be an accepted fact that any delay increases the chance that the action, when undertaken, will be worthless.

In summary... We are no longer constrained by anything other than our own ability to make decisions at speed and under pressure. Our actions can now occur instantly.
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