The one thing that stands out for me from the WikiLeaks debacle is just how much the ‘old order’ is resisting the new. One group that has had to come out into the daylight are the diplomats who are berating Wikileaks for not playing the game according to their old rules – saying one thing in public and another in private. Their resistance to this seismic shift in thinking, equivalent to the Enlightenment when reason started to prevail over intuition and superstition, is rather pointless as they are going to have to adapt to it in one way or another. Similarly, the Chinese authorities have created their own farcical, ‘Confucian’ peace (sic) prize in a childish attempt to undermine the Nobel Prize ceremony for jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo. As Einstein said, in response to those who refused to accept the inevitable -
“Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds”.
What’s all this got to do with evidence-based management? Well, several lessons can be drawn directly from the diplomats’ response –
- Once evidence is out in the open it cannot be ignored and refusing to accept it makes you look stupid
- Introducing evidence into a non-evidence-based environment fundamentally changes the rules of the game
- The old skills become obsolete very quickly and the skills required for a new Age of Enlightenment are very different
As with many aspects of modern life that we now take for granted – employee rights, diversity, fairness – all of these were hard won in the face of oppressive resistance. Real, fundamental change is always difficult and Machiavelli – a diplomat himself – taught us all a universal lesson about the prospects for change managers, over 500 years ago, in ‘The Prince’ (6) -
“There is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through, than initiating changes in a state’s constitution. Because the innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order; and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience.”
This was not Machiavelli saying change would not happen – it was just his way of warning the Prince that he would have to be bold, courageous and, dare I say it, Machiavellian if he was to bring about the change he desired. If Machiavelli could have foreseen the Internet’s capabilities for change management he would have been very envious of the power that Julian Assange has been able to wield. His own predictions about how diplomats and governments would respond would be no different today than they were in the 16th Century; but he might advise today that the timescale for achieving significant change is getting much shorter. I think Machiavelli would have taken his hat off to WikiLeaks in admiration for their use of evidence.