A while ago a bunch of top business leaders came out with a list of 17 ways to kill a new idea. The list begins with a typical Sir Humphreyism - see it coming and quickly change the subject.
Other methods are equally effective: ignore it, because silence intimidates all but the most enthusiastic. Or pretend you’re interested, so the idea’s originator is left in suspense while you twiddle your thumbs.
You could slag it off, laugh it off, or - more subtly - praise it so much that after five minutes everyone’s sick of it. You could mention that it’s never been tried before in the kind of shocked tones you normally associate with plumbers or car mechanics; conversely, you can dismissively claim it’s been tried before and didn’t work.
You can prevaricate; you can modify an idea out of existence; you can appoint a committee or working party to stifle it to death. And that’s not all: if all else fails, you can simply attack the person whose idea it is.
Those working to create sustainable communities might wonder why the list stops at 17 items. The task of implementing regeneration policy must throw up hundreds of ways of killing new ideas every day.
This week’s gem comes from Birmingham, where councillors have found some remarkable ways of meeting the challenge of the neighbourhood renewal fund. The NRF, devotees of ODPM programmes will recall, seeks to pump money into the most deprived areas without the frustrations of previous funding streams. Local strategic partnerships can identify the most pressing problems and channel funds to areas of greatest need, using their influence to ‘bend the spend’, shaping the priorities of key public agencies.
Clearly some people in Birmingham found that concept a bit too radical and exciting. Perhaps someone took a look at this new idea and thought: ‘That seems a tad controversial. Why not stick to the tried and tested formula of divvying out pots of money between local areas so we keep everyone happy?’
Hence the finding this week that the city’s warden schemes - 47 of them in all - have lacked coordination, had no means of ensuring long term support, and in some cases are at risk of closure. Sounds familiar? Another good idea successfully sidelined.
Julian Dobson, editor
- New Start Online Online magazine