Systemsthinkingforgirls spent 10 years of her life writing. I wrote neighbourhood plans, partnership strategies, the Local Area Agreement, stretch targets, community strategies, sub regional capacity building plans, VCS infrastructure plans, funding bids, monitoring documents, council plans, Prince 2 project documents and service plans.
Guess what? Much of it was made up. Fudged. Spun. Pasted. Cobbled together. Cut. Cleansed. Copied. Attractively formatted!
I told lies in themes, lies in groups, lies in pairs. Pages and pages of them. Hundreds of pages of nonsense. Strategic lies. Operational lies. Cross cutting lies. My speciality.
Every document I wrote was packed full of white lies. I’ve lied at every level.
- Local lies
- Sub regional lies
- Regional lies
- National lies*
Because I was rewarded with more money to lie up the hierarchy. Rational, normal lying. I told myself it was to get the best for the people we served. The same as everyone else.
- Lying to get funding
- Lying to keep councillors happy
- Lying to keep management team happy
- Lying to win contracts
- Lying to impress quangoes
- Lying to impress Government Offices
- Lying to impress Whitehall
And lying to compete with other liars.
Am I exaggerating? Yes, a little bit. But if not lying, I wasn’t confident that what I was writing was real, as in actually represented reality. There was always a kernel of truth. There was always hope. Everyone involved meant well. But the purpose of the written work was to project good, coherent positive news. Choice cuts. Mistakes rarely made, projects rarely abandoned, partnerships always sound, uncertainty never expressed. Nothing happened by chance. Nothing was complex, little understood or messy. We knew what would happen before it had happened. Everything was robust, nothing flimsy.
We told stories, rationalised the past, projected a positive ambitious image, and made anything bad look good.
So what’s wrong with this? Everything! In this environment it is impossible to adapt, experiment and learn.
The alternative to lying up the hierarchy is simple. Take the hierarchy to see the truth.
We should have been taking our managers, chief executives, politicians, civil servants and funders to see what was actually going on. We should have got them sitting on council receptions, listening to hours of phone calls and listening to service users in their own contexts. No reading or writing required. No hours of wordsmithing, checking and formatting. Just good honest finding out.
To find out what is really going on, you don’t need to be aware of the committee cycle, no approvals necessary, no checking, no version control, nothing cross cuts and nothing comes in clusters or themes. It is just as it is. Always there, waiting to be discovered. Immediate, live and real.
There are no lies here. At the bottom of the hierarchy, where the end-user touches it, you find out the truth.
* This is a lie. I didn’t reach the dizzy heights of national lying.