A revolutionary challenge in Scotland

Wave a magic wand and conjure up a vision of a thriving community. What do you see? Here’s my punt. People walking with a confident spring in their step, new ambition is in the air, there’s a palpable hunger for learning, opportunities are visible and reachable, people are connected with each other, feel valued and have an articulate voice in shaping their community. People value their own lives and the lives of those around them. Environments will reflect this newfound confidence with more colour, greenery, uplifting signage and attractive and welcoming communal spaces. Each neighbourhood will display its uniqueness and heritage.

Achievable? Yes, of course it. In fact, I have a challenge. I want to take one community in Glasgow that suffers multiple ills and create what I have described above – more of that later.

What have we come to?
What we need, to make the transformational changes required to restore confidence and growth, are inspiration, courage, great leadership and a compelling vision of what can be. Economic growth means nought if we can’t use that wealth to create a better world around us. We’ve had years of unprecedented prosperity and high public spending. Has it made us wiser, fitter, happier or more curious? Did we establish the kind of values worth fighting for?

Where have we gone wrong?
We got it wrong because too many of our young people are being disinherited from the future. I can no longer stand by and see children’s lives consigned to a life of poverty because of where, and to whom, they are born. Social mobility is shamefully low in the UK. Children from affluent backgrounds who do poorly at the age of three are nevertheless likely to overtake the poorer and initially brighter children by age seven. Surely the test of any modern, fully functioning society is that birthright is yesterday’s privilege. By any measure, we’ve got it wrong. The result? Some of our greatest talents don’t even know they have a talent and parents, peers and teachers will often dismiss the early glimmers of it. All that human resourcefulness wasted. This is what stunts economic growth and it’s what will ensure higher future public spending.

Let’s be people positive
But, I’m in the business of changing the course of the future not weeping about past mistakes. I get to speak all over Scotland to business, public and third sector leaders and to people in some of our most maligned communities. I sense that we are not just at a stage in evolutionary change but at a point where there has to be a complete rule change. Business as usual simply won’t do. In Scotland, there is a determination to create something new. Aside from any discussion on independence the Scottish Government’s agenda around health, economy, education, enterprise and carbon reduction is one that most people regard as being on the button.

Change from beyond not within
The challenge they face is in delivery. A culture of managerialism still exists at every link of the implementation chain. The Scottish Government wants power returned to communities so that those who feel the impact of policy help to shape it. This is not genius. Take the John Lewis Partnership business model. Products and services are driven by their customers and delivered by people with a direct stake in the company’s success. They believe in their company, are proud of its ethos and committed to making the customer experience a positive one. Simple isn’t it?

By way of contrast, too many of our public services are still driven by internal priorities. That must change. Public consultation, social inclusion and partnership working are now discredited concepts because we associate them with people and processes that prevent rather than spark progress. I have organised community ambition events in different areas of Scotland where young and old come together to set out a new vision for their area and then look at what needs to be done to get there. Many of these ideas simply make more imaginative use of existing resources – we are talking here of people who know better than anyone how to make more from less. Resourcefulness exists in spades around us yet remains largely untapped. That is daft. I use fun, positivity and creativity and people respond. Tired of the constant drone of negativity they hunger for a confident and optimistic voice and they want to make improvements happen. The naysayer, the incrementalist and the bureaucrat have held the reins for too long.

Put the ‘Chutzpah’ into public service
Let’s have some vitality across public services. People have roles and responsibilities that can change lives (even save them). Let’s inspire and empower them to use that responsibility to maximum effect. The citizen, the council taxpayer, the business community, the tourist, the child – these are customers. Let’s focus on raising and meeting their ambitions not on the next restructure or defending something that hasn’t delivered.

Immediately within our grasp is a learning revolution across all sectors and in all communities. It’s time to make learning sexy, fashionable, sociable, enriching, rewarding and empowering. Learning comes from people not budgets, and we have capacities among us so under-used they may well wither. New skills and freshly acquired knowledge give us energy and confidence; they fuel enthusiasm and conversation and they feed our spirits. Amid this learning revolution should be an effort to restore empathy to all front line services – an ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others.

Customer service to lift the spirits of all
Poor customer service is still too evident and it has a multiplier impact – feeding poor aspiration, diminishing people and ultimately demoralising them. Gatekeepers, pillar-to-post discussions, standard and poorly written letters and cultures of inertia can no longer be tolerated.

In October, Thinktastic brought a Disney Masterclass to Edinburgh. What struck me was Disney’s focus on empowering its staff to think and act creatively at the point of delivery. Happy customers compelled to return again and again. That’s what keeps Disney such an enduring global success. Imagine if all interactions between public services and the people they serve were measured by a simple test ‘spirits uplifted’ or spirits sunk’? The Seattle Fish Market works to the ‘Make their Day’ principle of customer service. How refreshing is that?

When I work with an organisation in developing their customer experience I always start with the question: What would you like a loved one to experience? It doesn’t take long before ideas start flowing.

Leaders wanted now
We need great leaders to stand up because they have and retain a vision, they inspire and energise people and they give them the tools, authority and confidence to make the right things happen. They will take risks and use mistakes as a means to learn. We need these qualities now more than ever of we are to revitalise our nation.

Businesses will change because consumers will force them to do so. I predict a new level of corporate social responsibility that will be embedded in the business proposition. It will be altogether different to what we see today.

It will be seen as part of the business DNA and a key measure in consumer decision-making. Collaborations between businesses, public services and the third sector will become commonplace as the senseless and narrow divisions that have separated them are removed. Innovation will become part of a healthy daily diet because new ways of thinking and doing will be gold dust.

There will be winners and losers in business. Some major brand names will disappear because they have been to slow to respond to the new imperatives. A new generation is emerging that will not inherit the purchasing decisions of their parents. They will look at ethical performance as critically as they will price, product and service.

A cultural revolution for all
The future can be brighter and there has never been a better time to ensure that it is. Now back to my challenge. I know a community in north Glasgow where hope is luxury and disadvantage is expectation. At its heart is a community learning centre that offers not just adult learning but childcare and stimulative play. From here, I see a chance of a cultural revolution in the area – raising confidence, skills and prospects, making profitable connections between the community and people, creating businesses and services with influence.

I want to gather leaders from all sectors to turn this community around, to make sure that those services worth investing in are backed to the hilt, to create new connections for residents, seize new business opportunities and create some groundbreaking ideas. I want leaders ready to step up, work with people in the area to stimulate new ambition, skill local people up and help them to step over the barriers that currently stand in their way.

We will find and nurture local talent, celebrate it and promote it. We will work with schools, colleges and local groups. We will be prepared to knock down walls to support local ambitions. We will measure progress through the experiences and prospects of young people. We will prove once and for all that with vision, will, determination and collective power we can change a whole community’s outlook and fortunes.

Is that not a prize worth fighting for?


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top