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Could ‘unsafe thinking’ help us come up with better campaign approaches?

I’m reading a lot at the moment – so forgive me if the next few posts are based on thoughts solely derived from the last book I’ve read.

I’ve just finished Jonah Sachs ‘Unsafe Thinking’. If you recognise the name, Sachs is the author of Winning the Story Wars, which is a brilliant read on using the power of stories to engage people to take action.

But in his latest book, he explores how we can get out of the patterns of behaviour that find ourselves following a well-trodden path in our approach to solving creative campaign problems.

I’ve come away from reading it with 8 principles to push when trying to come up with next campaign approaches and tactics.

1 – Push imagination – ’never use the same tactic twice’ is the advice from Micah White, who wrote the Adbusters manifesto that helped to launch the Occupy Movement. He contends that novelty and unexpectedness keep the public and press interested in a campaign – imagine approaching a campaign planning session where you couldn’t reuse an approach that had worked for you in the past.

2 – Push your passion – research shows that the most effective thinking can come when you’re ‘in the flow’ – when you’re working on something that you’re truly passionate about. Work to solve problems that you really believe in.

3 – Push out of the ‘expert trap’ – If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve been coming up with you’ll be familiar with the idea of ‘paralysis of analysis’. When you’re so much of an expert you can’t see the solution. A little knowledge about something is vital, too much and you can get entrapped, unable to see signals and information that might be telling you something different. Experts don’t always know best!

4 – Push those on the edge of the room – Sometimes we can be too close to a situation to be able to assess the best options. We find ourselves frozen by the urgency of solving a problem. Those on the outside of a room – close enough to the details but with a different perspective can be helpful.

5 – Push intelligent disobedience – some of the best solutions come from those who have a hunch that is just outside the boundaries of what’s acceptable. How can you encourage others to explore these space – it’s a tightrope to walk but this discomfort can lead to reasonable risk-taking that can lead to new approaches or innovation.

6 – Push (friendly) conflict – employ a ‘red team’ who are specifically mandated to challenge a strategy to make it stronger. It’s worked as an approach in the armed forces for decades, where everyone knows the purpose of the team is to expose flaws so they can win.

7 – Push others forward – If you’re a leader and you start a meeting sharing your opinion, chances are it could be a quick meeting, as others will often decide to agree with you. Instead stand back and encourage others to share – ask them to discuss what the group doesn’t already know. It’ll bring new thinking into your planning.

8 – Push dialogue with those you disagree with – a harder approach when campaigning is so often about identifying how to, but dialogue with those who hold opposing views can help to build new understanding and challenge blind spots in our own thinking. So often our approaches are tied to our beliefs and values – some dialogue might help to shift that.

Some of these approaches feel easier to push into than others – I can see how it’s possible to push (friendly) conflict, how you can change your management approach to push others forward or pushing imagination. While others feel harder, like dialoguing with those you disagree, but as Sachs writes in the book – pushing into the discomfort is a key element of identifying the ‘unsafe’ approach is working.

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