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More Variety

I see it time after time: people in positions of power and responsibility are almost all the same. The majority of local and national politicians, business leaders, and senior people in every other field all look about the same: usually older men in suits with zero imagination.

They all tend to look the same (even the women look like female versions of middle aged men in suits), they all think the same, and they all act the same. I’m not saying people like that don’t have a place in society, just that we need some more variety.

There are a few examples where someone a bit different has managed to make a difference.

One example would be Tim Shadbolt, the mayor of Invercargill (a small New Zealand city which is traditionally thought of as being rather conservative). When he was first elected I couldn’t believe it, especially when he replaced an extremely conservative woman who was the previous mayor.

But that was 20 years ago and he’s still there (although he was defeated at one election during that time), still doing a pretty good job from what I can tell (he’s the longest serving mayor in New Zealand), and still doing things a bit differently. He recently broke the world record for the longest TV interview. He’s a real character and local politics in New Zealand is far better with him involved.

A character I quite like in national politics is Winston Peters. I’ve never voted for him or his party but he’s one person who always gives an entertaining interview and he usually makes a surprising amount of sense, although I’m a lot less positive about some other members of his party.

It’s difficult for someone with alternative views or an unusual style to really succeed in politics though. For example, it is only since the Green Party toned down its views and actions that it has gained a significant following. While I am impressed with its current work in opposition I think it has lost its edge to an extent.

There are probably some corporate leaders who stray a bit off the standard path that most follow. But I can’t think of any. Every new leader just seems to be another clone of the previous: generally lacking in imagination, unable to try anything new or risky, and lacking any real morality. More mindless “suits”. Is it any wonder the New Zealand (and world) economy is such a mess!

What about in other areas? Well I have to comment on religion, of course. I was delighted to see a really refreshingly different person being appointed as the new Bishop of Wellington. He is a middle aged man, but he has dreadlocks, often gets around with bare feet, and lives in a sort of monastery north of the city.

He is also politically and socially active and doesn’t seem to be scared to speak the truth even when it might be controversial. It will be interesting to see how he goes in the job.

It’s actually a real tragedy that I can’t think of anyone else. There’s absolutely no one who is inspirational in any way, no one who has any new ideas on how to make the country better, no one who is prepared to break away from the mould and take a risk. It’s pathetic!

There are probably very good reasons for this lack. I have seen in organisations I have worked in how the process works. People only get to positions of prominence through a process which seems totally intent on eliminating any possibility of deviance from the standard way of doing things. People who have genuinely new ideas are either blocked from advancement or are forced into toeing the line once they are promoted.

And there’s another factor too. Most of the people who are genuinely innovative, moral, and prepared to try real change don’t want to get promoted. They see what a totally inefficient, self-serving, corrupt, and conservative environment management really is and they just don’t want to go there.

In a post titled “Peter, Dunning, and Dilbert” (16 Feb 2012) I blogged about how promotion policies pick worse people than random selection. Maybe this is partly why. In my opinion, to be promoted into management you should first show that you don’t want to be a manager. To be a politician you should first demonstrate a disregard of politics. And to be a business leader you should show contempt for the corporate world.

If we had more people reaching responsible positions through processes like that I think the world would be a far better place. And at the very least it would be a lot more interesting!

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