Photo credit: Julian Hanford
Photo credit: Julian Hanford
A view from Dave Trott

A view from Dave Trott: Real disruption is uncomfortable

One morning in 1993, I got a phone call at home: "Don't come into work, a bomb's blown the front of the agency in".

Our office was opposite Harrods and there were always bombs going off in Britain.

Not every few years like now, but every few weeks: IRA bombs.

Then in 1998 Mo Mowlam got the job as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

And gradually the bombs stopped.

For ages politicians had been trying to negotiate a truce between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

For ages they’d been failing.

Each side would manage to find a reason to walk out of the talks.

But in 1998 Mo Mowlam made that truce happen.

So what did she do differently?

The main thing Mo Mowlam noticed was to keep doing the same things over and over again wasn’t working.

Trying not to upset anyone wasn’t achieving anything.

So she decided to do the opposite.

To disrupt the comfortable but unsuccessful process.

Many of the top people in the Catholic and Protestant forces were convicted murderers.

They were in prison so they couldn’t be invited to the talks.

But they’d use their influence to veto any truce.

So Mo Mowlam went to the Maze prison and negotiated with them.

She got them to give their backing to the agreement.

Against the wishes of the politicians who had so far failed.

The politicians considered her behaviour unlawful and outrageous.

But she stopped using traditional diplomatic channels and she stopped using traditional diplomatic language.

In fact she purposely used language to unsettle politicians.

In the talks, she constantly referred to Sinn Féin’s chief negotiator, Martin McGuinness, as "babe".

And when the MP for Belfast West, Gerry Adams, was dithering over signing she told him to "bloody well get on with it or I’ll head-butt you".

But the most powerful weapon she had was her wig.

Mo Mowlam was having treatment for a brain tumour and it made her hair fall out.

Normally she wore a blonde wig so no one noticed.

But when the talks reached a point where no one could agree, all of the men just sat there staring at each other.

At which point Mo Mowlam would take her blonde wig off and drop it on the table in front of them, then sit there scratching her bald head until someone backed down.

The men, Catholic or Protestant, couldn’t stand the embarrassment and the deadlock would be broken.

Mo Mowlam would forcibly disrupt the process of stagnation.

And of course, that would be uncomfortable.

Being comfortable is what allows things to stay stuck.

The comfort of the familiar.

Even if the familiar isn’t working it still feels safe and comfortable.

And fear of discomfort is bigger than the fear of failure.

At that point you have to seriously disrupt the process.

Not just use the word disruption because it’s fashionable.

But make fear of failure greater than the fear of discomfort.

So the brief for any action must be to disrupt the comfortable.

So that comfortable becomes a bad thing.

And uncomfortable becomes a good thing.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three