Part 3 of 3

In the previous post I looked at the echoes of Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle of appeal in the ‘Users, Trust, Delivery’ three-sided mantra. It told both the why and the how.

It tells both the why and the how. Short, memorable phrases like this are easy to recall in tense, high-risk moments, making it an effective communication. It not only makes sense, it works. And, truth be told, the phrase was good propaganda too.

Many of the people employed at GDS in the early days were obsessed about Internet-era ways of working to reduce waste, giving each other psychological safety to excel creatively and focusing almost myopically on user needs. So those three words really resonated with them, appealing to their views.

Since the workforce was organised and co-ordinated around those principles, they concentrated their efforts entirely on those guiding policies. In his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt says how ‘good strategy and good organisation lie in specialising on the right activities and imposing only the essential amount of co-ordination.’ Hacking co-ordination with a meme is truly brilliant, so find out what gets people going. Come up with a phrase to rally around.

Making your own meme

We had a go at making our own meme…though nothing quite as crafted as ‘Trust, Users, Delivery’. (Admittedly, this is a rather in-depth essay on just one motto, of which GDS has many!) When a colleague uttered the words ‘Boring magic’ to describe what we do at GOV.UK, it struck a chord. A lot of people agreed with how it bundled up the value we provide in a humble way. We’re not looking to conquer the world with technology, we’re just hoping to make interacting with government digitally less tedious.

So I wrote a blog post and we made a sticker, to see if the idea would catch on. People shared the article. They asked for a sticker and put it on their laptops. The meme started to spread. And sometimes, when we’re in meetings, people use the phrase ‘boring magic’ as shorthand to refer to methods for making public services better. It’s on digital government websites and elsewhere.

This tactic isn’t one we discovered, it has history. Propaganda works.

What do your leaders say to inspire action in you?

These slogans are everywhere, but there must be more out there. I’d love to hear about other mantras, little morsels of communication, that have popped up in other organisations, so tell me!

What’s your meme? What does it mean? How was it made? Why does it appeal? What situations has it got you through? And, most importantly, who rallies around it?

Further reading