Kindred Spirits and the Harbingers of Death

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If nothing else, the crowd-funding for Trust Me, PR Is Dead has ignited a series of web memes and some great conversations.

Tom Fletcher, HM Ambassador to Lebanon (who I have never met), started the trend with a post on the death of traditional diplomacy. “Substitute ‘traditional diplomacy’ for ‘PR’ and we can see a similar challenge”, he wrote.

“Diplomacy has detached itself from public debate through meaningless platitudes; much of its form (summits, communiqués) was designed in 1815 for an age of monarchies and great states; and it has been slow to adjust to the next wave of disruption. Let’s be honest”, Fletcher concluded, “we are also, post Snowden, Assange et al, less trusted than we were”.

Trust Me, PR Is Dead is a much richer book, having embraced the wisdom of the crowd. My publisher, Dan Kieran (of whom, more in a minute) considers the inclusion of crowd input – including dissenting voices – within the narrative as a brave and unusual choice. I would have it no other way. In a messy and chaotic world, none of us can claim all the answers.

We now have ten contributors for the Afterwords at the end of the book – chapters that have been sparked by the debate that I have hopefully started. Some run to the heart of the leadership issue, others focus on the new world of social business.

Cliff Oswick, Professor of Organisation Theory and Deputy Dean at Cass Business School, has penned a thousand words on the death of traditional leadership, whose forms are “becoming increasingly redundant and irrelevant”.

“Leadership, Cliff continues, “has been over-hyped, over-stretched and over-used ..,. it is everywhere, encapsulates everything and applies to everyone. It is the solution to all social, political and organisational ills. In this regard, it is the modern day equivalent of snake oil”.

It was Cliff who kindly suggested me as a Visiting Professor at Cass in autumn 2012. Then, as now, we have shared thoughts on the rise of employee activism and my subsequent model of citizen-centric and Public Leadership. Control, we both agree, is now futile.

This is a point echoed by my Jericho Chambers colleague and Chair of the Compass Think Tank, Neal Lawson, who has written an Afterword on the death of party politics. “The job of the political leader”, argues Neal, “will be to help create spaces and platforms for people to do things themselves – together. Public services will be co-created by users and workers; money will be lent through peer-to-peer networks and energy will be produced through local networks”

“The politics of the future”, concludes Neal, will be citizen-centric, not party centric”. Indeed. Party politics are over – it is just that the politicians remain in deep denial. The future model of Public Leadership is activist, co-produced, citizen-centric and society-first.

I have met some amazing people along the way to completing the book, not least Sanofi Pasteur’s Change Agent Celine Schillinger, who has contributed a chapter on the death of the anti-social. Celine’s blog posts at are an absolute must-read. She writes about companies’ “alarming blindness” and, vitally, about “the end of corporate omniscience, arrogance and social inability”. The social world has “signed the death warrant of the anti-social corporation”.

Lucy Adams is another guest contributor – someone else with whom I had never spoken until the book began to gain traction. Lucy is the former HR Director of the BBC and (in)famously was hauled before a Parliamentary Select Committee to explain the pay behaviours of the august institution under former Director-General, Mark Thompson. Lucy writes about the death of internal communications. “They” see what “we see”, of course.

“At the BBC, we often tried to produce the same information in two different ways to try and appeal to internal and external audiences differently. For example, at pay review time, the line to the press would be “look how tough and frugal we are – we are only paying 1%.” To the staff it would be: “look how generous we are being, you can get a minimum of £400”. Neither worked and we lost ground with our staff as the two messages were being clearly spun.”

Buro Happold CEO Paul Westbury has penned a passionate piece on the need for activist leaders to address the climate impasse. Philip Sheldrake, author of Attenzi and The Business of Influence, has written on the death of hierarchy. There is an essay still to come from The Crowd’s Jim Woods on the death of the focus group. And my Jericho Chambers co-founder George Pitcher has re-visited his 2003 book on The Death of Spin, without ever once saying “I told you so”.

The final words in this post belong, quite rightly, to Dan Kieran – who recounts his epiphany on a battered, grey beach in Bognor Regis – when he realised that publishing was dead – and the journey that led to the creation of Unbound.

“We published the book you’re holding in your hands”, writes Dan in the final Afterword, “and the names of the people who supported Robert by pledging and deciding it SHOULD be published are printed in the back of this book. They didn’t just buy this book. They made this book. Without them it wouldn’t exist. I met Robert last year and immediately knew I’d found a kindred spirit. When I read the first draft of this book I cheered him on with every page. He’s right. Everything is changing. It’s exhilarating. Not many people get to live in times of such dramatic change. If you embrace it you can enjoy it.”


Please feel free to share this post. We will close the crowd-funding at the end of this week. Contributions can be made at but the conversation will continue for some time yet. As Dan pointed out to me recently, I can always write a sequel.

This post originally appeared on the Unbound site.

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