“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”
― Douglas Adams,
It is going to take a lot of willpower for this not to turn into a rant, it is up to you if you think I managed it!
In this article I want to explain to you:
- Why I have such a deep dislike of bureaucracy
- How it informs my desire to grow my influence
From the off, I want to say that I understand that you might not agree with me on everything here. The point is to give you an example of how you can motivate yourself to put the time in to grow your influence and make a change in the world.
I also want to say that I do see the point of some bureaucracy. A functioning democracy can’t work without it. Without bureaucracy we wouldn’t have a justice system, a health system, an education system to speak of. Plus of course I’m not advocating for corruption or nepotism.
That all said, I am not sure I have met someone who dislikes unnecessary bureaucracy (from now on just called bureaucracy in this article) as much as me.
I believe it stunts the growth of humanity, takes human beings away from their best selves, provides stress, wastes time that could be put to much more important things and allows lazy and uncaring people to get away with a lot.
Basically I’m not a fan.
I’ll give one small, concrete example. A friend of mine was once essentially made homeless. On the day I went with him to the local council office to see what they could do. Their response was to give a form of perhaps around 15 sides of A4 paper for him to fill in. While I understand that due process needs to be followed, confronting someone (who hadn’t grown up in the best educational environment) with a lengthy document- rather than talking to him about his needs and checking his mental state, would seem to be a rather inhuman thing to do.
So, how does this relate to my desire to grow my influence?
Firstly, I’ve seen lots of examples of where people having more influence, or even feeling that they have more influence can make a difference.
One was when I worked as an intern for an MP in their local constituency office. So many people that rang the office for help just seemed like they felt no-one was listening to them. No-one cared about their plight, no-one was checking they were OK, no-one was seeing their grievance through to completion. Until (hopefully) they contacted us. I remember one example where I was trying to sort an issue and just because I was phoning from the MP’s office the council immediately put me through to someone very senior. That’s treatment that the constituent would never have got themselves.
Another was when I worked for a charity that supported isolated older people who lived on low incomes. These were people who were used to being looked down on, disrespected and not listened to. They didn’t feel like they could ask for anything. One example of this was when I was on a ‘Breaks Away’ with some vulnerable older people- a sort of holiday that we used to get them socializing again and giving them a rest- and someone asked me if I could ask at the front desk if they could have more supplies of something small in their room (it might have been soap). This person wasn’t treating me like their servant, they just didn’t feel that they could ask for it themselves. To boost their confidence, I told them to ask at the desk and then to come back to me if there were any issues. I then watched what happened. Of course, they asked at the desk and the hotel staff were only too happy to give them what they wanted. I hope that this small victory showed them that they deserved to influence their situation.
Lesson: It is often the most vulnerable people who either have, or feel they have, the least influence to make a difference to their situation. I want to help change that, both by inspiring people to think they can do something and by giving them some tools to help them get results.
Second, I’ve seen how my own ability to influence and to sidestep aspects of bureaucracy, has changed over time
As my career has progressed I’ve seen how sometimes I had more influence than others (for example, when I was a Chief Executive of a charity) but that my ability to influence has generally been on an upwards trend. There are a number of reasons for this. I’d say the main ones are that a) my own confidence in my ability to sort certain situations has grown b) I’ve simply had more practice c) I have more tools at my disposal d) my experience has shown me that you don’t simply have to accept the world as it is, you can change it.
Lesson: My own ability to influence and to make a difference to my own life and the lives of others were what led me to set up The Influence Expert. So far, the results I have had through this business show me that it is a path I should continue down. In a small way, it is creating more of the world that I want to see.
Third, despite hating bureaucracy, compared to many people I have ‘chosen’ to subject myself to more examples of it
I’ve lived in 8 countries so far in my life- the shortest for around a month, the longest (outside my own country) for two years. In order to live and work in those countries I’ve had to subject myself to different bureaucracy in each country. Each country has both had simple aspects and been too bureaucratic for my tastes in different ways. Essentially by familiarizing myself with different faces of an aspect of life that I view as an ‘enemy’ I have come to understand how to defeat my enemy more effectively.
Lesson- You can’t develop your ideas in a vacuum, you have to test them under strain in real life situations. Also, because I want my learnings to be of use to an international audience, it has really helped to see how things work for people in different countries. So actually subjecting myself to more of something I intensely dislike has made me stronger!
Fourth- I recognize it is a cycle. The more that I can influence, the less bureaucracy I encounter and if I’m not tied up with bureaucracy, the more I can influence
I find that bureaucracy, both literally because of the time it takes and emotionally because I don’t like it, interferes with my ability to create my best work. Luckily for me, my best work is around helping other people to grow their influence and at the same time growing my own influence- which help me deal with bureaucracy.
Lesson- I have found something that strongly motivates me to put in the hours to help myself and to help others.
Fifth, I want to change the world
Bureaucracy is a fact of life. The more that I can learn to bypass it- or to recognize where it is unavoidable and therefore I can’t fight it, the more of a difference I can make. Also, the more that I can help others to grow their influence so that bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way too much, the more of a difference I can make.
Lesson- Bureaucracy is one of the things that frustrates me most about the world. Therefore I want to find a way to lessen the impact it has on me and on others. What things do you want to change and why?
If you’d like to think about the subject of bureaucracy more, the excellent video below (from one of my favourite YouTube channels), explains the problem and comes to some rather more positive conclusions about bureaucracy than me. Essentially they think that although bureaucracy is frustrating, it is better than the old system which depended on who you know. In the face of bureaucracy they argue that everyone is treated equally. I would contend that this is a bit naive and that powerful people find ways to get around bureaucracy too- you only need to look at the way rich people handle their tax affairs for example. My view is that through knowing how to use influence properly the vast majority of people can assert their rights and not be beaten down by bureaucracy- and if enough people do that then the bureaucratic systems may in fact become a little more human.
So, what are the reasons that you want to grow your influence?
What are the injustices in the world that you want to do something about?
What are the small changes that you want to be able to make in your own life and the lives of others?
Working these things out, will help you keep your motivation high when you are trying to grow your influence and not seeing immediate results.