25 September 2009

Lute's Law for Changing the Status Quo

Reading In Search of Bill Clinton: a psychological biography, there is an account of how he helped facilitate the peace process in Northern Ireland. One of his aids gave him some really fascinating advice.

Clinton is debating whether to give Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Fein, a visa for entry to the US. Every president before him has denied it. Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, is considered a terrorist organization and not only would the British and the Republicans be outraged at this, so would members of his own cabinet. Yet Clinton's’ advisers in Northern Ireland thought it was key to moving forward in the peace negotiations. (The Prime Minister of Ireland essentially reached the same conclusion months earlier. The Irish PM ditched his bodyguards to meet with the paramilitary groups on both sides. Everyone said that he should not meet with them because they were terrorist groups but he said they were the ones with the power and if he wanted to make anything happen, he needed to meet with them.) When Clinton asked one adviser why she thought he should grant Adams a visa, she had a really provocative answer.

“Because no one expects you to,” Jane Holl Lute told Clinton. “Not even Adams. Everyone expects you to say no. So there’s a card you have to play. And if you say yes, everyone will have to recalculate, including Adams.”
To change the status quo Lute believes that you have to do the unexpected. “People make plans based on expectations. If you fulfill their expectations, their plans don’t change. But when you do the unexpected, you force everyone to alter their plans, including yourself, by the way. And that’s OK.” The other person who agreed with this analysis was Adams, who said of his visa: “It was a change that now everyone had to react to. It shook up the status quo.”

Lots of other factors came into play, but today, in Northern Ireland, Clinton is widely lauded for his role in ending “the troubles.” Many analysts think that without this one move, the process might have de-railed.

How would I state Lute's Law? The status quo is supported by expectations. To change it, do the unexpected.

1 comment:

Big Al said...

What Lute suggested was a risk. A calculated risk, mind you, but still a risk. Fortunately for Lute & Clinton, the Irish PM had paved the way, so to speak, months earlier.

I'm not discounting Lute's advice of suggesting to do the unexpected so as to change the staus quo. It's just that I would add the advice of making sure the timing and situation is right to change the status quo.