Two years ago, a Nigerian friend who founded a major technology start-up funded by Mark Zuckerberg helped me post a job vacancy for my company.
In his posting however, he referred to us as a startup. When I reminded him that our brand is more than eight years old, he explained with a patient smile: “Millenials don’t care about legacy these days. They want to work with something fresh, hip, sexy. Start-ups.”
My colleague who led the team on the ground working on campaign communication for the Ghanaian presidential elections captured the crux of our learnings from two political campaigns to me on his return last month: the fatal mistake of entitled incumbents.
Many of them insist on telling citizens what they have already achieved. “This is what I have done,” they announce, expecting voters to be grateful. “These are the roads, these are the jobs.”
But citizens no longer care about legacy, they care about tomorrow.
What incumbents are supposed to do – a rule of thumb, really – is tie the past to the future. “This is what I have done so far… and now this is what I am going to do.”
This, presented as if you were a new candidate, with no sense of entitlement, as if the voters owe you no gratitude – because they don’t.
It wasn’t always like this. A (wo)man’s track record should be the defining measure by which we gauge what she can do in the future. A lifetime of service and achievements should predict a future of service and achievement.
But disruption is not just for business and technology; it’s a reality for all of society.
And this is the new reality: politics – the art of how voters make decisions – has been disrupted.
When disruption came to the phone industry, players were quick to adjust because the customer is always right. When disruption came to banking, players were quick to adjust because the customer is always right.
How is disruption fine when politicians are asking coal-miners to get with the programme, but on the matter of elite politicians adjusting to how their voters now behave – it is cause for global freak-out?
There is a cardinal rule political strategists worth their salt across the world know: Like the customer, the citizen is always right.
That means if the consumer decides that the way political decisions will be made moving forward is based on non-membership of the discredited elite, then that’s the way it’s going to be. If the consumer decides that the future is not just the major determinant, but the only the determinant for who gets their vote moving forward, then that is what it is going to be.
The citizen is always right.
If in a democracy, policy makers need good politics to make good policy and policy is still the art of persuasion, then politicians and public office holders need to learn the new rules of persuasion.
People no longer care about what you did yesterday. They want to know what you will do tomorrow.
That’s the reality of the new political market place.
In a world where tomorrow comes faster than at any other time in history, where factory jobs are being replaced by automatic cars faster than at any other time in history, adjusting to that reality should not be a hard thing. Or a bad thing.
Stop moaning. Innovate.
*Jideonwo is co-founder of StateCraft Inc, which managed campaign communication for the successful anti-establishment campaigns of the current Ghanaian and Nigerian Presidents