Dodwell in 2013 SOM2 Surabaya - Post 5

April 11, 2013

I walked into the third and final morning of the inaugural Policy Partnership on Science, Technology and Innovation five minutes late – and already up on the screens was the proposed PPSTI Vision Statement – all long words and lots of colours – the clear victim of editing by committee (see picture 1). Forty minutes, and heaven knows how many taxpayer-funded executive working hours later the final, final was agreed and was brought back into monochrome black (see picture 2). As a former journalist, the process of editing by committee was painful to watch, as a Chinese official called for a comma here, and New Zealand and US officials jousted over whether a future perfect tense (“will have been”) should be used rather than a simple future tense, and another called for the cooperation between “government, academics and private sector” to become cooperation between “government, academic and private sector stakeholders”. Can someone tell me the difference between an academic and an academic stakeholder?


I should not suggest this “committee editing” vice is a particular government official thing. I once worked in support of the chairman of a leading global investment bank in Hong Kong who in a former life had been a lawyer. No matter how many times I reminded him he was costing the bank about $5,000 an hour, he always insisted on copy editing the text of their press releases. I think it’s a lawyerly character flaw that they nit-pick down to the nano level, but government officials seem to have the same vice, and they do it in packs around vast committee tables.

Anyway, for 40 minutes, about 15 officials and another 40 people in the meeting room pecked away at this long and ugly sentence. It started out a long and ugly sentence. And it ended a long and ugly sentence. I always thought Vision Statements were short, elegant, and above all else memorable. This vision statement, looking out to 2023, has none of these qualities.

But I watched, and I bit my tongue. The least helpful thing I could do was to say the statement sucked as the basis for a vision, and ask to start again. The last thing I want is to find myself in the middle of a committee editing exercise. I don’t believe many people out there – either inside APEC or in the corporate world – are likely to turn to this statement often between now and 2023 as a source for inspiration or direction. This blog will for most of us be the first and last time we ever read it. We will be none the worse for that.

* Read post from Surabaya


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