Monday, April 23, 2012

Inefficiency and Influence Go Hand-in-Hand

Believe it or not, effective influence isn’t always efficient. In fact, it’s rarely so, particularly as it relates to the definition of efficient as “satisfactory and economical to use” (yep, I found that on This is especially true in Washington, D.C., where lobbyists and special interests (and even citizens) try to influence an institution designed to be completely and totally inefficient. But it is almost equally true in corporate America — perhaps even more so. Please don’t tell me that you’ve never run in to an inefficient large company. I won’t believe you.

Inside the beltway, the inefficient institution of which I speak (or type) is Congress and it will likely not shock anyone to hear that our federal government doesn’t get much done. But there are a variety of reasons for that completely unrelated to the partisanship of its members. In fact, through the constitution and the Federalist Papers, the founding fathers set up a system of government that wasn’t supposed to work. They were very successful.

If you don’t believe me, take a quick look at the constitution at And yes, there’s an app for that – just go to the app store and search on “constitution.” By the way, don’t let any make you PAY for the constitution! If you flip through article one, between all the “whereas-es” and “wherefores”, you’ll see that it’s really hard to get anything through the legislative process. Then add on all the rules and protocols developed through the years and, frankly, you’ve got a big old hot mess.

Consider the following:
  • 271 people (1/2 the House, plus 1/2 the Senate plus the President) have to agree to the exact language of legislation before it becomes law. And that’s not counting the crazy filibuster rules in the Senate. That’s a lot of people with more than your average size egos trying to get on the same page.
  • Along those lines, people who very fiercely protect the interests of very rural Alabama (for example), have to agree with people who very fiercely protect the interests of very urban New Yorkers (for example). This, as you might imagine, is never easy.
  • Finally, I love the section of the Constitution stating that each House shall develop its own rules. We all know that he who creates the rules wins the game (how do we know that? Because it says that in The Influence Game). So every Congress the majority party has an opportunity to set its own rules of conduct, a recipe for frustration for the minority.
In short, inertia rules in Washington, D.C. as it does in most influence situations. To get to “yes,” you need to figure out the best ways to overcome that inertia – and note that I say the “best” ways. These aren’t necessarily the most efficient. Some tactics include:
  • Learning enough about the person or institution you’re trying to move to know who ALREADY has inspired action (and figuring out how to get them on your side).
  • Identifying the barriers to action and, if you can’t tear them down, at least figure out how to move around them.
  • Recognizing that inertia rules and coming up with a plan B, C and D designed to generate more action.
As Steve Pearlstein, a columnist for the Washington Post, points out in his April 24th opinion piece “Turned Off by Politics? That’s Exactly What Politicians Want,” the inefficiency is exacerbated by the whole campaign finance situation. Political donors tend to be more ideological than every day voters, so it kind of makes sense that a candidate would run to the left or right to attract more money. Unfortunately, sometimes the goal in political campaigns is not to get likeminded voters to the polls, but to keep the other side at home.

So how do we get around this? In the political arena the answer is to vote, early and often (OK, just the once). To overcome this inertia in other influence situations, take a look at the strategies noted above. If they work in Washington, D.C., it’s likely they’ll work for you.

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