The 2018 Commonwealth Games were held in my home town. The first time the Commonwealth Games had been held in a regional city.
They were amazing. I was so proud. I went to a hand full of events and I volunteered at the athletics stadium for seven days.
My daughter was thrilled to be a volunteer dancer in the closing ceremony.
The city had pulled it off.
Until the closing ceremony. Which was a disaster. Including my daughters group being sent dance steps to a song as they were entering the stadium. (This after an accumulation of days of rehearsals on their own time.)
Other than it being a C grade performance overall (really bad dancers, bad song choice, performer choice) here is where I see the real issue was.
The Commonwealth Games, like any business or project, has a Pattern Integrity to it. The Pattern Integrity includes purpose, values, boundaries. And yet it is more than that. It is the unique DNA, the code, that makes it what it is.
Each element of the Games has its own Pattern Integrity which is a part of the whole, yet has its unique dimensions.
This may sound complex, yet it is something that most humans, if they have a level of awareness and sensitivity, can calibrate. We experience it as wholeness, or rightness. You might call it brand alignment, which is a part of the Pattern Integrity.
If you walk into a cafe that has an attractiveness to it, where you are almost compelled to go inside, this is the Pattern Integrity. We feel comfortable there, because the alignment is present in every dimension. It feels complete. Not perfect, but whole and coherent.
The Closing Ceremony of an athletic event has its own Pattern Integrity. It is not the same as the closing night of a music festival. It is not what you would expect from the finale of cultural event.
People who are the stewards of a project or event have as their primary role to ensure that the Pattern Integrity of the event is enabled in its expression. That is their main job. To do this really well.
When this is not done what is created is dissonance. It is just off. Not right. Mismatched. And almost everyone knows it, because it is an experience that interferes with flow. A negative Pattern Interrupt. An energetic whiplash.
Here is how the people responsible for the creation of the Closing Ceremony of the 2018 Commonwealth Games seriously missed the mark to be coherent and aligned with the Pattern Integrity of the event.
- The obvious one and the most spoken about is they failed to feature the athletes, the very people who had prepared for years to be a part of the 11 day event and for whom the Closing Ceremony was supposed to be celebrating. It is akin to a restaurant neglecting to serve food.
2. It was completely inappropriate to have a sister act – a #metoo and #timesup statement as part of the event. Wrong stage, wrong platform. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
This was not a political platform.
3. It was completely inappropriate to have unknown artists (unless you are a music person) singing unknown songs. This was being broadcast to a global audience, as a celebration of an athletic event. The audience wanted to join in the celebration. Sing along. Dance. Clap happy inside and out.
This was not an arts and culture event.
4. It was inappropriate to have politicians of any level speak about anything for longer than 1 minute each.
This was not a political platform. Definitely not a platform for self aggrandisement.
The question that needs to be answered by the people who made these choices is why? What were they thinking?
There is a deeply underlying systemic question here that I am not willing to step over. A question we too readily and easily step over in so many other departments and areas of life.
Will they hold each other to account and give the public, the tax payers who paid for the event, the ticket holders who handed over $$ to attend, the many volunteers who gave up their time to be part of the event, and the athletes..oh…the athletes…years of work, years of sacrifice…their celebration with their families, their teams, their loved ones…a thoughtful, all-in-accountable, responsible response?
We are owed this. Not just some platitude by the Chairman that he was responsible. We all know he would have had little to do with the actual design of the ceremony.
Why do I believe this deep self critique by the Ceremony design team is critical?
If you understand anything about leadership, organisational design, human relational design, then you know we live in a world absent of good, healthy, humble leadership and stewardship.
Too often leaders get away with so much. We the public step over so very much. And in the process, we get what we get. Trump, corruption, bad banks, lying as normal…it is a very long list.. And we fail to learn.
We get to this place not through one large act, rather through little atrocities…tiny, seemingly innocuous micro transgressions that over time numb us to our perpetrations. Every single time we step over a transgression, small or large, we are indeed colluding with the ecosystem that says yes to more of the same. Until it becomes entirely possible, and feels deeply reasonable, to say yes to a serious perpetration. We normalise negative deviance. (Donald Trump anyone?)
Hannah Arendt has written about this extensively. (And note I am not, under any circumstances, associating bad decisions and bad leadership by GOLDOC and the Ceremonies Committee with such horrors as war. The point is that we only get to the place of violence by not getting the lessons in all of our acts of leadership. Therefore the very moment we step over these things is the very moment we as humans begin to collude with greater perpetrations.)
This is not about blame. This is about getting the vital lesson that lives in the mud of this. If the lesson is learned, understood, faced…then we will be better as humanity. As a community. As leaders.
People have said to me…let it go. Its done now. And I say NO. Its not done because we the public see no evidence of the decision makers learning from this experience, and being decent enough to share that with the public. If we put this aside, let it be done, without being complete, then we are all colluding on the next iteration of organisational failure of learning.
If I know anything about organisational design (and I do) then I suspect that there was a moment, back in time, where someone on the Closing Ceremony design team suggested the course they took, and then the other teams members fell into collusion around the idea.
No one stepped back to ask the question…what is the Pattern Integrity of the closing ceremony and how do we steward this?
How do we truly honour this? For the athletes, for the celebration of humanity, for the meaning of CommonWealth?
Are we able to do this as stewards? To NOT overlay our own world view, our own ego, our own needs, upon this?
Just as a parent of an artist would not insist, demand, that the child become a football player?
Is the organisation robust enough to have space for healthy argument? To not fall into the trap of collusion. Where we fear speaking up, because to do so comes at a price of shame, exclusion, and humiliation within the team.
Studies done on collusion evidence it can be catastrophic. Fortunately in this case no one died. Not like the Columbia and Challenger disasters.
Did anyone speak to the athletes? Business skills 101. Ask your audience. How is this idea landing with you the athlete? Or was there too much hubris present to consider an athlete or three might be qualified to speak and become a part of the design process?
What I know from years of working in this space is that for this type of really bad decision making to have happened the organisation itself was highly dysfunctional.
To choose a course of action that was so high risk, so public, to omit the athletes, that took a level of hubris that could never be isolated to one or two people, and must have had embedded within it serious cultural dysfunctions.
A healthy organisation will of course make mistakes. And I am all for mistakes being made. And for the team to then go back to the drawing board and learn so as to not make the mistake again. I am not sure this is happening, or will happen.
As each day goes by I believe the team responsible are missing a window of time to bring the lessons they have learned to the public. I believe they hope that it will all go away, the public will not ask, and we will all be poorer for not having gained from the experience.
I hope to stand corrected.