If you read the blog regularly, you’ll know that I’m a fan of paraprosdokians.  If you don’t read the blog regularly, right now you’re probably scratching your head and wondering what the heck a para-pro-whatsit  is.

Either way, here’s a refresher:

Paraprosdokian (n:) a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous.

In a previous post I used a paraprosdokain to discuss the flexible nature of project goals: To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.” 

Today we’ll dissect another one (useful, ain’t they?) to talk about managing a civic campaign.  Namely, “You’re never too old to learn something stupid.” 

Sadly enough, this one most definitely applies to me.  Take, for example, the other night.  My 9-year-old daughter spent hours trying to teach me a popular (but silly) cup-hand game called “The Cup Song” (here’s a video of actress Anna Kendrick doing it on The Late Show with David Letterman).  My poor daughter eventually gave up on old Dad, but when she went to bed, I couldn’t stop practicing it until, finally, I got it!  Ultimately, the payoff was a bit stupid – I won’t be putting my new skill on my résumé any time soon – but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t just a little bit proud of myself.

Which brings us back to that paraprosdokian:  “You’re never too old to learn something stupid.”  Believe it or not, the same lesson can apply to civic campaigns.

Stick with me here.  While some of the following examples may not be stupid, per se, they are, at the very least, simple common sense.  For example:

Terrific study, great recommendations — but now what?

More often than I can count, wonderful task forces are convened for one problem or another to study the issue at hand, analyze the situation, and develop a solution with recommendations.  Usually the task force is chaired by a high-powered, well respected community leader supported by a broad cross-section of members.  Often it is formed at the request of an elected official like a mayor or governor.  The task force is staffed with smart people familiar with the subject matter, and private or public funding is provided.  Finally, the study is completed, its recommendations are announced to the public, and…

Nothing happens.  I’ve seen it over and over again.  But why is this?  Why did something with so much initial support flame out just as it was supposed to be completing its goal?

The truth is that, at that point, it is already almost too late.  A stupid (or at least common sense) lesson I continue to learn is that from the very moment a community task force is formed, the Civic Campaign begins.

It begins with identifying who the key decision makers will be when it comes to actually implementing whatever recommendations are made.  It’s about identifying who the opposition will most likely be.  It’s about developing an action plan while the task force is still doing its study.  And it’s about lining up support (whether it comes from an organization, coalition, or individual leaders) that will be responsible for taking the completed study and seeing the recommendations through to the end.  Lesson learned.

Everyone thinks and acts logically…WRONG!

 We sometimes assume that people will support or oppose a cause based on “the facts,” or on good old-fashioned logic. We spend weeks, sometimes months, doing extensive research to get the facts to support our case.  And sometimes we do the really smart thing and get personal stories to compliment the facts (or vice versa).

Yet after all that, when we go to make our case to a decision maker with the juice to actually make something happen (be it a legislator, a member of city council, etc.) — and who we are sure will be supportive based on their history and our “overwhelming” facts — we are shocked by their lack of enthusiasm or support.

So what happened?  Turns out that opposition to an idea often has nothing to do with the facts, the raw data, or even real-life stories.  Sometimes opposition is based simply on personality, emotions, other priorities, or fear of voter backlash.  The point is this: a lesson that we are never too old to learn is that doing research on the facts alone isn’t enough.  You also have to do extensive research on the key decision makers themselves, to find out what is important to them and, essentially, what makes them tick.

So if you think you’re not too old to learn something stupid, you have two options.  Either go spend some time with your kids – or get yourself involved in a civic campaign.