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Thursday 5 March 2015

Identify false-value partners: the 'Bristow Effect', the 'Faulty Toymakers' and the 'Landowners' Objections'

The 'Bristow Effect' 

In 1993 the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) entered into a collaboration with Grant Bristow, a co-founder and leading member of a Neo-Nazi group called the Heritage Front. He agreed, for a fee, to provide information and intelligence which would help the CSIS prevent acts of racism and harassment. However, a subsequent investigation of this arrangement by Canadian MPs concluded that Bristow's leadership role within the extremist group 'may have led to the very events that caused the CSIS to keep him in place...'.

Bristow was helping to cause the crimes that the CSIS was seeking to prevent. He was contributing negative value rather than the promised positive value. 

Controversially but also arguably, some nations that are seeking to collaborate with the Arctic Council to safeguard the Arctic environment could be classed as 'Bristow Effect' false-value partners. This is because they exhibit its key trait: they contribute significantly to the problems the collaboration is trying to solve.  A number of non-Arctic nations have promised to provide positive value in the form of knowledge, expertise and resources that will help safeguard the Arctic environment but in reality, through the greenhouse gases their gigantic industrial development produces, they contribute significantly more negative value so increasing the difficulty of the Arctic Council's task.       

'Bristow Effect' false-value partners tend to emerge when competing hidden or unspoken agendas are present within a collaboration. 

To avoid 'Bristow Effect' false-value partners insist that partners make commitments to the collaboration that are useful and credible: useful in that they are truly supportive of the collaboration's aims rather than self-serving, and credible in that they reflect what the partner is able to contribute with some meaningful sacrifices, risk taking and effort.

The 'Faulty Toymakers'      
A well-known toy manufacturer believed it was gaining positive value by partnering with foreign toy makers that promised to supply quality toys at reduced cost. However, a significant number of these foreign partner suppliers were unable, for whatever reason, to meet the required manufacturing and safety standards. This meant that paint with a high lead content was used in the manufacture of some toys, making them dangerous to children's health. 

Rather than contributing the promised positive value in the form of cost savings, the foreign toy makers (by not adhering to agreed standards) contributed negative value in the form of dangerous products.

'Faulty Toymaker' false-value partners can be actual, as per the above example, or they can be a metaphor for some other service provider or product manufacturer. They tend to emerge when a partnership relies heavily upon contractual obligations to ensure compliance with agreed standards and obligations, rather than upon the quality and closeness of personal relationships between those involved. Such a reliance causes defensiveness amongst partners, who become anxious about the legal consequences of not delivering on their contractual obligations. This, in turn, leads to reticence about sharing difficulties and admitting mistakes. In some circumstances it may even lead to dishonesty and illegal cover-ups.       

To avoid 'Faulty Toymaker' false-value partners encourage and reward openness and honesty and discourage and, where necessary, punish non-transparency. Make it clear that help will be given to overcome honest mistakes, especially if partners are willing to declare and share them.

The 'Landowners' Objections'

A South African collaboration seeking to enhance the well-being and standard of living of mining communities included local communities, mining companies, the regional government and traditional tribal landowners. Each time the collaboration sought to provide resources and amenities that would enhance the lives of mining communities the tribal landowners held things up, keen to safeguard the rights of their tribe rather than those of the mine workers who were, for the most part, newly arrived migrants from elsewhere in Africa. Sometimes the tribal landowners were extreme in their opposition, for example demolishing buildings built for the regional government that they regarded as violating their traditional land rights.

The traditional tribal landowners generated significant negative value within the collaboration through their consistent and visible opposition to its activities.

'Landowners' Objections' false-value partners can be actual, as per the above example, or they can be a metaphor for something else, e.g., possessing specialist knowledge and expertise, or 'owning the moral high ground'. They tend to emerge in situations where there are strong vested interests and a bias towards political manoeuvring and power plays.  

It is not always wise to avoid 'Landowners' Objections' false-value partners. If they have power and influence within the environment surrounding a collaboration it is best to invite them to become partners and tolerate the negative value they contribute. Then, informal ties and relationships can gradually be created that will enable a collaboration to recognise and exploit changes of stance or situation potentially favourable to its aims. Also, keeping this type of partner within the collaboration tent, rather than allowing it to roam freely and mark off its own territory, enhances a collaboration's ability to anticipate and manage the damage it can cause.

The difference between false-value partners and false-positive partners

The difference between false-value partners and the false-positive partners mentioned in previous posts is that:

  • False-value partners commit (at least superficially) to contributing positive value to a collaboration but actually contribute negative value that hinders a collaboration's work.
  • False-positive partners commit to contributing positive value to a collaboration and actually deliver it, but only for as long as it takes to get what they want, at which point they end their involvement in the collaboration.

How power dynamics affect the behaviour of false-value partners and their relationships with other partners 

The discrepancy between commitments made and actual contributions is clearly evident in the first two 'false-value partner' examples given above. The discrepancy is less clear in the last 'Landowners' Objections' example.

This is because the power dynamics between partners in the last example differ from those in the previous two. In the first two examples the false-value partners are less powerful than the other partners, so they are required to make commitments to add positive value that at first glance seem credible (in example one there is a commitment to provide valuable intelligence and in example two there is a commitment to provide value at less cost). In example three the false-value partner is more powerful than the other partners. Specifically, the tribal landowners are a little stronger than the mining companies (which tend to act as separate entities so fragmenting and weakening their influence within the region) and significantly stronger than the local mining communities (which consist of poor migrant workers new to the region) and the regional government (which has ongoing credibility and legitimacy issues). Having the balance of power in their favour enables the tribal landowners to play mere lip service to the aims of the collaboration, safe in the knowledge that the other partners will not be able to challenge this openly and will not want to risk losing a partner that, although troublesome, would be even more dangerous as an adversary. 

In short, the low power of the false-value partners in the first two examples requires them to make commitments that at first glance seem credible. The high power of the false-value partner in the last example enables it to avoid making such commitments. This means that the negative value generated by false-value partners is not immediately apparent in the first two examples and immediately apparent but tolerated in the last.       

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