'we need to communicate more like insurgents.'

Sometimes you can learn more from your enemies than your friends. That's true in comms as it is in life. It's also a surprise lesson from the UK's Ambassador to Lebanon.

by Dan Slee

“What we need to do,” said the man in the blue jacket and the crisp white shirt, “is to communicate more like insurgents.”

An arresting comment to make, particularly  as the man in the jacket was HM Government’s Ambassador to Lebanon Tom Fletcher.

The comment was made – and a whole host of others – at the tail end of a fascinating two day event in Jordan hosted by the Foreign Office for their Middle East and North Africa comms staff.

A week later and it’s a comment that keeps rattling around.

We need to communicate more like insurgents. What does that mean?

It could mean a whole host of things. To nail the obvious, it’s not about communicating beheadings. To me, it’s more about having an overall framework to work in and allowing people on the ground to be flexible, creative and agile. What I took was that it was about being not hemmed in by procedure. It’s about creating sharable content that is going to be shared. It’s seeing what works in the field and replicating it.

Here’s a second arresting comment from the event that keeps re-occuring.

“Al-Qaida’s leaders view communications as 90 percent of the struggle.”

Think for a minute of that group and what do you see?

Ossama bin Laden in a fuzzy vhs video?

The Twin Towers?

Both are powerful images which frame the first 14 years of the 21st century.

They are communications.

They were framed by communications people.

The Ambassador is of course right. Sometimes we can be too hemmed in by process to think agile, creative, sharable and flexible.

To have such a green light from the top is a gift to cherish.

Sometimes the play book comes not from the institution or the old ways of doing things. It comes from unexpected quarters and what your enemy does.

It also poses the question that if communications is 90 per cent of the issue then are you doing enough? More importantly, have you got the support to do enough?

Spanish poet Baltasar Gracian said that a wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

So, how can you learn from your enemies?

Dan Slee is co-founder of comms2point0.