Some time ago I got to watch a great public-sector innovator in action. He told me one important principle, and showed me another.
What he showed me might be described as “polite stubbornness.” When someone whose cooperation he needed said “No,” he’d nod amiably and say something like, “Right. I see you can’t do this now.” He would then continue the conversation on the implicit assumption that his interlocutor had just agreed to do it sometime in the future, and the remaining problem was to figure out when. “So if we start this next fall … “
What he told me was even cleverer, I thought. He was (is) trying to make a basic innovation in a process involving several independent agencies and central to the work of two of them. “The problem,” he said, “is to convince people who have been doing something the same way for twenty-five years to do it your way instead, without letting them notice that they’ve been doing it wrong.”