Overcome the Opposition: Doing It Backwards
Mark Sylvester: John Davies has a method, an approach he systematically developed over a career spanning three decades. He's proven it to be invaluable for dozens of industries and thousands of projects facing public acceptance. Up until now the method has only been available to his select client list. John is unpacking his insight and wealth of knowledge to overcome opposition and earn public support for the first time right here. Throughout these episodes we'll take a deep dive, step by step with John, into his strategies to overcome opposition and create support. Nothing is free in this world, but good ideas are priceless. This show could be just the thing you've been looking for. I'm Mark Sylvester. Now, let's get started and talk with John.
John, we've taken our listener through the four steps of the Davies Method on the strategy. I guess we get that great history lesson on Aristotle, but I feel like there was another motivation from you when you saw other people doing it wrong. Talk to us about that.
John Davies: Well what I discovered when we really put this together is, “oh my gosh,” the way most people approach this is totally the opposite. They start with bridge and then they move backwards. When they start with bridge, and move backwards. Everything changes, because bridge isn't a bridge anymore. It's a promise. Embracing and engaging becomes spent. Then, when you're talking about contrast, they actually are complaining that the other side's coming after them. Then finally, acknowledge becomes confess.
Mark Sylvester: Give us a tangible example of where you heard that and how they did it. It doesn't have to be in wind. It can be in a different industry.
John Davies: Let's look at the best example, which is Keystone, Keystone Pipeline. The Keystone Pipeline is a promise of jobs and economic benefits.
Mark Sylvester: That's what they led with.
John Davies: That's what they led with and they led with that for a long time. They didn't have any other message. By the way, when they did get other messages, they never got out because that so dominated discussion. So the community says, the country says 20,000, 40,000 jobs to build the pipeline. Is that worth the environmental impact? That's how they, the contrast. Then they started spinning that. They started spinning the concepts, of the project and maybe some of the benefits, but they spun it rather than framing it or contrasting it. Then they started complaining that the opponents were saying bad things. Everything's terrible and that's not true, and that they had the unions with them and the environmentalists against them.
They drove this wedge, and they're complaining that the environmentalists are not really for the benefit of our community, and their union friends were saying it. All of a sudden they're just complaining. Then finally, they have to confess, so there's going to be some impacts. Well, what happens when you do that, no matter where you start, your support drops, and it drops, and it drops, and it drops. When they finally got back on track and turned everything around, they built support and it went through because it's not impacting most of the nation. But the idea is you can't start with a promise and a spin.
Mark Sylvester: You've been doing the Davies Method for years, and years, and years. Was part of the analysis or the way you started doing it, because you saw others doing it wrong?
John Davies: Yeah, yeah. That's the hard part. By the way, we jump into projects that are already going and we've got to restart them. When restarting them you're like, oh, I see why they got in trouble. You're looking at their arguments saying those are pretty good, wow. Talking about the economics, those economics look good. In a mining project they're talking the economics. In Arizona people were coming around. What it was is they never made a value-based message or argument why people should be in favor of it. Once we did, everything changed.
Mark Sylvester: I want to back up for a second. You'll get pulled into a project that's already under way but it's not working?
John Davies: Right. That's the hardest. Unfortunately, it's hard. It becomes expensive because we have to erase what was done before, as well as do what's needed. It just takes more time. In about a third of the wind projects we do that's where we are. The ones we get to start fresh, so much better. We can get a head start. We can get the community going. The opposition has a smaller opportunity to get the community against us, and we're able to win.
Mark Sylvester: It begs the question then, because you said in our last episode, that it's about being able to take your hat off, put your hat back on, and start, so that's what you're doing.
John Davies: Right.
Mark Sylvester: Do you then use acknowledge to say, "Hey community, we went about this the wrong way"?
John Davies: Sometimes. Sometimes we apologize that we went too fast and we didn't share with you what we're doing. Normally we don't need to. I mean, the world we live in today, what happened last week in our society is last week. We've forgotten most of it.
Mark Sylvester: That's five news cycles ago.
John Davies: Yeah. Yesterday, unless it was a dominant news story, is forgotten. The deal is if you start fresh, you have more opposition against you, but the people that aren't engaged as opposition are still open territory to talk to.
Mark Sylvester: What's the difference between acknowledgement and apology?
John Davies: That's interesting because we're not apologizing for something we're doing. We're acknowledging, we're being straight forward ethical. This is going to happen. This is an impact of acting, versus an impact of not acting.
Mark Sylvester: I like that. Impact of acting.
John Davies: There's going to be an impact when whatever we do in our society, there's going to be an impact. Anything we do in any manner is going to be an impact.
Mark Sylvester: I'm curious, of the person who's listening to the last campaign they did, if it didn't work out the way they thought, if they could go back and forensically analyze, How would they do that? How would you coach someone, to like, "See he did this, see you did that. This is where you could have done this"?
John Davies: Well, when we finish projects, we do that. We do what happened? What went right? What went wrong? Why? What would we do differently next time and what are the re-outlined steps of what we would do better? That's how this method gets refined, and refined, and how we've refined it. What went really well? Well, when we got started, and we went out and admitted that there's going to be an impact, and people get it. We started doing that, it's like wow. We have people come to us and say, "We really appreciate that." Oh, that worked. Then when we've really hit the economics at the end where we're very straightforward and didn't scream about it. We just lay it out. It's like the budget page in the back of a proposal. It's there. People are going to get it. It's there. No reason to scream about it. It's like the less we wave our arms and scream about it, the more people notice it.
Mark Sylvester: Well you don't need to draw attention because you've already built the trust. You've built a relationship. You've engaged and embraced them. You've done all of those things very, very deliberately in a certain way. As a creative person, creative problem solver, I know that the last step and I've got my own method. The seventh step is to evaluate. I think it's the one thing that a lot of people don't do. They just go to that next project's waiting for them. They don't do a review. There's a lot of different words for that. It's as important as the first step. Wouldn't you agree?
John Davies: I do a lot. The hardest part is to evaluate when you win.
Mark Sylvester: Oh.
John Davies: Winning is harder to look at why you won. I mean, we've done things where we've won, and the real reason that we got over the finish line, totally unrelated to us. We got to the finish line. We're ready to go, but we got across faster than we thought because something else happened in the community, unrelated thing. Something changes, so winning, it's really hard to say why exactly it worked. But when you lose, you can really pinpoint it, almost always. You can get right to the point, what happened. If you're willing to dig down deep, you can find it.
Mark Sylvester: So there's external factors, call it an X factor, if you will, right?
John Davies: Right.
Mark Sylvester: That somehow plays a role. I recently learned of a concept called a ... One way to call an evaluation is to call is a postmortem. There's this guy who promotes this idea of a premortem. Do you do premortems?
John Davies: Yes.
Mark Sylvester: You do.
John Davies: What the premortems are is when we do our research, we do a thing that I learned from a gentleman named Dan Sullivan from The Strategic Coach. It's called a D.O.S. which means Dangerous Opportunity Strengths, rather than a S.W.A.T. Dan Sullivan has a lot of great ideas. This is so simple. The idea is the dangers are the premortem. What could go wrong?
Mark Sylvester: Right.
John Davies: Like Sullivan, we keep it to three. We may write out 15, but we get to three. Three matter. How are we going to remember and deal with, there's three major dangers. How do we deal with those? If this is how the debate or the story goes, we're going to lose with these dangers. These are things we need to overcome. External threats that we need to deal with.
The opportunities are things that we see that we need to adopt, we need to embrace to win. They're not currently in the conversation. They're not currently things people are thinking about. Then we go to strengths, which are what do we bring to the table? One of the strengths is always the financials, but we don't get there until we overcome the dangers and we take advantage of the opportunities.
Mark Sylvester: Do you do the premortem or the D.O.S. right after research?
John Davies: Yes. The research comes out with findings, five to nine findings. Very seldom do we go to nine because there's 50 findings when you read 150 pages of verbatims, but five to seven are the ones that matter. We encourage our clients to read these verbatims. So we have the findings. They're simple. They're straightforward. Then we have the D.O.S. Then for each danger, opportunity, strength, we write a message. Then we write an overall core message. We write sub-messages, and then the most important messages are inoculation messages. How do we deal with tough issues and inoculate for it? How do we deal with the really tough issues? If they're really really worried and their perception is that farmland value will decrease. We have to come at that from an inoculation point of view. Inoculation meaning when you get a shot, or some type of flu or disease.
Mark Sylvester: You're immune.
John Davies: You get a little bit of it to build immunity before you get sick.
Mark Sylvester: I had a quick example of that. As you know, I had a software company, and we would go to our big annual trade show and we had our user meeting on the last day of the show. Last day, last night, big party. We would just get ripped because they would have had a chance to see what everybody else was doing and why aren't you guys like that? I'd had enough of it so I said and I did say, "I'm going to inoculate them." We had our event the day before the show started and they then became my ambassadors. It completely changed everything. I like that inoculation method.
John Davies: Right. It's really important to set the standard. How are people going to judge it, and if you set the standard? That's like our premortem is we're looking at how bad can this go? We need to deal with this issue before we can win.
Mark Sylvester: And you want to know that up front.
John Davies: Yeah.
Mark Sylvester: John, we have now five more steps that we're going to go through starting next week. We talked about them last week, but I'm really anxious to get into the tactical part because I want to do something now. We've been talking about the strategy.
John Davies: Yeah, I'm really excited to unpack that and really take folks through, especially the first part, How do we listen? Think about the whole idea of listening. I have three kids and the one thing I've learned as a father is that I have to listen to them.
Mark Sylvester: That's where we're going to start next week. John, thanks a lot. Thank you for listening. It's now your opportunity and responsibility to use the method today. You've completed one segment toward understanding the Davies Method. We look forward to you subscribing. Join us as we uncover and explain the nuances of John's distinctive approach. For more episodes, visit thedaviesmethod.com. I'm Mark Sylvester recording at the Pullstring Press Studios in Santa Barbara, California.