The following document fell through a wormhole from an alternative universe, landing as a smoldering set of singed papers, with a comedy thump, on my desk. It purports to be an account of the speech given by South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill at the launch of the “2017 Open State Program.”
Standing at the podium with his confident bantamweight poise, it is Jay, the Man himself. He flicks through his prepared speech in a manner not unlike the late Senator Bulworth in the documentary of the same name.
He can be heard muttering to himself (“South Australia based on ideas, check. Wakefield, check; token olive branch to Liberals by mentioning Playford, check; red meat to the True Believers by invoking Don, check; me and my mate Elon, check; Federal policy vacuum, check”). He looks up, seemingly surprised that everyone is there.
He casually tosses the speech aside.
“Yeah, look, you know why we’re here, or else you wouldn’t be here. We’re launching another “Open State” festival. Various events in (at this he does that annoying air quote thing) “pop up” venues, where men with pony tails and pot bellies swap the buzzwords. Collaboration and innovation and other soothing blandishments that help the neoliberal state cope with its legitimation crisis.
“You’ll come along, catch up with some people you haven’t seen in years, hear half-digested ideas that you can trot out at your dinner party. Feel like you’ve got your finger on the pulse, that Adelaide isn’t the backwater people who fled to Sydney, Melbourne and LA keep telling you it is.
“The adjective “future” thrown in for sex appeal and then followed some random nouns – what are they again? (He looks at his notes) – “Hmm.. Human/Planet/Cities/Food./Enterprise/Democracy. – yeah, that about covers it.”
He looks around, seeking familiar and friendly faces, and finds them. “Most of you were at this last year, along with other people from Norwood and Prospect, Toorak and Dulwich. 25 thousand of you at 60 events.
“But look, life is short and we’re all going to be dead a long time. So I want to take a few minutes to talk about a different kind of innovation. Because you all already know about technological innovation. You all know about the enormous battery up north. Course you do. But in case someone’s been living on Mars, waiting for my mate Elon to show up (nervous sycophantic laughter can be heard), then my government is spending 2.6 million of your bucks to explain our energy plan. The one we can point to if the lights and aircon go out this summer, ahead of next March’s election, and pin the blame on my friend Josh.
“But let’s put that kind of innovation aside. What I think we need – what I am introducing to day – is some relatively small but potentially hugely significant – social innovations. For way too long we’ve been using the standard chalk and talk/sage on the stage methods. Last year’s Open State suffered from that. So many of them were glorified TED talks, the audience as nothing more than egofodder for the speakers and organisers, bums on seats, brains in jars at home. Instead of a 2 to 1 ratio of talk and Q and A, sometimes we ended up with nothing but talk.
At this the audience seems divided; some looking relieved at the outbreak of emotional intelligence and plain-speaking, others alarmed by it.
“It’s kind of embarrassing, isn’t it? We have this situation where we say we’re trying to create links between participants and get different things happening, but to do that we seem stuck on using methods that haven’t changed since at least the birth of the university in Italy a thousand years ago, before the invention of the printing press. A lecturer and acolytes. It’s all top-down info dumping followed by a Q and A which is actually a P and A – preening and asshatery.
“You might almost say that it’s the equivalent of using centralised coal-fired power stations to keep the lights on and the carbon emissions low and being surprised when it goes wrong..
“So today, I announce that my government is going to set an example and blaze a trail on the socialinnovation. And it won’t even cost 2.6 million to be advertised.
“Every Open State event is going to have four innovations. One is to keep greenhouse gases in front of our minds, and the three others are to break down the power of the speaker and the power of the confident.
Jay is onto the front foot now, getting that bouncy energy thing that he does so well, a family dog that realises playtime is about to begin.
“First up, in addition to the welcome to country, we’re going to do an acknowledgement of Greenhouse gases. The MC will say something like
“We acknowledge that this meeting is taking place in an economy that has grown massively over the last two hundred years in large part from the burning of coal, gas and oil. We acknowledge that the increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is causing the planet to warm, and that other species and the poorest humans are suffering first, but that we will all suffer in the future. We acknowledge that as people who have benefited from previous burning, and as people who continue to burn fossil fuels above and beyond the global average, we have a primary responsibility to work to minimise carbon dioxide emissions in fair and sustainable ways, and to help the poorest among us adapt to the inevitable changes that climate change will bring.”
“I picked this one up while scanning an obscure activist website, which is my hobby when I’m not attending the book launches. Why are we doing this? Because it’s easy to get blinded by boosterism for the latest gadget, and forget the painful scale of the challenges we face.
“Second thing, after the usual pleasantries, the welcome to country and that greenhouse gas thing, everyone’s going to be settling into passivity, willingly or otherwise. So here’s a disruptive innovation. : we’re going to have two minutes while everyone turns to someone they don’t know – beside them or behind them – and just introduces themselves.
Why? Because we’re trying to thicken the web of knowledge and friendship, reduce loneliness and help people use these Open State events as real networking opportunities. This two minute thing will give people more permission to have better wider connections during the longer breaks.
“Third thing – we’re going to keep all the speakers to their promised time. We’re also going to empower our MCs to keep the speakers, no matter how prestigious, strictly to their allotted time. We know that this can be tricky, if it’s a young female or star-struck bureaucrat and a high status old male. Rather than add pressure on them, and see them fail a lot, we are going to ‘crowd source it, as the young people say. It’s called the ‘clap clinic’.
The MC will introduce the speaker and then say something like
‘I’ll give the speaker a one minute warning. Then, when their time is up, I will start applauding and I’d like you to all join in. Let’s practice now, giving the speaker the clap they so richly deserve.’
This will mean there is proper time in every session for an actual Q and A.
“Fourthly and finally, we are going to do something about the Q and As, which tend to be dominated by old white men with a lot to say, with others pushed to the margins. Here is what we are going to do. As at the outset, we’re going to have a further two minutes for people to talk to each other.
We’ve trained our facilitators to say something like.
Let’s all turn to someone nearby you – ideally someone you don’t know. Introduce yourself and exchange impressions of the speech. If you have a question you are wondering whether to ask, find out if the other person thinks it’s a good ‘un. With their help, refine it, hone it and – please – for everyone’s sake, make it shorter. Women especially, your questions are just as good and welcome as men’s. You have two minutes…_
“The MC will then be able to draw from a wider range of ages, genders, skin tones than is currently the case.
“Look, people are banging on about the “entrepreneurial state.” They’ve been banging on about the enabling state – though to be honest that was Mark Latham’s schtick, and we all know how that turned out.
“South Australia is already leading on battery storage and energy production. And now the CST thing. Well, today is that South Australia starts leading on how to hold gatherings that get beyond the usual stultifying egofests to create genuine connections.
“So, let’s start now. Instead of you guys sticking up your hands and me asking the safest and most sycophantic person I can see, let’s have you talk among yourselves for a minute, to hone the most awkward questions you can.”
A minute passes. Jay looks around the room. He points to an oldish white male. Chris Kenny (for it is he) “Premier, one question…”
[The second “Open State” festival of innovation, collaboration, ideas and enterprise will be held in Adelaide from 28 September – 8 October.]