What are the Brown M&Ms for the Public Service?

Dan Heath and Chip Heath have drawn inspiration from some interesting sources in their article “Business advice from Van Halen” published in Fast Company .  The story talks about early warning signs and eventually explains that Val Halen had a no brown M&Ms clause in their contract. In addition to requiring a bowl of M&Ms backstage, the contract contained Article 126 which read:

“There will be no brown M&Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”

This simple requirement buried deep in the contract, a contract spelling out detailed technical requirements, allowed Van Halen to quickly determine if the production crew had read the contract and whether or not a technical error was likely.

So what are the brown M&Ms for the public service?  Here are some ideas:

  • No thought of the citizen / the public in service delivery, policy development and implementation
  • Little or no focus on the future just dealing with immediate problems
  • Absence of alternative view points being presented in discussions
  • Lack of a bias for action, just lots of planning
  • No mistakes
  • People who use the sentence – ‘we can’t raise expectations’
  • Units with an over-representation of 50+ year old men
  • Strong hierarchies
  • People uncomfortable with even a little brainstorming, who divert conversations to frameworks, processes and resources
  • Units that never describe the ‘outcomes’ from their work.

But how do we get the same immediacy as Van Halen’s brown M&Ms?

Link: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/143/made-to-stick-the-telltale-brown-mampm.html


  1. Lorraine says:

    I have some more Brown M&M’s ideas!
    How about…..
    -focusing on what can’t be done instead of saying how can we do that?
    -relying on a budget allocation instead of being innovative
    -not applying a strategic big picture view to the work we do on a daily basis
    -forgeting that we HAVE TO close the gap!

    Thanks for provoking thought!

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