What if hidden agendas were no longer hidden – would the world really come to an end?

For many years I have challenged the notion of hidden agendas – not because I don’t believe people and organisations have agendas – but more because I believe it is natural and normal to have an agenda. By naming it as ‘hidden’ we create a power and strength to it that brings with it an assumed inability to bring it into the open and discuss it.

What we therefore land up doing is putting an extra-ordinary amount of energy into hypothesising about what is or isn’t driving the other individual, department or organisation. Often our imaginations are far more creative than people ever are themselves.

Following on from the blog I wrote a few weeks ago on feedback, the issue of agendas – hidden or otherwise – is closely linked in my view to the dysfunctional feedback cultures we have created.

If we start from the premise that it is natural, normal and human to have an agenda (indeed we would be lacking in a moral compass or sense of greater purpose to not have identified agendas we are following) we could bring them out of the closet and discuss them openly.

One of the immediate benefits of thinking and working in this way is that we could use all the time and energy we waste in second guessing and focus our attention on the both-gain outcomes we could achieve working together.

I use the term both-gain because for me win-win is an equally limiting notion. Win-win suggests that I have decided on my winning position before entering into a conversation with you – and you have done likewise. We then navigate our way to our winning position and walk away convinced we have done well. If we are open and clear about our agendas and seek to combine our collective expertise to achieve solutions, we can discover outcomes from which we both gain significantly more than we initially thought possible.

The issues we are grappling with as societies, let alone those within and between organisations, are too serious and impactful on our current and future prosperity for us to engage in school-yard negotiation tactics. It takes far more courage to clearly articulate what you seek to achieve than to play games and fuel insecure egos by striving to get one over on the other party.

If we adopt an abundance frame rather than one of scarcity and more importantly if we truly scrutinise our agendas, we will come to both-gain outcomes. I suspect that the reason we are keen to keep our agendas hidden is that if we were to disclose them many of us might be embarrassed by them seeing the light of day!

So my plea is that we all review our agendas, question ourselves in terms of the values and principles driving us and then with pride and honour put our agendas on the table and explore the art of the possible.

Go on, give it a go – I doubt the world will end!


How much more energy could you put into solutions, if you were honest about your agenda?



This blog was written by Charles Irvine, Managing Director of Questions of Difference.

A conceptual futurist, affirmatively disruptive philosopher and organisational resultant