Black Swan Farming

Eurovision: prioritisation by politics

Two very good friends of mine are a bit special. Despite their intelligence and normally being trustworthy and of excellent judgement, for some inexplicable reason they absolutely love Eurovision.

I just don’t get it. To me Eurovision seems a somewhat amusing but mostly irrelevant sideshow, with very little going for it in terms of the quality of music on offer. Most artists with any self respect or chance in the real world of music avoid it like the plague it would be for their career prospects.

As if that alone wasn’t enough to write it off, the mechanism employed to separate the rubbish from the really rubbish is itself, rubbish. The ranking of competing entries is like a bad case of geopolitics mixed up with a reality TV voting system mixed up with a sorry set of songs.

But here’s the thing: if you’ve ever been involved in decisions about the allocation of scarce resources (time and money) to product development in a big company you may recognise some similarities.

The “Eurovision model” as I like to call it, is your classic horse-trading system. Politics between allies and enemies, lobbying the swing voters sitting on the fence, and favours for friends and allies: this is how so many projects get funding and approval. In your organisation this behaviour typically goes under the banner of “governance”. There will be a process, of course, and some paperwork — sometimes there is even a “business case” that attempts to justify the decision. Rare is the organisation though where these things are either followed or where the decision is made on the basis of the evidence. Chances are you’ve got a bad case of the Eurovisions — selecting all the wrong projects for all the wrong reasons.

At least Eurovision is funny.