Why Boris is remembered for introducing congestion charges and Boris bikes

Charismatic leaders attract myths which help constitute their public persona. A case in point is that of Boris Johnsonboris bikes

I was reminded of the myth-making process phenomenon after a meeting yesterday [August 22nd] with two LWD contributors. We were discussing the final draft for a post about Boris Johnson being planned for the near future.

They seek him here, they seek him there

But how to pin down the Boris effect? One instructive episode at the meeting was when we began listing what Boris was known for. Bendy busses. Public gaffs. Teflon-like survival of public gaffs. Boris Bikes. London’s congestion change.

London’s congestion charge?

Well, no not really, but they were added to the list of Boris’s political achievements. Only later did a little research reveal the historical fact that they were introduced by Ken Livingstone, Boris’s predecessor as Mayor of London.

An explanation?

Charisma operates by inducing a state of suspended disbelief. Boris is believed to do big bold controversial things. The congestion change is a big bold controversial thing. I don’t think Boris has tried to abolish it. We assumed he had invented it.

The Guinness effect

A possibly unrelated effect? Some years ago I attended a meeting at which new ideas were being discussed for the drinks company then known as Guinness. A rather nice idea was suggested by a colleague, someone we will call Susan. The idea was hardly greeted with enthusiasm, but at the end of the meeting two unexpected things happened. The idea was accepted as worth further testing.

“That’s a nice idea you had” one of the Guinness executives told me, to general agreement.

Did I insist Susan got credit for the idea? Not loud enough to make a difference to the myth being built. I could argue that the ‘creative ideas’ meeting was structured so that ideas were deliberately left unclaimed and not associated with any one team member. That is hardly the point. I had accrued the social credit for something I hadn’t done. It happened to fit my (then) social identity as the outsider brought in because of his creative skills.

Susan became known in her own right as a successful creative leader. The idea (which involved a re-branding of a well-known product) was followed through. The incident has remained with us as a reminder of what we think of as The Guinness Effect.

Postscript

Even the Boris Bikes are technically branded as Barclays cycle hire scheme for the moment (but a new sponsor is likely) . And even the Barclays/Boris bikes were proposed by Ken Livingstone and implemented during the reign of king Boris …

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6 Responses to Why Boris is remembered for introducing congestion charges and Boris bikes

  1. hans says:

    Another reason why Susan’s voice may not have been heard is what Mary Beard calls the suppression of women’s voices in western culture in her lecture at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n06/mary-beard/the-public-voice-of-women

  2. Thanks and a good point. Violent reactions to Beard’s modest celebrity recently sort of confirms what she argues against.

  3. garriganx2 says:

    Also helpful here is the advantage of alliteration and a good cadence to the term ‘Boris Bike’.

  4. Adds flow. Maybe next sponsor will need tonal resonance too?

  5. Leong Lai San says:

    Hi

    I think the best example of Boris bold plans is Boris Johnson’s Thames estuary airport plan. This is something that global airport/aviation community is aware of, as everyone is monitoring London airport plans.

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/aug/26/boris-johnson-thames-estuary-airport-hope-crash

  6. Thanks very much. Yes I agree. The development of a strategy for London’s transport needs is proving very difficult. The coming election has slowed things down even further.

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