Saturday, December 29, 2012

Complex, Systemic Problems Require Complex Solutions

To our government: your ability to work together in the short term is an indication of your belief (or lack thereof) in yourselves and each other to work through the deeper elements of our challenges in the mid and longer term future. Remember, people rise to an occasion when they believe in a better you?

No Shocker - Complex, systemic problems in the real world may require complex solutions. And, yes...compromise. 
Addressing deep challenges requires a series of variables to achieve a desired end of the equation. But just like variables in a math equation, each variable does not have to be the same for every scenario to still achieve the desired outcome.  If the desired outcome is 100, it could be 50 X2, 40+20+30+10, 20X2X2X1.25, or 1+1+1+1…. Until you get to 100.  Another way of saying, there are lots of ways to skin the cat!

The trick is to understand the variables, your situation, and the real end goal, and assess which variables are, or can be made stronger to make up for those variables that are weaker.  The typical variables needed in an equation of solving systemic problems are:

Awareness, Time, money, intellect and/or skill, formal authority/power, desire, collaboration, and motivation or incentive.  

In any scenario where a systemic issue is identified, those seeking to address and solve the issue must assess the level of each of these variables between themselves and those involved in the issue or 'system'. And then work together to mazimize what you've got.
In most cases, you don't have a high level of all variables, and in some very difficult situations, you have very low levels of all of them - and that, my friends, is what we call a big bummer and a tall mountain to climb.  But not impossible – and that is what you always have to remember in any tough situation.  The desired outcome is NEVER impossible – it could be highly unlikely, but that does not mean impossible.
In business, you’ll find bad eggs, crappy people, negative vibes, unprofessional practices .  In governments, you’ll find extreme partisan positioning, corruption, and protectionism.  These things  are sometimes so deep rooted and so systemic, that it’s tough to see how things can change or how big problems can be tackled collaboratively. 
At those points, you have a choice.  (Our government is tat this point) You can leave, give up and criticize, stand your ground, and view those involved as simply opposing forces, or you can ask yourself, “if not me, who?” “if not now, when?”. If you don’t get the wheels of change in motion, who will? And if you don’t do it now, when you (or someone) finally do, will be it be too late? 
And for our government:
I know many of you made promises to your constituents with phrases like "I will never" and "I will always".  This happens in business, too.  You take over a company and department and have an ideal set of goals.  But if you are confronted with a new reality and now know that sticking to that for the sake of sticking to it will lead to a more negative outcome for your constuents, it is your job as a leader to help inform your teams or voters, and make necessary exceptions to general rules to do what's best.
In private enterprise, you HAVE to work together to evolve and tweak your plans, or you go out of business.  Your competitors beat you, or your customers go to others who have figured it out. In government, that's not the case - it can't be the case, but we need to apply a little private enterprise pressure to our public-sector decision making processes. We also need civility, leaders taking each other to dinner, spend time together, look at each other as teams to work together, not as impersonal opposing forces.   
You are the leaders.  You, better than most, are supposed to be able to see the unintended consequences of certain decisions, think through them, work together, and make policy that keeps America progressing forward. Your constituents need you to do that.  Is sticking to your word important? Yes! Is not compromising on values critical? Yes!
But we need to focus on the most common values and commitments, moving America forward, progressing, getting people to work and keeping them there, creating a safe and productive living and working environment, keeping this country the best place to work and grow a life or business in the entire world.
You should also engage a diverse group of advisors like non-profits, big business, small business, the unemployed, other public sector groups, etc. to ensure you're evaluating consequences and perspectives. Keep us as part of the conversation, educate us on complex issues, so we understand why BIG compromise is sometimes necessary. We won't fault you for a compromise if it prevents an eventual, major meltdown.
That means you have to work together, you may have to make decisions that aren't exactly like you thought you would make them, but you have to trust in each other and believe that you are working toward a better tomorrow.  I do.


  1. And this is true with all three corners of the triangle- people, business, and government. We need people with different viewpoints, expertise, and experiences to keep us in check. Get the best advice out there, and then act with conviction for the best of [the country] / [the business] / [your neighbors]. Likewise, we must also contribute. Stay well-informed, become better educated, be a voice of justice, build your business for the shareholders (and equally the customers and employees). Be a good neighbor, and serve as well as you can.

  2. Kat, this is very clearly stated. Bravo!

  3. This certainly strikes a chord with me a moderate. At this point, partisan primaries of one party prevent moderate compromise of any sort, and as matter of fact incent extremism.

    During hard economic times, extremist positions and politicians who proffer them more easily proliferate. In many ways, this thorny political issue only gets easier to address as the economy improves, and opportunity for all is more prevalent, will such politics of fear, uncertainty and doubt subside.