Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The priority of impetus

I have been thinking about how to do good things, and why lots of great ideas and ideal solutions don't work. I've come to think that it's more important to focus on sensing and working with impetus (e.g. motivation, which I've posted on already) than being right, or having the best idea.

Discussions on the success of entrepreneurs and changemakers often come down to it being 'the right time', or to an idea or context being 'ripe'. (Not only is a given business idea likely not original, it's quite possibly already been tried.) It's also important to have the drive to see it through and to engage people to come with you.  There are a lot of factors that can make or break a good idea (or even a bad one).

For entrepreneurs, we all know you need to understanding the market, your own motivations, and how to 'sell' your idea to others.  Defining a 'problem' is a bit more nebulous and ill understood, but it's useful for refining the business concept.  I don't think it's appreciated that this is a way to identify the most important factor in success - impetus, not necessarily for the entrepreneur, but in the system that is being remodeled for business purposes.

For changemakers otherwise, I'm yet to come across similar systematic ways to understand the task at hand, rather than just determining the ideal solution. There is an understanding of the need to be 'systemic', and foster transformation, but not of actually how to make being systemic core to the task at hand. As a result, most efforts are driven by a vision or a good idea, with 'how to get there' something worked out along the way - not central to the idea itself.  In this case, the impetus of the individual (or group) is provided by the strength of the vision - but that's not enough to motivate broader change.  I think it may help to make working with impetus for change (in the system, other parties etc) the central priority, and working out how to shift or catalyse this.  So for changemakers working within other systems (rather than setting up their own business), impetus is even more critical than for entrepreneurs.

These thoughts are highly personal, in the sense that my background has always been to work out the best solution.  My history is weighted towards one end of a spectrum of impetus/action thinking, and idea/ideal thinking.  I am reacting to this, and for me I need to flee these inclinations - ideally, I presume there is some happy halfway point (but it would be rather ironic of me to try to find that in a post about sidelining idealism).  They also tie into friends' thoughts on the need to making research real, because we've done so much reductionist, specialised and abstracted work already.

By way of example, these thoughts arose reading Jocelyn Bourgon's New Synthesis of Public Administration, and thinking about the role the book may play in fostering change. I think the book crystalises current ideas, but doesn't necessarily offer new insights.  What it does do, however, is provide real authority and credibility for ideas that are otherwise at the fringe of thinking about government. So it potentially (with the help of other contextual circumstances) help provide the impetus for a discussion about change, and revision of how best to govern.  Nobody is going to run out and go 'okay, we have a new template for how government works, we're going to introduce a change plan to get us up to date' (Bourgon emphasises the 'New Synthesis' as a framework rather than a model, clearly conscious of the danger of this). But it might provide a touch point - or an excuse - to take a step back, or to give credibility to ideas that otherwise may have been seen as unnecessary (or worse).

John Baxter

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