03 September 2010

Through failure to success

If you want to be more successful, increase your failure rate. Attributed to Thomas Watson, founder of IBM
We can probably all attest to the wisdom of that dictum. The problem, as I see it, is that with highly centralised government and huge corporations, we are creating a policy environment that eliminates the diversity that gives rise to success through repeated experimentation and adaptation. Decisions in policy areas such as the environment or finance are taken at such a high level of aggregation that there is no realistic chance of comeback if they fail. Government favours the uniform approach, and big corporations can attribute much of their size to their ruthless elimination of competition - in defiance of their much-lauded 'market forces' - with the full connivance of government. The entities that dictate how our ever-smaller planet shall be run now are so large that we can't afford an increase in the failure rate.

We need to revert to an environment in which failure can not only be tolerated, but can perform its necessary function of generating improved policy. Social Policy Bonds are one possibility. Under a bond regime decisions could still be taken with the aim of improving outcomes at the global level. But, unlike under the current system, the bonds would stimulate the exploration, implementation and refinement of diverse solutions. By contracting out the achievement of broad social and environmental outcomes to the private sector, the bonds would encourage diverse approaches, many of which would fail to be efficient and effective solutions to our social problems. Et voila: an increased failure rate!

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