“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
The aim of this blog is to give insights on big picture thinking and will be broad scoped. It are views that are just my take, nothing more, nothing less and certainty not a complete and whole truth. It are experiences and personal thoughts. They are written for myself to build a diary and may help others as well to trigger reflection.
Big picture analysis is what I have been doing in my former work as scientific researcher in land use and water management during the years 2000 – 2011. The objective was to shape overview between involved public and private actors in these fields in a role of policy analyst and negotiator. I specialized on organizing collaboration between land use and water management departments, when this became urgent in the early 2000’s in the aftermath of an almost flooding of Netherlands main river region in 1995. Research projects were launched and new policies were introduced in response
Why bother you about what I did in a former life? We live in a world that works completely different as is taught at schools, even on universities and management schools. We are trained to think that people are working to solve issues in simple and fast ways. This may apply the best for start ups and small, family based businesses, but I’ve learned that it certainly doesn’t work this way in a governmental working environment.
First I worked on simple problems as land use in urban areas, land use in rural areas, flood protection, ground water and surface water management. In a later stage I saw that the regulations worked fine applying for each isolated, individual case, but the complexity grew when you had to deal with multiple problems. In this case you needed to apply multiple policies and regulations from different governmental departments that weren’t designed for that purpose raising all sorts of obscurities and conflicts. For instance, flood protection has its specific regulations, as there are for ground water, surface water, as land use has for urban, agricultural and nature areas. This addressed a need for an integrated, comprehensive approach. Working with both land use and water managers addressed a next issue: a need for organizing interdisciplinary teams from several governmental departments with divergent knowledge, skills and culture. I grew into organizational matters, in designing collaboration arrangements. In person, I developed from technical analysis with an engineering background into a social scientist, focussed on political and negotiation processes. I became a big picture analyst with a stretched mind.
When I left this working field in 2011 nothing had really changed between the 2 policy domains in a permanent way. Land and water management were still separated worlds. Collaboration hadn’t developed into a major way of working to reduce the amount of scattered policies between the two. The interdisciplinary arrangements kept their temporary, project based nature as people stayed employed in their own departments and discipline. In fact, each working field developed its own rules instead of common, shared rules. The land use managers gave their turn on water management and water managers crafted rules for land use! The obscurities and conflicts between land use and water managers were not solved. This triggered conclusions that more time was needed and especially more money should be made available to do more research. Instead of less scattered regulations and policies, the total number of them had only increased! Complexity increased. Exactly the opposite of the original objective.
Later on I found a little book titled “Parkinson’s Law” (1958). This is a great and funny book, written more than 50 years ago, but still super actual. Parkinson explains how bureaucracy, aka overhead keeps growing in an autonomous manner regardless an increase or decrease of key activities within an organization. He explains how this law works and what one can do about it.
Despite popular belief, it’s not the nature of government to simplify and decrease policies and regulations, rather it is the opposite, to increase them, grow the governmental apparatus and bureaucracy, aka overhead. People believing that government can be easily reorganized or reduced are probably in for a surprise as I was. Why is this a useful insight? Because the financial world is ruled by corporate (banks) and governments. Interesting is that the case of expanding government and bureaucracy is mostly ignored by politicians and public servants as monetary expansion and growing deficits. Politicians focus on how the world should work and promise to deliver positive change, ignoring how the world actually works.
Nowadays I watch this theatre from the sidelines in my current role as trader. I still use big picture thinking in trying to develop understanding of markets. If I see something that triggers me to write about it, I will post it here. The topics will be rather broad scoped, don’t expect me to focus on trading only.