Tour guides, travel agents; or explorers?

…”An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” G K Chesterton

The difference between tour guides and travel agents is often noted and quoted, generally by tour guides. The point they make is that there are those that have actually been and those that have only viewed from a distance; so which would you rather listen to and trust? I’ve always valued experience over academic knowledge, but I can’t help wondering now if the value of this old analogy has become obsolete for many of us…if we look at the innovations that have changed our world over the last few decades they have taken us in new directions into undiscovered territory.

This WayThe new reality we face is that there are very few if any tour guides worth following because no-one has been on the journeys that we now need to go on, the routes are new and the old maps are almost meaningless. This is exciting and challenging. It also means we are more open to uncertainty and even deception because we can’t measure the value of one opinion, however well-meaning, against another. There are no longer clear signs saying this way will lead to there and no obvious warnings of the things to avoid. Those of you who thrive on schadenfreude should prepare because you will get less and less opportunity to say “I told you so”.

This is a particular problem for the Public Sector because not only is it subject to the same game changing upheaval that has reshaped the Private Sector (you remember the high street don’t you?) the Public Sector is detached from understanding the needs of its consumers (not customers; it regards others as these) because it does not have the mechanisms in place to measure what is important to them. In its defence it has never needed these mechanisms in any other form than tokenism because it was never designed to be truly responsive to their needs. It is markets, not monopolies, that create responsive organisations.

Uncertainty is not something the Public Sector deals well with. When was the last time you heard a Government Minister report back on an initiative that didn’t work? Every Publicly Funded programme is a resounding success because every administration thinks the public is incapable of tolerating uncertainty…an ironic view to take when you consider that the longer rhetoric doesn’t match reality, the more uncertainty is created across the entire system; find me anyone who really trusts Government Ministers anymore?

Therefore, if you are a consultant working for a Public Sector body it does not pay you to deal in uncertainty, your paymasters require it from you just as theirs require it from them. But where is this dealing in certainty taking the Public Sector? The answer is not simply “nowhere”, it is much worse than that. Nowhere would be net neutral, not a gain and not a loss…but what this need for certainty and its subsequent application of tired irrelevant solutions is doing is draining finite resources from a struggling system. Not just money, but effort, passion, pride, commitment, enthusiasm and joy.

The Public Sector needs to get comfortable with uncertainty, to acknowledge and accept that the world is full of complex and potentially intractable problems that it may never solve and which it may be ill-equipped to try to. The Public Sector needs to shed the arrogance of knowing for the humility of learning. And the Public Sector needs to welcome explorers, leaders at all levels, people with principles, explorers with compasses, who recognise that the old off the shelf solution may be no solution. It was explorers and not tour guides who discovered the world was round.

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