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Max Raine analyses the structural reasons behind political failure and presents some ideological alternatives to consider
Good start-ups are case studies in building things from scratch that serve people well over time. A good company is able to stay true to market demand and change as the world around them does. It’s about wrangling the millions of variables in our modern world and build things that endure the ever-present reality of constant change. Start-ups are a vehicle surprisingly parallel to public policy. They make systems, processes and products which benefit people and solve real problems effectively. So why on earth are the approaches so diametrically opposed? And who does history deem correct?
Here is a quick discussion of the efficacy of the free-market mechanisms that propel start-ups and their obscured utility within politics.
The structure of politics means every policy is destined to fail. In each election, the major parties put forward the proposed structural and policy changes that they plan to implement; all with painfully specific timelines and plans. They promise guaranteed results on a guaranteed timeline and fail every time. Let’s place that within the context of lean start-up thinking.
The average successful start-up (one that runs for 5 years or more or holds a market cap of more than $10 million) pivots five to eight times. That means they admit failure quickly and sometimes completely change plans. The inevitability of changing circumstances and variables is embraced as the original idea runs up against unforeseen circumstances and the dozens of unpredictable variables which affect what they are building.
Any good product we all enjoy would have almost completely changed from its inception. Facebook started as a ‘hot or not website’ and Airbnb started as a way for mates to couch surf. Without the benefit of hindsight, these ideas sound insane on paper.
Airbnb: Don’t stay in a hotel, stay in a stranger’s spare bedroom.
Uber: Don’t get a cab, get in a stranger’s car.
Imagine pitching these ideas years before they became popular. You’d sound insane yet these are products which have radically transformed their respective industries, and the lives of their loyal consumers. Every thriving market and good product is a triumph of trial and error, because no CEO or Board of Directors can ever predict the future in such high resolution.
On the other hand, in politics a single failure or tweak of policy is seen as a grand failure of leadership and direction, usually boiled down to a political issue of conservatism or progressivism. Furthermore, the nature of the popular vote means that opposition leaders and internal constituents are ready to pounce on any perceived failure as soon as a proposed plan doesn’t deliver for any magnitude of reasons.
No person alive has the ridiculous foresight to define concrete and unchanging policies to run a country for years, let alone in the absurd specificity which they are currently articulated in. This in essence means that compared to what businesses can do (which is already tough enough with 87% of new businesses failing), politicians are essentially shooting in the dark and aimlessly guessing what the future will hold. All they can do is use their major in political science to stare into a tax-payer funded crystal ball and write 500 page documents outlining exactly how their policy will be rolled out in coming years. A pretty ineffective system.
By contrast, a company can take stock, observe and change. Policy changes are shunned for any iteration and bad programs are forced to continue to avoid this short-term judgement. This means we are literally expecting politicians to sit in a room, predict every variable that will change in their multi-year tenure and then build a plan that will be both financially and socially viable, without the opportunity to ever change or pivot.
It’s hard to find an analogy for the absurdity of this political approach. But imagine playing a football game or a game of chess and being forced, years before, to explain exactly how you intend to approach the task, with step-by-step detail; and being shunned when, years later, things don’t go to plan.
What would be far more impressive is a politician identifying the issues they plan to solve, and embracing a window of investigation, fast empirical pivots and constant iterations. What politicians should be doing is offering a direction, a vision and a mission, a subscription to an ideal instead of an immediate policy prescription. People wonder why politicians can get nothing done, and most government initiatives end up being a complete joke. This is why.
This kind of transparency would be the ultimate breath of fresh air. It’s mature, wise and rejects the idea that any single politician knows exactly how to run a country. As Elon Musk, arguably the greatest inventor in the last century said, “I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” This feedback loop and iterative process, which builds pretty much every product and business you know, could not be more antithetical to current political processes. Yet they are fundamentally on the same mission; to build systems and processes which positively impact the lives of the consumer, and it is easy to see who’s winning.
These free-market mechanisms work. Our rate of innovation and prosperity is unbelievable, and our mechanisms and processes of innovation and progress speak for themselves. Warren Buffet is 90 years old. His life is 90 years of aggressive trial and error and the acceptance of constant change and iteration. This fundamental approach to building companies which serve people well over a sustained period of time is common knowledge, yet it is seemingly held deficient compared to our politician’s taxpayer backed crystal balls. These processes work and politics does not.
These fundamental vehicles for human prosperity have been self-evident for hundreds of years. But through a political haze this mechanism has been obscured to the point of absurdity. Our political system and the expectations of our politicians need to change. Maybe then, we can actually move towards some form of substantive difference..