May 18, 2022

Letting go

Sometimes, groups of actors in a system have different goals, pulling them in different directions.   These goals are perfectly reasonable from the perspective of each group, but a constant tug-of-war between groups prevents improvement.

We’re seeing a simple example of this kind of thing right now, with the ‘in the office’/’work from home’ debates and policy changes.

A firm wants people back in the office, so they decide to ban working from home.  That ban just makes some people leave – to join a more accommodating competitor.   The firm pulling hard in one direction hasn’t helped, it’s just made others pull harder in a different direction.   The harder one side pulls, the harder the other does too.

These tugs of war can involve more than two parties – and frequently do.  That makes fixing the system even more difficultr as each group pulls more and more strongly in its own preferred direction.

The answer, counterintuitively, is to let go.  Stop pulling.  When you do that everyone else will stop pulling too.

Then, look at everyone’s different, and from their perspective, perfectly reasonable goals.

Why do you want people in the office?   Why do they want to work from home?  What could you do to feel more confident that people are productive at home?  How could you help them feel happier about coming back to the office.

My favourite example for this is the Swedish solution to a falling birth rate.  Instead of banning abortions and birth control as Ceausescu did in Romania, which led to orphanages full of neglected and traumatised children, Sweden agreed on a higher goal of ‘every child being wanted and nurtured’, and implemented policies across the board to deliver that, that helped everyone work towards it.

What policies could you put in place that help everyone pull in the same direction?