The speed, motion and pace of our society along with the growth of government has created much confusion about what progress looks like. It often distracts us from what really makes a difference. This confusion and distraction are particularly challenging for entrepreneurs, business owners and government leaders. Far too many have become addicted to or deceived by perpetual motion. The challenge is to be able to distinguish the difference between motion and forward movement. It is usually the difference between being extremely busy and being exceptionally productive.
Over the years, I have consulted and strategized with many frazzled, frantic and stressed out business executives and politicians. They are constantly chasing, forever working and at the end of the day and often left wondering if they really were on a path to progress.
When assessing and looking at a particular problem, many of us hear the haunting echo of a parent, teacher or former boss yelling, “Don’t just stand there — do something!” While action is important, there are times where we might be better off responding to the call to, “Don’t just do something — stand there.” And I would add, stand there and think, honestly assess and courageously course correct.
It is vital for leaders to recognize that motion can rapidly unravel into commotion or even confusion. Movement, on the other hand, is purposeful, sometimes plodding, and often requires patience. But it takes you forward toward your ultimate goals and objectives.
On Wednesday, Brent Orrell from American Enterprise Institute wrote, “In Washington’s policy battles, the time-tested adage says, ‘you can’t beat something with nothing.’ The idea is that social ills require solutions and doing nothing is never the right thing to do — bad policy beats no policy every time. In the one-way federal ratchet, bad policies are met with less-bad policies and the growth of government continues its relentless march. But what if the facts on the ground say otherwise? What if ‘nothing,’ on some issues, does beat ‘something’?”
Orrell went on to compare four different government-driven programs relating to homelessness to see which of them actually produced the best long-term outcomes. While each program had some positives in the short-run, the ultimate conclusion was that empowerment beat government. He concluded, “the fewer supportive services the families got, the better they did. In this project, nothing beat something.”
Orrell then clarified, “Without suggesting a wholesale revamping of homelessness, re-entry, or other social services programs, we ought to begin asking questions about where tests of alternative anti-poverty approaches might be useful. For instance, should we establish a principle saying that if the federal government wants to launch a new or expand an existing intervention-based approach, the sponsoring agency must analyze whether the same end could be served through an empowerment model?”
Federal and state governments are often filled with well-intentioned programs that are duplicative, ineffective or unproductive. Unfortunately, the solution for a failing government program is usually to create two or more new programs.
At an advance screening of his new movie “The Pursuit” in Salt Lake City this week, economist, social scientist and outgoing AEI president Arthur Brooks shared his insight on a better way to lift people out of poverty. Brooks spent time traveling the world in search of a better way to lift those at the margins of society while creating space for all to pursue happiness. His sojourn in search of solutions took him to the chaotic streets of Mumbai, a town in Kentucky left behind by the global economy, a homeless shelter in New York, a street protest in Barcelona, and a Himalayan Buddhist monastery.
In typical Brooks fashion, he wasn’t racing to “do something.” He stood still in these places, asked penetrating questions, challenged conventional thinking, abandoned preconceived notions and entertained the possibility that current poverty programs might be hindering rather than helping. Brooks believes the answers are not likely to be found in a bigger government-driven safety net, but in a better social safety net propelled by the principles which have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty in America and around the world.8 comments on this story
It is difficult for leaders to resist the thrill and temporary satisfaction of chasing more motion-producing programs. For politicians, reelection is easier when they can point to a program launched or something they “did.” Such politically expedient motion almost always comes at the expense of forward movement.
We would be wise to pause, think, honestly assess and courageously course correct when it comes to policy and programs. In some cases, nothing does beat something, and at certain times we should heed the call to, “Don’t just do something — stand there.”