Clumsy Solutions

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My good friend and colleague, Jack Johnston, loaned me a book to read on vacation this past week. It’s entitled, Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World, Government, Politics and Plural Perceptions.

What’s a “clumsy solution”? My take on it: one that acknowledges and takes into consideration the cultural point of view of any position a group, organization, or nation takes when making decisions or establishing new policy. It’s not nearly as clean and precise as we might wish our positions – any position – might be – but it is much more viable and valuable in today’s complex world.

The editors’ review of cultural theory provides a very accessible framework for assessing the prevalent “social contract” that governs decision-making, whether we are aware of it or not. The various contributors to this volume apply the theory to global issues from climate change to gun control to open internet access. Their study has enormous relevance for anyone concerned with the “politics of creativity” and innovation. The pursuit of innovative solutions must necessarily include rigorous inquiry about the embedded assumptions that are inextricably a part of culture.

I am very cautious about recommending any book that lists at $85.00. (That’s why I borrowed it form Jack.) But I wish both John McCain and Barak Obama would read it. And you too.

  • Jack Johnston

    The applications of cultural theory exemplified in the book reminded of some of the complex and often contentious technology / policy issues that arose in wour work related to energy systems.

    The framework provides an additional and potentially insightful way to understand how to bridge the apparent differences in perspective that can separate people trying work collaboratively on complex problems.

    Good material for leaders working to undertsand diverse teams.

  • Steve, I too found this book very interesting. To follow the idea further, readers might be interested in the following links:
    The Yale Law School Cultural Cognition Project takes up the approach and examines a wide range of contemporary social debates, from gun control to nanotechnology, using an in-depth values survey as its raw material.
    The Fourcultures website puts a popular spin on applications of the same theory.