Sound impossible? Not really; engineers achieve such magic all the time. Here’s how.
How to Make Effective Decisions
Engineers are exceptionally successful in providing solutions to problems. As discussed here, this is not because engineers are smarter than everyone else, it’s because they have a review system that drives out bad ideas. Proposed solutions are based on research and careful analysis, not emotion. Also, proposed solutions are mercilessly critiqued by a panel of senior experienced engineers, following which the best solution is selected.
But the process does not end there. Engineers realize that, despite their best efforts, a selected solution might not work as predicted, so they rigorously test it. If it meets expectations, they keep it. If it doesn’t, it’s tossed aside and the next-best proposal is then evaluated. This process of critique, select, and test continues until the desired results are achieved.
Why Compromise Is Bad
Compromise distorts the learning process. If a selected solution were allowed to be a combination of various ideas, this would muddy the waters such that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to determine which ideas had the best, and worst, effects on the results. It is therefore better to select a single clear and uncluttered idea. When the idea is tested, it will quickly become obvious whether or not the idea is a good one.
Avoiding the Fiscal Cliff: Don’t Compromise, Compete
I recommend that the House majority make this offer to the Obama administration:
The Administration will provide the House with a proposal containing the Administration’s wish list for economic measures to solve the fiscal crisis. The House will vote to approve those measures, without watering them down, or compromising them in any way, in return for the following understanding (as defined in the related legislation):
- Clear and uncontroversial metrics will be used to measure progress (e.g. unemployment rate and national debt).
- If, by the end of one fiscal quarter, the metrics are trending in a favorable direction (e.g. unemployment rate and debt are both less than at the beginning of the quarter), then the measures will be automatically extended for an additional quarter.
- If, by the end of one fiscal quarter, any metric is trending in an unfavorable direction (e.g. unemployment rate or debt are higher than at the beginning of the quarter) then the measures will be automatically terminated and replaced with alternate measures as defined by the House in the initial legislation. The alternate measures will be evaluated by the same metrics.
- The process will continue on a quarterly basis, with measures that are trending positive automatically renewed.
- If neither set of measures proves to be effective, then new proposals will be provided by the Administration and the House, and the process will start anew.
The advantages of the above approach are many, including:
- Breaks gridlock without compromising either side’s principles.
- Proposed measures get an unfettered, full, and fair trial.
- Evaluation of measures is simple (things get better or they don’t), yielding conclusions that are clear and unarguable.
- Requires positive results, or the other side gets a turn at bat.
- Short but reasonable quarterly evaluation periods promote rapid progress.
- Competition between clearly defined and unobstructed ideas will engage and inform the American people.
Adopting a competitive results-oriented approach to solving the fiscal cliff crisis will require Congress and the Administration to break with their ingrained habits. Indeed, some politicians may prefer to grasp their buggy whips tightly as they continue to flog the old tired horse of ineffective bickering and counterproductive compromise. That would be unfortunate, because the American people deserve better.
Isn’t it time for our government to adopt the highly successful methods used routinely by engineering firms?