Thursday, March 12, 2009

Focus Time

"...[A]ll administrations, including this one, have a finite capacity to deal with the details of monumental problems...Equally important is that society has finite capacity to understand what created the problem, what the likely solutions are going to be and,most important, what can be expected from the new order of things and when."

Andrew Grove, "Mr. President, Time to Rein In The Chaos," The Washington Post, March 11, 2009.

A professor of mine reminded us on more than one occasion that our human plight is that we have "big problems and small brains."

President Obama's first two months haven't been any more chaotic than most new administrations -- except for the horrible economic context and the universal expectation to do something big, smart, and effective fast. But he does seem to be taking the "one hundred" days frame pretty seriously. Every day there is some kind of new announcement--usually focused on the White House. Meanwhile, concerns are mounting about who's doing the work out there in the implementing departments. This common start-up problem takes on more salience given the ambitious policy agenda.

A small-scale analogy is when Harold Washington became mayor of Chicago in 1983. This breath of fresh air let a "thousand flowers bloom," task forces, executive orders, new programs, new uses of government powers, and new engagement with citizens. At the same time, "Council Wars" distracted the work of "reform."

Looking back, our most scarce resource was "focus."

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