In today’s political world, many are a bit surprised at how little gets done. Others are exasperated at the divisiveness, the name-calling and even the lying of politicians. And still others are content that their party is in power and will do the right thing. What is interesting is that this landscape of politics hasn’t changed much from the founding days. I was reminded as I watched “Hamilton” that the bitterness, the rivalry and the name-calling were present even as that rogue band of innovators took on a new form of government.
It also occurred to me that perhaps rather than try to emulate the old days, it is time for us to do some innovating, as well. It is time for the government to embrace innovation.
We now have a political system that is quite predictable. As Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so brazenly announced at the conclusion of the 2016 election, “Winners make policy, losers go home.” It is all about who is “in power,” meaning which party can control 50 percent plus 1 of the votes.
Power has been defined by who gets to make the choice among all the alternatives that are available. Power is about which party can “control” their party members and make sure they don’t “break rank.” And now that we have a power split with the House being controlled by Democrats and the Senate and White House by Republicans, do we expect things to go more smoothly?
Michael Porter, the Harvard professor and marketing guru, wrote an insightful piece in 2017 entitled, “Why Competition in the Politics Industry is Failing America.” In it, he points out that with just two parties, we have a duopoly. And when a duopoly exists, it is the desire of the participants to keep all others out; in a sense, to keep the status quo. Each party’s primary interest is to be “in control.” So as long as there are only two parties, one or the other will hold the power.
The real objective of lawmakers should be to solve problems, and I believe many of them genuinely want to do so. However, the current reality (and the problem) is that the political process is about proposing solutions based on an ideology not based on true problem-solving. The process we often think of as problem-solving is “compromise.” Yet, compromise generally feels to many like giving in: I give a little, you give a little and we meet at the middle somewhere. Compromise is good for negotiations when for instance there is a financial transaction, like buying a house. You start far apart and then “compromise” until the middle is reached.
What is stunning about complex problems like welfare that works for people or border security that both protects and is true to our immigrant roots is that these are not transactional problems that need to have a middle ground. They are complex problems that have thousands of possible solutions and that require a process to find the optimum solution.
Good problem-solving processes exist that can be used to arrive at good solutions. What if we asked our politicians that instead of representing our party they would try a new innovation: solving problems using a good process. Wouldn’t that be better than asking them to be the most powerful?
After all, the power is in the process: If it is followed, the result will meet everyone’s needs.
Fred Keller is the founder and chair of Cascade Engineering.