Wishing local government had an opposable mind

April 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm | In ideas, innovation, johnson street bridge, leadership, social_critique, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Wishing local government had an opposable mind

I’m reading Roger Martin‘s book, The Opposable Mind, and came across the following paragraph this morning. It stopped me in my tracks because it made clear what’s wrong with the way thinking typically goes in government (and I’m referring both to the politicians and the bureaucrats / managers).

The paragraph describes the differences between conventional thinking and what Martin calls integrative thinking:

The two types of thinking [integrative versus conventional thinking] are diametrically opposed, and so are the outcomes they generate. Integrative thinking produces possibilities, solutions, and new ideas. It creates a sense of limitless possibility. Conventional thinking hides potential solutions in places they can’t be found and fosters the illusion that no creative solution is possible. With integrative thinking, aspirations rise over time. Conventional thinking is a self-reinforcing lesson that life is about accepting unattractive and unpleasant trade-offs. It erodes aspiration. Fundamentally, the conventional thinker prefers to accept the world as it is. The integrative thinker welcomes the challenge of shaping the world for the better. (p.48, emphases added)

That description of conventional thinking absolutely nails what you can see happening in municipal government.

In Victoria BC, conventional thinking shows itself in the city’s approach to development as well as the Johnson Street Bridge.

I’ve said from the very beginning that the city’s plans to demolish the historic Johnson Street Bridge and replace it with a new structure showed a colossal failure of imagination. It’s also a blatant manifestation of conventional thinking.

There are far too many examples of conventional approaches in government. Because of market pressures, businesses have to reform themselves – or go under. By the same token, it’s crazy to allow conventional thinking to continue unchallenged in government. Cities (and municipal governments) need to show imagination, and integrative thinking. If they don’t, they will stagnate. Surely the lessons of integrative thinking can be deployed in public service, if nurtured by civic leaders. They can, that is, if there is civic leadership that steps up to the job.

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