In search of the imperfect answer

There is something as amusing as it is exasperating to see people in power under pressure in search of the perfect answer. The fault-free, “get-out-of-jail-free” solution that will be received to rapturous applause, and the dread fear of an imperfect answer, that like some past statement on social media will come to haunt.

There’s a particularly good example in today’s news. As we exit lockdown, there is a surge in demand for timber for construction and DIY markets. When asked about it, a government spokesperson said there is a major commitment to planting trees to give the U.K. a better domestic supply. Yes, really – whilst forest fires are burning out of control in Europe and the USA, and we tolerate clearance of ancient woodland ecosystems here in the U.K. developed over centuries, to make way for a train system we do not need. (I liked Seth Godins post yesterday. we need a little less action and more creative conversation please)

There is an old saying that the best time to plant a tree was thirty years ago, and the second-best time is today, so there is at least something to be said. We might, of course, observe the same about climate change, biodiversity loss and inequality. It feels as though right now, one of the big opportunities in the coaching and consulting market is to open a home for the politically bewildered.

There is nothing wrong with imperfect answers because all answers, are by definition, imperfect. We do not have, and never will have perfect knowledge in a complex, continually evolving system. Nature is not a machine, and much as we hate it we are not in charge. Nature is.

The first key challenge is to find an imperfect answer that will move us forward a step or two today, whilst we search for more imperfect answers to implement tomorrow. The second key challenge is to shift our time frames, away from the short term, market obsessed perspectives of return on investment to long term ones of not just survival, but investing in the huge potential of humanity, noy technology, to steward the future. I suspect if God was a banker, she would be shorting humanity right now and going long on the planet.

As I write this, early in the morning on 4 August (I’ve stopped trying to do blogs in advance – things move on to quickly), I’m aware of a sense of anger, and find myself OK with it. It’s good anger, because we’re better than this and can change the direction of things if we stop hankering after perfect answers and concentrate on imperfect things we can do today. Doing that takes individual action. We do not have the time for those in search of ego reinforcement and keen to protect what little substantive reputation they have, whilst continuing to utter naïve statements about planting trees, or cutting crime, or leading the world in technology.

We can do this individually, and together. In small closer groups, through powerful conversations leading to continuous, small, imperfect steps, and not listening to those hankering to return to that old, discredited, unsustainable normal of long distance travel, commuting and pointless consumption.

Time to start. I’m off for a decaffeinated  coffee.

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