We live in an age of evidence dependency. Whatever we do, somebody wants evidence, and we have evidence-based education, practice, marketing – pretty much everything. The challenge, of course, is that evidence is, by definition, historic. There is no evidence of the future.
As I listened to the news this morning, it seemed full of programs being reversed, from the UK probation privatisation service (seven years of evidence) to deregulation of technology (a good ten years of evidence) to laissez-faire cryptocurrencies. In each case, either the perpetrators have long since left the scene (UK probation) or have become so well embedded and entangled that it will need far more than evidence to dislodge them (technology, crypto).
Evidence is not of much use when it comes to change. When it comes to doing something in response to emergent change, it needs something less clinical and much more visceral: Integrity, Leadership, Courage and Accountability.
The ancient Romans would have the civil engineer stand under the bridge they’d just built while a Legion marched over it. That’s accountability.
Accepting responsibility for consequences caused by decisions we took but could not foresee. That’s integrity. Integrity and accountability are essential ingredients of leadership.
It may be why so many change management projects fail. By the time we have the evidence, paid managers and consultants have long since left the scene as the owners look on ashen-faced as the bridge starts to fail. At least they have evidence, though.
The changes we will have to make now will need leaders with the courage and integrity to be accountable for decisions they make that might not work. Those who will stand under the bridges they build for us as we cross them.
I don’t see them coming from those who run large organisations, big businesses or national politics. I think they will be far more local, people who we trust, who will build small bridges that move us forward.
If we want to move forward, we are better starting with small bridges that will carry us forward. Then, we can build bigger as we learn.