Today I wanted to focus on the connection between authenticity and complexity but before jumping to the meat of it I wanted to recap how we got here. Whether you’ve noticed or not, we’ve been deliberately walking you down a very deliberate path recently:
- I asked a thought provoking question about the tenuous relationship between bureaucrats who see value in pursuing innovative and a public narrative that demands predictability (See: Can Bureaucrats be Interesting When the World Demands they be Boring);
- I put forth an argument that positioned the problem of facelessness as one that is self made, that the bureaucracy relies on passive rules and protocols rather than active relationship buildings (See: The Real Problem of Facelessness);
- Kent argued that continuing to rely on these things is unsustainable and that potential for public servants to have an impact on the lives of others at this point in time is nearly unparalleled (See: Moving Public Service Mountains Part I & Part II);
- I positioned the solution to the problem of facelessness as greater authenticity in our dealings with each other and by extension those we serve (See: The Solution to Facelessness is Authenticity);
- I shared a whimsical video and a powerful story that exemplifies the type of authenticity that the civil service desperately needs (See: Peak Bullshit & A Noteworthy Example of Authenticity);
- I re-iterated a recent discussion that helped me realize the importance of the stories we set in motion today while Kent argued that good storytelling is akin to usability for ideas (See: On the Stories You Tell Today & Towards a New Professionalism in Government);
- I shared a personal story about a little boy I met ten years ago that still shapes my expectations today to illustrate the point (See: We All Have Our Defining Moments);
- We even reviewed a book that serves as a powerful example of the need to and the difficulty of elevating a more authentic public policy discourse (See: Impossible Conversations: A Review of Jeffrey Simpson’s Chronic Condition); and
- As an added bonus, the conversation spilled over to another a blog we happen to like (See: The Whole Hearted Bureaucrat: The Public Service as Reflective Practice written by Ashleigh Weeden)
If we disallow public servants to embody their authenticity by insisting on facelessness, we are taking away the critical factor of connection that allows human beings to find and create meaning. Creating spaces that function solely on technical objectivity and risk aversion … we numb our institutional nervous system with a false anaesthetic that makes it incredibly difficult for public servants to exercise compassion and holistic understanding. And the problems we face today require and deserve the full force talents of courageous, compassionate, wholehearted people.
Which is precisely what I take to be the meaning of fearless advice: courage, compassion, and wholeheartedness, not just with our political masters but with each other.
The connection to public policy
The complexity that authenticity creates in our interpersonal relationships and the friction between that malleable authenticity and our rigid organizational structures is not only palpable but also serves as a fair proxy for what we should expect as we enter more authentic discussions about pressing public policy issues. This is precisely what Simpson gets to in his book and can easily be extended to a number of other public policy challenges.
Where does that leave us?
Given what I’ve outlined above, our course of action seems fairly clear. From where I sit, I think we ought to wholeheartedly embrace the richness of complexity in both our interpersonal relationships and the policy solutions we pursue while telling the right stories today with a view to making them usable tomorrow.
My hope is that you agree with me, my fear is that you don’t.
O Nicholas, Some much value there! Thank you!
What I missed was the idea that the competent bureaucrat should be able to make the bureaucracy produce desired results for the citizen. Too often “no” is really signifying a lack of expertise, but is taken as an acceptable answer. I see no gathering of changing citizen needs and best solutions to be shared among bureaucrats striving to provide value. If the answer is going to be “no,” why ask? Then follows, why pay for the bureaucrat?