I've taken to explaining my AccountabilityCitizenship.org quest by relating the story line of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I feel a bit like the Dreyfus character. Writing the book Accountability Citizenship and launching this web site and even running for Congress last year: these are my messy clay models. I was inspired--impelled perhaps--to these actions by close encounters with accountability over decades of leadership in government and in business.
You see, I have been on teams my whole adult life, and those teams have worked with other teams to solve Big Hairy Problems. Every time one of these situations occurred, there are always some on each team who start by finding another team to blame. That never solves anything. And then we have passionate team-solution advocates, who argue incessantly for a course of action that mainly addresses their team's part of the problem. Sprinkle a few of these people on each team and you get incessant arguing and no solutions. In fact, the only way my teams have ever made progress solving Big Hairy Problems was by breaking the problem down to the individual level. What are individuals, whether customers or people trying to serve customers, experiencing that makes this problem a Big Hairy Problem? Building a picture from the grassroots level allows everyone to see more clearly the actions that are necessary to address the many individual experiences of the problem. Clearly, at this point, some prioritization of solutions becomes necessary, but the process of breaking down the problem gives us some objective data--number of customers affected or dollars lost or something--that makes agreeing on priorities easier. And once specific actions and priorities are on the table, we can talk about who should be accountable for doing them. What needs to be done?Who can do it? How can we make them accountable for doing it? Ultimately, if we hold people accountable for specific actions that solve individual instances of the problem, the Big Hairy Problem gets smaller. The kernel of every Big Hairy Problem's solution starts with identifying solutions to individual instances of the problem, not with advocating one team's philosophical solution and certainly not with blaming others.
My experience with Big Hairy Problems combined with decades of listening to our national political news impelled me to write Accountability Citizenship and start AccountabilityCitizenship.org. You cannot listen or read or watch any news these days without being bombarded with all the Big Hairy Problems we are trying to solve on the national political scene. And we have lots of blamers, and lots of people willing to advocate for their team's optimal solution, but darn few people who seem willing to do the hard work that will really generate solutions to those Big Hairy Problems. And in the last election, most of the registered voters in my state just stayed home and didn't participate. I mean, what's the use, right? Well, no, actually, that's not right. It's wrong. Because when you break down whatever Big Hairy National Political Problem that bothers you the most, one of the actions that is necessary to address your individual experience of that problem is for you to communicate your individual perspective on that problem. What we lack at the national level is a clear consensus on anything. What passes for consensus is simply one party solution advocate's solution that happens to triumph over another party solution advocate's solution in a given election by a narrow margin of the fifty percent or so of us who care enough to show up.
I don't know what all the actions are that will resolve the issues of health care and immigration and how much we should spend on defense or highways or the space program. Even if I did, I do not have the ability to take all those actions. But I know that what is needed for every problem is a real consensus on a solution, and I know that I have the ability to take specific actions to help shape that consensus. Voting is one of those actions. Writing letters and emails to appropriate officials is another. In fact, the toolkit I propose in Accountability Citizenship is precisely the set of actions I think individuals should take to help resolve the Big Hairy Problem of gridlock and ineffective government.
That's why I wrote it. That's why I'm breaking it down even more with quarterly newsletters and weekly blogs. It's why there's a web site called AccountabilityCitizenship.org. These actions are the only part of a solution I can control. So here I am. Come on in and register. You might win some cool free stuff. But watch out for the mud in the living room.