The Master said, ‘To attack a task from the wrong end can do nothing but harm.’ 

Confucius

It is easy to imagine change. It is easy to imagine you know what is wrong and what would be better. But getting there depends upon a very different perspective. In order to change things you need to know what sustains them as they are.

Systems of oppression, patterns of bad practice or injustices exist for reasons – not good reasons – but for reasons. It is only by tackling these factors that we can bring about the change we desire and often the path we must take is paradoxical:

  • If we want people to make better decisions we may have to give them the freedom to make worse decisions.
  • If we want to make one thing more attractive we may need to make something else much less attractive.
  • If we want to learn we may need to unlearn.

Very often the obvious solution is the wrong solution:

  • Let’s have a new structure – but don’t change the old structure
  • Let’s have a new profession – but don’t change the old profession
  • Let’s have a new process – but don’t change the old structure

Often these bolt-on solutions unravel as they bring about both resistance and inefficiency.

The challenge of genuine social innovation and welfare reform – as with any other design challenge – is to figure out how to make the ‘good idea’ be more than a ‘good idea’.