Problem Solving vs. Policy Analysis

Phil Zelikow just nailed it in the Texas National Security Review.

Writing about “the software of American public problem-solving,” he finally frames the issues in a sensible way:

  • During WWII and for a generation after, U.S. policymakers’ unfair advantage was brilliant staff work, built on traditions envied, copied, and innovated from the British. That advantage has been lost.
  • That advantage wasn’t academic, in the sense that “it neither came out of the academy nor migrated back into it.”
  • Nevertheless, it can be taught — just as engineers are taught principles of effective problem-solving.

And it’s that framing — the learnable, teachable, practical-intelligence skills of problem-solving rather than policy analysis — that’s so fresh and necessary. (Zelikow being a historian with a government resume spanning a handful of administrations, it’s really back to the future: my favorite kind of “fresh” perspective.)

With all that we now know about the managerial history of WWII, about design thinking (which Zelikow references approvingly), and about the trends we’re referring to when we talk about “the future of work,” how could we now prepare people to problem-solve in the public interest without simply building ever-bigger bureaucracies?