What’s the US Deficit got to do with Human Resources and leadership? Plexus Institute follows applications of complexity science to thorny issues. In a recent weekly post, they pointed out a game the New York Times has set up called The Budget Puzzle – on bailing the US out of its huge and growing financial deficit. It’s an approach we can think of adapting to a number of management situations and playing offers insights into leadership and associated challenges.
It’s an interesting application of how simulations could apply to training leadership thinking when people have difficulty understanding where the road blocks are, a common problem. Often those blocks are confused even more by other people pulling in different directions.
The gist of this game is you choose among tax increases or budget cuts that have been discussed or proposed by Obama, senators, representatives and financial experts – and you keep choosing until you ‘balance the budget’ for 2015 and 2030. two different requirements. It turns out to be easier than you might think, although clearly there could be complicated intermediate options – like partially reducing certain health care spending rather than cutting it entirely. A game can’t include every possibility in a complex situation without becoming unwieldy. Nevertheless it’s instructive.
Among the surprises: there are actually solutions knowledgeable people have proposed that, when put together, solve the problem, just as in most situations. This isn’t insoluble at all, which many of us have certainly wondered about. Second, these solutions are apparently feasible, though one wonders what unforeseen long term impacts some might have. Actually that is no different from any choice of strategies we might make in any arena – and it’s what leadership is like in essentially every situation.
At the end, you can’t help, but wonder why this isn’t being solved faster… or whether it is at all. The answer, if you think about problems you’ve faced yourself, is we choose to solve problems when we’re ready, when we’ve had enough of lacking a solution. We’ll quit smoking when we worry finally it will kill us or our loved ones. So, too, will the US solve its budget issues – when enough citizens fear the alternatives. Unfortunately that appears to remain some years or even decades in the future and you can see why through the eyes of this game – a potentially valuable gift it offers.
Clearly each interest group will resist giving up its pet tax breaks or benefits. Can leadership speed things up? Obama did a great job, at least in US terms bringing in health care, yet got hammered in the recent elections. On the other hand, voters stopped short of upending his hold on the Senate so the gains couldn’t be erased easily. Why? It looked like lots of misunderstanding of issues on both sides from here, but only those actually in the midst of the mess can draw useful conclusions. The rest of us have to wait more years to see what they will do even though their economy affects much of ours and many other nations.
The game offers a possibility of making the choices clearer to voters (team members) and some variation of it could likely do the same for thorny problems businesses or even individuals face. Yes, it would take some doing to put together the list of options for a given situation, but this makes it look more worth taking the time to do that. Simulations are growing in importance as decision-making aids and this is a chance to see why.
And yes, leadership definitely makes a difference, but doesn’t solve things in total. Clearly if Obama hadn’t been in power, no progress on health care would have occurred and 30 million Americans would still be without health care they now have access to. Two steps forward, one back. Can our teams be different? Nothing worth doing seems easy, but anything which sheds some useful light and clarity on the inevitable debates has to be a gain.