One way I sometimes pass the time in Bangladesh is watching talks from TED. One that I enjoyed was when Rory Sutherland spoke about the strange disproportionality of work in human problem solving, especially when it involves human psychology. He says that we generally think big important problems need big important and expensive solutions, however as he says, “It is the tendency of organization or institution to deploy as much force as possible, where it is the tendency of the person to be influenced almost in absolute reverse to the amount of force being applied.”
He claims that when we can graph stuff that costs a lot of money against stuff that has a big effect. Stuff that is very expensive and very effective is strategy. Things that are neither are trivia and he also observes rather tongue in cheek that consultancy is both expensive and not very effective. The final category he claims doesn’t have a name and is where details are key and have an effect out of proportion with the effort involved. Personally, I think that last category is tactics.
I’ve been thinking about how that applies to Bangladesh. If you look at it’s problems the first thought I have is that what seems to be lacking is strategy. A recent study showed that cost of traffic congestion in Dhaka last year was about 3 billion $US. It would seem this is the result of poor logistical planning. However, there is a plan. From what I understand it’s not even a bad plan. The problem is that it isn’t followed; buildings get built in designated free space, bridges are built too narrow and the materials saving pocketed, etc. etc.
My knee jerk reaction is regulation, but thats not exactly the problem either. Bangladesh bureaucracy is legendary, but it is mostly just a barrier to entry. From what I can tell the missing piece is enforcement: between corruption and culture, enforcement and penalties are for all intents and purposes absent. The biggest problem with corruption is not that it siphons off money, but that it actively sabotages much needed improvements. pukur churi koreche – they stole the pond…
The expression ” stealing the pond” needs some explanation. The village pond or pukur is the center of rural life so it refers to a really terrible sort of theft and is probably appropriate in this context.