1883. A problem with planning. Ideal goals miss the creativity of intermediate events.

There is a problem with planning that assumes that the future is mostly like the present. For example, planning for water,  energy and traffic for Palo Alto without looking at climate change and earthquakes seems very limited and likely  to support building solid and hence fragile solutions what would not do well in an earthquake (lots of broken infrastructure and massive care for people or with the effects of strong global warming (air conditioning, demographics, water, people losing jobs and defaulting on mortgages.

By starting with the present and looking for an ideal goal what we miss is the possibility that what gets left out of consideration is key, not only by building rigid solutions when what we need is flexibility.   But if we leave out  potential major disrupters that the planning could take into account then we miss the solutions to our problems now that only emerge as we take future events into consideration. Those future events require solutions very different from the ones we think of if we only start with the present and look for how to reach an ideal state.

Obviously an ideal state that did not take into account the extensive damage and rebuilding post earthquake, or post planet-heating water shortages, will create  “solutions” which do not work effectively.

This method  of planning – and issue at a time in the context of the rest of the world remaining mostly as is, is comfortable for bureaucracies. More cars in tow? Lets build more garages, more parking meters, complex zoning systems – and pay for it all with meter fees and parking tickets.

(and in this case autonomous electric cars may save our butt!)

This approach allows budget and career management in ways that the chaos of cross boundary planning does not.  But such linear process done over and over has helped create the mess we are in.  More cars – build more roads- More children – more poorly paid teachers.  We are, by following this practice – habit – giving in to rising problems not solving them. We are dealing with symptoms, not causes.

The core problem is that doing extrapolations from now toward an ideal future implies that there are no major external events that would change the goal and the process and planning to get us there. A world easier to rebuild after an earthquake just might be a better world to build now anyhow. Such thinking would force creativity.


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