A post today which is a bit of a continuation of yesterday’s theme.  EM Forster’s Howard’s End contains the above phrase, which is, to a large extent, what the novel is “about”: the desirability of seeing things clearly and seeing them whole.  I read the novel many years ago (in fact I think I may have done it for A-level) and was bemused by this injunction.  I had no clue whatsoever what Forster meant.

Today there was an item on the radio about the badger cull, and the practicality or otherwise of vaccination as an alternative.  John Humphries wondered whether it would be more expensive than alternative methods; not so, opined the expert he was interviewing, partly because the vaccination programme could largely be carried out by unpaid volunteers, but also because the operations would not need to be policed. At this point a little light-bulb went off inside my head as I finally understood what Forster meant.

The failure to see things clearly and to see then whole is one of the great griefs of our time. We seem incapable, or, more likely, unwilling, to understand that we cannot deal with most things, whether they be problems, issues, or challenges, in isolation. On the whole this is probably due to one of the worst, probably the worst, of the seven deadly sins, namely sloth. All to often it is easier to seek a single cause in the belief that we can thereby find a single solution which will involve little or no investment on our own part. 

Yesterday I wrote about the deportation of Yashika Bageerathi.  It would be easier to blame the officials who put her on the plane or the Home Secretary who refused to grant a stay of execution than to examine how I could have played a part in it.  This is important not for breast-beating purposes, but so that I can see more clearly what can be done to change things.  In my own field, quality management, this is known as root cause analysis, and it’s an important part of solving problems and thus leading to improvement.

Unfortunately it’s also in itself somewhat time-consuming, and, more importantly, the “root causes” it reveals are often those which require difficult and sometimes expensive change to correct. This is probably why a lot of companies don’t do it.  Unless the problems are as serious as the cure, it’s easier to issue another check list, send out another email edict, and blame the individuals who get things wrong.  Another black mark on an appraisal, another teenager deported, it’s all part of the cost of doing business. Except it’s not, because in all of these cases we don’t factor in the hidden costs, which are usually far greater.  We fail to see things clearly and see them whole.

This is part 1, because as a thought, this requires more space or time than either I or you can give it in one day. Which is interesting to me for other reasons which I will explore at a later date. I will continue with this theme tomorrow.