I’m going to admit it. I’m a sceptic. About everything. I still remember when we first had to analyse something as a group in primary school and we were told about De Bono’s thinking hats. I went straight for the black hat. In my teens I told people I wasn’t cynical, I was realistic. I hadn’t lost faith in humanity, I was being practical. Etc etc etc.
I was overjoyed when I started working in policy to find that I was among like-minded people. While it is probably not ideal that people working in developing policy to solve problems universally feel that they are incapable of solving problems, this was entirely what it was like. (To be fair, much of our lack of capability revolved around dealing with electoral cycles and intransigent ministers). My fellow policy makers were contrarians. If you told them the world was flat they would tell you it was round. If you told them the world was round they would tell you it was the shape of a misshapen potato. No matter how you described something, there was another way to see it. There was always complexity, difficulty and competing priorities or players. I quickly learnt to think as they did, and I carried much of this thinking into my PhD. I would come up with a solution and then question the administrative burden of the solution. I would come up with another and lament that it was politically unpalatable.
The problem with being ‘raised’ in a policy setting is that you frame everything against what is lost when you move away from the status quo. Who is paying and what might it cost them. We’re basically recommending a black hat from a bunch of black hats, while trying to write media lines that make them appear coloured. We lament that the public doesn’t understand the complexity of a policy and why it’s suboptimal.
I have just started to learn that this is entirely different from the way other people think. Other people think with all those COLOURED hats – they think about big pictures. They think about improvements and opportunities. They wouldn’t look at a solar subsidy policy and note the dollars that were wasted, what it should have looked like, how it was unnecessarily. They would see that the government provided money to support renewable energy. And it worked. The combined capacity of domestic solar energy in Australia now makes it the largest solar generator in Australia.
It’s hard to change my thinking now that I’ve spent so long looking at issues critically. While I’m an advocate for domestic solar energy I find myself highlighting all the negative aspects of its use – inefficiencies of scale, or misunderstandings about the impacts of solar on the grid, or inadvertent subsidisation of solar by lower income groups – instead of all the positives. Domestic solar energy is really driving an increase in interest in renewable energy adoption, with householders choosing to invest in their own renewable energy plants. Yes, there are problems. But these aren’t issues that should halt the roll-out of solar, instead they should be seen as opportunities for people in policy to think innovatively and communicate their messages with passion. We should take the disadvantages of policy options as information to make better decisions, not reasons to dissuade anyone from making decisions at all.
There are people out there who will use their skills to find solutions to the world’s energy problems. And it’s worth wondering what colour hat they will wear.
(Clipart from here)