america’s toughest issues


essential Reading

When it comes to understanding America’s toughest issues, we here at TLO want to offer three basic propositions that are intended to help you understand just how complex our country’s issues are. And we want to help you think about how this complexity should be understood, framed, and addressed. Here are these four propositions:

1. For us, there are fourteen political, social, and/or economic issues that are so perverse, convoluted, and intractable that, at this point in our history, they are beyond the capacity of this country’s leaders to resolve effectively. These issues are pictured below:

2. Each of these issues is confoundingly complex; that is, each is an issue that’s characterized by a variety causal dynamics so impenetrable that no one can claim to fully understand them. Each has a variety of interactive pieces, and tons of influential stakeholders with different, often conflicting interests. Beyond this, each of these problems is constantly changing, presenting its stakeholders with bushelfuls of surprising consequences.

3. As a result of this complexity, there are for each of these issues no ‘best practice’ solutions that can be effectively implemented. To solve any of them, what’s needed are a variety of well-defined, quickly turned-around learning experiments. To date, this is something that’s been impossible to implement, given the conflicting interests of all the stakeholders.

4. This complexity and conflict is the key reason why this country’s leaders, both past and present, have not be able to solve, resolve, or even effectively respond to these issues. Individually and collectively, our political and administrative leaders simply have not demonstrated the complexity of thinking, the habits of mind, and the collaborative problem solving skills that they’ve needed. Simply put, this country’s leaders have been, for sometime now, in over their heads; over-matched and ill equipped to understand and resolve this country’s most complex, most important issues.