Something I have seen a few times in various areas recently is how poor some people are at really understanding what makes a system under perform and therefore how it might be better.

There are plenty of examples of things that are quite inefficient and burdensome: Recruitment; Law making; Governance (public and private); Accounting; Taxation and many more.

I worked at DEK Printing Machines once (now ASM) and they had an internal slogan, "Work smarter, not harder". I don't remember it being preached to me and I have to admit that I found it a bit pithy and probably pointless, but of course it wasn't.

A famous quote attributed to Henry Ford (but possibly apocryphal) is, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." In other words, most people cannot think outside of the box and will be making changes that only make a small difference. In the same way, Frank Whittle didn't make a really good piston engine, he invented a jet which overcame the fundamental problem of piston engines which is the reciprocating force causing vibrations.

Let us look at one example: Law making.

It is mostly slow and horribly inefficient and wasteful. If a government doesn't get the paperwork done by the end of their term, it is mostly shredded and somebody else has to start again except in the simplest cases or those of emergency legislation. This means that really useful laws around traffic and parking, for instance, cannot often succeed in time and can easily be filibustered if someone wants to stop the laws getting approved.

Like most scenarios, these inefficiencies are justified: Laws should take time to consider to avoid knee-jerk legislation. Most laws have a significant cost to business or society and should not be changed lightly. The Lords need to approve a law in the UK because they can provide a less biased view on legislation which might be introduced by a Government pandering to the public instead of the greater good etc.

So the person who works harder (most people) simply work longer hours to do their best to get something out of the door. The smart person asks, "how can we change the system so that we can still get review and due consideration but without the ridiculous administrative overhead currently involved?

In this example, the actual journey is quite convoluted going from draft to first reading to amendments to second reading to the Lords and then potentially back to the commons etc. all of this on top of what the department is trying to do for their day job. If it's anything like the public bodies I have dealt with, there will also then be untold meetings between the stakeholders and a tonne of other random people who all lay some claim to the process, whether by necessity or by bureaucracy.

So a smart person then deconstructs this into various parts and creates an agile system. How do we get buy-in as early-on as possible. How do we find out whether the Lords are generally hostile or generally in agreement before we even make the first draft. Once we know the main areas of contention, we then have a decision: Do we simply drop part of the original idea to get e.g. 50% of the law through unimpeded or do we rewrite it in a structure that recognises the areas of difficulty?

We might then ask how we ensure that MPs who want an input can get it readily and early but that we don't wait for months for people to get to it. For example, some MPs might want a specific stay in order to consult constituents but this needs to cost in order to stop it being an abuse mechanism towards law making.

The problem is that as these organisations and public departments enjoy filling their ranks as some kind of power play, they end up with a lot of mediocre people instead of a small number of very smart people who can produce 10x more work than the mediocre at a higher quality. This might require more smart thinking but who is going to do this?

Who does this in your organisation? Who do you ask for smart ideas? How do you recruit to make sure you get smart people (who might cost more but won't always).

Smart thinking, the rarest skill.