That thing called Systems Thinking (Ambode’s Hawking Problem)

In business, politics and even our normal daily life, we need to exhibit the principle of systems thinking. It is not an academic speak or principle. It is the real reason some societies solve their problems in a more sustainable manner than others.

Governor Ambode

Governor Ambode

Most bad decisions are as a result of not utilising systems thinking in problem-solving.
Consider the issue of bad education. How will you go about solving it? If you don’t want to do sustainable problem-solving, you’d think you only have to pump more money into the educational system. You’d forget that bad education is only but a symptom of more problems. Think of poverty, corruption, bad governance, low-quality teachers, bad infrastructure, bad value systems, ignorant parents etc. If I have a paper and pen and I draw this – it will be a cyclic diagram showing how all these issues connect. We have more connected issues by the way.
A good administrator will not start by picking the most radical issue to solve. He or She would analyse the system as a whole and with the help of his team, choose the battles that will have the most impact but not destabilising the whole system at once. For instance, he will check how he can encourage better teachers to sign up. He will check how he can use technology to aid teachers -imagine Khan Academy aiding teachers that are not too brilliant for now. He will also check how 1B Naira spent on education is really bringing 1B Naira value. As in the manifesto of SW states, a feeding scheme can also help kids from poor homes to learn better in school. Then the leader thinks of long-term solutions that are not necessarily directly linked to education but other issues. How do we reduce poverty as a nation? How do we attract better teaching talent? How do we re-orientate ourselves to value education more? He then works with multiple stakeholders on a roadmap to greatness.
This is where Mr. Ambode got it wrong with the hawking problem in Lagos. Lagos is not New York, it is not even Johannesburg. And to burst the myth, hawking is happening in Joburg. It is not a good sight for the bourgeoisie but we need to think deeply about the reason people hawk. The economy! So you are not interested in solving economic problems but you want your city to look good? It is like a family that decides to hide their disabled child from visitors. It is like using perfume on a dead body. Yeye will always smell.
Why not think about why these people hawk? I also believe that the government might have missed a tax collection opportunity here.

  • Lagos and every Nigerian city have a bigger informal economy than the suit and tie one.
    Hawking on the roads won’t be easy without the mad Lagos traffic. Are you thinking about solving the traffic problem?
  • Believe it or not, hawking provides food for many families. What alternatives are you offering? Crime?
  • Hawkers are foot soldiers for many FCMG companies. They are very important in the value chain. Stores will make more sense when people actually don’t have to spend countless hours in traffic.
  • If this is about helping the formal economy and increasing tax, there are solutions.
  • If this is an aesthetic problem, the traffic gridlock is what you should focus on and there will be an impact.

I have been impressed with Governor Ambode and I feel he has more good things to offer Lagos State. But on this one, I feel that he needs to apply systems thinking to this problem. He needs to examine the linkages before proferring solutions to problems like this. He is not alone in this challenge, I believe that corporates and public officials have to start thinking deeply about the issues we face and not just thumb suck solutions.