Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Derek Deighton (ST 03)


1. This submission takes as its premise that: it is pointless to attempt to think strategically about global futures and the part SystemUK might play in these, and how in turn, these might impact on SystemUK, if we view these futures from within the wrong paradigm.

2. No attempt is made here to answer in detail the questions posed in the consultation document as this writer does not have detailed knowledge of the internal working of Government or the internal working of the Civil Service. The following commentary does, however, pick up on elements of the questions posed.

3. What is clear is that the paradigm within which we are viewing the future is wrong and several things disadvantage us, as SystemUK, in the future we are now in. These can be summarised in bullet point form as:

We don’t think of the World or ourselves as a system.

We don’t think of these systems as being constrained.

We don’t think of government’s role as enabling the maximising of the “essential” value added to society over time, at continually reducing “Resource Intensity”.

We think of “productivity” primarily as people productivity rather than energy and physical resource productivity.

4. Unfortunately for the developed western economies there are also a number of things that will inevitably conspire to disadvantage SystemUK and the rest of these societies and economies.

Our democratic system.

The demographic fact that the WWII bulge of children, with essential embedded tacit knowledge, is now retiring.

That SystemUK has had over a century of “education for industrial and environmental decline”.

That an ingenuity/innovation gap exists.

The continuing reductionist/compliance approach to organisational management.

Engineering contract optimism on cost and time.

5. Our survival as a coherent society with a viable and competitive economy depends on our recognising and exploiting the following realities, that:

Useful net energy, water and physical resources will be constrained.

People will be plentiful.

People are innately ingenious, creative and enterprising.

Some organisations and societies will survive and prosper.

As W. Edwards Deming said “Survival is not compulsory”

6. To keep this submission concise, no attempt is made to link its content to the large amount of evidence in existence. This can be supplied separately and the condensed arguments here can be expanded as required.

The Assumed Paradigm

7. The paradigm under which we think, live, globally and as SystemUK is a multi-planet one; where we think resources are unconstrained and the Resource Intensity, the resource use per person, per unit of service delivered is immaterial and that everyone can pursue “self actualisation” irrespective of the effects on others.

The Real Paradigm

8. In reality the paradigm in which we are now living, for any future we can foresee, is the One Planet World, where useful net energy and physical resources, are increasingly constrained. This One Planet World is described by a mind model that is the One Planet Equation 1=P*C*RI. This clearly expresses the reality that in a resource constrained environment and in the face of population growth, goods and services can only grow at the rate their aggregate Resource Intensity can be reduced at System level, SystemUK in the case of our society.

9. In the face of the reality that the Earth is balancing this equation, whether we ignore or not, the only viable way to frame Strategic Thinking within government and business is to face this reality and formulate policy and action on it. In the future we are in the only things that are not constrained are human ingenuity, creativity and enterprise and these must be liberated and focused to enable strategic action based on this paradigm.

The Paradox

10. Our failure to see this objective reality is due to the fact that all those with power and influence in society at this point in time have proved themselves the most adept at managing organisations within a multi-planet paradigm that no longer exists, and have created an educational system in their image.

11. If this had been done consciously then switching paradigms would be an effort, but as most are not aware of our global disconnect from reality, the shift represents a transition point of historical proportions. It is a transition we will make either by design or negligence, far better by design.

The Democratic System

12. Strategic thinking within the Democratic System as presently constituted is an oxymoron. Our democracy has evolved through a never to be repeated period of increasing Energy Return on Energy Invested for the Western Democracies. EROEI is now falling and others are taking an increasing share of the energy and other resources we thought were ours.

13. Failure to evolve our reactive Democratic processes in the face of falling Energy and Resource Intensity through neglect rather than design can only lead to their loss. Our historical adversarial democratic processes, which are without an embedded process of continual improvement, are a luxury we cannot afford in the resource constrained, One Planet world. A National Government will not suffice as this is not a “recession”, a temporary difficulty we are passing through on the way to business as usual.

14. The process whereby SystemUK will, without an enlightened metamorphosis, lose cohesion and economic strength can be described thus:

It is widely recognised that the following are a problem for SystemUK:

business (professional) services;

a skills gap;

an enterprise gap;

an innovation gap; and

a knowledge gap.

Politics and professional services are increasingly at the core of the problem surrounding Sustainable Development, as is the tendency of large organisations to use complexity to “divide and rule”. The need for a “unique selling point (USP)” leads politicians, academics and professionals to sell every “tool” as a solution.

Next the tendency is to enshrine these “tools” in “standards”, which in turn become certifiable to create a “standards industry”, and work for them. This burdens businesses with “appraisal costs”, Failure Demand that makes them uncompetitive in world markets.

Far more insidious is the fact that it engenders a compliance culture, where organisations live in fear of losing “ticks in boxes” and the other four challenges are thus created.

What is needed is a synergy between all the stakeholders in an organisation to make 2+2=5.

If we are to make “Sustainable Development the route for competitiveness” then we have to innovate in “process design for Sustainability”.

We can only do this with a synergy of all the stakeholders involved to pool knowledge and skills; to crosslink and identify and correct deficiencies. Doing this should “enable process learning” to locate the problem areas. Now we have to take account of external factors before, hopefully, the “spark of ingenuity or innovation” is ignited to move the process in the direction of sustainability. This is conventionally termed “quality improvement”.

SystemUK is going down the reductionist/compliance route; which is making synergy impossible and innovation and ingenuity unlikely. There is also the real risk that knowledge and skills development will be concentrated in the wrong areas and vital areas missed.

The most vital area at the moment is research and skills creation in the “demand side control of energy”.

The “virtuous circle” can be applied at all levels—if we apply to the democratic system, I come to the unfortunate conclusion—every time a politician changes jobs they think they have the right answer, so the requirement of “doing the right thing right, every time”, is compromised and as they have to be re-elected every five years—their ingenuity is mainly used in staying in office rather than improving the process.

In addition the external factors or targets they introduce are more likely to be short-term, political and unrelated to any process learning that might have been achieved.


15. In the resource constrained One Planet World we have to find our way forward as a coherent society whilst maintaining as high a “Quality of Life” as we can for all citizens, the reductionist and compliance approach to “maximising the essential value added to society” by economic activity is bound to fail as detailed above. In this environment “Strategic Thinking” has no meaning.

16. If Strategic Thinking by government is to have any impact, we have, as consistently as possible, to think of the UK as a system, SystemUK, not a set of reductionist parts we can alter independently of each other. The waste, or failure demand caused by this in a resource constrained environment is unsustainable.

17. Strategic Thinking is about defining what the right thing to do is, and enabling its realisation at reducing energy and physical Resource Intensity of the essential service delivered. Essential services are those that a Society defines as contributing to its fundamental Quality of Life. In the One Planet World it is unlikely that SystemUK can continue to provide the “wants” of a significant percentage of its population but only the core essentials of its negotiated Quality of Life.

18. Strategic Thinking is about the “effective” use of available resources to maximise the essential value added to society, rather than the efficient use of resources in processes that do not add essential value to SystemUK eg The Resource Intensity of a process that adds zero value to society is in effect, infinite. ie Total waste.

19. The effective use of resources requires Strategic Thinking at SystemUK level to minimise the losses in essential processes so that failure demand is not created along with essential value eg Law and order achieved by self control built into citizens by feeling part of SystemUK, rather than being policed in. Failure demand thus increasing the Resource Intensity of Security at SystemUK level.

20. The greater percentage of how we creatively and continually reduce the Resource Intensity of Society (RIoS) is in how we organise ourselves strategically as SystemUK.

Concluding Remarks

21. As recognised in the Background to the Discussion Document the future is uncertain both in outcomes and the associated risk. What is objectively clear is the Net Useful Energy available to societies is, or will soon be, falling. Whilst the theoretical energy available is massive, its average energy density is falling as well.

22. Any basis for “Strategic Thinking in government” must recognise this reality and lever it to ensure that SystemUK survives as a coherent and competitive entity.

23. On the time scale involved all drivers in education and research must be directed to this end. (46 years of convention oil reserves left, BP Statistical Review, 2010). Particular attention should be directed to (20).

24. There are no such things as “green” economies, goods or services, only those that “maximise the essential value added to society at continually reducing Resource Intensity” eg Wind Energy still has to be harnessed at minimum energy, organisational and physical resources invested over its life cycle.

25. Only societies and organisations that can define the “essential” value they add to the global system and are able to deliver it at continually reducing Resource Intensity will survive in the One Planet World 1=P*C*RI.

26. Unless we can make the required Paradigm Shift, assuming no doomsday, SystemUK will enter a more sustainable world, but it will probably have a far lower Quality of Life, even lower than a more equitable share of current global resources would indicate.

27. John Maynard Keynes summed up this struggle of paradigm shift in the final paragraph of the Preface to his seminal text “The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”.

“The composition of this book has been for the author a long struggle of escape, and so must the reading of it be for most readers if the author’s assault upon them is to be successful,- a struggle of escape from habitual modes of thought and expression. The ideas which are here expressed so laboriously are extremely simple and should be obvious. The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds”.

The ideas expressed in this submission are also simple and should also be obvious; the time for Systems Thinking within the One Planet World paradigm has arrived.

October 2011

Prepared 20th April 2012