Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Bring back the five-year plan!

Okay, five may not be the right number, maybe seven, maybe four, maybe even just two, but the idea deserves another look.

The Soviet Union took a lot of jibes for its five-year plans, with their lofty targets and less than stellar fulfillment, at least that was the view of them we got growing up in the U.S. The Soviet example aside, the point of having such plans isn't so much to push progress as to control its collateral effects, which largely have to do with new stuff arriving piecemeal, instead of in a coordinated manner, each driven as if by an ambition of its own — and push-back born of what happens to the value of investments in displaced ways of doing things.

I know I should be providing examples at this point, but the noise around any particular interesting example is so deafening that it makes thinking about imposing a little discipline on progress very difficult — and that's near to the point, without that discipline chaos reigns.

What such 'plans' can offer is staged transitions, with new things that are interdependent arriving together, and together with provision for the retirement of old things. (For 'things' read infrastructure, technologies, practices, methods, regulations, arrangements, ...)

Of course nothing above the quantum level happens instantly, and there would need to be some overlap, say a two-year ramp-up period before a new plan takes effect, and another two-year period to tie up loose ends after it has been superseded.

Have a great idea that isn't quite ready? Maybe it gets pushed back to the middle of the next plan, maybe to the beginning of the following plan, but when it does roll out it will arrive as a complete idea, with thought having been given to how other things are effected, including who stands to profit from having their idea anointed and how standards essential applies.

So who gets to say what each new plan should include and what it shouldn't, and how much advantage should those who play by the plan receive over those who chose to ignore it? Good questions, which I leave as an exercise to the reader.