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Taking a Blog Pause

February 10, 2015

Dan Yankelovich announces the launch of his new book, Wicked Problems Workable Solutions: Lessons from a Public Life.

This will be my last blog for a little while. For the next few months I will be immersed in events relating to my new book, Wicked Problems: Workable Solutions.

Actually, the book and the blogs are closely linked; the book elaborates the central theme of the blogs. I had conveyed my conviction in the blogs that the American public is correct in its judgment that our nation finds itself “on the wrong track.” Writing the blogs made me realize that conventional political and economic solutions won’t put us back on the right track.

When shopping for products, Americans know they are in the driver’s seat. They know that companies are obliged to take their views and habits into account if they wish to thrive. But on social issues such as health care and public education the opposite mind-set prevails. Political leaders don’t feel the need to engage the public. And average Americans don’t feel their views really count.

The book’s point of departure is that most Americans don’t feel they really have a voice in shaping the decisions that impact their lives, and that this is a betrayal of the promise of democracy. They suspect that the technical cleverness of the few is trumping the political will of the many.

As a consequence, our economy, our schools, our health care, our criminal justice system, our national government—none of these core institutions of our democracy are working as well as they should for the majority of Americans. Mostly, their own interests rather than those of the larger society drive our institutions.

The wisdom of crowds is crucial, I believe, to meeting the challenge of our nation’s increasingly wicked problems.

A whole mess of wicked problems such as stagnant incomes, blocked social mobility, political polarization and a dysfunctional educational system threaten to overwhelm us. (The definition of a Wicked Problem is that conventional solutions, by themselves, can’t solve it.)

Behind the mess and confusion lurks a serious philosophical issue. Unless we confront it directly the public will not be able to exercise its obligation to make our democracy function successfully. Our philosophical challenge is to recognize that our democracy can only succeed in the context of genuine community where individuals and institutions seek the common good as well as their own interests.

The philosophical issue, at its core, is an ethical one. To succeed, democratic societies have to achieve a reasonably high threshold of ethical caring for one another. The top one percent has to adopt a stewardship ethic toward the other 99%. Banks and hedge funds have to care for the larger society as well as their own interests. Big companies can’t hide behind the treacherous doctrine of ‘shareholder value’ to rationalize their lack of concern for their workers and the community. Professors at research universities have to care for their students and communities as well as for their own research.

In Wicked Problems: Workable Solutions, I explore:

  • Why the vast majority of Americans is correct in believing the nation is on the wrong track.
  • How we can improve our eroding civic ethic and the quality of public engagement.
  • How to counterbalance the cult of self so dominant today.
  • How to develop a new philosophical ethos that will allow Americans to contribute to the common good.

In the book I show how the public often reaches sounder decisions than the experts: not because the public is smarter, but because it is not blindsided by the Group Think of expert elites. I also elaborate the important concept of the public’s Learning Curve. Properly understood and nurtured by leaders and the media, it can lead to wiser public judgment. The wisdom of crowds is crucial, I believe, to meeting the challenge of our nation’s increasingly wicked problems.

The book was published at the end of last month, and is available for purchase at TargetAmazonWalmartGoogle Play and on iTunes.