• More on the Goat Rodeo Index

    by  • June 14, 2011 • Everything Else • 7 Comments

    (in support of Why Nothing Works, my contribution to the Age of Warlord Entrepreneurs project)

    The Goat Rodeo is a specific aspect of the Wicked Problem space. The Goat Rodeo refers to the complex political structures we build to address Wicked Problems. I’m really just suggesting that these structures are inherently flawed, and when you see one failure is assured. All the evidence I have seems to point to this.

    The approach then becomes to revert to command-and-control for any system which has to work, because complex systems behave unpredictably, and focus on getting that part right.

    This is hideously unpopular, but I want to create a culture in which the following dialogue is possible:

    Scene: a meeting re. state failure impacts in some horrible place

    Chairman > Right, let’s call this session to order. We have 3 NGO reps, 5 different national militaries, two people from the State Department and USAID, a local government rep and two local civil society representatives.
    Chariman > On the agenda, [difficult task on which nobody really agrees the course of action]

    Voice of Reason > “Sir, I believe this meeting meets all of the technical criteria of a Goat Rodeo! I move to adjourn and reorganize in a soluble format to actually address the problem.”
    Voice of Reason > “Specifically, we have seven different kinds of entities represented at the table, so we cannot use a standard dispute resolution method if there is competition or conflict. We clearly do not agree on the following two aspects of [difficult task] and so are not in a truly cooperative environment. Therefore we can neither compete nor collaborate effectively, and furthermore nobody is actually in charge or responsible, and the meeting will go round and round in circles without creating an accountable party. Therefore it meets the technical definition of a Goat Rodeo, and we must adjourn and pass the problem to a more suitable group to resolve.”

    Chairman, groaning > “Dammit, you’re not invited the next time we try this.”

    Only we can prevent the Goat Rodeo. It’s a cultural change, a willingness to admit that we cannot reliably deliver solutions in the Wicked Problem / VUCA space with complex governance solutions, and need to start avoiding those quagmires at a structural, strategic, political level. When you see somebody attempting to solve a problem by creating and deploying a Goat Rodeo, you can assume failure, and instruct them to do something else instead. “Those never work, son, they never have.” Hence “governance antipattern.”

    The Goat Rodeo is the governance antipattern of our times.

    Compare, if you will, Godwin’s Law, which can roughly be stated as “In any internet debate about politics, eventually somebody will compare their opponents to the Nazis. This person has automatically lost the argument.”

    “Godwinization,” as calling a Godwin’s Law event is called, rapidly improves the quality of debate by closing doors to stupid conversations which lead down endless blind alleys. We need to catalyze cultural change inside the Wicked Problem space. As Amory Lovins says about toxic waste: “Identify, Label, Track and Stigmatize.”

    I want people to be laughing at the idea that Wicked Problems were ever soluble in 10 years. I want people to brand each-other’s political structures as Goat Rodeos and to feel empowered to refuse to participate in time-wasting talking shops.

    I want us to stop pretending we have this under control, and return to basics: command-and-control solutions to hard problems with vital, life-and-death outcomes, and an admission of failure where failure has occurred.

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    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


    7 Responses to More on the Goat Rodeo Index

    1. Michael Garcia
      June 14, 2011 at 9:00 pm
    2. June 26, 2011 at 4:54 am

      Re too many kinds of entities sitting around a table, a “counter-example” that sprang to mind (doesn’t really contradict you, as noted below) was stormwater regulation in Sydney.
      A lecturer told us how 18 different regulatory authorities shared authority over anything influencing stormwater at the large Rookwood Cemetery – sounds like each had a veto over any development. Our lecturer then told a story that explained why that was needed:
      A flood management proposal was going to cause parts of the cemetery to be temporarily underwater in certain situations. One of the authorities (likely the Department of Health) vetoed the plan when they found that bubonic plague victims from a localized outbreak at the beginning of the 20th century would be affected. The plague bacteria can survive up to 100 years in dry conditions, and it was less than that since the victims were buried. Rather than risk the bacteria being exposed to water and potentially entering the environment, the particular plan was vetoed.
      The risk they were preventing was probably slim, but one of the good things about life in a wealthy country is that the big killers like hunger & diarrhea are mostly gone, and smaller risks can begin to be addressed.
      I put “counter-example” in quote marks as I realized that you were talking about *different kinds* of entities around the same table – the story I’ve shared was about regulatory authorities, who had different interests, but had a better chance of speaking the same language & appreciating each other’s processes. Still, it’s interesting how something so unwieldy-sounding can potentially work.
      Re the Goat Rodeo, I see the argument, but I need to learn a lot more. Complex systems often fail, certainly, but I’d like to look for genuine counter-examples (attempt to falsify – I’m sure you’ll approve) and see what more we can learn about why such processes fail, and how to predict that.

    3. June 27, 2011 at 10:29 pm

      I think that these kinds of examples – and there are a fair few of them – are miracle stories ;)

      We might be as well ascribing them to Grace as to Skill, if you see what I’m saying…

    4. RBE
      July 23, 2011 at 7:29 pm

      Integrity (Buck. Fuller version)

      Humility (ability to admit failure and bow out)

      Compassion (real feelings for “the other”)

      These three criteria are *required* of any elected “official” or head of corporation, team member etc. If said person does not *truly* posses all three….they must be voted out or otherwise removed. These are also the 3 things “voters” need to look for.

      This heads off the “Goat Rodeo” phenomenon before it gains traction.

      They may also solve a Goat Rodeo by removing the persons or parties that are obstacles.

      Just a random thought. But I’m beginning to hold people to this “standard” in real life. It does not have a name yet ;)

    5. RBE
      July 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm

      To elaborate a bit on this…finally had some time to sit down.

      A famous person said:

      “Consensus is the absence of leadership”

      So yes, we need strong leaders instead of consensus. Full stop.

      Then the “rules” come into play regarding “leaders”.

      Asskicking (Courage?)

      There, I added one. Because you have to be able to kick ass as a leader. No wimpy consensus seekers may apply.
      But you can still have the other three attributes. These are the kinds of people that will take things forward from here.

      Now for a little cut and paste:

      “Ah consensus … the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’?”


      “One man with courage makes a majority.”

      It’s up to you to look up who said what. I’m just the messenger ;)

    6. RBE
      July 24, 2011 at 9:18 pm

      And another note…

      Leaders are required to have all 4 attributes. No exceptions.
      No “2 out of 4″ or “1 out of 4″.

      All four. Or it’s game over.

      Most guys in the Toyota with the AK47′s? They might have one or two.
      This shows you what side they are on.
      And by necessity, all good people have to oppose them.

      If the Toyota/AK crew has all four?
      They would be the good guys in this case.

      I think the IHCA is a good filter.
      It sets the bar high. And that’s what this world needs…always.

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