The “Critical Three”: 3 Questions To Ask About Any New Policy

Whenever anyone asks for advice  – whether about a policy, opening a new school, starting a business, using a new teaching technique, whatever – my questioning line is always the same:

(1) What problem are you trying to solve?

(2) What makes you think this particular solution will solve that particular problem?

(3) If you’re so sure that this solution works, why aren’t people doing it already?

Amazingly people falter on all three.

For question 1 the most common pitfall is telling me the *benefit* of the policy, school, business. That’s irrelevant. What I want to know is the problem. Concorde had the benefit of flying its passengers from London to New York in under three hours but it bombed because no-one cared enough to fork out the ridiculous amount of cash it cost to make the journey that quick. Unless your policy ideas is solving a need you will rely on a ridiculous amount of marketing to make people think that they need the idea and then – at some point – people will figure out that this need you injected into them probably isn’t worth the amount of money or effort they are outlaying and hence will stop using it. Always, always be solving a problem otherwise you are wasting time.

If people can answer question 1 (the problem), they can usually answer question 2 (why this solution?). Usually, though; not always. I once worked in a school where teachers persistently failed to deal with children’s behaviour because the process for recording behaviour problems was so laborious. The senior leadership team decided that moving the recording system online would improve the situation. Except, the amount of information required was still the same, only now a teacher also had to find a computer, be in the same place for 15 minutes while the computer loaded, spend 5 minutes finding the file from a shrouded corner of the school’s U Drive before even starting the laborious information filling. The problem was that too much information was required before you could put someone on detention. The solution was therefore making the process shorter not simply putting it online. If your solution doesn’t solve the problem you face, your idea is bunkum.

Finally – and this is the one where most people fall down – why, oh why, if your idea is so brilliantly fabulous and wonderful hasn’t it been tried before? “No-one has thought of it yet” is not an adequate answer. Given the many people who have walked upon the earth and encountered the same frustrations as you, the idea that “no-one has thought of it yet” is entirely unlikely. More possible is that: (a) you didn’t have the right technology before, or (b) the current situation occurred because of a crotchety power-mad individual(s) with ridiculous ideas who have now been removed or sufficiently wooed into changing that your idea should go ahead, (c) someone left a job half-finished, or (d) someone didn’t have the courage or political support to do what you are suggesting, and so on. Without understanding the reasons why your idea has not been tried, however, you run one of two risks (1) it has been tried and it was a total disaster which you are likely to repeat again, or (2) no-one has tried it because there is a glaring hole not currently obvious to you in your idealistic stupor but which will trip you up as soon as you get given the green light for implementation.

When creating new things, no idea is fail-proof. The “Critical Three” Questions won’t save you from a confluence of events that could strike down your good idea, but they can at least help ensure that – from the outset – the idea has some worth on which to base any of your gainful efforts.

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