Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden - 10/09/2019

Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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The failure of audacious goals

“Goals are for losers.”

I wouldn’t put it quite as provocatively as cartoonist Scott Adams did in his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big. But for goals to be effective, they need to both be achievable and have a solid system in place to make them a reality. Perhaps Adams’ book should be required reading for the Government after their backdown on Kiwibuild’s 100,000 affordable homes target—especially if they plan to “win big” at the next election.

Voters’ trust has been seriously diminished

It might be too late. Making big promises next election is unlikely to be a shrewd option, as New Zealanders begin to cry wolf following a string of failures to deliver flagship policies. It wasn’t long ago, for example, that a capital gains tax was unceremoniously flung off the policy table. Voters’ trust has been seriously diminished, along with this Government’s chances to be transformational on almost anything, let alone solving the housing crisis.

It all went wrong seven years ago, when then opposition leader David Shearer announced the ambitious 100,000 homes target to rapturous applause. Kiwibuild was a sign of hope for those struggling to enter the housing market, countering a she’ll be right, housing-crisis-denying National Government. After Labour’s three changes in leadership, two years in government, and 258 Kiwibuild houses built, they’ve given up the target.

Alongside planting a billion trees or spending three billion dollars on regional development, Kiwibuild was a BHAG

The problem was that instead of a SMART goal where the “A” stands for achievable, Labour went for a BHAG: a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. According to business strategist Jim Collins who coined the term, BHAGs should take decades to achieve and are aimed at preventing small thinking and promoting urgency and intensity over that time. Alongside planting a billion trees or spending three billion dollars on regional development, Kiwibuild was a BHAG.

BHAGs are a great way to get headlines—and votes—but no way to run a country. To the Government’s credit, they’ve admitted that the goal was “overly ambitious,” and that the targets were “driving perverse outcomes.” Alongside refreshing a few subsidies and grants, they’ve set aside $400 million for “progressive home ownership products” like rent-to-buy and shared equity schemes. These are the kind of innovations that can grow and scale when restrictive targets are set aside.

He argues that winners don’t set goals, they create and continuously refine robust systems

Back to Adams. He argues that winners don’t set goals, they create and continuously refine robust systems. Rather than setting a goal to run a marathon, for example, set out to be a bloody good runner, then set up the systems to incrementally make that a reality. A system can create success without a smart or hairy goal, but a goal without a system is doomed to failure. In this instance, officials madly scrambling to chase a political target caused policy chaos.

“Failure is where success likes to hide in plain sight,” says Adams. “The trick is to get the good stuff out.” Many have criticised the new policies, but there’s potential for imaginative solutions to help more people into home ownership in the long run. It’s up to the Government to learn their lesson.

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Kieran Madden

By Kieran Madden -

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