Was the Brexit Lesson hard enough to stop Solving Symptoms and start Solving Root Causes? ‒CALL TO ACTION

with Nancy Hoffmann and Geoff Slater           DeutschNederlands

It must have been some 15 years ago when I was first confronted with something peculiar. Practices and methods that had worked well in the past did not work any more. This created unwanted complications such as people losing their jobs for the wrong reasons, project failure rates going through the roof and ever increasing costs e.g. of health services. Despite the huge suffering this created, Call to actionnobody in charge was willing (or able) to do anything about it. Instead, all the attention moved to treating the symptoms this created. With the results of the Brexit referendum at hand, it is now painfully clear that this is no longer sustainable. One wonders, was the lesson hard enough for our leaders to stop solving symptoms, stop the shame and blame culture and start solving root causes once and for all? For the sake of European Citizens and our children, this is a call to action.

Albert_einstein_by_zuzahin-d5pcbug from Wikipedia comsWhat springs to mind is Albert Einstein’s famous quote “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them”. Isn’t this the perfect situation to apply that thinking? Well, there is a challenge. Changing common ways of thinking is tremendously difficult, isn’t it? Somehow, our unconscious mind makes us fall back into old habits and, hence, applying the same level of thinking that created the problem. It is our goal not just to call for action but to create a new way of thinking.

We aim to achieve this by illustrating how we can get to the root cause of one of the issues leading to Brexit, the EU crisis and so much more: bureaucracy.  Did you know…

  1. That it is possible to explain how unnecessary bureaucracy is created via just one root cause?
  2. That the missing element to create guidance was published in 2011?
  3. That, with the root cause and the guidance available, we can create a ‘simple’ guideline to eliminate the unnecessary bureaucracy at its root cause?

If you feel like us, that a new level of thinking is needed, we invite you to apply a ‘new’ way of thinking right away. We invite you to let go of questions like “do I have the time to read this?” and ask yourself “how much simpler, enjoyable and healthier could my life be if I contributed to making this new level of thinking happen?” You can contribute by simply reading this, spreading the word, providing feedback or starting something yourself. It is all up to you. Let’s start with some observations.



binoculars-769036_1280 pixabay freeA while after my observation that practices (= working practices, best practices and methods) were not working anymore and while doing analysis work on project failure rates, I made a further observation: Even the experts could not oversee the impact of their changes any more. This happened because the environment had become too bureaucratic, complex and dynamic to comprehend. Yet, management had to make decisions. Of course, the inevitable happened. Some managers got blamed for failure and were replaced. But, it didn’t end there. Even with the best of qualifications and intentions, their successors found themselves in the same trap.

Experts and managers thought “our practice worked well before. We must have done something wrong. Let’s try harder next time and make sure the goals will be realized.” With each round, valuable time and resources were wasted. Bureaucracy and complexity increased. Few realized that motivating practices got replaced by practices creating frustration and downward spirals. Those who recognized it may have tried to intervene, but their voices went unheard for about a decade.

In recent years, some individuals received attention; individuals like Jim Collins, Recardo Sempler, Jan Rotmans (Netherlands), Jaap Peters (Netherlands) and Albert Einstein (!) with his famous quote (see above). We now see many examples where ‘new’ practices such as self-organisation and giving professionals the space to do their job, deliver impressive results. However, these are often at a relatively small scale, respectively ‘green-field’ approaches. The following question still remains to be answered “how do you transfer large organizations, let alone government and EU organizations, to these ‘new’ practices while the obstacles from the ‘old’ seem insurmountable?”.

Whatever the leadership type in charge in the years to come, the following is crystal clear:

  1. As long as the symptoms of crisis are being ‘solved’ whilst their root causes remain intact, more ‘new’ symptoms will pop-up. The crisis will worsen and downward spirals continue.
  2. Going ahead with the Brexit means that desperately needed resources, especially those of our leaders, will be gridlocked in the treatment of symptoms, fire fighting and meeting cost savings pressures. In turn, there will be insufficient priority to get to the root causes and to get them solved. The speed of downward spirals will thus increase.


Call to Action

For the sake of EU citizens and especially for the sake of our children!

family-1244795_1280 pixabay freeWhatever your position as a leader or decision maker, whether it is in a small city government somewhere in Europe, in a ministry, parliament or a pan-European organization, in a political party or in business, let’s please stop solving symptoms, stop the shame and blame culture and start solving root causes.

The choice is yours. Though, from the perspective of your voters, citizens or clients, we invite you to consider this: How do you want to be seen in five or ten years? As somebody who has contributed to worsening the crisis or somebody who has contributed to getting us out of the crises and, hence, a real leader?

(By the way, doesn’t this justify a second referendum?)


How we can find Root-Causes and the Guidance to get them Solved

compass-390907_1280 pixabay freeTo get to the root cause of unnecessary bureaucracy and the guidance to eliminate such bureaucracy, we need to go through a little discussion first. Don’t worry. This won’t take much of your time. It consists of the 5 questions below.

For this to work, we need contributions from people having experienced bureaucracy first hand. That can be from within the organization that you work for or from an external Which practices...group/organization enforcing their practices upon you, your project or organization. If you have such experiences, please provide your answers to the following questions (brevity would be appreciated):

  1. How do you perceive yourself: As a voter/citizen/employee, professional/expert or decision maker (politician/director/manager)? –Feel free to share your profession as well.
  2. What was the perspective from which you answered the question on the form above (can’t open it? Download pdf-reader)?  –Feel free to answer the question from multiple perspectives.
  3. What are your totals from the form?
  4. Could you name a few ‘places’ where you think bureaucracy comes from?
  5. Any further observations in this context you would like to share?

Once there are sufficient responses, we will continue with the second part. In this part, we will ‘develop’ the root cause of bureaucracy and a ‘simple’ guideline to get rid of the unnecessary bureaucracy.


In Summary

start-1426743_1280 pixabay freeLet’s get the ball rolling and help our leaders with a starting point from which they can lead us out of crisis. Your contributions will help us all to make it happen. Watch for more to come!

To receive automatic notifications on the second part, just register via the “Follow Blog via Email” at LeadingInAComplexEnvironment.wordpress.com.



EOetringerSqEugen Oetringer has a passion to get to the bottom of high(est)-impact problems and to solve them once and for all. In the 1980s/1990s, he worked in an environment where solving problems once and for all was the culture. When this culture was replaced by following best practices and all sorts of problems popped up, he re-applied the old techniques. To his surprise, this delivered insights and results in areas where the popular practices had failed. Eugen lives in the Netherlands, is an active member of Rotterdam Kantelt”, the “Zorgdenkers Network”, “Stad van Morgen, Eindhoven” and Think Tank Project Netherlands; all of which are initiatives of engaged citizens contributing to a healthy and prospering society. He is an independent analyst and strategist.


NancyHoffmannNancy Hoffmann is an art historian, curator, critic and ‘creativist’. She is co-founder of the Foundation Creative Action Now, involved in the movement called ‘Netherland Kantelt’ and co-founder of ‘Rotterdam Kantelt’. The latter is a movement that started in late May with 177 individuals and various initiatives from Rotterdam. Goals are to make the city more sustainable, humane and stronger via co-creation.


GeoffSlaterGeoff Slater has always had a passion for efficiency of operation based upon his experiences working for a government department and in the IT industry.  As a consequence he has always maintained a keen interest in processes that are practical and deliver results without the bureaucratic overhead that this can often entail. Now retired, Geoff resides in the UK and has been an interested observer of the Brexit campaign and the aftermath that now exists.




About Eugen Oetringer

Driven to find Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges. Especially interested when earlier improvement attempts have delivered insufficient results.
This entry was posted in Best Practice, Bregret, Brexit, Bureaucracy, EU, European Union, Leadership, Management. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Was the Brexit Lesson hard enough to stop Solving Symptoms and start Solving Root Causes? ‒CALL TO ACTION

  1. Dennis says:

    Even more important, today’s society is one who like to think in soundbites and give an opinion in the form of like /hate. If you decide to throw away carefully years of considering legislation to short track a capital decision concerning thousands of laws to people who don’t want information but want to give an opinion.
    It’s like being on the titanic and the captain warns for icebergs but a sailor loudly says “Who want to break the record and arrive in new York early?” If you can’t lead, the best decision isn’t always the one that get’s the most votes. It is still the responsibility of the leader to act in the best way possible.
    Democracy is so much more than the dictatorship of the majority. It has bureaucracy for a reason so not to act on impuls, feelings and popular decisions. Yes bureaucracy costs and will never be popular. Can a new leader decide not to act on a 52-48 vote? I hope so but UK is a loser in this game, the EU might bounce back stronger.


  2. Reblogged this on KnowledgEvolution and commented:
    As long as the symptoms of crisis are being ‘solved’ whilst their root causes remain intact, more ‘new’ symptoms will pop-up. The crisis will worsen and downward spirals continue.
    – Eugen Oetringer

    Call to Action

    For the sake of EU citizens and especially for the sake of our children!

    Whatever your position as a leader or decision maker, whether it is in a small city government somewhere in Europe, in a ministry, parliament or a pan-European organization, in a political party or in business, let’s please stop solving symptoms, stop the shame and blame culture and start solving root causes.


  3. Thanks for reblogging.


  4. Eugen – I can open the form but it isn’t interactive. In more than 4 decades of working in the public service for multiple departments in more than one government, I can attest that the vast majority of instances I have witnessed lie in the left-hand column. In some agencies, it is 100%! There are a number of reasons. I’ve listed a handful below.

    1. As an organization grows, more people become involved in doing a task, Inevitably, someone makes a mistake. In the public service, mistakes are not permitted, so a rule is developed to prevent it from happening again. The rules pile up on top of each other. With the passage of time, we have bureaucracy with rules whose original purpose are long lost.
    2. I have frequently seen senior managers and executives behave unethically. When their transgressions come to light, controls are tightened with more checks and reviews added. By the time that they trickle down to the working level, it becomes almost impossible to do work. A classic example: the rules for managing small contracts are now so complicated that it is no longer worth the effort to issue them. One might as well go big – the management effort is the same.
    3. In the public sector, the number of competing interests for any issue is quite large. Failure to visibly consider any stakeholder will likely result in some form of legal challenge. Oh, how I envy the private sector with it’s simple “triple-point accounting.” This means that everything involves a required (often legal), non-negotiable, complicated process to ensure that every aspect of a solution is considered.
    4. The public sector tends to attract employees who are linear thinkers and comfortable working in structured environments. I have seen many an “entrepreneurial” thinker leave after a year or so, out of frustration at the difficulty of getting things done. When developing a mandated but very complicated process, I pushed for “learn as we go.” Pick the low-hanging fruit first and solve the rest latter. This was stubbornly resisted by those who insisted that every bit be planned out before moving forward. They could not grasp that this was not possible. I finally won the day by asking who will inform the CEO that our agency will produce no output for the next 6-12 months while we attempted to dot every “I” and cross every “T.”
    5. It is really all about the conflict between trust and legal responsibility. As Covey articulates very well, there is a high trust tax associated with not trusting your employees – unnecessary bureaucracy, unduly complicated processes, and a long time to accomplish work. But, one employee who ignores security requirements can cause considerable harm. Or maybe, it is simple ignorance of the legal nuances of what is required. For example missing one legal requirement in the hiring process can result in an appeal that could last 6 months or more, during which time, the post remains vacant.

    The nature of the public sector is different.


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