The Story of Vision Applied: The Infrastructure Bill

We’ve talked a great deal about the straight line between a meaningful change and an individual person’s efforts within the group. The five factors are the way that we explain this line as part of the story of vision. But leadership isn’t just in companies, and triangulation helps us understand a concept. So here is how the five factors work (and don’t work) in a current political event.

There’s a big debate right now about spending $3.5 trillion (or some lesser amount) on social issues, primarily infrastructure. Whether you are for or against this proposal, it is clear that the Democrats are struggling to make this idea become a real bill and eventually policy.

Here’s the big secret: this failure isn’t because the ideas are bad, it’s because the story of vision isn’t being told clearly.

Democrats are trying to tackle social issues to create an impact on education, health, ease of transportation – measures of fulfillment and opportunity in life, in other words. But the measurement being used is dollars. The measure doesn’t match the problem. To understand the connection between the policy (the change) and individual lives, citizens have to translate dollars into an impact on specific social and economic problems in the country. This depends on their understanding, knowledge, willingness, and patience. The straight line between cost and social benefit does not exist.

The solution is that the policy cost should never have been the first thing discussed. Rather, the social value of the bill should have been hashed out first and cost should have been discussed only later, as a way to determine final implementation details. In practice, this means that the Democrats would have already reached an agreement about which issues the bill would address and what goals it would accomplish.

Republicans jumped on the opportunity to talk only about cost, of course, because the narrative serves their portrayal of Democrats as big spenders. But instead of resisting by pushing the narrative back towards social issues while leaving the cost question open, Democrats have become mired in public negotiations about dollars and dollars alone.

Admittedly, talking about social issues is more difficult than dollars, and the Democrats had a high hurdle to jump. And the media’s focus on quick sound bites and simple measures favor dollars. But a clear story of vision is the responsibility of leadership, and the consequences of neglect are visible in the outcomes. Leadership, remember, is about giving the group what it needs to succeed. In this case, the ideas may be out in the population, but leadership’s responsibility is to pull out those that are most relevant and effective so that citizens have the right perspective for the leader’s case.

How do I know this is the reason for the Democrat’s struggle, and not actual policy considerations? Take a look at an opposing policy, the Republican tax cuts. The line between dollars and individual impact is more clear for a tax cut than a social policy: the dollars of tax cuts are money in someone’s pocket. The measure matches the problem, the story is clear, and everyone understands the line between tax cuts and individuals. Who, exactly, will benefit from these tax cuts never becomes an important question (even if it should) because the story of vision is clear.

By starting the conversation at dollars, the Democrats’ messaging of the infrastructure bill ignored the five factors and allowed a narrative to take shape that worked against their story of vision.

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