Welcome to Pig on the Tracks, a newsletter about systems, complexity and how things can be done differently.
This newsletter is an attempt to form a weekly writing habit, capturing momentum from the articles I have been sharing on LinkedIn over the past eighteen months.
It will dive deeper into how systems thinking and complexity to drive real, transformative change in the public sector and beyond. I hope to share my own thinking and reflection, those of others, war stories, case studies, and other glimmers of hope and possibility.
You are probably—deservedly—curious about the unconventional choice of name. It is undeniably niche and I will be impressed if anyone knew the reference off the bat.
Those that are more familiar with my work will know that I believe deeply in the power of speculative fiction in illuminating how things can be done differently. Ursula Le Guin, arguably one of the greatest speculative authors—and one of my favourites—was also a prolific writer of nonfiction work, often deeply critical but strangely hopeful assessments of the world around her.
In her essay, A Non-Euclidean View of California as a Cold Place to Be she took aim at environmental discourses of green growth that promise the impossible goal of perpetuating economic growth without harming the environment, noting:
My intent is not reactionary, nor even conservative, but simply subversive. It seems that the utopian imagination is trapped, like capitalism and industrialism and the human population, in a one-way future consisting only of growth. All I’m trying to do is figure out how to put a pig on the tracks.
Her broader point is well made. So much of what we might consider utopian or transformational in the world of systems change is too blinkered in its focus, too shallow in its attack, or unwilling to expand its imagination to truly transformational frontiers.
As I’ve previously argued, in the excitement of pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the public sector, the addition of “systems” tends to be applied as a loose metaphor—a systems gloss—that adopts the language but not the fundamental logic or principles of systems thinking. The risk of this trend is similar to the one Le Guin identified: the transformational imagination of systems work remains trapped inside an environment that, ultimately, does not want to see it succeed.
This newsletter is my humble contribution to how we might imagine a different outcome—one where things can be done differently. All I’m trying to do is figure out how to put a pig on the tracks.