Looking where we see


What’s your example of an organisation spending time and energy like the drunk in the story, ‘looking for the keys under the lamp-post’?

We miss the opportunities for innovation and creativity all the time we look where we know the answers.


A police officer sees someone drunkenly searching under a streetlight.

‘What have you lost?’

‘My keys!’

So they both search together, but find nothing.

‘Are you *sure* you lost them here?’

‘Oh no, I lost them in the park’

‘So why the hell are we searching here?’

‘This is where the light is’


Organisations have particularly focused or limited ‘attention’.

My friend often tells this story of being a children’s services commissioner in a council

One of the big areas of impact — one which is not driven by crisis or child protection — is early years support.

In the complexity of public services, we don’t have truly good, research-based data about many things — but the lifelong impacts of early literacy and ‘school readiness’ are well documented.

So, there was a certain amount of money allocated to this critical area.

Something like 90% of that money was spent on the council pre-school ‘settings’, providing direct provision to a tiny proportion of the population.

About 6% was spent on necessary inspection of private and voluntary sector ‘settings’.

And 4% was spent on support to the vast bulk of parents to help them to create a good ‘Home Learning Environment’, as it’s called in the literature.

And what might the weighted impact of that spend be on the total life chances of the kids in the borough?

Well, his estimate, even if rhetorical, was that those proportions should really be reversed — the only way to make a really substantive impact would have been to invest more than 90% in supporting parents and the home.


Like the proverbial searcher for keys under the lamppost, we so often focus where the attention goes, where we already have made effort, more than we do where we might generate real impact — and existing spend creates real inertia that’s hard to change.

Where have you seen organisations looking for their future using their understanding of the past?

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