Whether it's world peace or an economic plan, always ask the right questions first
"Firstly," he said, "Please tell me your name."
"My name is Selina Kunac," I said proudly.
He looked at me nervously, before asking if I could write it on the survey form.
"No problem," I responded, smiling. "It's a tricky one!"
He nodded, passing me his pen and clipboard. I scribbled my name and passed it back.
He read the next question, asking me to confirm my nationality.
"New Zealand!" I replied, also proudly.
I watched him write NZ on the form.
"Now," he said, "What are the steps to achieving world peace?"
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My interviewer looked at me with keen eyes, confident that I could answer the most complicated, existential-crisis-triggering question in all of world history. I was flattered, however alarmed that, while in holiday mode, I was going to have to host a philosophical sumo-wrestle in my mind. Straight in with the easy questions, huh?
I stood there in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for about five minutes, trying to think of something profoundly wise to say. The young man I was talking to – a local student – eventually started to shuffle his feet. This made me anxious to provide a response, so I gave up on thinking hard and muttered something about kindness and equity, much to my own disappointment (and, it appeared, his).
Working in economic development, I am not exactly a stranger to hard questions. In support of the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan, every day I observe projects as they grapple with the ins and outs of conceptualising, planning, managing and monitoring significant investments into the region. I'm not sure if it was the saké I'd been sipping the night before, or the fact I had probably ruined this kid's chance of getting an A on his assignment, but his question started a fire in my brain that didn't burn out for the rest of my trip.
In retrospect, there are a lot of things I could rattle off that might support the development of world peace. In the world of investment and economic development I could do the same thing. With a little bit of common sense, some knowledge of history and good research techniques, most of us could come up with a half-decent answer to one of life's big questions.
In the heat of the moment, the tricky part for me was being able to confidently say that my "steps to world peace" would actually solve world peace. That would require a better understanding of what I was aiming for. In other words, before I could come up with a solution, I first needed to ask the question: what does world peace even look like?
This is a well-known project management principle and totally relevant in the context of economic development. All too often though, we see it applied too late in the process or, indeed, not at all. What happens then? A couple of things are common. Firstly, when your vision is not clear at the beginning, it can tend to get foggier along the way. Projects suffer from scope creep, cost overrun, and face that horrible question: was the money we spent really justified in the end?
The other thing that can happen is that the project is focused on delivering a solution – any solution – that does not necessarily solve the problem or maximise the opportunity that it seeks to. Understanding your goals from the outset means you choose the best solution to meet those goals in the first place. Understanding your goals also enables you to realise when your solution, or your approach to delivering that solution, needs adjusting.
The team at Northland Inc is here to support projects at any stage in their investment cycle, but if you want our best advice, get in touch early. We can help you articulate your vision and provide you with the support to ensure the economic and social benefits of your investment are realised. The influx of investment into Tai Tokerau provides an opportunity to propel our economy forward – but we have a responsibility as a region to manage that investment wisely and maximise the benefits of that investment in our communities.
Understanding our regional priorities and keeping our eyes on "true north" will help us build our staircase in the right direction (and attach safety rails where we need them).
When planning our projects, focusing on the outcomes before we write our solutions will set us up for success.
As for world peace, I haven't solved it yet – but avoiding the mistake of focusing on the wrong question first and coming up with a solution in haste, presents a lesson our region can learn from.
Selina Kunac, Portfolio Support, the Tai Tokerau Northland Economic Action Plan