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  • Glen Drummond

Kicks and Shifts

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

Here's a metaphor for an almost-impossible task. Think of a massive boulder that is not perfectly spherical, situated on ground that is not perfectly flat. While the boulder is generally impossible for a person to move, still, if you stand in just the right place, and push on just the right spot, you can get the boulder rolling. The work of a strategist in early market spaces is to interpret the boulder and the lay of the land sufficiently to make timely and uncanny guesses about where to push, before you exhaust the time and energy available to you.


Economists at Oxford University studying the post-carbon shift are using language rooted in mathematics to express a related idea: "Sensitive Intervention Points." I'll paraphrase something Professor Cameron Hepburn explained in a recent crowdcast: "In a complex adaptive system, a small intervention at a "sensitive Intervention point can produce outsized impacts. You can listen to the talk here: https://www.crowdcast.io/e/sensitive-intervention-points


The talk includes reference to "kicks" (equivalent to pushing in just the right spot on the rock) and "shifts" (changing the slope of the landscape). The means discussed in the crowdcast were primarily the kind of thing progressive administrations have been trying to do for the last few decades - public sector policies like Feed-in-Tariffs, carbon pricing, green-financing, and economic incentives for green technology development. All of these have been important - essential in fact. But are they sufficient? The answer may depend on how much time we actually have before climate feedback loops spin out of control.


Missing perhaps from the economists toolbox however is what strategists know to be the some of the highest leverage available: sense-making, framing, perspective-building. It begins with the way you yourself look at a situation. If you can get others to see it the same way - that is a kick with almost unlimited potential. While the policy-makers work on much-needed shifts - there is nothing holding back the private sector from inventing their own kicks.