Parliamentarians should apply ‘design thinking’ before rushing to write the next law

Tim Hewitt-Coleman
Tim Hewitt-Coleman
Image: Supplied

I braaied boerewors on the open fire again last night. It’s just not the same when fried in the pan. And besides, we had ran out of stove gas and I was lazy to drive to the shop to get a refill from Abu.

But as my grown son and I sat outside in the crisp night air, our conversation shifted from the long-standing debate on the relative merits of our fantastic local boerewors makers. (I was leaning more towards my Lorraine guy, while my son was arguing quite strongly in favour of the more balanced clove and coriander flavours from our favourite butcher shops in North End and Perridgevale).

The discussion began to focus more on the clear night sky as we imagined that one of those little “stars” was the Boeing Starliner stuck in space as it struggles to get back home from a short visit to the International Space Station.

You see, the Boeing astronauts have been stuck up there for a few days now because of some complicated technical problem to do with helium, I think. To be honest I don’t really know, but Elon Musk does.

Mr Musk explains that the actual problem is that Boeing is run by an admin type, by the name of David Calhoun. Musk’s view is that “the CEO of an aircraft company should know how to design aircraft, not spreadsheets”.

Of course, Musk is shooting from the hip and taking a dig at a business rival, but beneath his one-line comment on X lies perhaps a deeper, more concerning truth that seems to trouble large parts of our world right now. Let me explain.

My observation is that it is no exception at all that an aerospace company like Boeing is run by a BCom graduate.

In fact, it has rather become the norm that institutions have come to be managed by those who have the training and demeanour to navigate the ever more complicated compliance and procedural hurdles that stand every day in the way of our efforts to continue with productive work.

I can tell you than in running my own little business, I find that every day there is new pressure to spend even less time in the work that I need to do to get beautiful buildings built.

Every day I am challenged to spend my time being sure that I have explained what I have done in such a way that the SA Revenue Service (Sars) can understand.

Every day I am compelled to put effort into ensuring that CIPC is happy, that the UIF is happy, that supply chain is happy, that the town planners are happy, that the health and safety officials are happy.

I do all of this while rushing around in the hope that I don’t make the traffic department unhappy or flout the provisions of Fica, Rica and Popia.

Now, while the younger version of me may have tended towards the promotion of the goal of stateless anarchy as a remedy to these evils, the wiser, more mellow version of me has come to see that it is perhaps more practical that we focus on trying where we can to help our parliamentary legislators adopt what I call “design thinking” in the good work that they do. This, rather than the “reactive thinking” that they currently display.

Because, right now, when legislators see the poor being exploited by a dodgy lender, they react by writing legislation that makes it a mission for all of us to get credit.

When legislators see a few cases of diarrhoea, they react by making it illegal for small farmers to sell raw milk.

When legislators see criminals using cellphones or bank accounts, they react by writing legislation to compel all of us submit piles of mindless paper work before we can make a phone call or draw money from an ATM.

Legislation really does have a massive and ever present impact on how we spend the hours of each day.

Whether we feel the drain on our time and energy coming from our bank or our ISP or the traffic department, all of these have as the source of their authority a piece of legislation that comes out of parliament.

So, it is therefore now in the spirit of generosity that I make an offer to all the newly sworn-in parliamentarians. Please come to my office as part of your induction for a daylong “design thinking” training programme.

There I will sit you down with paper and kokis and get you to redesign a little house. In this exercise I will help you see that you can’t make the kitchen bigger without making the lounge smaller.

It will get you to know that while stairs take up space in the hall way, removing them makes it difficult to get to the first floor.

The exercise will help you feel in your bones that everything is connected, like an ecosystem, and that each piece of legislation you write in this seventh parliament could have consequences that you had not at first anticipated.

Perhaps through the generosity of my free training programme, our new parliamentarians may come to see that the more they continue to add rules, the more it becomes possible for only the most exceptional of capable geniuses like Elon Musk to remain creative in spite of them.

Who would want that?

Tim Hewitt-Coleman is an award winning South African Architect in private practice



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