Gazelles Across the Savanna: How You and Washington are Fighting the Same Battle

by Ryan on February 23, 2012

How many can you guide to safety?

Gary Gensler, chairman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission under President Obama shared a favorite “way the world works” metaphor in the book Confidence Men.

More than just how Washington works, I think it can be applied to a lot of the challenges we face everyday in achieving goals. Here’s why we need to think more about gazelles.

“The way Washington works is you often start with whats optimal, a best solution to some complex problem, and surprisingly there’s often quite a bit of bipartisan consensus on what will work, at least in private. That’s your heard of gazelles…”


The same thing happens when we tackle a long term problem at home or plan how to achieve business objectives. We rarely have a problem thinking up a pretty darn good solution and we usually agree on just what we need to do to get it done, but that’s where the challenge begins:

“…but you’ve got to get them across the savanna safely, to a distant watering hole, and the longer it takes, the more you lose, you may end up with very few, you may lose them all, because there are predators out there, lions, tigers, and packs of hyenas, and they’re big and fast and relentless.

Time and distance are funny things. You’d never let something come along and kick you off course or in the opposite direction, but when you are traveling far it doesn’t take a kick, it only takes a small nudge to end up somewhere else way down the road a long time from now.

Considering how any significant solution to a problem is bound to be opposed do or die by some industries or interests that have figured out a way to profit from the way things are, even if they’re profoundly busted, and often because they’re profoundly busted…

You, me and Washington are set in our ways. It’s not easy to change because we’ve carved out a nice life from the way things are. Sure, things might not be great, but admit it: we’ve figured out a way to prosper despite things being broken. Change is hard but if you want to do unique things, better things, you’ve got to take a chance.

“…so thats your challenege. see how may gazelles you can get to the watering hole.”

Once you take a chance on a goal, risk things today to make a better tomorrow, you’ve got to protect it.

I just finished Confidence Men and while I was surprised that the book went into such great length describing the origins of the financial crisis (something I’ve already read about many times) it did provide fascinating incite into how the Obama administration acted (or failed to act) on some of the most important decisions of our generation both during the campaign and the first 2 years of his presidency. An interesting read.

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