Breaking the political stalemate through talent

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Threat-based campaigns might sway public opinion, but they have also contributed to the vitriolic standoffs preventing progress on key policy issues – standoffs which seem only to increase in frequency and duration when we need change the most.

How can we possibly break through this impasse and drive the change we so desperately need? One promising approach to overcoming stalemate is to reframe public policy debates through an opportunity-based, rather than fear- and threat-based, lens. Rather than magnifying risk and discounting rewards, opportunity-based narratives help to make long-term rewards more tangible.

An opportunity-based narrative can help overcome partisan divisions and bring us together again around a common goal, something that can excite and motivate us rather than scare and stress us. The challenge has been to define a narrative that can actually do this.

At least one promising approach to overcoming the political stalemate is to reframe certain public policy debates through the lens of talent development. Talent development by its very nature creates a positive-sum game – we all benefit when our nation develops talent more broadly and more rapidly.

More than this, the ability to attract and develop world-class talent is a critical component to maintaining American competiveness. In survey after survey, talent tops the list of the most important factors determining national competitiveness in today’s networked world. The World Economic Forum says that a “strong innovation capacity will be very difficult to achieve without a healthy, well-educated, and trained workforce.”

To truly secure America’s competitiveness on a global stage, we must do more than acknowledge the issue; we must focus our policy questions around this issue and rally both sides of the political fence in support.

If we were at all serious about this, we would realize that it has wide-ranging public policy implications that extend far beyond the domain of basic K-12 education policy. Virtually all public policy issues can be re-framed through a talent lens, by explicitly asking the simple question: which policy options accelerate talent development and which ones block or slow down our efforts to develop talent? What if we were to ask this question in such unexpected policy arenas as unemployment insurance, intellectual property and foreign direct investment, not to mention urban policy, national infrastructure policy or business licensing policies?

For example, which immigration policy options would help develop our talent more rapidly and which ones would hamper our ability to do so? Which policies will drive foreign direct investment and allow us to effectively balance security with opportunity? What changes to our outdated unemployment insurance regime will help encourage talent to retool their skill sets for tomorrow’s economy – not yesterday’s? And how can Washington help legitimize new education approaches, promoting the lifelong learning that our talent pool requires to stay ahead?

These are not easy questions to answer, and thus, are rarely asked, much less systematically addressed. These kinds of debates would help to make an opportunity-based narrative more tangible and credible – there are real steps we can take to make big things happen in terms of talent development. Perhaps if we shifted our focus to this question, we could build a more robust consensus around talent. We could leverage a shared excitement about the opportunity to develop America’s workforce in ways that benefit all of us.

Opportunity-based narratives have enormous potential to unite and mobilize people. Talent development can provide a powerful new lens to re-frame public policy debates. It offers the foundation for a promising narrative, one that can stifle the threat-based narratives dominating our discourse today and help us build a new economy.

Director for Deloitte research, Eggers is responsible for research and thought leadership for Deloitte’s public sector industry practices.

A co-chairman of the Silicon Valley-based Deloitte Center for the Edge, Hagel is responsible for original research and the development of substantive points of view for new corporate growth.