The Problem With Getting Things Done

Madsen Pirie, president and co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute has written a book about how the think tank was founded. Possibly a dull topic, you might think and you’d be wrong. Founded in 1977, I’ve been a fan of it since at the latest 1986 and possibly earlier because of the influence it had on Margaret Thatcher’s government. She was doing all the right things but I was unaware at the time where some of her best ideas were coming from. I came to understand that in 1986 when I met Madsen.

The value of this book isn’t so much that he tells you how they did it as by reading it you can learn how you can do it yourself. All the obstacles Madsen and his co-founder Eamonn Butler had to overcome are still out there today, throwing a spanner in the works of anyone aspiring to influence government policy. I’m sure David Cameron knows the truth of that all too well. The vested interests, reactionary forces, the not-invented-here syndrome, and sheer inertia, all play a part now as they did back then.

The Adam Smith Institute (ASI) is not what’s known as a “hand shaking agency” that effects introductions for a fee, or what I call a “dating agency” which enables business leaders the opportunity to meet the government minister of their dreams. It’s a policy generator. And it’s unashamedly libertarian, so you know which direction they want to see the country go: less government and more free trade. Less Big Brother and more civil liberty. In short, they want more power for Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand.

You need to start with a clear idea of what you want to achieve, and focus on that. Don’t get bogged down with the obstacles negative people put in your way; that’s what negative people do. Don’t go straight to government and say, “Hey, this is what you should do.” Instead, identify problems and work out solutions. Do your research and publish reports and papers of high academic standard. Draw people in, attract academics and subject specialists, engage with the media and help them do their job, stir up public interest and create a tide of opinion in favour of your proposals. Present them to government as an already popular solution, even if they didn’t realise they had a problem, and do it in such a way they can claim credit. Remember, this isn’t an exercise in vanity, you don’t want the glory, you just want your policies implemented.

I highly recommend this book to you: Think Tank: The Story of the Adam Smith Institute

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