'satisficing' -- 5/6/20

Today's selection -- from Flourish by Martin E.P. Seligman. The following excerpt reminded us of how crucial "political will" is to changing or implementing public policy. In this excerpt, Dr. Martin Seligman and General Rhonda Cornum meet with General George Casey to report on the implementation of resilience training for army soldiers:

"The first two components of CSF (Comprehensive Soldier Fitness) are the Global Assessment Tool and the five online fitness courses. The real challenge is training, however. Can the army train soldiers to become more psychologically fit, just as the army trains for physical fitness? At the November 2008 meeting, General Casey ordered us to come back in sixty days and report. Sixty days later, we were back at lunch at the Pentagon.

"'We have developed a test to measure psychological fitness, sir,' General Cornum said to General Casey. 'It takes only twenty minutes, and it has been constructed by a group of the leading civilian and military test experts. We are piloting it now with several thousand soldiers.'

"'Fast work, General. What do you and Marty want to do next?'

"'We want to do a pilot study on resilience training. ...[W]e want to do a proof-of-concept study in which we take one hundred sergeants at random and give them master trainer resiliency classes for ten days at Penn. ... These servants will then train the soldiers under their command in resilience. We can then compare these two thousand soldiers to a control group.'

"'Hold on,' General Casey thundered. 'I don't want a pilot study. We've studied Marty's work. They've published more than a dozen replications. We are satisfied with it, and we are ready to bet it will prevent depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This is not an academic exercise, and I don't want another study. This is war. General, I want you to roll this out to the whole army.'

"'But, sir,' Rhonda [General Cornum] began gently to demur. As she started to enumerate all the bureaucratic and budgetary steps a whole-army rollout entails, my mind wandered back to a memorable conversation with Richard Layard.

"Richard is a world-class economist from the London School of Economics ... Richard ... argues that government policy should be measured not by increases in gross domestic product but by increases in global well-being. He and his wife, Molly Meacher, are one of only two couples in the House of Lords. Merit lords, not hereditary lords.

"Richard and I were strolling through a seedy section of Glasgow in between sessions of the inaugural event of Scotland's Centre for Confidence and Well-Being, a quasi-governmental institution intended to counter the 'cannot do' attitude said to be endemic in Scottish education and commerce. ...

"'Marty,' Richard said in his mellifluous Etonian accent, 'I've read your work on positive education and I want to take it to the schools of the United Kingdom.'

"'Thanks, Richard,' I said, appreciative that our work was being considered in high Labor Party circles. 'I think I am just about ready to try a pilot study in a Liverpool school.'

"'You don't get it, do you, Marty?' said Richard, a mildly scathing tone in his voice. 'You, like most academic types, have a superstition about the relation of public policy to evidence. You probably think that Parliament adopts a program when the scientific evidence mounts and mounts, up to a point that it is compelling, irresistible. In my whole political life, I have never seen a single example of this. Science makes it into public policy when the evidence is sufficient and the political will is present. I'm telling you that your positive education evidence is sufficient -- 'satisficing,' as we economists call it -- and the political will is now present in Whitehall. So I'm going to take positive education to the schools of the United Kingdom.'

"This was the single most sensible statement of the mysterious relationship between micro and macro that I have ever heard. ...

"As I tuned back in to the generals from this musing, General Cornum was reminding General Casey of all the budgetary and bureaucratic steps that she would have to go through and how long they took. 'Battlemind, our current psychological program, sir, has been through only six of the ten steps, and it's been around for more than a year.'

"'General Cornum,' said General Casey, ending the meeting, 'you are to make resilience training happen for the whole army. Move out.'"

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Martin E.P. Seligman




Atria Paperback


Copyright 2011 by Martin Seligman, PhD


pg. 163-165
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