Top Insights from “Leading Economic Growth”

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Guest Blog by Dina Alzubi, LEG ’22

Below are some key ideas/learnings that I took away from this course

1. Taking time to construct and deconstruct the problem is important: the course really emphasized for me the importance of spending enough time constructing and deconstructing the problem at hand. Tools like the fishbone diagram and identifying the ‘why’ of the problem were really helpful.

2. PDIA—start action, don’t get stuck on ‘perfect’ analysis: The problem-driven iterative approach is a great framework to tackling complex problems. I think having such a process where one is prompted to identify entry-points to act on their problem and then iterate by integrating what is learned is a great way to prompt action. A few key lessons that stood out to me here were: 1) the goal is to find do-able actions to begin moving toward addressing the solution, rather than producing perfect analysis of the problem; 2) the iterative process can be used to build authority, acceptance, and ability along the way; 3) much of the knowledge required for answers to complex problems emerge through learning from active engagement within the context, not necessarily in passive academic knowledge. 

3. Focusing on the ‘binding constraint’ for the specific context in question is better than taking on a laundry list of policies: Wholesale policy reforms taken from other contexts might not necessarily deliver the desired growth objectives, it is important to identify constraints in the local context. Differential diagnosis to discern whether the constraint is indeed binding in the given context is important.

4. High-bandwidth organizations are important for growth: Given that economic activity requires a large and highly interacting set of policies and services, having organizations that are connected—where collaboration and the flow information is frequent both within the organization and outside of the organization—is crucial for growth. It is important that decisions are delegated to where the information exists.

5. A team of agents of change across the system makes all the difference: the course really highlighted how important it is to have a team of agents of change across the system (with varying degrees of authority, ability, and acceptance). The peer learning groups (shoutout lucky 13!) were a great example of how beneficial it is to have other colleagues speaking the same language regarding tackling the economic growth challenge. The difference in background, focus, and experience all made for enriching and thought-provoking conversations.

6. What we tell ourselves matters: Engaging with the problem with the belief that it can be addressed, that the solutions and process of generating solutions can be meaningfully inclusive, and taking efforts seriously is important.

I would be remiss not to add: 7. Metaphors are a great tool to communicate complex ideas: though this was not a central lesson in the course per se, Prof. Hausmann’s use of metaphors really highlight to me how great metaphors are in communicating complex ideas.

Jordan’s productive capabilities are better than I had previously guessed. Per the Atlas of Economic Complexity, we have the space and ability to move toward producing more complex products by leveraging the existing know-how in Jordan and developing it. 

There is a lot I can be doing (and have been enabled to do during the 10-week time period), and that it is great to link up to others struggling with the same problem and thinking about its answers.

Spaces of creating shared meaning go a long way: I think there is something to be said about having the space to think through problems and answers together (like that offered by the course) which is conducive to generating new ideas and insights. I think this is not discussed as much but actually goes a long way!

While I work on acting on the entry points I see in my fishbone and discussing the learnings and actions with others, the course calls my attention to focusing on engaging peers in conversations that move out of defeatist or apathetic bureaucratic thinking and move more toward trying to own and take seriously what parts we can have in building solutions within our specific context.

I remain really curious about the inclusive growth component. Specifically, I feel that the interview between Prof. Rodrik and Prof. Andrews left me wanting to learn more about what focusing on domestic growth and a new social contract between firms and government would look like. I’m also curious how tensions between such an agenda and an agenda focused on exports industries look like and how they may have been dealt with.

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Leading Economic Growth Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. 71 Participants successfully completed this 10-week online course in May 2022. These are their learning journey stories.

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