The pleural effusion saga: How my Oz visit eventually happened
Enlightening Light

Keep it simple and get on with it – how’s that for a plan?


WHEN I start writing a book I don’t have a plan. I just have the germ of an idea. Sometimes it might only be a colourful phrase.

I don’t establish regular times to work. I don’t force anything. Often it is a week or more before the next step occurs to me. I write in the daytime or in the wee small hours of the morning.

At the moment I’m about half way through the next Inspector Metau book. I’m happily following the intrepid policeman wondering where he will lead me next. Metau is a mate of mine and I trust his judgement.

Some writers spend a great deal of time planning elaborate story lines and plots before embarking on the writing. Not me, I make it up as I go along. Some unkind people say it shows.

It might be one reason I’ve never made much money as a writer. But, then again, I don’t do it for the money. For me it is a pleasure and a compulsion.

When I worked as a social mapping consultant in Papua New Guinea and Australia, my poor accountant used to harass me constantly about developing a business plan.

My plan was (a) enjoy myself, (b) make enough money to pay the bills and (c) repeat steps (a) and (b) as long as they worked. It might also be the reason I never made much money as a social mapper.

When I travel I usually have a destination in mind and a vague idea of how to get there. Get off the train, get on an aeroplane, drive up that road, stay at that hotel. For the bits in between I rely on serendipity to get me through.

There are two main types of people in the world, those like me who make it up as they go along and those who meticulously plan every move.

The first typology is the one that generally informed the way the kiaps ran Papua New Guinea before independence. That and the fact that they were so starved of resources planning was next to impossible.

‘We know Papua New Guinea is not quite ready for independence, we don’t really know why but we will let you know when it is, please bear with us until then.’

As we now know, that approach didn’t really catch the imagination of the gurus in Canberra.

The second typology probably describes how Papua New Guinea is run today. It is not dissimilar to the way most countries are run in the 21st century.

Curiously, in Papua New Guinea, the kiap system got things done while the current system seems to have failed.

To my disorganised mind one of Papua New Guinea’s biggest problems is that it is over governed, over regulated and over planned. The government seems to spend more money paying consultants and planning things than it does actually doing anything.

Sometimes the planning get so convoluted that they forget what it was they wanted to achieve in the first place.

If you don’t believe me try going into a government department to get a straight answer on a matter. It can’t be done. After you jump through all the hoops of rules and regulations (not to mention learned bureaucratic habits) you might be lucky enough to emerge with half an answer at best.

It’s not really the Papua New Guinean way. If I go into a village with the right money and ask the people to build me a house somewhere with three rooms and a kitchen and dunny out the back, something like the diagram I’ve just drawn in the dirt, I can come back in a couple of weeks and there it will be. Not quite what I envisaged but eminently satisfactory.

I think regulation and planning are overrated and are used as excuses not to actually do anything except maybe cream off some lucrative fees.

I admit that you have to have accountability, especially in a place like Papua New Guinea where money and resources tend to grow wings, but surely that can be provided in large part by simple results.

If I came back to the village and found the house I wanted built was only half finished and nothing like I’d described, I’d refuse to pay the people the balance of the agreed fee and go somewhere else.

Papua New Guinea, like many countries in the world, including Australia, is process-orientated, not results-orientated. That’s why our schools and hospitals are in such a mess.

Make it simple, make it doable and get on with it.

What’s wrong with that philosophy?


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Lindsay F Bond

Extent, effect...empiric, ephemeral...evinced evidence-base reporting.
Kiaps ranged individually, collectively, mostly as in reports. What odds opposition?
Ministers (some primed) if arranging, voiding opposition: lauded or laughed at? What, no plan?
Citizenry, planned and canned less coin, Sylvester-like, ‘sufferin succotash’?

Paul Oates

The original Meyer Briggs process of determining a person's perspective and chosen or instinctive way of doing things identified 16 basic traits based on the combination of four variables. These variables went something like this:

Extrovert / Introvert
Sensate / Intuitive
Thinking or pre planning / Free Expression (or just let it happen)
Judicial / Non judgemental

The conjecture is/was that you can basically predict a person's personality and behaviour patterns to around the Pareto's 85% or so based on these four basic traits.

The system has since been modified and extended but the process is much the same. People can now access the basic assessment via the web.

There is no right or wrong or good and bad but merely an indication of how a person views the world and approaches life.

Phil and I agree on many things and disagree of others. It takes all kinds to make up a balanced approach to getting things done.

That's why the traditional PNG seniors discussion group in the village was so beneficial and allowed all to have a say. Sometimes, that meant that nothing got done but that really didn't matter as this was a decision in itself?

If there was a danger or intent of warfare, then a fight leader was chosen but this person was not given authority over everything or on a long term basis.

In line with Peter Sandery's anecdote, perhaps the real problem for today's PNG government process is that we Kiaps presented many in rural PNG with a splendid example of authoritative decision making but were never given the chance to convey the long term history and clear and understandable lessons that we already knew as to why a government works and/or why they don't.

Philip Fitzpatrick

Obviously put together by people with simple minds Peter.

I must admit that the propensity of politicians to oversimplify things often leads to unwanted results - stop the boats, no carbon tax, save medicare etc. etc.

Unfortunately it seems to work for them.

Peter Sandery

Agree with idea of simplicity, Phil, but I am always mindful of the advice I once got from an old legislative draftsman who told me the story behind s 92 of the Australian Constitution.

This says, " On the imposition of uniform duties of customs, trade, and intercourse between the Sates, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation, shall be absolutely free".

The said draftsman went on to explain that, during the drafting process, the politicians said that they should get a chance at drafting a section which they had not for the previous 91.

This was it, and it has been the cause of more court challenges than any other of the sections in the constitution.

I have not been able to verify the story but always keep it in mind when people talk about keeping things simple.

Michael Dom


I'm with you Phil.

He, he, heh!

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