Public Management

Getting past the sunken pillarization through the strength of hybrid thinking

September 23, 2014

What is needed to create a constructive relationship between the public and private sector? Public institutes greatly need companies to create public value, but companies are often hindered by laws and regulations. Dr. Eelco van Hout spoke on this subject during a lecture for the employers' association Brabants-Zeeuwse Werkgevers (BZW).

Public-private co-operation is still often found to be unstable or it runs aground prematurely. The reason for this is that both parties have fundamentally different views on operational management, output and public value and they distrust one another in this respect. Van Hout referred to this dichotomy as the Sunken Pillarization. Whereas companies think in terms of return on investment, maximization of profit and client differentiation, the public institute work from a (social) collectivity, with solidarity and equality as important starting points.

The Sunken Pillarization poses a problem to both parties. Companies operate in a legal system that has been constructed by government authorities and are often hindered by laws and regulations (too many and sometimes contradictory), making it difficult to be enterprising. Public institutions, on the other hand, greatly need companies if they are to be able to create public value at all.  Welfare, adequate (health) care, education and economic vitality are becoming increasingly dependent upon the smooth co-operation between the public and private sectors.

What is needed to create a constructive relationship? First of all, it is essential that both parties understand what the other party is ‘genuinely’ about: acquiring insight into one another's value-rationalities, motives and passion. Based on respect for what motivates (semi-) civil servants and politicians on the one hand, and entrepreneurs on the other, it is possible to build a constructive relationship. To that end, Van Hout introduces Hybrid Thinking. This is a practical school of thought and working framework that bridges the government and the business community.

Hybrid Thinking comes about when entrepreneurs learn to think like a civil servant and the other way round: when civil servants learn to think like an entrepreneur. How, as an entrepreneur, and so in a commercial manner, can you make education an equal opportunity for everyone, provide affordable day care or provide care for the elderly in a professional and loving way?  How, as a civil servant, can you contribute to maximizing the profit of companies, to the regional competitive position of a business sector, to the acquisition strength of small and medium-sized businesses and the self-employed?

Merely posing these questions initially meets with resistance. Hybrid Thinking is not surprisingly contra-intuitive and is even found to be reprehensible at times. After all, the purpose of businesses is to make a profit and the purpose of government authorities is to serve the collective interest, right? Still, actual practice shows that Hybrid Thinking can bridge the Sunken Pillarization more and more often. It so happens it forces us to be creative and innovating.

During the lecture for the employers' association Brabants-Zeeuwse Werkgeversvereniging in Breda, this way of thinking and working was put to the test in a lively manner. This led to a gripping discussion, both plenary and afterwards during a drink.

On 17 September 2014, Dr. Eelco van Hout, academic director at TIAS School for Business and Society and independent advisor, presented a lecture to the employers' association Brabants-Zeeuwse Werkgeversvereniging (part of VNO-NCW) at the Wolflaar Estate in Breda. The subject of his lecture concerned the relationship between the government and the business community. More information:

Read more

De verzuiling voorbij - kracht van Hybrid Thinking, Eelco van Hout (2014) - in Dutch