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3 The Indirect Approach From Direct to Indirect Assistance In the opening quotation of the book, John Dewey gives what is perhaps the best one-sentence summary of this book and of helping theory in general where he note that the “best kind of help to others”—helping them help themselves—is indirect rather than direct and is enabling rather than controlling. The economic approach to structuring incentives (agency theory) so that principals can better control agents is writ large in the development aid industry. Since development assistance became a business that needs to show results and since development agencies as helpers tend to have large power and wealth differentials over the doers, a direct controlling form of help is almost guaranteed. To build a foundation for an alternative approach to development assistance, we must explore indirect enabling methods—no matter how ill suited development agencies are to use these methods. After more than thirty years in development assistance, Thomas Dichter has reached a similar conclusion that the best assistance can only be indirect, not direct. The keys to development increasingly lie in the realm of the policies, laws, and institutions of a society, and to change these requires indirect kinds of approaches—stimulating, fostering, convincing—rather than 52 doing things directly. Why is it, then, that the majority of development assistance organizations continue to “do” things? And why do more and more come into existence every day with funding to do still more things? (Dichter 2003, 7) To study indirectness, we begin with some less familiar types of indirectness . Three very different examples of an indirect approach serve to introduce the variety and importance of the idea: • the volitional indirect approach in matters of strategy in military as well as broader human affairs; • the cognitive indirect approach to learning in the higher animals (in comparison with, say, insects)—the biological version of the Chinese teaching-how-to-‹sh metaphor; and • the indirectness of selectionist mechanisms in comparison with instructionist mechanisms. Then we turn to Douglas McGregor’s Theory Y as a prototype indirect strategy for assistance in a managerial context. The Indirect Approach in Strategy Liddell Hart’s (1895–1970) classic book Strategy (1967) evolved from a 1941 book entitled The Strategy of Indirect Approach. Hart saw the indirect approach that he recommended in military strategy was in fact part of a much broader indirect approach that could be applied elsewhere in human affairs. With deepening re›ection, . . . I began to realize that the indirect approach had a much wider application—that it was a law of life in all spheres: a truth of philosophy. Its ful‹lment was seen to be the key to practical achievement in dealing with any problem where the human factor predominates, and a con›ict of wills tends to spring from an underlying concern for interests. In all such cases, the direct assault of new ideas provokes a stubborn resistance, thus intensifying the dif‹culty of producing a change of outlook. Conversion is achieved more easily and rapidly by unsuspected in‹ltration of a different idea or by an argument that turns the ›ank of instinctive opposition. The indirect approach is as fundamental to the realm of politics as to the realm of sex. In commerce, the suggestion that there is a bargain to be secured is far The Indirect Approach 53 more potent than any direct appeal to buy. . . . This idea of the indirect approach is closely related to all problems of the in›uence of mind upon mind—the most in›uential factor in human history. (Hart 1941, x) Hart traces these ideas back to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War (circa 400 B.C.). On reading the book I found many other points that coincided with my own lines of thought, especially his constant emphasis on doing the unexpected and pursuing the indirect approach. It helped me to realize the agelessness of the more fundamental military ideas, even of a tactical nature. (Hart 1963, vii) The Indirect Approach in Biological Learning Mechanisms A very different area where the indirect approach is prominent is in the comparative biology of learning mechanisms. There are two very different ways in which teaching and learning can take place. Both ways occur biologically if we view what is transmitted through the genetic mechanism from an organism to its offspring as the biological version of what is transmitted from the teacher (helper) to the learner (doer). For many organisms, insects being a good example, the...


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