Breaking Some Eggs and Solving for X

I am a big fan of so many things about Spain. But there is one thing that drives me bananas. Spanish Bureaucracy. Every time I have to touch it I think ‘Why?! Can’t someone here see that this is like doing business in the 19th century?’

I’ve been reading in the papers about the Education minister of Valencia saying they need to change after the pandemic. They need to breed innovation in Universities and change how they think. But it will be an epic up hill climb. Quick sand bureaucracy is too imbedded culturally. And people are used to how it works now.

Change is difficult. In any culture. But here, it will be more so. I am told things are ‘impossible’ every single week here in Valencia. Go to the Apple store at Colon and ask for a product you know is available on the Apple website. ‘Impossible.’ Try getting your health card in one day. ‘Impossible.’ I hear it so much, I can’t hear it anymore. I just ignore it and continue to push. If someone in the US ever told me, at the phone store, the bank, a government office, that something was ‘impossible’, they couldn’t do it with a straight face. We’d eventually just laugh at each other and they’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m full of shit. You want to see my manager, don’t you.’ And I would, and they would give me what I needed. Americans know that nothing is impossible. That’s what the whole country is founded on.

Walking by the City of Arts and Sciences this weekend, Jeff and I both commented on how lovely it looks. And how empty. There is no work being done to set up infrastructure for the supposed mass vaccinations that are promised to be starting in April. Before the Valencia Marathon every year, there are weeks of workers setting up for it. Platforms, tents. Media stations. But this weekend, it looked like they aren’t planning for anything. And then I read the paper today and I know why.

All the vaccine doses are going to the US and UK. That’s a fact. Only 2.5mm people out of 46mm people in Spain have been fully vaccinated since December. Only 50% of the over 80 population has been given the jab. And there has been no communication as to when those other 50% of over 80 ‘s waiting are going to get it. They’ve interviewed many of them in the park and they say they have heard nothing. All while police and teachers are being vaccinated. And, of course, front line workers. But there are very few vaccines to be had. The companies are supplying English speaking nations first. So we sit here and wait.

But that isn’t the full story. The government, even yesterday, said that 70% of the population will be vaccinated by July 14. Today, they’re saying it will be closer to September 23rd. And this poses a special problem.

In Spain, everyone takes a vacation in August. Everyone. The country shuts down for business. Never try to get something done in August. You will be wildly unsuccessful and have ripped all your hair out by Labor Day. Most families have second homes in villages outside the cities where they live year round. And they go there, sometimes for the entire summer. It’s often cooler there. But that means that these people are not where they are registered in their primary homes. And where they are registered is where their health care is administered. And this is where they would get the shot for Covid.

‘Well, give them the opportunity to sign up in another town or village on a website, or something.’ you’re probably thinking to yourself. But you’re thinking like we would think in the US. We’d whip up a website and dole out appointments based on zip codes or address. And we’d keep track of these people’s health number and deduct them from the master list of those who need to get the jab. Seems easy enough. Or we’d just say, come down and get vaccinated and forget everything else because the jab is the thing and almost no one will try to get extra vaccines. But no. It’s not that easy.

Here, everything is done a specific linear way. 1-2-3-4. Go outside of that and there will be shouting. I will admit I don’t love illogical bureaucracy. And rule following? Eek. I’m bad at that, too. I have been the recipient of this shouting. And I have done shouting myself. But, because the mass vaccinations (if they actually happen) will likely occur this summer, instead of Spring, means that the entire system is thrown into chaos.

Jeff is convinced that true innovation at scale can not work in Spain. He doesn’t see a way for it. And after running an innovation lab in the US, I am in agreement with him. In our house, we are all about thinking of different ways to solve old problems and have always had a whiteboard in our bedroom. You never know when you’ll want to run a new idea by each other at 2am. ‘Take a look at this and tell me if I’m crazy’ has been a common phrase in our marriage. Not many people have their spouse review process flows looking for gaps.

Sure, there are small pockets of young people in Spain leading start ups. Cool stuff. But young people are largely out of work here. They are not injecting new ideas into the system. And innovation requires a bias towards action. Results over process. Rule breaking and embracing failure as a learning tool. That isn’t something you ever see here. Failure is avoided by the function of mind bending bureaucracy. Assigning blame is an art form. So learning on the fly, and quick redesign doesn’t take place. Redesigning a process is such a foreign concept that when it happens it stands out like a sore thumb.

I can promise you that if I was in charge of the vaccine acquisition in Spain, we’d have a whole shitload of vaccines, and I’d keep’em coming. Sure, there would be shouting at suppliers, but that’s why the Americans already have them. The squeaky wheel gets the grease and people give you stuff to shut you up so they don’t have to deal with you anymore. You need a bull dog in this fight, not Mary Poppins. Sure, it’s not a recipe for a long term love affair, but that’s not what matters here. Lives hang in the balance. And I LOVE optimizing a good supply chain.

So back to the Mass vaccination plan in the summer. Everyone in Spain will be on vacation far from the cities. And so will the medical staff that are entitled to much needed holidays. Breaks from carrying the burden of the pandemic. But there has to be another way. In France, they’ve certified that all pharmacies and veterinarians can administer the vaccine. They are looking for ways to get it out to the population, no matter where they are. But, I fear, Spain will work the plan they have already decided upon using the national heath service. Mass vaccinations in one location in the city, and people who have appointments will just miss them because they won’t be in town. And people who are in town will not get vaccinated as appointments slots are now taken up by those who are not even here. They won’t be able to flex.

But to be fair to Spain, even Emmanuel Macron, President of France admitted that a lack of imagination was partly responsible for the slow rollout in the EU as a whole. Their experts had never seen a vaccine come to market in under a year. So they didn’t believe it was possible. That inability to try something, or believe in something that had never been done before is part of a systematic problem in the bureaucracy of Europe in general. You can’t solve a problem in new ways if you don’t believe it’s possible. Bottom line.

We will soon be in Galicia. Valencia is not our problem. But that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the people in this city. And it makes me crazy to know that every extra day it takes to get the population inoculated, it’s one more day people will get infected and some will die, needlessly. I know. I just have to breathe. But that’s easy to say from the US or the UK, where they will open mass vaccinations to anyone over age 16 by May 1st. I don’t usually love living in the US, and much prefer living in Spain. But sometimes, my American sensibilities kick in. That ‘you gotta break some eggs to make an omelette’ philosophy. And I wish, somehow in Spain, that philosophy could be used to get this thing across the finish line.

2 thoughts on “Breaking Some Eggs and Solving for X

  • “Not many people have their spouse review process flows looking for gaps.” Oh my gosh you about killed me with this one!!! But back to your post, you’ve kind of nailed it. And one of your last sentences really tells it like it is: that you can’t solve a problem in a new way if you don’t think it’s possible. I wish you and Jeff were in charge of the vaccines there and France. We’d be getting to move over quicker.

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