The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Freeberg Nears A Breakthrough

Posted on | June 21, 2011 | 3 Comments

by Smitty

M. K. Freeberg is one of the deeper thinkers in the blogosphere. Here he is dealing with some organizational behavior issues. RTWT, but let me focus early on.

Yesterday was the first 20% of a work week. I clocked out on time, and returned home in the daylight to attend to the personal side of my life. I noticed my evening hours were spent much like my daylight hours, trying to solve problems that were of someone else’s making and had grown in size over long periods of time. Only many hours after that, in the depths of slumber, did I realize the similarity between what was happening in these two different worlds. I also argued with someone about who should become the next President; this person and I happen to share the concern about my country’s massive public debt. So you could say there, too, the pattern persists. So that’s three worlds, three sets of problems, all alike.

The common theme I’m seeing is lots of people who are willing to take the responsibility of saying — “do not attack the problem from that direction there because it is not my vision that it be solved that way.” That much responsibility and no more. They are not willing to take the responsibility of saying — “it would be preferrable for you to stand over there doing nothing, compared to solving the problem in a way contrary to the way I had in mind.” But some variant of that, is exactly what comes out of their mouths. They hear of a course of remedy and they want it abandoned before it has been begun. They act like it would do some actual damage, but they can form no coherent explanation of how this would be. They counsel toward the status quo without actually counseling toward the status quo.

And so in all three cases a problem is created and allowed to snowball as no steps are taken to solve it, or the progress shown in solving it, is insufficient compared to the rate at which the problem continues to grow. In all three cases, there is a great abundance of ideas about what people should not do and a scarcity of productive ideas about what people should do. Nor has it escaped my notice that out of these vast stockpiles of ideas-about-what-not-to-do, many of those ideas — a clear majority — are centered around not a what but a who. Such-and-such a person needs to go away…or become ineffectual…be dismissed. It’s as if everyone wants to say “I have a vision of how this problem is to be solved, and my vision involves an observation after it’s solved that Person X was not part of the solution, therefore Person X should not be allowed to contribute.”

I suppose I could learn to accept that. But there’s one sticky issue: It has nothing to do with solving the problem.

This is actually a variation on the theme of the Iron Law of Bureaucracy. I see this frequently. In a bureaucracy, people are rewarded for talking about solving problems. This must be seen as distinct from problem solving. Bureaucracy thrives on maintaining a problem. Bona fide solutions are permitted only in cases where they breed at least two follow-on problems.


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