Archive for the 'Management' Category
Posted by David Foster on 5th February 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
In her testimony on the Benghazi debacle, Hillary Clinton said:
“I AM the Secretary of State, and the ARB (Accountability Review Board) made it very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined, sat at the level of Assistant Secretary and below.”
And to Rep. Michael McCaul, who wanted to know why she had not seen Christopher Stevens’ disturbing cables on the lack of security, she responded:
“1.4 million cables come to us each year, all of them addressed to me.”
These responses clearly demonstrate that Hillary Clinton has no idea at all of what executive management is all about. An executive is not only or even primarily responsible for his or her own individual tasks—he or she is responsible for the work of the people in the organization, and for organizing that work properly and effectively.
These responsibilities include establishing an information and decision-flow architecture…including clear assignment of responsibilities…to ensure that the right things are seen and acted upon by the right people at the right time. Failure to do this..and to maintain and tune the system over time…will predictably result in catastrophes.
There had been three and half years to set up a system, to let the career officers of the Secretariat and the Operations Center know what she wants, and to have her personal staff figure it out too.
That is to say, if she did not see the Benghazi cables in a timely fashion, if she did not see Chris Stephens’s cables describing the deterioration of security, and if she did not see his requests for more security, this was a huge management failure on her part. It is a poor excuse to say, “Gee, the Department gets lots of cables” — and perhaps even worse then to hide behind an Accountability Review Board that pins responsibility on assistant secretaries and no higher.
Having worked as an assistant secretary of state and a deputy national-security adviser, I can report that even in those posts one is entirely swamped by cable traffic and needs a system to cope with it — to be sure that the really important ones get through. From all the available evidence, Hillary Clinton failed to establish such a system for herself, and that management failure is a far more important fact about her tenure than being the third woman to hold the post or having flown more miles than Condoleezza Rice.
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Posted in Management, Political Philosophy, USA | 21 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd February 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
I suspect the answer of most people to the above question would be “what American textile industry?” And quite a few would probably be reminded of Bruce Springsteen’s lines:
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they aint coming back
This well-written Textile World article suggests that things are actually looking quite a lot more positive for the industry.
via Bill Waddell, who is now blogging at The Manufacturing Leadership Center. Bill’s former blog home, Evolving Excellence, continues–see Kevin Meyer’s recent post on using your brains to become more competitive.
Posted in Business, Management, USA | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 3rd January 2013 (All posts by David Foster)
Until recently, the world’s only flyable WWII B-29 bomber was “Fifi,” operated by the Commemorative Air Force. Unfortunately, the airplane has…at least temporarily…lost its flyable status due to the need for expensive engine repairs. You can contribute to Fifi’s engine fund here.
The B-29 Superfortress was the most technically advanced bomber of WWII: it featured pressurization, a centralized fire-control system for its guns, and both higher speed and a greater bomb load than the B-17. Visually, it is also a very beautiful airplane, at least to my eye. Design of the aircraft that was to become the Superfortress began in 1938 with the receipt by Boeing of a request from the Army Air Corps–Boeing funded much of the initial development itself since the Air Corps did not at that point have funding for the project. The initial production order was not placed until May 1941…remarkably, production aircraft were being delivered by the end of 1943…total production would reach almost 4000 aircraft. Thousand of subcontractors were involved. My back-of-the-envelope calculation based on numbers in this factsheet suggests that there must have been somewhere around 100,000 workers involved at one level or another in B-29 production.
Japanese fighter pilot Ryuji Nagatsuka described his first encounter with the B-29, on a combat training mission in late 1944:
At a distance of 1000 feet, I had a clear view of this famous bomber for the first time. It was like some fabulous flying castle. Its elegant, uncamouflaged fuselage made me think of a monstrous flying fish. What imposing fins, what a rudder! The most disquieting thing about it was those six domes: two gun turrets on its back and four defense turrets operated by remote control…The four engines developed 8800 horsepower. The white star that stood out against a black background seemed to me like a challenge. It was the mark of the enemy.
The efficacy of the B-29′s centralized fire control system…which provided not only remote control of the guns but automatic computer calculation of necessary offsets (“leads”) to hit the target…has been questioned–but Nagatsuka gives it a good review:
Their central firing computer, controlling the gun turrets by remote control, had proved extraordinarily efficient. An isolated B-29, on a photographic mission one day over the Nipponese archipelago, had been attacked by more than ninety of our fighters, and, lo and behold, the enemy plane, which was not equipped for a bombing mission, managed to repulse their attack by climbing to a very high altitude and putting on all possible speed. During this battle, which lasted more than half an hour, he shot down seven of our fighters and finally escaped.
However, most of the gunnery equipment was removed from the B-29s when US General Curtis LeMay ordered a change in tactics from high-altitude day bombing to low-altitude night bombing, focusing on the use of incendiary bombs. Wide areas of Toyko and several other cities were destroyed: the total number of Japanese killed in these raids has been estimated variously but was certainly at least 100,000.
In bombers named for girls, we burned
The cities we had learned about in school
They said, ‘Here are the maps’; we burned the cities.
We’ve talked here before about the dangers of the loss of historical knowledge. I believe that keeping FiFi flying is a useful contribution to maintaining the continuity of American historical memory. Again, you can donate here.
ShrinkWrapped has published his father’s recollections of flying 50 missions as a B-24 tail gunner. There are 6 different posts in the collection–start at the bottom for the first one.
Thoughts about strategic bombing at my post Dresden
Excerpts of some of Randall Jarrell’s WWII Air Corps poems, here
The Ryuji Nagatsuka quotes are from his memoir I Was a Kamikaze (obviously, an unsuccessful one)…an interesting book that is worthy of a review one of these days.
Posted in Aviation, History, Japan, Management, USA, War and Peace | 16 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 29th December 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Here’s a Rudyard Kipling poem which isn’t as well known as some of his other ones:
There were thirty million English who talked of England’s might,
There were twenty broken troopers who lacked a bed for the night.
They had neither food nor money, they had neither service nor trade;
They were only shiftless soldiers, the last of the Light Brigade.
They felt that life was fleeting; they knew not that art was long,
That though they were dying of famine, they lived in deathless song.
They asked for a little money to keep the wolf from the door;
And the thirty million English sent twenty pounds and four !
They laid their heads together that were scarred and lined and grey;
Keen were the Russian sabres, but want was keener than they;
And an old Troop-Sergeant muttered, “Let us go to the man who writes
The things on Balaclava the kiddies at school recites.”
(read the whole poem here)
What reminded me of this poem?
Apparently, in 2012 the average time to complete a VA disability or pension claim was 262 days, up from 188 days in the prior year and far above the official target of 125 days. More at Nextgov.
I’m not very impressed with the excuses offered by the VA for this situation:
VA officials attribute the backlog, defined as claims in the system for more than 125 days, in part to higher demand by veterans returning from 10 years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with severe and complex injuries.
A Texas Veterans Commission official noted that the agency is caught in a “perfect storm” of claims from veterans of recent wars and those from aging Vietnam and Korea veterans whose disabilities are worsening.
But wasn’t this all predictable? Obviously wars cause injuries, and better battlefield medical attention means that more wounded soldiers will survive and hence need extended care. And wasn’t the higher claims rate “from aging Vietnam and Korea veterans” largely predictable from simple demographic analysis? I’m reminded of the saying about a British railroad from several decades ago: ”Despite its frequency and general regularity, Sunday morning seems to consistently catch this railroad by surprise.”
The above remark about the railroad notwithstanding, private enterprises generally seem to be able to deal with fluctuating demand and other problems quite well. There is almost always food in the supermarkets, despite droughts, crop failures, logistical problems, strikes, etc etc. The electricity is almost always on despite storms and electrical failures. And while businesses generally do a better problem than government at dealing with daunting arrays of problems, some government agencies do manage to deal with demand increases and fluctuations far better than the VA seems able to do with these disability claims. Somehow the FAA manages to conduct air traffic control safely and effectively despite the increased demand that occurs in holiday seasons and the varied and often nefarious effects of the weather. The military itself often manages to quickly deploy forces and equipment to far-distant locations. Why has the VA been unable to modify its processes to provide resolution of disability claims in a timely manner?
Sad and disturbing.
Posted in Aviation, Big Government, Health Care, Management, Tech, Transportation, War and Peace | 10 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 12th December 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Via Isegoria, here is an interview with James Sterrett, who is deputy chief of simulation/wargaming for the Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.
The issue of knowledge transfer between simulations and the real world is important not only in the military, but also in business and aviation..and surely many other areas as well.
Sterrett notes that in simulations:
First, we usually have far better knowledge of the situation than is possible for real armies; consider that one of the key pieces of information from ULTRA decrypts was the Axis order of battle in various theaters – simply knowing what units the Axis had was a major intelligence coup, but such information is routinely handed to players. Moreover, the scenario usually tells us what the friendly and enemy win conditions are, while those are often less clear in real life.
Second, in nearly every game, our forces do exactly what we tell them to do, exactly when we tell them to do it. In the real world, subordinate forces need time to conduct their own planning so they can carry out our orders, and they may not go about the task exactly as we envisioned…
Third, gamers are usually planning by themselves, which means they have to explain everything only to themselves and to the game. Military staffs deal with more information than one person can process; even a battalion staff is likely to be several dozen people. Getting this many people to pass information among themselves efficiently, and let alone coming up with a coherent plan that everybody understands, requires practice.
The interview reminds me of a passage in Don Sheppard’s book Bluewater Sailor, which I wrote about several years ago…
When a decision is made in an organizational context (as opposed to a decision by an entirely autonomous individual), additional layers of complexity and emotion come into play. The person who must make the decision is often not the person who has the information/expertise on which the decision must be based. Indeed, the information and expertise are often distributed across multiple individuals. These individuals may have their own objectives and motivations, which may differ from the objectives and motivations of the formal decision-maker, and which may conflict with each other. And the making of the decision may alter power relationships within the organization, as well as influencing the phenomena about which the decision is ostensibly being made.
The above factors are illustrated with crystalline clarity in the story of a seemingly very simple decision, which had to be made onboard a U.S. Navy destroyer sometime during the 1950s.
Don Sheppard was the newly-appointed Engineering Officer of the USS Henshaw, with responsibility for its 60,000-horsepower turbine plant. But his knowledge of propulsion equipment came entirely from study at the navy’s Engineering Officer School. Reporting to Sheppard was the “Chief,” an enlisted man with no theoretical training but with twenty years of experience in the practical operation of naval power plants. When Sheppard assumed his new duties, the Chief’s greeting “bordered on rudeness.” The man clearly believed that engineering officers might come and go, but that he, the Chief, was the one who really ran things, who was the “Prince of the Plant.”
During maneuvers off the Pacific coast, a bizarre accident resulted in the Henshaw dropping a depth charge which exploded very close to its own stern. The shockwave was enough to knock down men who were standing on deck. Sheppard asked the Chief if he thought the plant might have suffered any damage:
He furrowed his brow, glaring at me. “Damage, sir? We’d know about any major damage by now if the plant suffered. i don’t think we got any problems, sir,” he answered–patronizingly–in a civil enough tone, but barely so. Who was I, an interloper, to dare question the Prince of the Plant?
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Posted in Aviation, Business, Education, Management, Military Affairs, Tech | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 28th November 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
An interesting article about the development of this Israeli weapons system at the WSJ.
The American Sidewinder air-to-air missile system was also initially developed in something of a skunkworks environment. (Management consultant Tom Peters has used Sidewinder as a good example of successful skunkwork innovation, IIRC, though I can’t find a link at the moment)
Somewhat related: My post about Bernard Schriever and the development of the American ICBM.
Posted in Israel, Management, Middle East, Tech, War and Peace | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 1st November 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
While searching for an old post, I ran into a post in which I’d excerpted some passages from an article on Obama’s approach to decision-making.
Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men portrays Barack Obama as being confounded by his duties as president. Some of the scenes depicted by Suskind would be comical if they were not so tragic for America.
For example, when Obama’s experts assembled to discuss the scope and intricacies of the stimulus bill, Barack Obama was out of his depth. He was “surprisingly aloof in the conversation” and seemed “disconnected and less in control.” His contributions were rare and consisted of blurting out such gems of wisdom as “There needs to be more inspiration here!” and “What about more smart grids” and — one more that Newt Gingrich would appreciate — “we need more moon shot” (pages 154-5).
Members of the team were perplexed…for the first time in the transition, people started to wonder just how prepared the man at the helm was. He repeated a similar sorry performance when he had a conference call with Speaker Pelosi and her staff to discuss the details of the planned stimulus bill. He shouted into the speakerphone that “this stimulus needs more inspiration! Pelosi and her staff visibly rolled their eyes.”
Presidential exhortations more befitting a summer camp counselor will evoke such reactions.
In the post, I cited a study of Woodrow Wilson written by Sigmund Freud and William Bullitt:
Throughout his life he took intense interest only in subjects which could somehow be connected with speech…He took no interest in mathematics, science, art or music–except in singing himself, a form of speaking. His method of thinking about a subject seems to have been to imagine himself making a speech about it…He seems to have thought about political or economic problems only when he was preparing to make a speech about them either on paper or from the rostrum. His memory was undoubtedly of the vaso-motor type. The use of his vocal chords was to him inseparable from thinking.
To Obama, it’s all about the speeches, all about the hype. Despite his faux reputation as an intellectual, the man has remarkably little interest in contemplation, analysis, or problem-solving.
Thinking about Obama’s overall presidency, and especially about his performance or lack of same on the Benghazi debacle, I’m reminded of what C S Lewis wrote about his protagonist (a sociologist) in his novel That Hideous Strength:
His education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw…
Original post with CB discussion thread, here.
Posted in History, Management, Obama, Politics | 5 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th October 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
In late 2011, Ron Johnson–creator of the Apple Retail Stores–joined J C Penney, of which he is now CEO. His appointment was greeted with considerable enthusiasm.
Margaret Bogenrief doesn’t think much of the approach that he is taking…indeed, she uses the phrase “retail disaster of the decade.”
What do you think of Johnson’s strategy and tactics, and what would you do if you were in his position?
Posted in Business, Management, Tech | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th September 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Citrix CEO Mark Templeton, in his NYT interview, made an interesting point:
There are two strategies for your life and career. One is paint-by-numbers and the other is connect-the-dots. I think most people remember their aunt who brought them a gift for their birthday or whatever and it was a paint-by-number set or a connect-the-dots book.
So with the paint-by-number set, you know ahead of time what it’s going to look like. Then, by contrast, with a connect-the-dots puzzle, you can only guess at what it might look like by the time you finish. And what you notice about that process is the further along you get, the more clear it becomes. It might be a beach ball, or a seal in a Sea World park or something. The speed at which you connect dots gets faster as the picture starts coming into view.
You probably get the parallel. This isn’t about what’s right and what’s wrong. This is about getting it right for you. Parents often want you to paint by numbers. They want it so badly because they have a perception that it’s lower risk, and that’s the encouragement they’re going to give you. They’re going to push you down this road, and faculty members will, too, because they want you to deliver on what they taught you. It doesn’t make it wrong; it’s just that there’s a bias in the system. You have to decide for yourself. The earlier you actually get it right for yourself, the faster and the better that picture is going to look.
And the more time you spend on paint by numbers when you’re a connect-the-dots person, and vice versa, the harder it’s going to be.
I think he’s correct that parents, in an attempt to guarantee success for their children in an uncertain world, often steer them toward a paint-by-numbers approach to life–and that this is likely to be counterproductive. Today’s credentials obsession, coupled with the nature of most of the educational system, also points toward the paint-by-numbers approach.
I’ve noticed that people who are overly impressed with their own educational credentials–especially those with advanced degrees of one sort or another–often tend strongly toward wanting to paint by numbers, and want to avoid the (perceived) risk of connecting the dots.
Related post: Management education and the role of technique
Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Management, Philosophy | 11 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 6th September 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Originally posted 5/30/2004
The date, sometime during the late 1800s. The scene, a Westinghouse Electric factory complex in Pittsburgh, with an unpaved yard between buildings. A young laborer–a recent immigrant–is trundling a wheelbarrow, filled with heavy copper ingots, over an iron slab which serves as a track across the yard. The wheelbarrow goes off the track and into the mud. As the laborer struggles to get it back on the track, other workers begin mocking him.
At that moment, a man in formal clothing is crossing the yard. It is George Westinghouse, founder and chief executive of the company. He wades into the mud and helps the man get the wheelbarrow back on the slab.
Not a word was said, but powerful messages were transmitted: when someone is having problems, you don’t laugh at him–you help him. When things go wrong, no one is too important to dive in and get his hands dirty.
This is a splendid example of how good organizational cultures are created: through the power of example. Think how much more effective Westinghouse’s action was than the mere posting of a “corporate values statement” containing phrases such as “we must respect our fellow employees at all times.” Not that such things lack value, but they are meaningless unless backed up by action.
It would have been very easy for Westinghouse to simply ignore the incident and continue on his way. After all, he was heading to a meeting about something–a multi-million-dollar bond issue, say–compared with which a wheelbarrow stuck in the mud would seem to pale in importance. But his instincts were the right ones.
(The story is from Empires of Light, by Jill Jonnes)
9/6/2012: The above post is part of my Leadership Vignettes series, which starts here
A related post by Bill Waddell: The cultural side of lean manufacturing
Posted in Business, History, Human Behavior, Management | 22 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th August 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Originally posted 3/4/2004
There’s always a steady steam of books and articles offering advice to people who are beginning, or about to begin, their business careers. In the current crop of such publications, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on “taking care of yourself’–negotiating hard about starting salary, being insistent about raises and promotions, making sure you get full credit for the things you accomplish, etc etc. This general theme seems particularly pronounced right now in advice directed at women.
Within limits, it’s common sense. If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re going to get run over. And, in an era of (at least perceived) insecurity, it’s natural that people would be increasingly focused on career self-protection.
But. Note the qualifier, “within limits.”
Readers of the afforementioned publications need to also read a little article that appeared in Investor’s Business Daily (2/23), under the title “Opportunists are Trouble.” Opportunists:
..avoid assignments that carry high risk of failure–even when such situations also present a great opportunity for success. They shirk responsibility for the actions of their subordinates…And while opportunists might seem highly intelligent, it’s often not the case…They master the art of appearance, but have very little depth.
The article quotes the author of “Staying There,” Thomas Schweich:
If you are going to be an executive with staying power, you must value ambition, destroy opportunism and be adept at telling the diference between the two…(Wise) executives search for small, tangible signs in those they are evaluating.
Earl Graves, founder & publisher of the magazine Black Enterprise, offers some advice as to how to detect an opportunist. One clue is an excessive preoccupation with perks–company credit cards, tickets to sports events, etc–and particularly, a focus on perks during the first few days on the job. And Mike Sears, previously CFO at Boeing, advises executives to look out for the “spotlight” mentality. People with this personality trait will “be charming when the spotlight is on, but turn irritable and condescending when they think “no one of importance” is watching.”
Another clue to an opportunist–and this one should be obvious–is excessive use of the words “I” and “me” when discussing positive outcomes. And then there’s the “should be” flag. Let’s say you ask your subordinate about the status of an assignment, and his response is that “it should be done.”
“(It) says that you think I am too stupid to figure out that you do not know the answer,” (said a senior Justice Department official). (And it) “says you are ready to blame someone else if the job hasn’t been done. You are pre-distancing yourself from the failure.”
It seems to me that many of the current practices in our educational system–grade inflation, excessive focus on unearned self-esteem–contribute to the development of the personality pattern referenced here under the name “opportunism.” And the problem with the kind of business advice that I mentioned at the beginning is that it tends to reinforce these tendencies, rather than causing the individual to reflect on them and balance them out. I worry that some of this advice could cause people who could have been successful to adopt behavior patterns that will destroy or limit their careers. Some, of course, will succeed despite their behavior (or even because of it, in unhealthy organizations), and they can then do damage that is sometimes on a very large scale.
A worthwhile article, and Schweich’s book sounds very interesting.
8/24/2012: I was reminded of this post by Bill Waddell’s post here.
Posted in Advertising, Business, Human Behavior, Management, USA | 4 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 24th August 2012 (All posts by Jonathan)
An insightful critique:
But there is a much more important question being ignored by Gawande — How well does The Cheesecake Factory analogy really apply to health care? We can see how similar the kitchen is to an operating room — lots of busy people rushing about in a sterile environment, each concentrated on a task. But what about the rest of the “system?”
At The Cheesecake Factory, the customer is the diner. That’s who orders the service, pays the bill, and comes back again if he is happy. That is who all of the efficient, standardized food preparation is designed to please.
In Gawande’s ideal health care model, however, the customer isn’t the patient, but the third-party payer, be it an insurer or government. Let’s call that entity the TPP. The TPP never enters the kitchen. The TTP has no idea what happens in there, and doesn’t really care as long as the steak is cooked to his satisfaction and the tab is affordable.
In this model, the patient is actually the steak. It is the steak who is processed in the kitchen. It is the steak that is cut and cooked and placed on a platter. The steak doesn’t get a vote. Nobody cares if the steak is happy. The steak doesn’t pay the bill. The steak isn’t coming back again.
So here we are in Dr. Gawande’s kitchen, where you and I are slabs of meat and Chef Gawande will cook us to the specifications of his TPP customers — satisfaction guaranteed.
Worth reading in full.
(Via The Right Coast.)
Posted in Management, Medicine, Politics, Systems Analysis | 3 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th August 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Originally posted 2/24/2007
This post compares two school systems–Oakland, in northern California, and Compton, in southern California. Both have been trying to improve their performance–Compton has tried to reduce class size, boost teachers’ credentials, adopt a tougher curriculum, etc. Oakland has taken an approach based on competition and parental choice:
(In Oakland), kids are not required to attend their neighborhood school, especially if it is failing. Rather, they can pick any regular public or charter school in their district and take their education dollars with them; more students therefore means more revenues for schools. Furthermore, as the name suggests, the revenues are “weighted” based on the difficulty of educating each student, with low-income and special-needs kids commanding more money than smart, well-to-do ones. Schools have to compete for funding, but the upside is that they have total control over it.
Based on the statistics cited in the linked article, it appears that the kids in Oakland are doing better than those in Compton.
As regular readers of this blog know, just about everything reminds me of something else. And this post reminded me of something Peter Drucker wrote many years ago (in The Practice of Management, IIRC.)
Drucker compared two foundries, both of which were components of large manufacturing companies. In company A, the foundry was a purely internal operation–it made castings only for use in the company’s own manufacturing operations. In company B, the foundry made castings for internal use, but was also allowed to sell its services on the open market.
Over the years, Drucker observed, the company “A” foundry did a workmanlike job, but nothing spectacular. The same guy ran the place for well over a decade. The company “B” foundry, on the other hand, was continually at the forefront of innovation–and several of the foundry managers had been promoted to other parts of the business.
For both the school systems and the foundries, competition made the difference. When an organization deals only with those who arerequired to use its services, whether these be students in a school district or users of castings in a corpoation, there will be less dynamism than in an organization that must submit its services to the free choice of outsiders.
Posted in Education, Management | 8 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th July 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
What should Marissa Mayer do with Yahoo?
Posted in Business, Management, Tech | 14 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 15th July 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
A couple of weeks ago, there was a growing forest fire in northwestern Nevada. Fortunately, the Washoe County sheriff’s department had aloft in the area a fire-fighting helicopter tanked up with 323 gallons of water.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear whether the Federal land on which the fire was burning was under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management or under the jurisdiction of the Forest Service. If the former, then the chopper had approval to legally drop the water, if the latter, then it did not. So the team in the helicopter did nothing. More than 200 acres burned.
There have been a lot of stories like this lately. The thicket of rules governing life in America today has become so thick, and belief in the importance of adhering to these rules even in defiance of common sense has become so strong, that the default for many people has become the belief that inaction is safer than action.
In 1805, Lord Nelson said:
When I am without orders and unexpected occurrences arrive I shall always act as I think the honour and glory of my King and Country demand. But in case signals can neither be seen or perfectly understood, no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.
“Unexpected occurrences” occur quite frequently, whether they take the form of a forest fire in a jurisdictionally-ambiguous area, a kid in school having an asthma attack, or a transatlantic flight losing its airspeed indication capabilities. Human beings need to be ready and empowered to use their judgment and intelligence in such situations, not constrained to act like rigidly-programmed computers.
A couple of years ago, I would have posted this story under the “Just Unbelievable” category. Sadly, that category no longer applies, because stories of rule-driven bureaucratic rigidity have become a commonplace of American life.
In 1797, a Spanish naval official named Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana wrote about the reasons his country tended to lose naval engagements with the British. One of his points:
An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.
Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeuvres…
In my 2007 post on Don Domingo’s comments, I linked a Washington Post article on “the increasing propensity of Americans to be driven by rules and procedures, rather than doing what makes sense” and noted that “there are certainly trends in our society which, if not reversed, will make us increasingly similar to the (French / Spanish) Combined Fleet of 1805, rather than Nelson’s victorious fleet.” Over the last 4 years, I am afraid that we have traveled much further down that road.
Posted in Anglosphere, Britain, Civil Society, History, Management, USA | 14 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 4th July 2012 (All posts by Jonathan)
But though they may hate the Pax Americana, the Greens probably can’t live without it. Can’t live without the Ipods, the connectivity, the store-bought food, the cafe-bought lattes — all the ugly things made by private industry. And by paring down the redundancies in the system as wasteful and unsightly; by reducing the energy reserves of the system in favor of such fairy schemes as windmills and carbon trading the Greens have made the system far less robust than it could have been. Because they are never going to need the Design Margin. Ever. Until they do.
Posted in Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Leftism, Management, Quotations, Systems Analysis, Tradeoffs | 14 Comments »
Posted by Jonathan on 20th March 2012 (All posts by Jonathan)
An excellent post by Mark Draughn that reminds how we get the behavior we incentivize. In this case the NYC govt incentivized its police to ignore violent crimes and to make bogus arrests to boost their cleared-case stats:
This is a standard recipe for disaster in quality control — and CompStat is at heart a statistical quality control program. Take a bunch of people doing a job, make them report quality control data, and put pressure on them to produce good numbers. If there is little oversight and lots of pressure, then good numbers is exactly what they’ll give you. Even if they’re not true.
Worth reading in full.
Posted in Human Behavior, Law Enforcement, Management, Systems Analysis | 15 Comments »
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 14th March 2012 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
Ann Althouse has a good post today. I can’t get through her Captcha system so I thought I would post a few comments here. This NY Times op-ed piece is the source for her observations. It is behind the Times’ idiotic payment wall so go to her blog for the link.
TODAY is my last day at Goldman Sachs. After almost 12 years at the firm — first as a summer intern while at Stanford, then in New York for 10 years, and now in London — I believe I have worked here long enough to understand the trajectory of its culture, its people and its identity. And I can honestly say that the environment now is as toxic and destructive as I have ever seen it.
To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.
That certainly states the issue clearly. What does he complain about ?
I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.
But this was not always the case. For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.
I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.
What specifically is the problem ?
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Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Business, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Management, Markets and Trading, Politics, Public Finance | 19 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 17th February 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Erin O’Connor links to George Eliot:
It is an interesting branch of psychological observation to note the images that are habitually associated with abstract or collective terms — what may be called the picture-writing of the mind, which carries on concurrently with the more subtle symbolism of language. Perhaps the fixity or variety of these associated images would furnish a tolerably fair test of the amount of concrete knowledge and experience which a given word represents, in the minds of two persons who use it with equal familiarity. The word railways, for example, will probably call up, in the mind of a man who is not highly locomotive, the image either of a “Bradshaw,” or of the station with which he is most familiar, or of an indefinite length of tram-road; he will alternate between these three images, which represent his stock of concrete acquaintance with railways. But suppose a man to had successively the experience of a “navvy,” an engineer, a traveller, a railway director and a shareholder, and a landed proprietor in treaty with a railway company, and it is probable that the range of images which would by turns present themselves to his mind at the mention of the word “railways,” would include all the essential facts in the existence and relations of the thing. Now it is possible for the first-mentioned personage to entertain very expanded views as to the multiplication of railways in the abstract, and their ultimate function in civilization. He may talk of a vast net-work of railways stretching over the globe, of future “lines” in Madagascar, and elegant refreshment-rooms in the Sandwich Islands, with none the less glibness because his distinct conceptions on the subject do not extend beyond his one station and his indefinite length of tram-road. But it is evident that if we want a railway to be made, or its affairs to be managed, this man of wide views and narrow observation will not serve our purpose.
Probably, if we could ascertain the images called up by the terms “the people,” “the masses,” “the proletariat,” “the peasantry,” by many who theorize on those bodies with eloquence, or who legislate for them without eloquence, we should find that they indicate almost as small an amount of concrete knowledge — that they are as far from completely representing the complex facts summed up in the collective term, as the railway images of our non-locomotive gentleman. How little the real characteristics of the working-classes are known to those who are outside them, how little their natural history has been studied, is sufficiently disclosed by our Art as well as by our political and social theories.
Read the whole Eliot passage plus Erin’s post.
See also Peter Robinson’s post about Khrushchev and Soviet management practices, which I see as being pretty related.
Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Economics & Finance, Management, Political Philosophy | 7 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 24th January 2012 (All posts by David Foster)
Two old rivals. One is in Chapter 11, the other is thriving. Why?
Kodak and Fujifilm
Posted in Business, Management | 6 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 19th December 2011 (All posts by David Foster)
In medicine, an iatrogenic disease is one that is brought on by a medical treatment itself. An example would be when a physician treating a minor condition fails to properly wash his hands and as a result gives the patient an infection more serious than the original problem.
It strikes me that iatrogeny also occurs in the management reporting and control systems of businesses and other types of organizations. A particularly awful example was reported in Britain a couple of years ago: hospitals were being measured on time from a patient’s entry into the emergency room until the time that patient was seen by a physician. It appears that in quite a few cases, the optimization of that measurement for the hospital was achieved by leaving the patient in the ambulance, in some cases for as much as five hours, so that the clock on the measurement would not start until the criterion was certain to be achieved.
So a measurement intended to improve patient service had the opposite effect. It directly caused unnecessary pain and danger to the individual ER patient who was kept in the ambulance while harming the effective utilization of expensive vehicles and skilled personnel, while at the same time providing upper management with a distorted picture of what was really going on.
Smirk not, fellow capitalists. While this particular example of iatrogeny was perpetrated by a government entity, plenty of examples can also be found in the private sector. Indeed, I saw an interesting example in a Target store just the other day.
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Posted in Business, Health Care, Management, Tech | 13 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 4th December 2011 (All posts by David Foster)
The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not happened is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.
–George Eliot in Silas Marner
I was reminded of the above passage by a couple of recent posts:
Claire Berlinski excerpts some thoughts by Hernando De Soto, asking “Is the knowledge system broken?” Some good discussion in the thread at Claire’s post; see especially the concept of a “knowledge bubble” in the comment by Late Boomer. Although I’d say that it’s more a matter of an assumed-knowledge bubble.
Richard Fernandez suggests that “too big to fail” really means “wait for it,” where “it” means a failure on a very large scale. He cites Nassim Taleb:
Complex systems that have artificially suppressed volatility tend to become extremely fragile, while at the same time exhibiting no visible risks. In fact, they tend to be too calm and exhibit minimal variability as silent risks accumulate beneath the surface. Although the stated intention of political leaders and economic policymakers is to stabilize the system by inhibiting fluctuations, the result tends to be the opposite.
Both of the above are very worthwhile reading. See also my related post penny in the fusebox.
Posted in Economics & Finance, Management, Markets and Trading, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »
Posted by David Foster on 2nd December 2011 (All posts by David Foster)
Barack Obama, a couple of days ago:
I try not to pat myself too much on the back, but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration.
Barack Obama, quoted in a 2008 article:
I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.
Tries not to pat himself on the back too much? The man is in serious danger of breaking his arm from patting himself on the back so much.
The second comment is absolutely bizarre, even taken by itself–anyone who thinks that way is seriously dangerous in any management or leadership position, and should probably not even be allowed to operate power machinery. Put the two comments together and you have an individual whose mind functions in very strange ways indeed.
The assertion about Obama’s support of the security of Israel is of course so at variance to reality that it’s hard to imagine anyone taking it seriously except members of the hard core of Obamian true believers. Of whom there are unfortunately still quite a few.
Posted in Israel, Management, Politics, USA | 27 Comments »
Posted by Shannon Love on 7th November 2011 (All posts by Shannon Love)
Compare and contrast ads for Apple’s iOS/iPhone/iPad and ads for Google’s Android.
The Apple ads center visually on products themselves. The Apples ads just linger on showing the Apple hardware and software in use. Apple believes that the products speak for themselves and all Apple has to do is show the products in action. Basically, the ads just say, “Here’s our stuff. Isn’t it neat?” This works because the Apple products are finely tuned by a focused and discipline design, production and support system. There is a definitive iPhone, a definitive iPad and a definitive iOS operating system.
The Android ads by contrast don’t show the actual devices or Android itself in use. They are not Android specific at all. They might as well be snippets cut from some Sci-Fi movie or video game. The actual Android products are largely hidden. Instead of showing the hardware and software in action, they instead nearly try to associate the Android brand with cool and exciting Sci-Fi imagery.
Most Android ads, regardless of who makes them, fit this pattern. Android devices are seldom seen, when seen they seldom hold prolonged focus and are seldom seen in use. Basically, the ads say, “Look at the girl in leather fighting robots! That’s cool right? So, Android must be cool too!”
The two different ad styles reveal the problem with fragmentation that Google faces in making Android a trusted, respected and widely adopted OS brand.
I post to StackOverflow, a site/community for answering technical programming questions. One of my highest rated answers addressed the question of which mobile OS a startup should target. Back in Oct 09 I observed:
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Posted in Economics & Finance, Management, Tech | 11 Comments »