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  • Excessive Credential-Worship Has Many Costs

    Posted by David Foster on July 1st, 2020 (All posts by )

    A WSJ article suggests that if the corporations which have been proclaiming their support for black communities really want to make a difference, they should change their hiring and management practices to focus on job skills, rather than continuing to privilege college degrees. They say that “degree inflation” is rampant: as an example, 67% of postings for new production supervisors in 2015 included college-degree requirements, though only 16% of existing production supervisors had bachelor’s degrees.  (See interesting NBER paper here.)

    Indeed, I’m not very comfortable with the term ‘middle skill’ which has been adopted for jobs that typically require a technical training program of some sort but do not require a college degree.  Is someone with an undergraduate sociology degree really necessarily more skilled than a CNC machinist?  The suggestion that someone with a college degree is always higher-skilled than someone without a degree has unpleasant implications of a class-bound society. The authors of the NBER paper suggest an alternative term: STARs…Skilled Through Alternative Routes, and they also suggest that many “technology” jobs shouldn’t really require a college degree.  They note that:

    While some of these new occupations (e.g., data scientist) may require skills (e.g., statistical methods) which are typically acquired in advanced formal education, a large number (e.g., application developers and administrators for enterprise Software-as-a-Service platforms such as Salesforce, Workday, or ServiceNow) are learned not in formal education, but mostly on-the-job or in credentialed skill training designed by the SaaS companies themselves. While estimating STARs’ potential to fill skilled roles still emerging is beyond the scope of this paper, it would be reasonable to expect that employers’ rational ignorance or deprecation of experienced-based signals of STARs skills for existing jobs may similarly shape.

    …they also suggest that there are many cases in which skills developed by an employee in a particular not-well-paid job can actually be of value to an employer in a different and better-paid job, but that the mapping of these skills sets is not generally well-understood by employers.

    Back in 1969, Peter Drucker wrote:

    The most serious impact of the long years of schooling is, however, the “diploma curtain” between those with degrees and those without. It threatens to cut society in two for the first time in American history…By denying opportunity to those without higher education, we are denying access to contribution and performance to a large number of people of superior ability, intelligence, and capacity to achieve…I expect, within ten years or so, to see a proposal before one of our state legislatures or up for referendum to ban, on applications for employment, all questions related to educational status…I, for one, shall vote for this proposal if I can.

    I wouldn’t favor a legal ban on such questions, but I do think public policy needs to encourage of focus on skills rather than on degrees per se, and I’m happy to see that President Trump has signed an executive order requiring Federal agencies to increase the use of skill assessments and interviews with subject matter experts to determine an applicant’s qualifications, rather than simply looking at educational achievements.  At least one agency had already made this switch to a certain degree:  the FAA, which once required a college degree for aspiring controllers entering its specialized training program, now allows alternatively a combination of three years of progressively responsible work experience or a combination of post-secondary education and work experience that totals three years.  And some private employers are putting more emphasis on apprenticeship programs and various kinds of alternative skill demonstration.  (See for example the GE Aviation apprenticeship program; lots more North Carolina apprenticeship programs here.)

    Working on the lifting of the “diploma curtain” seems particularly appropriate given the growing evidence that many college graduates today don’t really learn all that much during their college years.  In any case, if the inappropriate use of college credentials can be reduced, it should offer a significant benefit to overall economic growth and productivity, as well as to many individuals.

     

     

     

     

     

    40 Responses to “Excessive Credential-Worship Has Many Costs”

    1. Jay Guevara Says:

      I suspect credentialism is the malignant fruit of Griggs v. Duke Power, the 1971 Supreme Court decision that called testing for employment into question because of “disparate impact.”

      In response, to avoid tiptoeing through the minefield of devising tests that avoided the “disparate impact” ruling, a lot of companies just decided to require a college degree, counting on that to screen out weak applicants without resorting to tests. It also obviated the need to exercise judgment – which could be attacked under the “disparate impact” doctrine – by resorting to an objective fact: does the applicant have a college degree, yes or no?

      The unintended consequence of that decision, the pressure to achieve greater “diversity,” and of course pursuit of the almighty tuition dollar, was colleges watered down their curricula so that Forrest Gump could graduate with a degree in sociology, Grievance Studies, etc., or other “Unemployment Studies” majors.

      So any effort to reverse credentialism has to start with revisiting the “disparate impact” doctrine.

    2. Christopher B Says:

      +1 Jay. Overturn Griggs was my first thought.

      It would also have the benefit of reducing the length of indoctrination by 4 or more years for a large number of people.

    3. David Foster Says:

      Jay G….the actual original Griggs decision ALSO held the requiring educational credentials…in the case at issue, a high school diploma…could be discriminatory.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griggs_v._Duke_Power_Co.

      I’m not sure what happened to that aspect of the ruling…what it reversed by a later Court decision or by legislation, or is it simply being ignored?

    4. Jay Guevara Says:

      David, let’s face it: at some level, ANY criterion can be construed as discriminatory, because some will satisfy the criterion, and some will not.

      For my part, I think the Yankees have discriminated against me in my application to be the starting pitcher on Opening Day (whenever that is).

      OK, I’m a bit mature – yes, that’s the word, or maybe “seasoned” – for that, but you don’t want to discriminate against me on the basis of age, do you?

      No idea what became of the rest of the Griggs decision. My guess: it was so obviously unworkable that, much like a fart in church, everyone quietly pretended to be unaware of it.

      I’d like to know who slipped LSD into the Supremes’ water pitchers the day they came up with that decision.

    5. David Foster Says:

      There is a company called Indeed.com…they’ve been doing a lot of advertising…which offers online candidate-sourcing services; as part of this, they have a battery of online skills tests from which an employer can choose. See for example these questions from the problem-solving skills test:

      https://www.indeed.com/assessments/module-library/problem-solving-skills?hl=en&co=US

      …other skills tests in the left column.

      Their response to potential EEO issues is here:

      https://www.indeed.com/assessments/eeoc?hl=en&co=US

    6. Jay Guevara Says:

      There is a company called Indeed.com…they’ve been doing a lot of advertising…which offers online candidate-sourcing services; as part of this, they have a battery of online skills tests from which an employer can choose.

      Hey, see ya in court!

      I’m waiting for the first lawsuit against the NFL Combine for using times in 40 yard dash. Everybody runs at the same speed; some people just run longer in the same place, that’s all.

      Haters.

    7. ruralbob Says:

      I’m a retired college professor, son of a factory worker, and it has always annoyed me when “book learning” is considered somehow better than other types of intelligence. My Dad was still playing with gadgets and problem-solving until he died at age 94 and could do many things that I cannot. I truly admire the guys who repair my car, service my furnace and AC, and repair my house. The fact that I have a PhD makes me different, not better, than them. Unfortunately, a lot of my academic colleagues couldn’t figure that out and I think society has instilled the “degreed=smarter” thinking, which is bad. During my 30+ years in higher ed., I watched the value of a college degree steadily deteriorate and I was embarrassed by what we were turning out as “educated” individuals by the time I retired (early, because I was fed up with the BS). Today, there are three words I no longer know the meaning of: “knowledge,” “science,” and “expert.”

    8. David Foster Says:

      Here are some ‘protestors’ in NYC screaming insults at police officers, including:

      “You guys go to clown college for like 26 weeks.”

      and

      “Your hairdresser has to go to school for longer than you do. Half of you don’t even have a college education”

      https://www.foxnews.com/us/nyc-occupy-city-hall-protesters-seen-taunting-nypd-black-judas

      A fine illustration of the sense of entitlement and class superiority that so often accompanies educational credentials these days.

    9. Gavin Longmuir Says:

      David F: “A fine illustration of the sense of entitlement and class superiority that so often accompanies educational credentials these days.”

      At some point, the realization is going to hit that the big dividing issue is not the degree of sun tan, it is the college degree (i.e. social class). And those college degrees are increasingly held by the “Daughters of Privilege” — white, upper middle class, credentialed rather than educated, i.e. the people out there supporting Certain Black Lives Matter.

      Who can predict what will happen when enough people realize that the credential line is more significant than the color line? But it may not be a pleasant experience for the “Daughters of Privilege”.

    10. Mike K Says:

      My father-in-law did not have a college degree and worked for Hughes Aircraft as a senior executive alongside PhDs like Alan Puckett. He used to tell people he had not finished 8th grade, which brought him far more respect from that group.

      My favorite example of Millenial job skills is this.

    11. David C Says:

      I have worked for large tech companies, usually as a contractor, for most of my adult life, 20+ plus years. This included a stint with an Indian-based company.

      I can count the number of African Americans/American born blacks, that I’ve encountered in those organizations on both my hands. This would include firms we’d call “Big Tech” in the vernacular.

      Griggs is impactful on how HR views the universe, undoubtedly. I have yet to meet an HR person that is right of center in orientation. I also go out of my way to avoid HR, so there is that.

      Don’t underestimate the impact of South Asian and to a lessor degree East Asian impact on the provisioning of technical services in American corporations. Indians will make wonderful US Citizens, in a generation. However, many in their leadership are racist against white and black Americans. I’ve seen the same with East Asians. Younger South Asians seem to be better adapted to America than their elders.

      Want to fix this? Remove dual-citizenship. If you want to be American, it has to be more than a financial transaction.

      Until recently, there has been a surprising lack credentialism amongst those of us who run the SaaS applications. It was very much a case do you have the following skills (a, b, c) and can you prove it by having conversation about it?

      Amazon Web Services, (Jeff Bezos, et al) in particular has been pushing hard on their private credentials. They are of diminishing utility for one’s day-to-day work, personally I tend to ignore them or to turn the tables on people who seem overly prideful in them.

    12. MCS Says:

      David,
      If that’s the worst the cops have to put up with, they’re having a pretty good day. They know better than anyone who’s on which side of the counter at Starbucks.

      The example from Indeed looked like more of a literacy test than anything else and probably badly needed.

    13. David Foster Says:

      Here’s an interesting case: the state of California is suing Cisco on allegations that: they allowed higher-caste Indians to treat lower-caste Indians unfairly:

      https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cisco-lawsuit/california-accuses-cisco-of-job-discrimination-based-on-indian-employees-caste-idUSKBN2423YE

    14. dirtyjobsguy Says:

      I’d start with the phony graduate degree rackets. Cops, Military and Teachers all are in the have to get a Masters (or PhD) to move ahead. Most of the on-line degree programs sell to this. Teachers as the worst as lots of PhD (Ed) holders are Superintendents and Principals. Yet these are not real PhD programs involving detailed study and research.

      In the Medical world the Doctorates in Physical and Occupational Therapy are just a racket to gain access to prescribing rights while funding overpriced university programs.

      Then of course is the MBA world that thankfully is now in a severe contraction after an unhealthy growth.

      My benchmark as it is for many things is Abraham Lincoln. Largely Self Educated, he was a successful lawyer in criminal, commercial and patent law if I am correct. His grasp of history, philosophy and world politics was very high. He would out-perform most elite college grads today.

    15. Mike K Says:

      My benchmark as it is for many things is Abraham Lincoln. Largely Self Educated, he was a successful lawyer in criminal, commercial and patent law if I am correct.

      Calvin Coolidge chose to “read law” in a law office, much as Lincoln did, while his close friend Dwight Morrow went to the new fangled law school at Columbia U. Who waqs the better lawyer?

    16. dirtyjobsguy Says:

      The Coolidge Biography by Amity Shlaes is great. The story of his time at Amherst College gives a good feeling for the rigor and depth of academics in colleges back then.

      Unlike the truly racist Wilson, Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 giving full citizenship to American Indians. He was a great favorite of the tribes.

    17. Mike K Says:

      I wish Amity would do a biography of Harding. He has been so slandered by the left for 100 years.

    18. miguel cervantes Says:

      well schlaes, wrote a precis of the period, coolidge was part of the prog wing, till the reaction to the boston police strike of 1919, scared him straight, it was the formative experience, like reagan’s presidency of the screen actors guild, facing the communists,

    19. Xennady Says:

      Late in the last century I worked in a store.

      People who became managers were almost always those who had successfully done the job of people they were going to manage, but wanted to make it a career, or tart up their resume, or whatever. Occasionally someone would be hired as a manager without that experience, but in my experience they didn’t last. I don’t recall much talk about college, ever.

      Much later, in a different retail establishment, I happened to walk by a morning meeting of a few of that company’s employees. They were introducing a young lady as their new manager, because she had a degree in “retail management”.

      I was appalled. I can’t imagine any aspect of that job- yes, I was familiar enough to know- could possibly require 4 years of expensive college to acquire.

      That’s my credential worship story, myriad details left out for brevity.

    20. David Foster Says:

      “I can’t imagine any aspect of that job- yes, I was familiar enough to know- could possibly require 4 years of expensive college to acquire.”

      Seems unlikely….especially given that inventory control & reordering are centralized in most chain stores these days….and even if they weren’t, one could learn the basics in a lot less than 4 years.

    21. MCS Says:

      Eight or Nine years ago, I saw a help wanted ad for a company that went around picking up dog crap from yards. They wanted some college if not a degree. We’ll have reached peak credential when you can get a degree in pooper-scooping. Maybe they just realized that the English majors had been wading through crap for four years and would be used to it.

    22. David Foster Says:

      One trend in hiring which I don’t like at all is to have the candidate interviewed by a whole raft of people….prospective co-workers, managers of related groups as well as the group he’s potentially going to be working in…and to exclude him if ANY of the interviewers disapprove. Having him interviewed by multiple people is fine, as long as the # of people involved doesn’t get out of hand….I’d say 3 or 4 max, for all but exceptional cases….but exclusion based on a single negative vote is crazy.

    23. Jonathan Says:

      Don Draper will not be getting an offer.

    24. Kirk Says:

      The root problem isn’t the credential “idea” itself, but the mindset that lies behind the way we’ve implemented it.

      On the one hand, you have the issue of the agency/agencies issuing the credential itself; once they cheapen and pollute the credential, it becomes essentially meaningless. Academia, I’m looking at you, here–Grade inflation, useless degrees, lack of standards, and no accountability to the people and institutions you defrauded by allowing nitwits like AOC to graduate and flaunt their supposed credentials showing prowess at economics… Every other graduate of Boston University ought to be suing the ever-loving crap out of their alma mater due to how she’s so thoroughly destroyed the value of their diplomas.

      Another “hand” of the issue is the fact that too many institutions and agencies have taken to accepting the credential as actually meaning something, instead of assessing the real value of the things. “Oh, he’s got a degree in X… Of course he knows what he’s doing…”. Sure. Sure he does. After a certain point, you have to step back and take a long, hard look at the actual result produced by your highly credentialed sorts, and make an assessment of the whole thing: Do they produce, or do they create disaster?

      I don’t think it’s the credential or the idea of credentialing people that is creating the problem; the real problem lies in the whole “accountability” and “responsibility” end of the issue, on all sides. The people demanding credentials are just as much at fault as those who work in the credential-mills, churning out the idiocrats we suffer under.

    25. Mike K Says:

      My daughter had an interesting experience with Apple. She was interviewed 5 or 6 times for a job with their design team, which has about 20 members. Finally, her last interview was with the guy who runs it, a famous person.

      I don’t remember the name but this may be him.

      Apple designer Christopher Stringer defines the role of an industrial designer at Apple as one “to imagine objects that don’t exist and to guide the process that brings them to life.

      Anyway, her big worry was not getting the job but where she could live. She was thinking about buying a small motor home but they told her they were going to promote an existing employee and she was kind of relieved.

      Anyway, she is married now with an almost 1 year old and very happy. I’m not sure Apple would have made her happy.

    26. Ginny Says:

      My experience has only been in observation of the consequences, but I was repeatedly impressed by them: the service seems to have sensible tests and to match people with skills and areas they hadn’t even known about when they joined. A couple barely got through high school (I’m not sure they did) and they came from quite dysfunctional families that certainly have never encouraged them to head toward any kind of education at all, but one ended up with a medieval ph.d. and has spent his life teaching at a Wisconsin college, another got a ph.d. in some aspect of photography and intelligence work – he ended up retiring to a quite lucrative job as a contractor These examples are surely random and not to the point of most of your discussion – but if I were hiring I’d trust where and how and for what someone was trained in the service more than any other credentials and I’ve always wondered why these processes weren’t used outside the service. (Both those guys were in the air force – one in the sixties and the other in the 80’s). My best male students (in a jr college which is a different stream sometimes) tended to be ones who had been in the service (and females ones who had tried it before, married, had a kid or two or three, and returned to do excellent work) despite what were much heavier demands of more mature lives.

      All this aside, what seems to me to have long ago been missed in education is that society has no great reason to pay for the education of people in non-productive areas. If you want to prepare for a vocation, well, it should be a vocation. If you want to train for a hobby, well, pay for it yourself and understand you probably can’t easily support a family. And even then the study should be challenging, competitive, and credentials should mean you really do know something – even if it is (as one of my typists in my old business was) a ph.d. from Harvard in pre-Semitic languages. He was great fun to talk to and I’m sure had required some discipline in mastering these. But there was no reason why my other workers should be taxed to support him in what was, essentially, a hobby.

      I think the essential point of some of this is that sticking it out for 4 years and going to classes and doing your homework was traditionally assumed to require a certain degree of application and self-discipline – but given most degrees, the laxness of most schools, etc. that doesn’t seem to me to be particularly true. And as it now sometimes seems – a class divider – it is worse than useless. If you can’t ask some relevant questions of an applicant (or earlier employer) and can’t administer any tests, etc., all you may have is gut.

      My brother has had a more successful life than mine in important ways – he has developed factories that have produced useful products and employed workers who then had regular pay and could support families – many more than the smaller number of part-time workers at my copy shop. (My greatest pride is in making patriotism credible – but I’m not sure how many of my students did appreciate the Puritans and Founders as much as I’d have liked.) A sensible person hiring would want him rather than me – though he dropped out during his first year in college (got married and had a child – all of which steadied him) and I eventually got a Ph.D. in Am Lit. Another thing about college is that it does not necessarily develop the social discipline, social skills, and work skills that lead to a harmonious work force or a successful manager. All the emphasis upon group projects – at least in the humanities – did not seem all that useful; burrowing into books in a lonely carrel in the library does develop some self-discipline that can be useful in a research group but not in the average job. The new victim studies approach must make for absolutely disastrous new hires.

    27. Mike K Says:

      All the emphasis upon group projects – at least in the humanities – did not seem all that useful;

      I first encountered this when I went to Dartmouth in 1994 to get a Master’s degree in Health Policy after I retired from Surgery. A couple of people in the class were close to my age (55 at the time) but most were kids. The group thing was new to me. Sometimes it was amusing. We had certain games projects. One was an “ER Game” where we had to figure out how to prioritize in an emergency situation. Another was the “Oil price game.” It involves negotiating skills. At one point in the game, I suggested to my team that we cheat. The girls on the team were shocked. It was well within the rules but they would not do it. I’ve forgotten the details of the game and I just tried to look it up but cannot find it. It was well known at the time and taught negotiating skills.

      Later Dartmouth sent me to England to teach negotiating skills to GP practice managers when Fund Holding was being introduced to the NHS as a reform by Thatcher. Labour, of course, cancelled it when they got in. It was a very useful reform but too much like free market for Labour.

    28. MCS Says:

      I’d be surprised if there is a single, tenure track, opening in pre-Semitic languages in a year, even throwing in museums and libraries. A rational person, lacking independent means, would never even start unless he had some assurance that he could find a place; from a soon to retire mentor as an example.

      A Ph.D. used to be understood as relevant to either university level teaching or high level research only. My experience with Ph.D.s in engineering is that they definitely need adult supervision around sharp objects and hot surfaces. The ones with a B.S. are the same, just easier to keep safe.

      Most graduate programs have become a way of transferring money from the Federal Treasury to the schools and furnishing cheap semi-skilled labor in the form of grad students and post-docs. You’d think someone smart enough to get an advanced degree would be smart enough to count the job openings and compare them with the number of candidates. They’re apparently no more realistic than actors, even the ones that know math.

      MFA’s seem mostly to be a way for writers and actors to put off finding out if they can actually produce anything that anyone will pay for.

    29. David Foster Says:

      Mike K…”One was an “ER Game” where we had to figure out how to prioritize in an emergency situation. Another was the “Oil price game.” It involves negotiating skills. At one point in the game, I suggested to my team that we cheat. The girls on the team were shocked. It was well within the rules but they would not do it.”

      There is a lesson there anyone who is designing incentive programs: If there is a way for someone to get ahead by doing something that is technically within the rules but inconsistent with the objectives of the program, them someone will figure it out and do it.

      I’ve read that in the UK NHS, there was an hospital incentive program where the measurement was time from patient showing up in the lobby to patient being assigned a bed.

      So some hospitals just kept patients waiting in the ambulance outside…

    30. David Foster Says:

      MCS…”MFA’s seem mostly to be a way for writers and actors to put off finding out if they can actually produce anything that anyone will pay for.”

      I think it’s more than that: there are a lot of people who just can’t believe it’s possible to learn to do anything without taking classes in it.

    31. Mike K Says:

      My experience with Ph.D.s in engineering is that they definitely need adult supervision around sharp objects and hot surfaces. The ones with a B.S. are the same, just easier to keep safe.

      That has been called “The Silo Effect” in that people who are very smart and knowledgeable in one narrow field, think they are knowledgeable in other unrelated fields. We see a lot of that, as in Obama’s energy czar.

      I’ve read that in the UK NHS, there was an hospital incentive program where the measurement was time from patient showing up in the lobby to patient being assigned a bed.

      This was also common, for the same reason, in the Soviet Union. Everybody knew not to buy a car from the end of the week or end of the month. The rule was that patients had to be out of the ER in 4 hours.

      The French system, which I have suggested as a model for us, uses a market mechanism. That is unacceptable for the NHS or for US Democrats. Obamacare was widely expanded Medicaid. The Democrats could not bring themselves to end employer and union health plans. The knew the unions would revolt. That was part of the original plan.

    32. David Foster Says:

      Incentive systems can be valuable, but need to be designed carefully and tuned in the light of experience. A simple sales commission plan can result in too much effort invested in selling low-margin products, if it is based on revenue rather than some measurement of profit.

      I once asked a guy who was running a large factory if he paid any workers on piecework…he said he didn’t like it. Why? Because workers attempting to move into a higher bonus level would take risks, most times it would be OK, but sometimes a serious injury would result.

    33. MCS Says:

      There was a scandal in Irving, Texas a few years ago concerning the fire department. I remember that the goal was eight minutes or less between the alarm and arrival. What the fire department did was man the engine companies with three firefighters, instead of four. This let them field more companies and improve response on paper. At the same time, rules required four firefighters to actually attack the fire or even enter a building, so after recording an early arrival, they had to wait around for a fourth before doing anything. This all came to light during a dispute between the union and the department, of course.

    34. David Foster Says:

      For a couple of great incentives-gone-wrong stories, see my post Stupidity–Communist-Style and Capitalist-Style

      https://chicagoboyz.net/archives/56035.html

    35. Kirk Says:

      All of which goes to provide more proof of my thesis that the vast majority of managers and “leaders” do not actually understand how their organizations work, and are essentially flailing away at their imaginary “levers of power” and actually accomplishing nothing.

      The people we’ve put in charge of running things actually know jack and squat about how to make things happen in their organizations. The whole thing is almost ludicrously funny, but the sad effect on our lives makes it much more of a tragicomedy than anything else.

      Unfortunately, this arena is not something that the academic world bothers to study, which is why it effectively doesn’t exist for our so-called “cognitive elite”. There isn’t a degree in “Perverse incentive avoidance”, so it’s not a real thing to any of them. Which is why they keep doing the same insane things, over and over again, every time demonstrating shock that the outcomes don’t match their projections.

      Maybe we’ll figure it all out, next time around.

    36. Mike K Says:

      I have my own little incentive story. When my daughter was 16 and had had an A average in school, I told her I would buy her a car. Her mother came up a lease arrangement from VW. She said all the other doctors were doing it so what could I do? The deal was a two year lease then turn the car in at age 18.

      VW had it all figured out. That was before bill paying from the checking account so I had to wait for the statement and send it in with a check. I discovered VW mailed the statement 6 days before it was due. That meant there was no way it could get back with the check by the penalty time. Every month there would be a $100 late payment penalty. I finally paid off the lease, which was probably the idea.

    37. Kirk Says:

      It occurs to me that I haven’t ever articulated that thesis I mention above on this site… Or, at least, I can’t find where I have.

      Rough outline is that we see so much failure in our organizations because the people running them do not actually understand how they work or how to make things happen within them.

      The reason for this is fairly simple, yet very hard for many to understand. Most managers/leaders operate under a delusional model that things happen because they say they should. This is because they are trained and conditioned to conceptualize everything on what I term the “diktat“, in that their reality is shaped by what they say should be going on, in total and complete ignorance of what the actual environment they’ve created is telling the subjects of that diktat.

      Those “subjects”, which are actually people like you and I, experience the organization as a series of interlinked and ever-ongoing Skinner boxes, which shape the behavior that the organization actually gets, vice that which it says it wants. The vast majority of the leadership of these organizations say and order things that are in direct contravention to the actual signals sent in those Skinner boxes, and then wonder why the hell none of what they say they want gets done in accordance with what they’ve written.

      Consider the military enlistment process, for an example. In the course of that process, applicants are questioned on their history of drug use. If they answer honestly, they are encouraged to go back and change their answers, lying to the recruiter. Even if the applicant is honest in denying drug use, the recruiter is probably going to say something that will indicate that the applicant is lying, but at least was smart enough to avoid the pitfall of admitting drug use. The entire experience leaves the applicant with the idea that the organization they’re joining is at best hypocritical, and at worst, encouraging them to lie to it about some very fundamental things. This is usually the very first “conditioning gate” that teaches the applicant what is expected of them in the military, which is to lie on cue.

      The same idiots that set this system up are also the very first to evince wonder when someone in the organization gets caught for malfeasance of some sort, in total obliviousness to all the many and varied places they’ve built into the system which encouraged and actually taught that malefactor to lie their asses off.

      Seriously–Nobody really understands this crap, especially the autistic savants we’ve put in charge of it all. Absolutely nobody bothers to look at the system from a standpoint of “what does this teach/condition?”, and then modify the actual environment to correct problems. Instead, it is much easier to simply write a memo or an email, and direct people to do things differently than the environment around them is telling them. Then, of course, to bewail the fact that they’re getting microscopic compliance rates with the directive…

    38. David Foster Says:

      A very good executive once said to me: ‘Dave, once you get past a certain level, always remember that you’re not seeing reality. What you’re seeing is like a movie in which you get to see one out of every thousand frames or so.”

    39. Kirk Says:

      David, it’s actually worse than that: They’re watching a movie that’s been made from a reflection of their own inaccurate delusions, instead of snapshots from a documentary.

      Nobody ever steps down to the levels where the employees and customers are responding to the incentive structures created by policies and procedures created nine levels up. That’s the actual root of the problem where things begin to go wrong–Abstraction and removal from the actual experience. You don’t see the problem where you’ve created the perverse incentive, if you’ve never been there to witness or experience it for yourself.

      As well, there’s the capture phenomenon: You might actually have gone through that process yourself, but because you were not actuated enough to be able to step back and say “Wow… This is really against the goal we’re working towards…”, you never question the entire premise.

      Stop and consider: The military wants people who are honest and conscientious, yet begins teaching nearly all applicants that the system not only expects them to lie, but then actually rewards them for doing it. Two messages at utter cross-purposes, yet nobody in the hierarchy has the self-awareness to recognize that entire issue.

      You can find similar examples across society, from the way we raise kids to the way we prosecute crimes and manage government. You want your kids to tell you the truth and communicate with you, but what does the average parent do when the kid actually tells the truth and admits to breaking something in the house? Lose their shit, which teaches the kid to lie and evade responsibility. It’s a damn rare parent that actually lives the BS they tell their kids, in my observation. Mine always told me that they wanted honesty and forthrightness, but whenever I made a childhood mistake and made them aware of it…? Down came the fist of doom, and then they wondered why they were never informed and that we lied our asses off to them.

      It’s a sad human trait, I fear, and one that all too many of us are prone to. Absolutely, though? It needs to be broken and bred out of the majority before we really mature as a species.

    40. Mike K Says:

      for an example. In the course of that process, applicants are questioned on their history of drug use. If they answer honestly, they are encouraged to go back and change their answers, lying to the recruiter. Even if the applicant is honest in denying drug use, the recruiter is probably going to say something that will indicate that the applicant is lying

      I interviewed and examined applicants for about 5 years in LA and Phoenix. Drug testing is done on all recruits. Most drug users are too stupid to abstain for a month and get a 6 month delay in any enlistment. Two positive drug tests and they are banned.