the efficiency of inefficiency

Chris talks about perfectibility:

[…] My point is merely that the best organizations are inevitably inherently imperfect and prone to error. We should not pretend – as the media (and bosses!) do – that management can be perfect and so failures could be eliminated if only people were smart enough; the outcome and hindsight biases, of course, contribute to this myth of perfectibility.

This myth, though, has pernicious effects. It encourages the belief that there can be a few heroic “leaders” who can achieve such perfectibility and who therefore deserve multi-million pound salaries and disproportionate esteem. If instead we saw small-scale failures as inevitable, we might be less inclined to pay big money for a job that cannot be done.

And so I am minded to wonder if in fact this inevitable inefficiency he mentions isn’t something we should, after all, pay big bucks for someone to engineer.  Take this brace of excellent documentaries which I stumbled across yesterday.  In it, we saw how Hugo Boss designed and supplied Nazi uniforms; how Henry Ford – he of Model T fame (remember that apocryphal “you can have it any colour you want as long as it’s black” – doesn’t sound so nice these days, now does it?) – gave Hitler huge donations on his birthday; how other German companies gave their workers Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” as gifts to be treasured; and how the state gave newly-married couples the same treasure trove of wisdoms.  In all this, we have clear examples of how quick thinking and rapid action ain’t necessarily such a good thing for society.  Perhaps the business world’s drive to greater efficiency, whilst great for the business world which chooses to focus only on dosh, is really rather pernicious when applied to society and politics.  After all, if businesses do tend to jump on bandwagons in order to be the earliest adopters possible, what does this say of the dangers of not having the time to think more reflectively or soberly?  What does this say of attempts to apply similar mindsets to forging far-reaching changes in our cultures?

Yesterday, I saw tweeting past me a photo of the Fabians’ New Year Conference 2014 held this weekend.  I mistakenly – but not entirely mistakenly – attributed the conference slogan to being one of the Labour Party itself.  It was couched as a question – refreshingly for me – and it went as follows: “Can Labour change Britain?”  Not very efficient-sounding.  Not very declamatory.  Not at all the traditional proclamation from up on high.  Yet it sounded attractive: literally a dialogue, for a change.  For a change, in two senses.  A reflection and a desire to engage with non-professionals – still interested enough in their own experiences to want to talk about and share them in a clearly professional context.

I couldn’t go myself, even though I am a member of the Fabians.  To be honest, I don’t think – outside my writing – I’m much of a political animal any more.

So, today, you’ve got this post instead.  And drawing together the several strands of thought which make it up, here is my conclusion: the job of the body politic – the 21st century one we should now be restructuring – should primarily become that of reintroducing reflective and considered thought into a world evermore driven by quick thinking and so many of its implications.  Yes.  Business and tech has brought to our civilisation so many fantastic things; and it continues to do so (.pdf file).  But if we want to avoid repeating the tragedy of early-adopting business mindsets in 20th century politics such as the Nazi period, perhaps we also have to factor into such politics – maybe into such business practice too – that far from being inefficient, what we perceive as inefficiency is actually a prophylactic against terrible deeds.

Maybe, in fact, we do need to pay people to fail.  Maybe failure is a closed system’s way of ensuring a periodic success – a success understood quite differently and in quite different terms from that which we are accustomed to.

Quick thinking versus slow deliberation – which, in the end, do you think really landed us in the financial mire we, in the Old World, now find ourselves in?

Answer that question, and you’ve answered the question this post poses.

Or, at least, so I am inclined to think!

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