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"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing"
- Edmund Burke

(This is a little off topic in a political BLOG, but I think it addresses a source of some of the faults of the current administration.  I also cite the "cure" BLOGs provide and the problem of not addressing the root cause of the disease.)

My Thesis:

Corruption is an inherent part of corporate and public systems because it is designed in by a current emphasis on narrowly defined metrics.  Mediocre products, deception, and increasing polarization are the result of the success of an entire system rather than the failure of specific individuals.

At first glance this does not make sense.  How could something be geared to producing negative and ultimately destructive results as an ultimate goal?  What sane person would create processes that deliberately result in bad ... "products" ... "service" ... "policy" ... "government" ... "laws"  ... (insert your favorite here).

The answer to this conundrum lies in the clever use of bureaucratic insulation. If no one has to take responsibility for project results, then no one has to make personal judgments or be held directly accountable.

A key term that must be defined is the corporate favorite; "metrics".  By metrics, I mean a definable measurement used to gauge whether a process or product is better/worse over a period of time.  This is attractive to those who must decide if what they evaluate is a success or failure because it offers the prospect of avoiding ... um ... "hard" decisions.  (Bush reference intended)

For this evil spawn of an HR idea to work, managers must restrict activities of subordinates to something that can be measured - a quantifiable number or goal.  Then they can set understandable and quantifiable "metrics" by which they can reward or punish a worker's accomplishments.  The big theoretical payoff: when you can constrain a system to specific reproducible metrics, you can predict the outcome and automate the process.

The benefit of an agnostic evaluation of metrics is the removal of the subjective judgment from the equation.  This would be fine if we were simply describing a simple task, incremental improvements in productivity, a product that never changes, or any relatively static activity.

Unfortunately, rigid metrics-based evaluations are being applied to complex processes which cannot be quantified in this manner.  A good analogy would be to compare a chemical equation in a sterile lab to a biological system.  A biological system has so many variables that it is impossible to account for everything - much less measure it.  Even if you could approach this goal; there are some things that just we don't understand (like the "placebo" effect) and cannot take into account.  This is a great goal for bio-engineering - not so hot for everything else.

I digress, but it is important to make the distinction between controlling the outcome of a process and accepting responsibility for that outcome.  If you can insulate yourself from accountability by defining the metrics for something for which you have indirect control - there's no downside for you; they win, you win - they lose ... they lose.

The other payoff is a free pass to rationalize any ethical compromises you have to make along the way.  By carefully segmenting metrics for specific tasks in any process, any impact of the personal ethics of both the worker and the manager can be diminished.  By limiting the scope of a series of tasks to a cascading tier of narrow specialists, no one has to directly acknowledge the real impact of their task beyond the "metrics" for which they are directly rewarded or punished.

The ultimate goal of most corporate and government management seems to be: acquire as much control as possible and avoid accountability for failures at all costs.  "Plausible deniability" is probably a more common term for this.  Talk to Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Trent Lott, or any of these moral relativists and see if they take responsibility for their "black ops" (political and otherwise); "I was out of the loop", "I was unaware of this activity", "I did not authorize this action", "I was only following orders", etc.  I'm sure each of us can supply dozens of major and minor events that fit in here.

The bottom line affects all of us directly in two ways; institutionalized corporate mediocrity and public officials with no accountability.  These seemingly unrelated results conspire to suppress innovation in commercial product development and undermine confidence in elected officials and the political process.  Until we are able to break through this one-way mirror and expose the "man-behind-the-curtain", we are destined to repeat this destructive cycle of deception and exploitation by those we can't hold accountable.

The good news is that "truth-seekers" like the KOS site see through this screen and help hold the puppet masters up to public scrutiny.  As long as the diverse knowledge and experience of on-line communities like "KOS-world" challenge this Orwellian reality, there is hope for the political future of our country.

The bad news is that there isn't a good way to hold the corporate culture to this level of scrutiny and accountability - that is, until it crosses over into overt criminal activity.  Economic downturns like we're currently experiencing only exaggerate this self-serving behavior and make it easier for the ethically challenged to exploit those not in a position to resist. Unfortunately, as long as this short-sightedness is considered acceptable behavior (either actively or passively) it will "bubble up" to society at large and, ultimately, politics.

My point is that the Bush administration and friends are the ultimate expression of the trend of avoiding responsibility by defining your participation out of the equation.  We see this as evasive and dishonest - they see this as proper goal setting and good project "management".  With the seeming complicity of the mainstream press, we see increasingly outrageous activities dismissed as `frat-boy pranks' and pinned on low level functionaries.  Because we can't "prove" they saw the actual intel reports, we're supposed to believe they didn't intend to mislead us to accomplish their immediate goal?  Oh please!  Of course Condi's "metric" was to please George.  

We'll just have to define our metric as voting the liars out of office - that is something we can do.

OK, so this is a pretty esoteric rant - but my point is that it's up to each of us as individuals to act whenever we observe unethical manipulations.  Those small compromises to our integrity that we are pressured to make can seem innocuous, but they can ultimately have far reaching consequences. As I said up front; "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".

Thank you to the members of the KOS community for doing something.

A personal aside: As a long-time liberal, I have been pretty demoralized by the repeated success of GOP tactics until recently - especially in Texas.  It's gratifying and empowering to see how effective an online community like KOS can be in uncovering and proving the truth, as well as keeping issues alive after they've outlived their sound bite half-life.  After reading (and mostly lurking) KOS for some time, I've recovered my optimism about the process - this is a big deal living in Texas, let me tell you!  Now I spend a lot of my time keeping my Democrat friends motivated and educating (and converting!) my Republican friends - and getting my dailyKOS fix.

(FYI, I was formerly a Competitive Intelligence Analyst for a large tech company.  Like Richard Clarke, I was pressured to "spin" my analysis to suit pre-ordained management decisions.  Also like Clarke, I refused - which probably explains my current unemployed status.  :)   While my experience in no way approaches the gravity of Clarke's, people like him are an inspiration to all of us to do the right thing whenever we can.  First diary, by the way ... please excuse my political naiveté.)

Originally posted to TechBob on Mon Oct 04, 2004 at 11:10 PM PDT.

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