A friend is working for a not-for-profit (NFP). Her boss held a meeting recently to announce that he was convening a meeting to create a “mechanism to make a decision on personnel policy at the NFP. It turns out that the mechanism would be a committee and this, he thought, would meet 2 or 3 times to reach a decision.
Heres how my friend does the math: five meetings would be held to make a decision that could be dispatched in 20 minutes. In fact, five hours would be used to do the work of 20 minutes. The ratio of ‘time required to ‘time spent: 1 to 15.
My experience in the NFP world tells me this sort of thing is not uncommon. My experience in the FP world says the opposite is happening there: decisions get faster, time is compressed, the world spins ever faster. Its as if theres a “continental drift taking place between these worlds.
This drift comes from many things but it comes in part from a cultural distinction between expressive individualism and instrumental individualism. (With a hat tip to Daniel Bell, and his theoretical contributions here, with which I now take liberties.)
Expressive individualism says the individual is unique, precious, and laden with rights. These rights are self evident and so is the self evident, I mean. The individual requires no performance, no accomplishment, no reciprocity to assert its claim to these rights.
Instrumental individualism says the individual is an agent and an outcome. The more successful the agent, the more individuated, authoritative, and vivid the outcome. This self is self creating and unpredictable. The self is not evident, its emergent.
It was precisely to honor the expressive individual the NFP boss intends to hold 5 meetings. Everyone is to be included. All voices will be heard. If we belong to the instrumental world, we might regard this as intolerable. The opportunity cost of 5 meetings is pretty large. Some of us will be inclined to say, “Let me surrender a little power to the Prince in exchange for the chance to get on with my life.
But if we belong to the crystal palace of expressive individualism, we say, “No, what counts here is the acknowledgement and enactment of my selfhood. I dont care that the affairs of state, or at least those of the NFP, are diminished for I am enlarged. In a weird way, this is a democratization of the Brahmin bureaucrat for whom form, and not accomplishment, is everything.
But heres the problem. While the expressive individualists are indulging themselves in the theatre of the 1 to 15 ratio, the rest of the world begins to wonder why they should have to pay for it. And when they decide that they do not wish to, what they withdraw from its not just the theatre of expressive individualism but the social contract for which the NFP stands. Now thats expensive.