Category Archives: Complexity Theory

Bush, the insurgent president

white house.jpg

Well, this is interesting. A report yesterday in the Wall Street Journal that suggests Bush should be seen as the Insurgent President.

Fred Barnes says that, when it comes to the Washington establishment, Bush owes little and cares less. (Barnes defines this establishment as ‘the permanent bureaucracy, much of the vast political community of lobbyists and lawyers and consultants, leftovers from Congress and earlier administrations, trade groups and think tanks, and the media.”) Barnes says Bush has refused establishment blandishments and withheld for them both olive branches and state dinners. Unlike previous presidents, including his father, George W. likes to “infuriate” the establishment, most recently by accepting the resignation of its one representative on the inside, Colin Powell.

Apparently, Bush is possessed of a reformational zeal.

The president is girding for battled. He’s aiming to consolidate control of his administration, drive out recalcitrant (read: establishment) elements and make the permanent government heel, especially at the CIA and the State Department.

It is hard to know, and Barnes does not very precisely say, what the Bush agenda will be. But I can’t help wondering whether he might not try to do to Washington what he did to the military. As we know, the military, already in the throes of reform, deployed a radically different strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq. The so called “force transformation” created a new approach to warfare.

The basic notion behind military transformation is that information technologies allow you to substitute information for mass. (Stuart Johnson, research professor, at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy at National Defense University in Washington, from the MIT article below.)

One example of this approach: tanks weighing 64 metric tons could be largely phased out, giving way to lightly armored vehicles. These may forgo massive size and strength because they are directed by large and fine bodies of information gathered by new sensing, targeting, imaging and communications capabilities.

It is interesting to think about what would happen to the establishment if it was subject to the new principles evident in military (and corporate) reform: flatter hierarchies, devolved power, less mass, more information, more distribution, and an organization that is considerably smaller, faster and nimbler, as a result.

Certainly, this would take care of the growing unease in some Republican camps that Bush is a “big government” conservative. It would also bring the US government into line with the reformation that is taking in and of the corporate world. Just wondering.

last note: I am taking a fair amount of heat for blogging so soon after my wedding. I thank friends and readers for their solicitude, but Pam and I don’t go for our honey moon for some months now. In the meantime, I intend to blog as always, Pam’s suggestion of medication and therapy notwithstanding.

References

Barnes, Fred. 2004. Bush the Insurgent. Wall Street Journal. November 23, 2004, p. A18.

Talbot, David. 2004. How Tech Failed in Iraq. Technology Review: MIT’s magazine of innovation. November. Pp 36-44.

Dynamism 1, 2, 3

Summary: three notes on dynamism in the US and world economy.

Dynamism 1

Virginia Postrel has an interesting post on food prohibition in Europe. It reminded me of work I did for the Canadian drug industry a couple of years ago. I was surprised to see how highly regulated things were there, and someone laughed and said,

“Yeah, that’s the difference [in this industry] between Canada and the U.S. In the Canada, everything is prohibited unless it’s allowed. In the U.S., everything is allowed unless it’s prohibited.”

Prohibition is a very human reaction, isn’t it? It is the way we often respond to highly dynamic circumstances. We think it’s the way to restore order and control. But in a world that is permanently innovative and changeable, it is the wrong instinct.

What we want is an unmediated world that is porous and responsive to change, not resisting of it. What we especially do not want is to have as our mediators government bureaucrats and elected officials. Of all the players in the professional world, these are the parties who have demonstrated the least inclination, skill and motivation to behave in a dynamic way.

What’s interesting from an anthro-econ point of view, is that the feeling for prohibition is written into the cultures and economies of certain countries, especially Canada and the EU, and this must be taken as one of the reason’s the “wealth of nations” will not tip in their direction.

Dynamism 2

But can the US afford to be smug? Must it retain it’s mantel as the world’s “friend of dynamism.”

There is a nice little debate brewing in the pages of BusinessWeek. A couple of weeks ago (April 12), BW ran a cover story on the new CEO of 3M, Jim McNerney. McNerney has been called upon to restore 3M to its “role as one of Corporate America’s most inventive and innovative companies.” As it turns out, 3M hasn’t had a hit since Post-It Notes. Apparently, even the most dynamic companies, in this the most dynamic of marketplaces, in this the most dynamic of cultures, can lose their edge and fall silent.

It turns out that McNerney is a devotee of SixSigma, a cost-cutting tool created at GE in the 1990s (GE is McNerney’s alma mater). The present BusinessWeek (May 3) has a letter to the editor from the Australian academic, John M. Legge who claims “Six Sigma is about eliminating original thinking, not supporting innovation.”

Now, Legge is not my favorite management philosopher, but what if he’s right? The Six Sigma system is proving to be a robust little meme. It is colonizing corporate America. If it is an enemy of dynamism, 3M will not be returned to creativity…and this may be just the beginning of SixSigma’s consequences for the world’s “friend of dynamism.”

Dynamism 3

Tomorrow is the big day. Google goes public.

An article in the New York Times by Saul Hansell (April 26) revealed a certain hesitation on the part of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

The hesitation is not hard to understand. Google is cash rich, so it has no pressing need to go public. And once they are public, they will have new obligations and responsibilities. They can’t go shooting their mouths off or promoting nutty ideas.

Nutty ideas? Hansell says that Page and Brin “have talked about building space transporters and implanting chips in people’s heads that can provide them with information as they think.” Say, those are nutty ideas. And then of course there’s Gmail.

But the anthro/econ question is this: does the street make a company more or less dynamic? The argument could go either way. We could argue that the company that stays private remains in possession of the courage and freedom it needs to take on high risk undertakings. Or we could argue that the company that goes public finally gets the resources and the discipline its needs to get on with participating in a real world. (Instead of that crazy “space transporter” one.)

I am no expert, but I have to believe that going public is, for some players in some industries in some markets, probably bad for dynamism. Worrying about the market “concentrates the mind” in ways we do not want it concentrated. The time and money needed to fund innovation has for most companies dropped steadily. This means they can get a lot done on their own and not have to worry about “making their numbers” every quarter.

If any of this has foundation, there are conflicting forces that resist dynamism not just in Canadian and EU economies, but even in the American one.

creativity and complexity theory

An excerpt:

In other words, we are getting better at making new groups work as colleagues and old groups work as strangers. The traditional trade off is disappearing. Being permanently co-premised (as members of a corporation) need not cost you the difference on which creativity depends. Being suddenly co-premised (like the Sterling Rice meeting) need not cost you the sharedness that creativity demands.

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