Quote Box ArchiveGo to Past Quote Boxes

Oct 10, 2008

Tell Me About The Past

Leadership For the Future Is About Past Success

I don't want to hear politicians or businessmen saying:

  • I have a plan for the future.
  • I'm going to work for you.
  • We need to improve life for all Americans.
  • We need to help the little guy.
  • We need better/cheaper/faster/more effective healthcare.
  • You are unhappy. You will be happier after I do things differently.
  • We need happier more productive lives with more vacations.
  • We need safe investments with guaranteed returns.
  • You should be able to work less, and earn more.
  • I want you to benefit.
  • I feel your pain. I grew up in a poor family.
  • Together we will go on to victory!

I don't want to hear these statements, because they tell me nothing. It is easy to be in favor of happiness and against sickness. OK, the politician says he isn't heartless, but what about his head? I want, you need, you should, I feel. This is pure emotion and wishful thinking, just words, feeling good, and using up time.

The politician doesn't go all the way to "I wish/dream/pray for a better future" because the crowd might wake up and laugh. Laughter isn't the desired response to a stirring speech. We would all be better off if we laughed at these statements rather than cheering. Let's say "Wow. A politician who wants things to be better, cheaper, and easier. Ha Ha."

The Football Coach

Movies show "The Coach" at half-time, pumping up the spirits of his losing team. He talks about strength, character, trying harder, and not letting down parents and the school. I didn't play football, but he seems like a bad coach to me.

An effective coach doesn't waste time insulting his team. "Try harder" tells the team that they weren't trying their best. A great coach tells his players about their individual mistakes and how to correct them. He has a plan that has worked in the past. His team has practiced to that plan, and he tells them how to cooperate to carry it out. Trying hard with a bad plan doesn't work. Making up a new plan on the spot doesn't work. Telling them that he is working on a plan doesn't work.

Action, Not Experience

I want a politician to tell me about the past. What has he done, what has already worked well, and why? Maybe he didn't do it himself, but he has seen something that worked, and he wants to apply it and describe it. In a world with websites, he can report all of his ideas in detail, and link to the plan that worked, in detail. He can hire the people who implemented the plan that worked. He can make his plan subject to review and criticism. Before election.

I don't care about his "experience" belonging to some group, sitting in some chair, or "being" a Governor, Senator, Ambassador, or President. What were the past situations, what did he do, and what worked? What were his beliefs, goals, actions, and accomplishments or failures? Past tense. Not promises about what will work in the future based on his good will and doing his best.

Of course, a politician will face new situations in office for which there is no current plan. That is exactly why we need to elect people who have solved problems (past tense) and have shown their ability to look at the world for solutions that have already worked and can be adapted.


My concerns are the same for hiring a painter or a President. I want references. I want to see good work in the past. I don't want him learning on my job.

I am a software designer. You are probably too aware that it is hard to design software that does what you want, with reasonable convenience and reliability. Even simple sounding tasks can have surprising complexity.

Many complex projects have been started and never finished because they couldn't get the software to provide the needed services, or even to work at all. The same warnings apply to political projects that are supposed to rearrange society. Most of those projects turn out to be costly, inefficient, and annoying. We need good political designers with proven records.

The greatest failure in software and politics is to look too narrowly at the problem. Voting machines seem like a good idea, until you go one step further to ask how the vote can be verified, looking back. Asking doctors to meet quality standards seems good, until the system spirals into requiring three hours of paperwork for every 5 hours of practice. Social Security seems good, and could be, until promises bankrupt the system (coming soon), making everyone worse off than they would have been.

Actual life is complex, and it routinely shreds seemingly good goals that are written on cocktail napkins and given in political speeches. We can only know what really works, works in reality and not merely on paper, by looking for similar situations that are already working. Or, we can implement small-scale or partial policies and find out what problems result, especially when the plan involves people, who have individual desires, standards for happiness, and demands for personal dignity.

Otherwise, it is like hiring a friendly painter with no references to paint your house. Scary, with peeling paint one year later.

For a laugh, look at this story about a computer project to make data collection easier for water quality engineers. It cost a lot of money to eventually do the job the old way, but with a flashy computer system in the middle. This was done by government, to make a "well understood" process work better.

The water engineers already used available technology to form a pretty good, "unplanned" (ad-hoc, free market, innovative) system. Producing the final report was the part that seemed inefficient. That was the only part of the system that affected the planners; it was work for them. The planners fouled up the engineer's work trying to make their own small part of the system easier.

The "free market", allowing people to arrange informal systems that work, is usually better than the "planned solution", which can almost never incorporate the knowledge and detail of the informal system. Computer projects can work, if the planners humbly study the whole problem, find out what is really going on, in detail, and test pilot projects. This doesn't happen often.

Don't easily accept the dreams of planners. They don't have enough respect for the complexities of life. Don't accept politician's promises about the future. Make them use proven policies and systems, tested in the past.

The Best Promises Win

It seems that politicians are deep thinking philosophers. When they break their promises, they explain that there are subtle problems in understanding their language. You can only determine what they meant earlier after they explain it to you later. Honest men, misunderstood.

So, it is meaningless to pick the politician with the best promises. Instead, he must explain the best programs that have worked before, in detail.

No comments :

Post a Comment

You can use the HTML tags <b> <i> and <a href="">, but not <p> or <blockquote>. Trouble commenting? Email your comment or problem to Commerce-Try at Comcast.net. Leave out the minus sign. Mention the name of the post in the email.