Archive for July 30, 2011

Human Nature Can Change

July 30, 2011 15 comments

Many people, especially CONservatives, believe that “Human Nature Cannot Change”. In my opinion, this is more of a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who want the status quo.

Consider some behaviors that have characterized human beings for many thousands of years-

1. For most of human history people have been shitting and pissing in their drinking water supplies. Though some ancient people were observant enough to conclude that infectious diseases do spread through contaminated drinking water, their beliefs had little impact on human history.

This went on right till the late 1800s, when developments in science (microbiology) and technology (engineering) made it possible to supply clean drinking water and dispose sewage. Today more human beings have access to clean drinking water and sewage disposal than don’t. In any case, behavior that was acceptable and normal for all of human history before the last 100-odd years is now seen and enforced as unacceptable.

2. Consider human living arrangements.. For almost all of human history most of the people you interacted with or lived around were related to you. Today most of the people who live around you and interact with are not related to you. Urbanization is not an exclusively western phenomenon- indeed most of the worlds largest urban areas are found in Asia (Tokyo, Seoul, many Megacities in China and India) and Central-South America (Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Rio, Buenos Aires etc)

Current levels of urbanization were however possible only after public health and engineering issues (clean water, sewage disposal, availability of electricity, well maintained roads, automobiles etc) were progressively solved over the last 100-odd years. While I do not see them as utopias, urban areas are certainly better places than the rural areas where the bulk of its inhabitants originally came from.

3. Consider how we interact with other people.. For most of history we could only interact with people we could talk to in person or write/type letters to. Is that still the case and how has it affected our view of the world? Do you think extensive international trade does not affect the inner world of humans?

Today any person with a cellphone who is marginally literate can send/receive texts and pictures in addition to talking with people who are far way or who they have often never met in real life. Do you seriously believe that this new ubiquitous ability has not affected people’s worldview? Do you think governments today can control information like they used to- especially as far as the younger generations are concerned? Do you think that a guy like Hitler, Stalin, Mao would be able to do what they did no the same scale?

I am going to keep this post short, however I could give you many more examples- and might do so in future posts.


Sociopathy, Management and Emerging Organistional Dysfunction

July 30, 2011 13 comments

I am sure that many of you must have wondered about how once great and supremely competent organizations decay into mediocre and pathetic shadows of their former selves. In previous eras, it was hard to follow the behavior, decisions and internal atmosphere of many organizations due to lack of cheap and ubiquitous communication technology. That has changed in the last decade or so, allowing us to follow the course of slow train-wrecks in unprecedented detail.

Almost every single successful organization is usually started by very competent, innovative and dedicated persons. Even their generation 0 (present at founding) and 1 (first major hires) bureaucrats and managers are unusually competent and intelligent. So far so good.. The problem for every organization starts with its generation 2 bureaucrats and managers, whose ability and mentality are closer to those found in your average stagnating and dysfunctional organization.

Such mediocre people are hired because of reasons ranging from necessity, deception by job seekers to making it more like a ‘normal’ organization. Regardless of the reasons behind their initial hiring these scumbags soon proliferate and slowly ruin the organization through a variety of methods and behaviors. Since these scumbags are usually hired during the later part of the initial growth phase, they are around to influence the creation of the 2nd round of rules, procedures and other managerial bullshit. It is necessary to understand that most of internal managerial apparatus of any organization is meant for petty power plays and enriching unscrupulous rent-seekers.

The next step in the disease process comes about when the organization undergoes its 2nd or 3rd major expansion. This is usually the first time these, now promoted, scumbags get the first real chance to abuse their power. In pretty much every single case, the modus operandi follows a well-worn pattern. The scumbags start by hiring more venal and stupider versions of them as subordinates. They then start creating policies, rules and procedures that help them expand their little fiefdoms and consolidate their power. They also intimidate, harass and fire productive and innovative employees. The net result of this pattern is that while real productivity and innovation suffer, so-called ‘objective’ measures of corporate performance increase- setting the next step in motion.

As mentioned in the previous paragraph, power hunger and venal scumbags cut their teeth on screwing emerging divisions and groups in a company. However, they rarely hang around till their failure is evident. Instead, they use success to get themselves promoted up the hierarchy where they can repeat what they did on a much larger scale. The venal scumbags hired by them frequently also move up the corporate ladder and go on to hire even more venal and dumber sociopaths while harassing and firing most of the remaining competent people. Now you have an organization driven by scams, intrigue, fear, fiefdoms, warlords with barely any competent people to do the job or innovate. These dysfunctional organizations can however remain afloat for upto a decade after things go to hell because of size, inertia and purchasing political favor.

Since the external world keeps on evolving, malfunctional organizations do eventually have to contend with their demise- whether it is due to competitors, newer technology or loss of the original customers for their shit. At such times, the biggest sociopaths (senior management) in the organization either sell it, liquidate it or let it implode in a manner that will make them tons of money. They do nor care about inconsequential stuff such as most of their shareholders, remaining employees, acquired technology, human knowledge base or anything of value. For them it is a game about who can steal the most money and then repeat that same cycle at another organization.