Systems thinking, politics vs. government LO9683

Dr. Ivan Blanco (BLANCO@BU4090.BARRY.EDU)
Mon, 2 Sep 1996 12:24:00 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO9349 --

> Date: Thu, 22 Aug 1996 12:27:11 -0500
> From: Debbie Broome <>
> Dr. Blanco writes:
> >Those organizations that blindly follow the main stream tendancies tend
> > are probably describing government divisions...
> Ben Compton writes regarding politics and government:
> >The average person gets worked up over insignificant issues...but, issues
> >which they feel need immediate attention. This is a very near-term view...
> and Ben further writes about organizations:
> >Over the years I've come to a very simple conclusion: Happiness in
> corporate >America is achieved when one develops the ability to stare into
> the abyss of >stupidity without being disturbed!"
> To Dr. Blanco and in defense of many government employees and goverment
> organizations (particularly at the local level-one which I am intimately
> familar with). Government organizations are not typically given to blindly
> follow main stream tendancies. I have found that in 15 years of serving
> local government, and partnering with the corporate sector that an
> astounding number of organizational issues are similar between the two
> sectors, if not exactly the same. Ben Compton's quote above regarding
> stupitidy very aptly describes public service as well as corporate
> employment.

I agree with you that, in many situations, the problems found in
government agencies (fed., st., or local), are very similar to those
fouond in the corporate world. There is a "natural inclination" by
decision makers to stay with the status quo. And this happens even with
evidence in front of them showing that the status quo is not longer
working. I have been associated with, working for, etc., with different
government agencies both in the U.S. and Latin America. I think that the
stupidity I see is also influenced by the laws. In one of our states, the
government adpted a modern computirized accounting systems, but had to
still keep the big books with hand written records of the same things the
computer has. I think that rational a intelligent people, after years of
doing something stupid like this, have to be affected in some way!

> The stories I have read on this list parallel my own and those
> of my friends in the field of city management. I would suspect that this
> may be even true of a number of areas of the federal government. There are
> bright, creative and frustrated people trying to crack old entrenched
> systems and in part what keeps that change from occurring is Ben Compton's
> statement regarding insignificant issues.
> Obviously, the major difference between the public sector and the private
> sector is the profit motive.

I am not sure that this is the major difference. It could a combination
of several factors: acountability, personal consequences to the
individual making decisions, public interest, etc.

> But look deeper at what drives that motive.
> In the private sector, decisions are made based on the preferences of a
> large number of people (i.e. the more people buying the product the more
> profit--product discontinued if no profit). In the public sector decisions
> are driven based on the preferences of a small number of people. As Ben
> puts it...politicians respond to seemingly insignificant issues. I have
> watched many a public meeting where the squeaky wheel did indeed get the
> grease. From a systems standpoint, the decision may have made sense in the
> short-term for that particular group or individual, but in the long-term it
> is not a good decision and in fact may thwart many progressive attempts by
> management (government management)and elected officials to streamline and
> reduce programs or outsource programs in order to become competitive.

Politicians are barriers to the development of organizational learning, I
think. They do not respond to the same things the rest of the people
respond to. The master the art of what is possible (Russell Ackoff), and
never really consider what is impossible. The status quo is a great

> My
> point is this: the fact that government responds to small groups on
> relatively "insignificant issues" is all of our responsibility. Government
> leaders rarely if ever hear from the public when things are going well. Why
> are we not participating? Even at the local level where it is still
> possible to make a difference...Speaking as one government employee, we'd
> sure like to hear from the masses once in a while versus the squeaky wheel.
> We might be able to address some of this fragmentation.
> Thanks for listening.

Debbie, I never implied that there no intelligent people in government.
But what I can say us that there are more frustrated people than anything
else in all government agencies. My last tour with a government position
lasted for only fifteen days, that is 15! I had to leave because I knwew
it would not be good for my health. I have been able to resist a longer
tour of duty in public universities, though...

-- Ivan,


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