The Elephant in the Room

by

John Wright

 

This morning I read an article via a hyperlink on Yahooís® financial web page that presumably was about comparing macroeconomic theories in terms of how the recent economic meltdown and progression of the economy "since the meltdown" have occurred/proceeded. It was titled "The Crisis: Keynesians vs. Monetarists" and it was written by one Jeremy Siegel. After reading the article I read a half dozen responses from other readers. Five out of six responses were not complimentary. I was not surprised as I too had a few issues with Siegelís explanations of macroeconomic behavior. Basically, when a complex topic is analyzed superficially only in terms of gross predictions from two competing theories there is too much room to ignore actual cause and effect, and aftereffect. In fact, the partial plausibility of one theory or another explaining part of an economic event sequence isnít really saying much of anything solid or useful at all. You canít take it to the bank.

Most of you already know my position regarding the lack of value of the news media, so you will not be surprised with my comment(s) above. Oddly, and without conscious intent, I apparently processed the subject in the background of my mind, and an article opportunity occurred to me. I will now discuss the event sequence that triggered my interest in writing this article and then proceed into a general discussion of cause, effect and human behavior. More importantly, I will discuss our national evolution and its consequences.

I am about to describe in detail two events much earlier in my life that initially left me perplexed. The outcomes of those two events were teachings and conclusions that made no sense at all to me until I took the time to analyze the larger picture. Once done my analysis told me in no uncertain terms that we were in real trouble as a business culture and as a nation going forward in time. I could not have been more on target, as you will understand in a few minutes. Letís proceed.

The first event occurred during the mid-1970ís, and I have described that event once before in earlier writings. It was a business simulation exercise using a software product created by IBM® and it consisted of six teams of two people competing against each other in making business decisions for six competing businesses for six consecutive quarters. A moderator (member of management) provided the instructions and executed the simulations per the decisions of each of the teams and reported results back to all teams at the end of each quarter. As with most simulations, certain real world facts had to be compressed in time and effect, like the impact of monies directed to product research, a temporary recession, and the later or current impact of those events on sales and earnings. Similarly, other real world events like market response to changes in selling price were delayed/temporarily attenuated in impact on sales. Nonetheless the model did require thoughtful decisions about marketing budgets, investments in plant and equipment, research, borrowing money, stock dividends and a variety of other factors related to strategy and budget.

The moderator explained at the beginning that the winner would be the team that had the most money at the end of six quarters, given that all hard assets could be converted to a cash equivalent. So we began. To cut to the chase, at the end of the six quarters my team had the most robust business in all areas, but one of the other teams had increased selling price dramatically in the last quarter, so their final cash position was slightly higher. The moderator declared that team to be the winner.

I objected on the basis that the so called winning team had over a few quarters made decisions that would bring in more short term income at the cost of destroying the future of the business beyond the sixth quarter. They had a poor stock value, they hadnít invested in research or plant and equipment and thus their strategy for winning was illogical, for life goes on after the end of the game. Of course I was right, but the moderator refused to accept my argument. She clung to the original stated goal and said that was all that mattered. At that point the exercise was complete and the group disbanded, with me commenting that anyone idiotic enough to call the other teamís decisions "winning" was demented, and I hoped the real management in my companyís business operations wouldnít ever make ultimately destructive decisions just to raise short term cash.

As an aside, sometimes they did and sometimes they didnít but I saw enough in the next ten years of real company operations in detail across multiple businesses to become very doubtful. Gross fundamental mistakes obvious to me were made in multiple businesses. I was seriously wondering what kind of garbage was being taught in MBA programs and pimped by hired consultants preaching to higher management. The "In Search of Excellence" pap was one example. The more damning reality was that the top decision-makers were from an age group that had inherited and lived off the strategic and later cash cow successes from earlier generations, not one(s) that had created the successes.

The central topic in this article about the simulation is, of course, the kind of endgame thinking used by the moderator. What value did the simulation have to the participants if the only thing to be learned was trickery instead of responsible and forward thinking business decisions? Were we all to become destructive in the name of producing short-term capital? My concluding thought was that the moderatorís judgment that was so impaired in practical terms made that person unreliable for future business involvement in real events.

As the future unfolded I did have a short period of time where the moderator became my direct management, and my old concerns following the simulation event were quickly verified in multiple other areas. Suffice it to say that I did what was necessary to be out of that environment, but at no small cost to myself in temporary career advancement. Now we will move on to the second event.

Some years later there was a course given to enhance interpersonal relationships across people in a business organization and across internal and external other business organizations. That course was most useful and essentially hundreds of us across the entire division took it. The idea was to understand the different personality styles and how they approached life differently, so as to be versatile individually in working with the other personality styles, especially in a business environment. That was a good goal and the course was most useful in understanding myself as well as other people in terms of my innermost drivers and values. Wow!

At the conclusion of the course we were each requested to describe in course terms some one individual with whom we had difficulties. The idea was that the course provider experts would evaluate each situation in total privacy (no names used) and provide each participant with creative ideas for enhancing each problem relationship. You can guess what individual I chose. When the results came back I read them carefully to learn what I might have done better. I was utterly dismayed to discover that I had already done what was recommended, and more, and that the course measured only some of the dimensions of personality styles and practices. Alas, there were a few other critical dimensions missing, such as honesty or even common sense.

So it was that character flaws and inadequate knowledge could infect business operations and diminish effectiveness considerably. My learning experience quickly became a basis for me to evaluate all of the members of management in my department in all dimensions. I was appalled. What earlier in my career had been occasional disagreement with poor management decisions now became a whole process for diagnosing organizational disease. I will cut to the chase again and simply note that I left my department within a few years with a nice promotion. I guess I had learned my versatility lessons well, for I could pander to bullshit in-house while cultivating a new customer business relationship external to my own organization! The fact is I created highly useful software products at a very low cost for that customer by bypassing my employerís standard operating procedures for software system development. I did it all myself under the guise of a developing a prototype when in fact I created a full-scale production system for the cost of a prototype. I was thus deemed to be a great candidate for employment by my customer. Well, you do what you have to do.

Years later as I observed the corporation losing ever more ground I had the opportunity to retire in a very beneficial deal that I simply lunged at as fast as I could. I couldnít wipe the shiteating grin off my face, as I was about to exit mostly unscathed from a plethora of poor management decisions that I knew would result in the later demise of much of the company. I was right. For example, the entire information systems function for the entire corporation (my former immediate employer), which had an annual budget in excess of one billion dollars, was outsourced. I had escaped that cataclysm and the aftershocks in computer systems groups across all corporate businesses, barely two years before the end. Sadly I had to ask myself, is this a happy ending? Hell, no! What had every chance to be a great contributor function to the corporation became instead a destructive parasite, and there was no set of checks and balances in place within the corporation to keep the evolution of the organization on track, and it failed. Why? The dimensions of candor and common sense based on candor and real results were lacking. Once the chain of command in my earlier department became populated with politicians in the highest positions instead of folks savvy in business and technical aspects of computer systems the die was cast. There was no mechanism to fix the disease, so the organism ultimately died.

Okay Ö at the risk of being insulting, do you see any elephant in the room in my stories? What is/are the thing(s) nobody wants to acknowledge or discuss in real world events, sometimes due to political correctness? Is it not most interesting that the things that really mattered in my stories were not the details of how I survived and prospered in the work environment? Is it not true that direction of oneís attention away from real issues is a very serious problem in our society right now? Letís see if my rather obvious queries make sense. Might there be some aspect of fundamental human behavior in many people of various intelligence levels that makes candor something to be avoided? What is it?

In a macroscopic sense a number of things must be in place in any society for a lying, deceiving culture to be operated and controlled continuously by pathological liars. Note that these liars are pathological only in the sense that they use lying to hurt the welfare of the common citizens, to their own gain. In no sense are the liars self-deceiving in knowing their own intent, methods and rewards. This is high crime, but that is a different topic for a different article. But the first and very real problem with this type of culture is that it is doomed to fail on a grand scale, for when candor and open analysis of all relevant facts arenít rewarded then truth that could lead to healthy growth is no longer communicated. The society becomes stifled and thus vulnerable to other cultures that have maintained candor, fact based decision processes and subsequent technological progress.

Letís look at a few things that must be in place to destroy a culture via lying. One of the obvious areas is media, which must be rigidly controlled. Another is laws that punish people for candor, as in phony libel or slander suits. Yet another is that thing called political correctness, which is plainly seen as a muzzle to free speech. If you canít even voice your knowledge publicly there is no such thing as free speech. If your media will not give you a voice, there is no such thing as free speech. Yet another thing is completely uneven distribution of wealth, for with wealth there is proportionate power. This means, of course, that once the liars gain control of the wealth and then the power, there is no mechanism to unseat them, except when the business or the society implode due to excess greed.

Some of you may recall my discussion of wealth in Destiny. Basically, perception is the point to understand first. What to one person is wealth is simply barely getting by to the person who has a level of wealth but lacks the required wealth to have all of the good things one might acquire. So perception of personal wealth and subsequent willingness to act however necessary to obtain greater wealth are on a sliding scale morally. This means that the most wealthy people are clearly and unarguably in la la land morally, for they have no need to be so proportionately wealthy, as they can consume or otherwise use only a very tiny portion of their wealth at a personal level. That is where the rubber meets the road. Excess wealth leads to excess power and the resultant formation of government and laws that enhance further gaining of wealth for only the few. This must be stopped and reversed so as to distribute wealth on the fundamental capitalist basis of contribution. Winner take all capitalism is not capitalism at all Ö it is criminal behavior known simply as theft.

A culture that has evolved to become deceptive to the common citizens is simply the easiest way for the liars to gain and to maintain wealth. You simply join the game and support the power pyramid in whatever you are told to believe and promote, or, you join the ranks of the poor. Thus, when a reasonably intelligent person learns the nature of a deceptive organization there is a point where self interest can warp that person. If I have to lie to survive and prosper, then????

One of the important fundamental facts about life is that people in power do not normally make optimal decisions for the growth of the organization, society, Et. Al. That would seem to be counterintuitive. Actually, it is simply a sign of human weakness in both knowledge and intent. The military commander who makes a disastrous decision that results in the death of thousands of soldiers in one battle has obviously not understood the reality before the fact. Companies that go bankrupt as a result of continuous marginal decisions by management are complete and unarguable proof of inferior knowledge and reasoning at the highest levels. Position does not equate to knowledge; it equates to efficiency of method to grab power. This means that power as well as wealth must be limited and often subject to review of effectiveness in an atmosphere of candor and societal responsibility. Power must not be allowed to be maintained without great creative and economic performance that is not harmful to the society, employees, etc.

In short, the elephant in the room is our utter failure to tell the truth, demand the truth and act to preserve the truth to the detriment of excess accumulated wealth and power, which is the domain of the pathological liars and the selfish performers. And note that that environment needs many police agencies, repressive laws and completely useless media to maintain power. So must our nation evolve from our present absurd grab for all internal and external wealth and power by the few, or perish as other powerful nations exploit this fundamental weakness. Wake up or be crushed. Simple, isnít it? Am I lying, simply misinformed or right on target? You decide.