Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Disorganization Person

Among the casualties of the counterculture is the Organization Man.

So explains David Brooks, and his point is well worth considering.

The term Organization Man comes to us from a 1956 book by William H. Whyte. At a time when America was the dominant world power, when American soldiers were using the martial habits they had learned in warfare to rebuild a great nation, Whyte, among others, denounced the American Organization Man as a mindless automaton who lacked creativity and individuality.

He recommended that companies, and presumably armies would function better if everyone dispensed with archaic notions like loyalty and commitment. Thus, even before the Vietnam counterculture, the Me First attitude was promoted.

Whyte’s vision notwithstanding, his utopian idea produced the dystopian Disorganization Person.

It took the Vietnam War to bring Whyte’s attitude to the masses, largely, it is fair to say, because the greatest of American institutions, the government and the military was anything but successful in Vietnam.

Or so everyone thought.

Of course, the difference between Dwight Eisenhower, successful military leader and successful, fatherly president and John F. Kennedy, elected because of his charisma and celebrity, not his experience or demonstrated competence foretold the replacement of the Organization Man by the cult to celebrity.

Eisenhower was a man’s man. Kennedy was a ladies’ man.

Today, Eisenhower is largely ignored, while Kennedy, the architect of the Vietnam War, war that was largely conducted by people he had put into office, is lionized and idolized.

Anyway, the Organization Man is over and done with. In fact, you would not even be allowed to use the term any more. You would have to say Organization Person.

In any event, many people have found Whyte’s idea enormously seductive. Not one seemed to notice that the assault on civic virtues could not end very well. Ask yourself what happens when you dispense with loyalty toward your spouse, your friends, your community or your nation?

What happens when institutions are no longer run in the most efficient and effective manner, but aim at producing creative individuality and self-actualization?

More often than not creative, individualistic solutions are not solutions at all. They are ways to cover up the fact that the person has failed. It’s like what happens in public schools when children cannot write proper English and are still given good grades because their teachers believe that their incoherent ramblings are in fact poetry.

Brooks describes what we have lost:

A few generations ago, people grew up in and were comfortable with big organizations - the army, corporations and agencies.

They organized huge construction projects in the 1930s, gigantic industrial mobilization during World War II, highway construction and corporate growth during the 1950s. Institutional stewardship, the care and reform of big organizations, was more prestigious.

Now nobody wants to be an Organization Man. We like startups, disrupters and rebels. Creativity is honored more than the administrative execution.

Post-Internet, many people assume that big problems can be solved by swarms of small, loosely networked nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Big hierarchical organizations are dinosaurs.

Among the large organizations that no longer function very well, if at all, are government agencies. Witness the Secret Service. A demoralized workforce, incompetent management… and you get the scandals that have caused its director to resign.

Julia Pierson was elevated to her leadership role because the political powers had come to believe that the biggest problem in the agency was the tendency of agents to whore around. They decided that putting a woman in charge would solve the whoring around problem and would therefore lead to more efficient functioning.

Ann Althouse wrote:

It's as if they thought having a female director would fix — image-fix — their women-related problems. There's more to the Secret Service than just making it seem as if someone is stopping them from whoring. Did she even succeed at that? Or were we just supposed to feel better about it?

Political correctness, is based on the notion that institutions will best succeed when they allow each individual the maximum in creative self-fulfillment. But this also entails ridding the institutions of all the sins that are supposedly inhibiting that aim: those being racism, sexism and homophobia.

How is it working out?

The Washington Times (via Maggie's Farm) headlines a recent story this way:

Navy sailors distrust commanders, fear crippling political correctness

Complain of zero-tolerance disciplinary environment, excessive political correctness

Should great institutions, like government agencies, the military and  corporations be judged by how well they do their job or should they be dedicated to offering individuals the maximum in self-actualization?

When Marissa Mayer famously outlawed telecommuting at Yahoo! many people were outraged at the corporate interference in different individuals’ pursuit of happiness. Naturally, they all argued that people function better when they telecommute, but they failed to notice that a Yahoo! filled with telecommuters was dysfunctional and chaotic.

When ideologues look at these organizations and declare that there are not enough women and minorities are they saying that the organizations would better function with a more diverse staff or are they saying that they do not care whether the organizations function well… as long as they “look like America?”

Just as Whyte suggested that more creativity and individuality would enhance corporate functioning, today’s proponents of social justice declare that having a more diverse workforce will do wonders for Silicon Valley. It remains to be seen.


David Foster said...

In my view, Marissa Mayer's banning of telecommuting was wrong primarily because it was done at the wrong level. If she is going to hold her subordinate executives strictly responsible for achieving results, she also needs to ensure that they have considerable discretion in how they achieve these results.

MM has also apparently centralized the hiring process, including putting herself in the loop, to a degree that has resulted in unnecessary delays in filling positions.

I think people who have succeeded based largely on (actual or perceived) individual brilliance, and later find themselves in large-scale management jobs, often fail to truly understand the way that a large organization needs to work. Example number one of this phenomenon, of course, is Barack Obama.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

When Mayer banned telecommuting she was attacked by feminists for not adhering to the party line. I did not know whether the new policy would work or not. Perhaps you are right that it could have been done more effectively, but that is for the market to decide not the feminist ideologues.

Anonymous said...

Should we be surprised that theses"organizations" are falling apart? Most were created and run by men to lead and organize men.

The military and the office place has been overrun by feminist thinking pushed by egalitarian litigation and other ridiculous legislation.

Is it any wonder these institutions are failing?

Ares Olympus said...

James Schlesinger, first Secretary of Energy, is quoted of saying in 1977 ”We have only two modes—complacency and panic.”

I think what he meant by it is that ordinary politics is reactionary, and so without a crisis, problems are ignored, but even with a crisis, who wants to hear about a boring old 20 year plan where you can start to see benfits?

I imagine many people get into politics because they want to support a long term vision, but when it comes down to actually doing something, "politics" in the crisis sense takes over, and it becomes more important to have the "appearance of things getting done" than the reality of actual change.

Probably the same happens in the politics of corporations, where quarterly profits are the crisis, and shareholders are as ready as the voting publish to punish the lack of short term returns.

So all of that is probably what encourages the ideal of the small business, where you're your own boss, and are responsible for your own success or failure.

Thursday I saw this article about Carmen Segarra, whistleblower for the New York Federal Reserve's enabling behavior towards investment banks.

The article paints the idea that we've lost something, our ability to say no to those who control your personal advancement, and so all it takes is one boss who wants to cover up corruption, and most underlings will follow, at least as long as the paychecks keep flowing.

So perhaps the "Organizational man" has been lost, or perhaps he has been co-opted by the system that rewards cooperation over competence and integrity?

My own blame game, I'm happy to stick with debt. A person with an underwater mortgage, $100k of student debt, and maxed out credit cards is not only NOT an organized man, he's a slave, and to expect him to put his career on the line for truth is expected too much.

Dennis said...
Large numbers of us worked hard, paid part of our meager wages for tuition assistance and studied wherever we could to find the time and place to improve ourselves and get degrees.
We appreciate the degrees, both undergraduate and graduate, because we earned them.
I can relate to the young woman here not because she lived at home while matriculating, but because I had a wife and 3 children, teenagers all, to take care of and provide all the things they needed at the time. Sometimes that required working 3 jobs and meeting myself coming and going to get it accomplished. Some classes I had to pay a penalty because I could not be there because work required me to be in Spain, the Philippines, being on aircraft carriers, ammunition ships, et al on short notice because that is what being an analyst is all about. The "as is" to the "to be." Since one is one of the representatives of a R&D organization one has to be there to solve problems when required.
I have to state that I am not feeling the pain of those who could have taken a variety of ways to achieve the same educational goals without creating large amounts of debt. Life is filled with challenges and feeling sorry for oneself solves nothing. In fact there is a lot of joy in knowing one has the wherewithal to face those challenges and succeed.
The first stanza of the feminist anthem is "I am woman hear me roar I don't need men anymore." The second stanza is "I am woman hear me whine. I am just a victim of men all the time." At some point we all have to take responsibility for our actions and stop blaming everyone else for everything that happens to us. It is called growing up. Something this country seems to militate against at the expense of every one.
You might want to pay a little more attention to Ignatius' argumentation, for that matter Stuart's, instead of trying to devalue the messenger. Respond to the logic presented.