Beware of Dubious Things Mindlessly Repeated

If something is stupid, one technique, slavishly followed by opinion manipulators, is to keep repeating it as if it was a self-evident triusm.

We shouldn’t proceed with Health Care reform because it would be tantamount to “socialized medicine”. Okay, but a “socialized military” and a “socialized fire brigade” are just fine? “No one knows how to pay for this,” is another gem. But today in the US we have the most expensive health care system in the developed world, and statistically it delivers less by way of health compared to these other benchmark countries as well! So how are we paying for it now? Just because it’s already part of our expenditure, deficits etc, we mustn’t think we’re not already paying! Let’s have a robust debate for sure…but not by means of bumper sticker slogans.

In the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice nominee, Sonia Sotomayor, it was argued by some that she was (as she has herself said in a different vein) an “affirmative action” beneficiary. This is said as if to imply that if so, you don’t have merit! Some talking heads have said they don’t mind Latinos (very big of them), but let’s get the geniuses who really deserve to get into Ivy League schools. Really, like George W Bush? How did he get in? On merit, or by being the scion of a powerful family? Perhaps we could compare his grades with those of Sonia Sotomayor. The point is, affirmative action is meant to balance the scales of privilege and access enjoyed by the monied, as well as by majorities in mainstream society. Done doltishly, it becomes a quota system and perpetuates inequality by setting vastly different standards for people based precisely on ethnicity and heritage. But done well, it makes room for the fact that talent is multi-faceted, and shows up in more than test scores. But if your father can’t make a phone call, then perhaps something other than “connections” has to get you in. And diversity isn’t a bad argument, as long as it bridges such a gap for the clearly talented, rather than degrades the importance of applied talent. Something has to break the pattern, to create a wider pool of talented people, so that in time we can indeed move on to a truly color-blind merit based system.

Stupid things are heard elsewhere too. “Leaders don’t have time to be cheerleaders, we pay people, that’s the motivation…” But if you then ask these same people if they themselves deserve good leadership, or whether their own paycheck should suffice and make them endure inept guidance…they bristle. They complain about unfair treatment, poor communication, fuzzy goal-setting. Everyone feels they deserve better than just a paycheck.

Moreover, how did we conflate, engaging people with “cheer leading”? The job of leaders is to get maximum potential from all company assets, including their own talent pool. What else are they there for? Arguably to also set direction. But compare the strategies of major competitors and the difference that makes the difference is hardly dazzling strategic insight.

“Times have changed, we have to keep an eye on costs.” Really? And before you had to do what? Isn’t that a self-insulting, condescending confession? And surely you have to keep an eye on value. If you could invest in something and it gave you a 10:1 ROI (as to me, a proper consulting project should), you still wouldn’t do it because cosmetically it may “seem” like a cost? That’s the caliber of leadership you want to offer?

“The economy is rebounding, Goldman Sachs have posted record profits.” Yes, due in large part to the government-sponsored bail-out they received. But fine, we want them to put the money to good use. But if they pay themselves pre-crisis level bonuses, they’re maggots and dunderheads. Receiving public largesse gave you a lease on life — manage PR, manage your character, and be judicious. This is a time for measured optimism perhaps, not party hats. We need to see that rewards are more in line with realities not premature runaway euphoria. We’d all like to think we’ve collectively learned something from this economic pain.

Take an unromantic look at things that are constantly repeated, often without much nuance. Just beyond the gloss is probably a much more textured reality. Get good at spotting these and you can often achieve breakthroughs — in paradigms, strategies and tactics, and very likely….in results!