It must be fairly evident by now that I’m a big fan of podcasts and generally use free podcasts to get through my 90+ minute commute to and from New York City each day. Because of the much acclaimed snow fall this week, today was my first day back at school since Tuesday and I took the opportunity to catch up on NPR’s Planet Money. For anyone interested in today’s economic and socio-economic issues, I’d like to endorse this 20-minute podcast. On Tuesday’s episode, the team interviewed an efficiency expert whose references included “the 2 Bobs” from the movie Office Space. The efficiency expert observes and analyzes business processes within his organization and makes the necessary changes to manage time, save resources and eliminate waste. Around the 12-minute mark, he made a comment that I immediately picked up on.
“You can’t just move people’s desk or you’ll get physically threatened.”
This was in reference to a story, early in his career, when he moved someone’s desk away from a window and across the room without realizing the implications. It turns out, the employee had been making many trips across the room throughout the day in the course of his job. The desk guy ended up threatening and attempting to physically assault him in the meeting about the change.
He went on to say that you have to “bring people along” and explain what you’re doing before they’ll change. Being who I am, I made the connection to politics. People are people, no shock there. However, I think we’ve been treating politics and governing as parenting instead of what it is more like – business and science. I used parenting (not from a paternal government perspective) but rather from a perspective, which says: “do what I say because I’m your father/mother/authority figure, etc.” That model is built on experience and trust. Political candidates ask for our trust believing they will do what’s best for our collective good.
But I realized that trust was not particularly helpful to scientists like Newton or Einstein. These scientists made observations, conducted research and announced scientific findings but at the time, the human reaction was normal and palpable. We use common sense and need proof if something changes our world, our reality. Interestingly enough, I think even academia is split on where government/politics really fits in our understanding and studies.
I graduated from a discipline called Political Science with a Bachelors of Arts. And it’s my understanding that political science is usually under the humanities or social sciences. This points to our general confusion regarding a category for both the study and practice. Now, as the corporate world relies heavily on data and the scientific community on repeatable results, it is time for our politicians to move away from “trust me” and toward “and here’s why…”
The American people are living in a world of proof and lack of trust. It seems to me that a trend beginning (at least in my memory) with Clinton, continuing (to some degree) with Candidate Bush’s MBA experience and fulfilling (thus far) with Obama is to treat government as a business process with the focus on efficiency. This requires data, analysis and should result in evidence to the American people. When a politician offers a solution or the answer, we should look to how changes will improve the outcome, the result or we should be very hesitant to undertake them.
This might be my generation or just me, I don’t know. But I’m ready to shift governing out of the liberal arts and humanities world and into the business world of measurable data and scientific methods. This way, we can accelerate the cultural changes, which can take years or even generations to materialize naturally, if at all. Americans will be more likely to move their proverbially desks when they see the efficiency and time-savings in their lives. Assuming politicians care about efficiency and “resource”-saving, it would make sense to begin appealing to voters on this level. And if they don’t, in this era of limited resources, we should find some who do.
NOTE: For politicians/candidates in addition to President Obama who are talking within these efficiency and economic terms, I heard Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota describing this theory, or something similar to it, during the lead up to the Republican National Convention in 2008. He was comparing the government to Costco or Sam’s Club and explaining that the most important part of the Republican party moving forward is to show the consumer (voter) value in their purchase (vote). Interesting stuff and probably on the right track.