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Industrial Scale

For the last hundred years or so, corporations feverishly prepared for a future few of them lived to experience. Business schools, knowing who butters their toast, have actively colluded in this pursuit. Individuals, faced with a future increasingly dominated by The Big Boys, have often chosen to join in the grand charade rather than suffer the consequences of bucking the apparently inexorable system. All suited up now with no place to go, the ranks of unemployed managers expand while ever more newly-minted masters of a moribund form of administration enter the fray.

What they're finding out there today is really no different than what their great grandfathers found: employers capable of insisting upon unconscionable irony. People struggling to hum along to tunes they do not really believe in.

This land grab for eternal exponential growth, the petty insistence on applying industrial-scale regulation strategies to operations too large to manage or too small to warrant such bureaucracy. Value creation displaced with slight-of-hand balance sheets and indictable (but usually not quite convict-able) income statements. A shell game played by touts to soak the gullible, of which they presume an infinite supply when there are actually ever fewer.

It's not a credit crunch, it's a credibility crunch. It's not a downturn in the markets, but evidence of markets designed to perform in ways ever fewer are even interested participating in. It's a dream turned nightmare. Sure, it would be great if, by cleverly accumulating ever more debt within an ever-expanding economy, we'd all outrun the unsustainable premise while trickling down prosperity on even the least of us. It actually doesn't work that way. Never has. (Evidence: the number of organizations gobbled up just to bolster 'temporary' sales shortfalls with a larger—albeit deeply indebted—pie, and the really, really successful ones who evaporated when their deliberately-constructed bubble burst. --- kinda sounds like the sub-prime mortgage debacle, where individuals were convinced they could manage their personal finances just like The Big Boys manage their corporate ones.)

This curious form of economy has migrated into government, non-profits, even social systems. We plan, track, then intend to control—we really do—even when, especially when, conditions shift into the uncontrollable. (We hold more firmly to our joysticks then.)

Here's the buried lead: most work is not industrial, yet we routinely employ industrial-scaled techniques to much of our work.

We lost the ability to relate. It's simple to undermine this natural human ability. Plan your future, then treat the plan as the arbiter of reality. Judge people by behaviors, not intentions, and make scant effort to understand intentions. Reward by performance to expectations, rather than by performance to conditions on the ground. Refuse to relate in any way except arm's-length, metrics-bound formality. Build your fiefdom and defend its boundaries.

Ninety years ago, Henry Lawrence Gantt declared that industry had lost its guiding compass, replacing it with profit. He claimed that if a company produces value, profits would follow, but if a company satisfied itself with merely pursuing profits, society would (and should) clamor in and take the reins away. This turns out to have been a prescient prediction of where our health care 'industry' has turned out to be today: The relational transformed into the industrial. How's that working for you, for us?

I've grown out of even being interested in working with such Big Dumb Companies.

The way it is never was the way it was ordained to be. The industrialists are engaging in yet another desperate attempt to maintain a moot status quo. They could succeed. There are plenty of organizations flying under that radar, those who accept that they are not industrial, and gain no benefit from industrial aspirations.

I am watching a massive project spend years developing their master program plan, which never informs those actually doing the work. This is vanity, the vanity of systems thinking twisted into mechanical decomposition. Their lunch is already cooked, and will be eaten by others. They will be surprised. Again. You and I won't be.

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