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Archive for the ‘Organizations’ Category

I went to one Tea Party/Tax Day Protest yesterday, a friend of mine went to another, and I haven’t spoken to anyone who went to the third one, which was not really a rally/protest because (a) it was held at a hotel, and (b) it was limited occupancy.  You needed reservations.

The reviews are in: if we are going to have a vibrant, active Tea Party scene in this town, the various groups are going to have to get a little better at coordinating with each other and stirring up the “normal” folks to turn out.  Both of the events at the Capitol were sparsely attended, and there was a disproportionately large presence of “Texas Independence” types and Libertarians.   When normal, mainstream folks don’t show, the fringyer the scene.  What was weird was the money that they seem to have laid their hands on since the last protest.  Lotsa fliers, tee shirts, big expensive banners, and pre-printed stuff.  It made me think that the rumored “crashing” that was to have taken place was of a more subtle nature: give money to the fringe whackos so that they look like they are organized and dominant.

A week before the rallies, I sent out an email to everyone I could think of asking when and where.  I had received no word, despite belonging to several groups who had active Tea Partiers in them.  I was gratified get many responses, but most were inaccurate in one way or another. Then, at the last minute, news about another gathering surfaced- this I heard about on the Greta van Susteren show.  Newt Gingrich was to be in Austin on April 15.  Then one of the known events changed times- something I heard through the grapevine, too (not complaining about grapevines, but why does my friend get the robocalls and I don’t?).  Mind you, we had all googled “Tax day protest Austin” and “Tea Party Austin” and other permutations of relevant searches and NONE OF THESE events showed up on the searches.  None, zero, zip, nada.

So, to recap: poor publicity and poor, self-defeating lack of coordination, and last minute changes leading to poor attendance and dominance of astro-turf fringe groups.  I’d like to hear from people who went to the Gingrich event, which I believe was sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots.  Way to go, guys: suck the oxygen out of the other rallies for an indoor, limited access event.  Nice!

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There are many organizations asking for money to help the relief efforts in Haiti.  And many of them are very good, BUT: it is a fact that some agencies are in a better position to help than others, and that there are unscrupulous operators.  My personal preference is to give to organizations that already have some infrastructure on the ground, and I have confidence in Episcopal Relief and Development and Catholic Relief Services, both of which are up and running in Haiti.  The Sacre Coeur Hospital was recommended on NRO by a woman who has volunteered there.  What’s important in this case is that the hospital is up and running and will undoubtedly become very important as a locus for care since so many other places have been destroyed.

I’ve seen some newspaper articles that have compiled lists of agencies, including the Agency for International Development.  As an alumna, I can say with complete certainty that there are better ways to help the people of Haiti, and better places to send your money.  Monies sent to the government, even voluntarily, have a way of being redirected to the job security needs of the bureaucrats, not to the people that actually need the help.

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Lydia McGrew writes compellingly about pressure in companies to advance, to develop one’s career by changing jobs frequently:

there is intense pressure constantly to be changing one’s role in the company. This is billed as “developing,” “advancing.” “Move up or move out,” is the basic message. Even if, as does sometimes happen, you do well at your job and would prefer to keep doing it, and even if your immediate superior likes you and would like to keep you in your present position, the superior himself comes under pressure for not “developing his people.” Ambition is treated as worthwhile in itself, and its absence as a sign that there is something wrong with you as an employee. Not even a sign, really–as definitionally something wrong with you as an employee. Finding something you like and trying to keep doing it well, perhaps even learning to do it better and better? How passe! How quaint! How regressive!

I was thus confronted with an image of some previously unknown circle in Dante’s Inferno, a place of ceaseless, meaningless motion for the sake of motion….

In fact, this “move up or move out” imperative makes the old idea of being a cog in a machine look rather pleasant by comparison. Do you want the cogs in your car to keep randomly evolving into something different? Not at all. You might end up with a car that didn’t run at all, or that ran much worse than before. If the employees were cogs in a machine, their employers would be grateful that they keep on playing their coggish roles efficiently and well and that they do so indefinitely, making the company like a machine that just keeps on forever running sweetly on well-oiled wheels. If the model of employees as cogs in a machine is modern, it seems to me that the corporate world of “move up or move out” is post-modern, a world where everything must morph for the sake of morphing and where this grotesque and pointless movement is called “growth.”

Zippy Catholic argues that this is intrinsic to capitalism.  I don’t think so.  First, the “move up or move out” dogma works in favor of breadth of vision, but also works against expertise.  Doing a variety of jobs, seeing a variety of aspects of the organization, is good training for top managers.  But not everyone is a candidate for top management.  Most people will not become a vice-president.  For the vast majority, developing expertise in doing their jobs well beats developing breadth of vision.  Second, expertise yields growth.  Someone with thirty years’ experience can often solve a problem in minutes that would take an inexperienced person weeks, if it could be solved by them at all.  People with expertise, moreover, can train others to do what they do, multiplying their effectiveness greatly.  Replacing those with expertise with those without can conversely lead to a tremendous loss of effectiveness.

In any case, the dogma has spread far beyond corporate life.  My church, like many under the influence of the church growth movement, is in its grips.  The pastor constantly urges people to “step outside their comfort zones.”  Teams of people with great experience and expertise in doing various tasks are cast aside in favor of those with no experience at all, and are not even consulted.  The result: frequent attempts to reinvent the wheel, which consume lots of time and energy and generally result in something less effective than the original design.  Maybe this promotes the growth of individual Christians (though I doubt it—most of us past a certain age had already grown and learned what we were good at), but it can be disastrous for an organization.

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Christine Rosen:

The Road to Damascus is paved with theology not therapy.

I think that’s right, and points to one of the fundamental flaws in the assumptions of the church growth movement.

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These days, most organizations—businesses, universities, churches, non-profits, and the various departments, committees, etc., within them—write mission statements. The statements are supposed to articulate the essence or purpose of the organization and thereby guide its activities. That mission statements are a good idea is generally taken as a given.

Aside from some conglomerates who had plainly lost their way, however, and needed to sell off some unrelated businesses that were rather thoughtlessly acquired, I have never seen a mission statement do much good. Most organizations know what they are doing already. Articulating it is usually a waste of time.

The literature of the church growth movement, for example, abounds with exhortations to write a mission statement and drop activities that do not accord with it. Rick Warren’s books, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church, make that their central theme, as their titles suggest. But not once do Warren and his fellow travelers give an example of an activity churches ought to stop performing.

Indeed, mission statements have all the advantages of design over evolution. That is to say, they have some advantages for some organizations, but they also have serious disadvantages. Most of the time, they do nothing; they articulate what everyone knew anyway. Some may help an organization focus on its essential goals and shed unnecessary parts and activities.

Some, however, almost certainly mischaracterize an organization, picking out certain elements and privileging them over other essential features of the enterprise. Consider the Mary Kay mission statement: “To give unlimited opportunity to women.” No cosmetics here! One might think the organization is a women’s college. Or consider 3M: “To solve unsolved problems innovatively.” One might think of a group of mathematicians working on Goldbach’s conjecture. Most remarkable, perhaps, is Disney’s mission: “To make people happy.” Jeremy Bentham would be delighted—but would also have no idea what business Disney was in.

The more serious problem, however, is precisely that of central planning as opposed to the free market. Organizations are to some extent consciously organized, but they are also to some extent self-organized. They evolve in various ways, some of which may be counterproductive but some of which may be essential to the success of the enterprise. Mission statements assert the dominance of conscious organization over self-organization. That tends to make organizations more top-down and thus less flexible, less adaptive, less capable of using the expertise and insights of those within the organization to handle change.

It’s obvious why someone at the top of an organization would want it to become more top-down. It’s less obvious why employees, shareholders, members, etc., should share that desire.

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