This is a theory. There are some people, for example the U.S. president, who are extraordinarily busy, and who have the power to set policy for some organization. The theory is that although details of their policy may change, the underlying principals and philosophy only change slowly, if at all.

The reason is that the busy person hirself, as an individual, has much less time during this part of their life to think, to sit back and to read the news, and to chat with random people who don’t share their views. They make time to talk to people, sometimes even people who disagree with them, but their time mostly consists of either goal-directed time or relaxation-forget-about-work-play-golf-and-have-a-beer-and-tell-jokes time. It’s rarely huh-i-sorta-feel-about-thinking-about-news-but-not-anything-in-particular-lets- browse-the-internet-and-read-random-peoples-blogs-and-learn-about-whats-out-there sort of time. It’s not entirely their fault. Take the example of the U.S. president. Can you imagine telling the director of the CIA that you don’t have time for a 3rd meeting this week, because you’ve already spent a lot of time talking to hir this week about whatever issue it is, and now you want to sit around and browse the internet randomly? Can you imagine how bad you’d feel if something bad happened because something wasn’t finished yet that could have been moved along faster if you had had that meeting? Can you imagine what other people would say about you even if you thought that was justified?

That is, a busy person may be working on something or s/he may be taking a break, but s/he is rarely exploring “serious” topics without a goal or direction in mind.

Therefore they rarely have the opportunity to wade through different viewpoints when they are not in an adversarial situation. They rarely have the opportunity to “get a sense of the zeitgeist”. They rarely have the opportunity to hear about some important issue that they had never heard of, that wasn’t even on their radar.

This is somewhat connected to PassagesOfPerspective. PassagesOfPerspective posits that we don’t change our paradigm during an argument, but that the argument still effects us; secretly, silently, in our “downtime” later on, we consider the other points of view and modify our own. Extraordinarily busy people don’t have any downtime, so for them, this sort of change must wait until they become less busy; which often means, until they step down from their policy-setting job.

What this means for organizations

The import of this can be stated as a theorem1. Given any organization that satisfies these criteria:

then you may conclude that organization can only update its paradigm at discrete intervals (only at those times when someone in charge is replaced by someone new).

Corollary: large, important, centralized organizations have this problem. Pseudoproof: Because the organization is centralized, its agenda or direction is set by a few people. Because it is large and centralized, these people have a lot to do. Because it is important, they are forced to not “slack off” and to instead become extraordinarily busy in order to try and do all these things. Therefore, large, important, centralized organizations satisfy both of the criteria above.

An example of such an organization is the U.S. executive branch.

See Also


This is also somewhat related to ThinkTalkAct - people that are actually doing stuff don’t (and maybe shouldn’t) spend too much time considering all sides of every issue. “I’m on a Mission from God” is the best way to get things done quickly on the short term :)

To stick to politics, having regular elections is a way to enforce the proper cycling of ThinkTalkAct, by regularly replacing the active guy with the guy in the assistaqnce who can talk the best (assuming he got his thinking right) :) Sure works better than the soviet union, which was about chosing a course and sticking to it until the leader died (OK, ok, this is a quite shallow analysis :P). I think organizations like the US Executive branch can afford to be a bit stubborn/close minded precisely because they have regular elections. Organizations without such a regulatory mechanism have to be more careful (Soviet Union, but also many firms).

Bayle, I think that there is some truth in what you say about busy people but little truth about presidents. Of course “being busy” and “reflecting” do not go well together, that’s obvious. But leaders have little else to do than to plan and to follow their strategies. It’s their main business, their way of “being busy”.

As far as I understand this, there are a number of “president’s problems”. First is, they are expected to lead, less than to listen. So they will make decisions and stick to it. Second is, presidents aren’t the big leaders they seem, they are often only speakers of a team. Probably this is especially true for Bush. Anyway the quality of a president corresponds to the quality of his team of experts and advisors. Third problem is that powerful people dislike to hear bad news, so people become more and more careful to tell them what they want to hear. So they get increasingly less real feedback. Negative opinions are filtered out as “attacks of the political opposition” and can be therefore ignored. Grounding is decreasing. So leadership becomes less and less effective over the years, until the opposition gets enough trust for its inevitable but not very original “it’s time for a change”.

Emile: Yes, I agree.

Helmut: I don’t see how this contradicts what I said. The upshot of the argument, applied to a president, is “president is busy —> president does not reflect —> president does not shift hir personal paradigm while in office —> executive branch does not shift paradigms in between elections”.

You describe something that I consider a related but separate phenomena, “president is insulated from bad news —> president’s view drifts farther and farther from reality —> executive branch becomes less and less effective”2

Both phenomena may happen at once.

That’s only part of the story. A large part of a politicians “business” is reflection. So if he isn’t reflecting, he is not doing his job. Having perspective has priority.

Well, I wish it were that way.

I’ve just met some “busy people” at their meetings, and let me say– The process is, personally speaking, overwhelming, and feels darn near impossible.

Time is given to deep, fundamental questions– all of about “15 minutes.” Which is minuscule to me, but feels like an eternity to the agenda allocator. “That’s another discussion for another time” defaults to mean: “That discussion will never happen,” since who are you, to queue a discussion that will require 3 hours, at least?

BusyPeopleLackPerspective is true. I am sure that sufficiently busy teams will lack perspective, as well.

I think Bayle is taking the right angle here- there are information theoretic analysis that can be made.

I think that Helmut’s method is appropriate to, as a response. But it is a should, that we should work towards, rather than an is, that is present day reality. We need to decipher the present situation, as BayleShanks is doing, in order to get to a future, that HelmutLeitner points us towards.

Holism is part of the antidote.

I am trying to make a solid case for OpenSpaceTechnology, and the like.


1. although it’s not really a theorem because it has not been proved
2. I say these are related because I think that “unstructured exploration time” for example reading random blogs on the net is a partial antidote to insulation from bad news.

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