Friday, January 8, 2010

Post No. 143a: Re-Posting of Post No. 111: Been There; Done That

We first posted this piece in April of 2009. In light of the continuing debate about what should be done to restore the United States to its previous level of prominence, and extricate us from the current economic malaise, we are re-visiting some of our thoughts made at that time.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

We frequently suggest that in tackling problems, we examine history, starting with a minimum of 5,000 years, and as far back as 13,000.

However, we’ve come to the conclusion that history alone may not always be able to help us out of jams.

Alan Greenspan recently lamented that those principles he relied on for 40 years no longer apply.

An historian once noted that we should always proceed with caution when we think that the policies of the past can be reapplied, and will generate similar results.

We might do well to consult physics, and better understand the laws of static and dynamic forces. (These are older than humankind and history.)

In order to assess or address anything within a dynamic system, one must freeze or suspend all movement or change, of as many variables as possible, or otherwise isolate the component at issue.

We also know that slight tweaks (no, not tweets) of a variable can result in dramatically different results.

Logic dictates that the larger and more complex the system, the more difficult it is to manage or affect any part of it.

As comforting as it may be psychologically, to resort to playing marbles and pick-up-sticks, it is of questionable value to return to many practices of the past.

Imagine trying to reconstruct that romance which you had with that guy or gal back in school (altered state of consciousness or not), and hope that those old moves lead to the same results.

As a nation, we can never re-create the circumstances extant when prior practices and policies were implemented and applied.

The world may have changed every year back then, but it now changes every nanosecond. We need to recognize this, and conduct ourselves accordingly.

It’s actually lazy and simplistic to merely repeat the practices of the past, even if they were successful. It requires far more energy, commitment, focus, and innovation to craft appropriate approaches to new conditions, everyday.

Sitting on the sidelines and simply watching changes occur without responding also may not be the best tactic.

To suggest that our enemies or competitors have been sitting still, or that the conditions in our country have been in suspension, is just plain science fiction.

For years, Corporate America used large, 100 year old silk-stocking firms to perform its outside legal work. The Logistician and his partners sought that same work, somewhat successfully, by offering a lower rate. They were smaller, more nimble, had lower overheard, and more importantly, hungrier.

Yet, many corporations were reluctant to make such a change. If things went awry, someone would undoubtedly question why the referring counsel did something out of the ordinary, and did not stick with the tried and tested firms.

Hollywood’s like that. It’s far easier to explain why “Men in Black 12” did not generate record box office numbers, than a new concept.

But consider this.

If you‘re surprised about a development over a span of 30 years, like the demise of our educational and industrial systems here in the U.S., you probably were asleep at the switch, and not paying close attention to changes on an annual, much less a monthly, basis.

We all have a tendency to go through repetitive motions. They’re safe, familiar, less subject to scrutiny, and require less effort.

UPS had a marketing campaign which referred to “moving at the speed of business.” Hong Kong is a 24 hour business city. Imagine what happens to others when their business communities are asleep.

It’s the nature of competition, and the nature of change.

There’s been much noise about returning to the policies of Clinton, or Reagan, or Kennedy, or FDR. Quite frankly, returning to those dated tactics, no matter which side of the ideological line they may fall, may not be particularly helpful.

Those circumstances no longer exist, and will never exist again. And that doesn’t take into consideration the efforts to revise history.

We can’t duplicate the economic variables. We certainly can not re-create the psychological and social variables.

Going forward, we need to craft new procedures, new principles, new tactics. Ones that fit our current conditions, which have never existed before.

So to all of our politicians and policy makers out there, please detach yourselves from your ideological goals and preferences, and repeating that mantra about what you think worked in the past.

Try to figure out what’s most likely to work, TODAY, going forward, based on current conditions, and those we anticipate.

The world is far flatter than we once thought.


  1. Nothing for weeks and then two in a row within hours... My!

    Not sure of your point here. Are you opposed to learning from the past (as in "what did not work or did not work well")? Or you are advocating junking all previous practices because they are simply "the old way of doing things?"

    I am confused about the theme of this post. I agree that large, successful, companies are reluctant to change policies no matter how attractive they might be. As someone, or some entity, gains success, it naturally becomes conservative. The usual metaphor is that large successful businesses are like large ships, difficult to change course rapidly. Small businesses are more nimble, like speedboats, and can easily adapt or change course as needed. THis is simply how life works and how business works and how government works. You want nimble? Then you want smaller, more efficient, more innovative, entities. You want stability? Then you want larger, less efficient, entities. Ideally, we want a mix so that we can pick and choose between the entire spectrum of size. That happens in capitalist societies and does not exist in centrally planned economies. A capitalist system allows for innovation, new ideas, and experimentation.

  2. Good to hear from you again Douglas.

    The short answer about the point which we apparently did not make is, "We don't know. We're not that smart."

    We don't know the answers; however, we are struck by the large number of people who claim that they do, with such certainty, and how one dimensional their solutions are.

    We simply contend that the answers are probably not that simple, and consists of a combination of the old, the current, and the new.

    Very few people bat .500 or even .400 for that matter.

  3. Inspector, exactly right. And the .300 hitters can pretty much dictate their salaries. This is why I favor free markets. You found a way, for example, to operate more efficiently so to be a less expensive alternative to your target competition. A good "product" at a lower price. What you ran into was resistance to change. However, you also found success in attracting companies willing to innovate and seek more cost-effective methods. If your "product" stands up, word will get around and you will find greater demand. And the companies who continue to resist will end up at a disadvantage in the marketplace so you will end up working for the companies with the greater chance of continued success (thereby ensuring your continuing success). A bit of business Darwinism...

  4. Douglas:

    Free Markets. Sounds like "chance" or "gambling" or "probability." How can society plan anything, or seeks long term goals in such an environment? Additionally, aren't there going to be casualties stemming from this competitive slugfest? How does society address neglected areas in development of technology or industry?

    Should we have all free markets? A mix? What is the correct mix? What is the percentage mix now? Who knows?

  5. I agree with the sentiment you express. I do not know the answers, however, and do not try to pretend I do. I do know my preferences and offer those. There will be a constant struggle for control between the private and public sectors. Within each sector there will be struggles for control of the sector. I think that conflict is healthy and necessary. I think total control of the market by either side is a bad thing. But I think that the lesser evil is a free market rather than a centrally controlled one.

    I once postulated (to myself) that government is not really much different than incorporated business. I sometimes think that human beings have very little real innovation in our institutions. They may appear to be different but it is more cosmetic than functional. Of course, I am not an educated fella, I just call things as a sees them...

  6. Ah hah Douglas, the concept of "lesser evils" is one with which we can work.


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