Political Animal

The Human Brain: Obstacle to Success?

THE HUMAN BRAIN: OBSTACLE TO SUCCESS?….I was browsing through this week’s issue of the Economist over lunch and read a long essay about the current state-of-the-art thinking on what makes great companies great. This has been a recurring and favorite topic among business management gurus for at least the past two decades.

(The essay is here, but don’t bother clicking on it unless you’re a subscriber. Yes, that means you, you slack jawed yokel, you.)

Ahem. Anyway, it turns out that while trendy management technologies are all very well, which trendy management technology you adopt doesn’t really matter. However:

….it matters very much, though, that whatever technology you choose to implement you execute it flawlessly.

Aha! So that’s what I’ve been missing. Gotta get me some of the flawless execution. Unfortunately, in the next paragraph my betters at McKinsey explain what my problem is:

One thing standing in the way of the flawless execution of clear strategies, writes Charles Roxburgh in the latest issue of McKinsey Quarterly, is the human brain.

Yep, the human brain. That’s the kind I have, all right. (Unless Brad DeLong decides to upload my consciousness into a canary someday, of course.)

Once again, this essay confirms my belief that there is actually not one single thing that great companies have in common. In fact, this essay could almost be a Harvard Case Study in the use of the phrase “on the other hand.” There is practically nothing in it that isn’t either contradicted or hedged within a couple of paragraphs.

So save your money on all those business books out there and just follow Kevin’s ever-so-simple rules of good business: manage for profitability, treat your employees as if someone were filming a documentary of you, don’t let your hopes and desires color your view of distasteful reality, and never ever put off difficult decisons just because they are going to be personally painful.

Now go out and make some money.

Disrespectful or Just Overbooked?

DISRESPECTFUL OR JUST OVERBOOKED?….NAACP President Kweisi Mfume is upset that not all the Democratic presidential candidates showed up at an NAACP forum Monday:

The head of the civil rights group lambasted the no-shows ? Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Reps. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio ? declaring each of them a “persona non grata” in the African American community.

“Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars,” NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said.

That’s pretty over-the-top rhetoric, and the LA Times story has some interesting background to all this, especially the complaint by the candidates that it’s simply impossible to attend all these events:

Recent forums have been hosted by abortion-rights activists, environmentalists, labor unions and Latino leaders, among other groups. Several of the candidates are set to appear today before a gay rights organization in Washington.

“You cannot go to all these things,” said Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff for Gephardt’s campaign. “You could do two to three a week, every week, and do nothing else.”

OK, I can buy that, but I still have a couple of questions for the no-shows:

  • Maybe you can’t attend them all, but the NAACP? Shouldn’t that be in your top ten somewhere?

  • Surely these events are scheduled months in advance, so how is it possible that these guys had “scheduling conflicts”?

The Times mentions that this is just part of a larger issue that blacks are feeling increasingly taken for granted by Democratic party leaders. That’s a story I’d like to hear more about.

Revisionist History

REVISIONIST HISTORY….I gotta tell you, it’s hard to keep up with things right now. Take off a couple hours for a visit to the doctor and you miss stuff like this from our president yesterday:

The larger point is, and the fundamental question is, did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is, absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power, along with other nations, so as to make sure he was not a threat to the United States and our friends and allies in the region.

What does he mean, Saddam “wouldn’t let them in”? I’m trying to figure out some charitable interpretation of this, but I just can’t. What the hell is he talking about?

James, this is why I think the president should speak to the press a little more often. Sure, the press plays gotcha too often, but, like you, I want to know what Bush thinks in very broad terms. And it really does make a difference if ? in very broad terms ? the president of the United States is under the peculiar impression that there were no inspectors in Iraq.

Doesn’t it?

It Wasn’t Us

IT WASN’T US….Via Pandagon, France says the uranium info didn’t come from them:

“Contrary to the insinuations which appeared in the British press, France is not behind the intelligence published in the British dossier dated September 24, 2002 and relative to the nuclear program of Iraq,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Italians deny it too.

In a sense, though, it really doesn’t matter where the information came from or whether the British are standing behind it. The CIA has already said they don’t believe it, and they didn’t believe it back when the president made his State of the Union claim either. So regardless of what the British think, the fact remains that the president of the United States ignored the conclusions of his own intelligence service because he was desperate to scare the American public into thinking Saddam had a nuclear bomb program.

So what else should we take a jaundiced look at, now that it’s clear how the Bush team was operating? The LA Times puts it well in their lead editorial today:

The most sweeping assessment of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s intentions was contained in October’s CIA report “Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.” In it, the CIA made a number of allegations about Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, biological and ballistic missile programs. The key judgments:

  • If left unchecked, Baghdad would probably have a nuclear weapon this decade. If it got enough “fissile material,” i.e. uranium, it could build a bomb “within a year.”

  • Baghdad had begun renewed production of chemical warfare agents, including mustard, sarin and VX gases.

  • Every aspect of Hussein’s biological weapons programs was “active and most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War.”

  • Baghdad was developing missiles capable of delivering weapons payloads, including biological agents, to other nations.

Today, on its Web site, the best the agency can muster is a few pictures of suspected mobile weapons labs. Given this paucity, the jump in the level of CIA alarm from 2001 to 2002 is puzzling. In 2001’s report, the CIA told Congress: “We believe that Iraq has probably continued at least low-level theoretical [research and development] associated with its nuclear program.” The 2001 report also said “we are concerned that Iraq may again be producing [biological weapons] agents.” Last year, the assertion of such a program was categorical.

The CIA was right to be concerned about Iraq’s intentions, but in 2001 it was not describing an imminent threat to U.S. security. It is far from clear that Congress or ordinary Americans, not to mention the British government, would have supported war [merely] to oust a nasty dictator. That is the administration’s real problem.

That’s exactly right: knowing what we know now, would the American public have supported this war? That’s starting to look more doubtful every day.