Monday, July 31, 2017

A Grand Unified Theory of Bureaucracy

Today marks my final day as the chair of my department - I am stepping down after 13 years, 7 months in office. (Longer than Franklin Roosevelt was President, if you're keeping score, but not quite as long as the reign of Queen Elizabeth).

I've learned quite a bit during this time about the way that organizations function, and I wanted to share one insight. Humans are particularly good at picking out signals from noise. Academics are even better, and academic scientists base their entire careers on this ability. But sometimes that's all there is -- just noise and nothing more.

What I've discovered over the past 13 years is that when you are absolutely convinced that the organization is out to get you, that someone is actively working to undermine you, 90% of the time it's nothing more than a combination of accident, coincidence, ineptitude, forgetfulness, and incompetence on the part of those running the bureaucracy. There's no signal in the noise. Or as Robert Heinlein put it in one of his stories, "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity."

Of course, the other 10% of the time, they really are out to get you. Unfortunately, I've not yet learned how to tell the difference.

1 comment:

Dave Caudel said...

Cosmic yarns never fails to get a smile and occasional laugh from me, and this one's certainly no exception =)

I do hope, whatever your future endeavors, I may continue to look forward to the occasional post.