Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Spreadsheet Never Frowns

My subject is feedback. Or management. Or the nature of too-highly-layered hierarchies. Consider an efficient hierarchy. It will be three-layered at most—and each layer will communicate with the one next to it face to face. In such a situation, people will be talking to each other—and what with frequent contact, will become familiar with each other at the personal level. Our current institutions are vastly more complicated—at least twelve levels in most cases. Furthermore, the chain of command will be further confused by the intrusions of committees. Very often the feedback from customers or clients will come to the top in the completely faded form of pure numbers on a spreadsheet—whereas, when the scale is human, the bad or good news will take the form of a person making a report, one human to another. The problem of size, simply, is that a spreadsheet never frowns—but people do. And when the next layer down arrives at the office with a dark face, one must be prepared to do something about it.

Supposing you were a high-flying trader who sold toxic real estate bonds directly to “widows and orphans”—as Fabrice Tourre, formerly of Goldman Sachs, told his girlfriend that he had done. And suppose the uncles, brothers, or cousins or other muscular relations of those widows and orphans had gotten a hold of Fabrice Tourre and applied to him the “feedback” of beating him to within an inch of his life? He would have learned a whole lot earlier that he was breaking the rules of morality. But twelve-layered hierarchies protected him until now. And he may still get away with it shielded by hosts of high-priced lawyers.

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