Things are always harder than they look

Megan McArdle post on her back and forth with Tim Burke on AIG bonuses has this summary

And I think the same is probably true for finance–indeed, for almost everything.  I tend to assume, as a first principle, that most things are probably a lot harder to do than they seem to those who are offering advice from the metaphorical back seat.  For all its issues, the financial system is still providing most of us housing loans, insurance, and so forth.  It has given us more than it has cost us.  We would obviously like to make it cost even less–but it is unlikely that this is such a simple matter as flogging the scoundrels thrice around the public square.

Most of the people looking or commenting from the outside simply forget about how complex, interrelated and fragile most systems are, it is not just a matter of applying common-sense to institutions. Which brings me to this facile post by Gary Hamel Management 2.0 blog on WSJ. It starts of with

The experience of growing up online will profoundly shape the workplace expectations of “Generation F” – the Facebook Generation. At a minimum, they’ll expect the social environment of work to reflect the social context of the Web, rather than as is currently the case, a mid-20th-century Weberian bureaucracy.

There is a list of 12 characteristics of online life and these are supposed to extend to working environment. Except that most of these characteristics are not unique and existed prior to the facebook generation and have been followed by most successful leaders. The reason large companies function is a rigid, beauracratic and seemingly irrational way is that probably is a sensible way for them to survive. When young MBAs with no experience of the real world are let loose to run comapnies we get the Enron’s of the world. Youth culture is great but let us not forget that their are downsides to it, and most cultures since antiquity have tried to keep a lid on youthful exuberance.

This was highlighted by John Scalzi in his insightful post he wrote as a response to a teenage girls dismissal of his advice to teenage writers.

But at the end of the day, and when you peel away the affects of one year or another, the teenage experience — the massive highs, the crushing lows, the frustrations and irritations and alienations and deep friendships and crushes and riotously funny moments — is what it is, and remains fairly constant.

So things are always harder than they look from the outside and plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Mr. Hamel may do well to remember that especially as a Management Consultant.


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