Management of Complexity

Management of Complexity (Photo credit: michael.heiss)


Nearly every day I hear someone saying, “I can’t believe what I just heard the administration is doing.” If there ever was a bi-partisan statement, this is it. Democrats or Republicans, it makes no difference when it comes to dumbness.

English: Seal of the United States Department ...

English: Seal of the United States Department of Homeland Security. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the first days of  centralized authority, government dumbness has been with us. In the last 150 years, the level of government centralization has steadily grown to levels that jeopardize the continued development of our civilization. The roots of centralization have been nurtured by an explosion of progress in the transmission and processing of information. Good thing? Maybe yes. But many good things have dangerous side effects.

It is usually true, the closer a leader or manager is to a situation or problem, the more they know about the facts and can fix the problem or recommend a wise course of action. A hallmark of an effective leader and manager is their ability to put a premium on the advice from ‘people on the ground.’ As governments have moved more toward centralization, managers have been moved further and further from people on the ground. There are myriad management levels between the point of contact with the situation or problem and the top-level decision maker. Government managers, in my favorite example, of the Department of Homeland Security, are several light years beyond their span of control. While I don’t think the recent and current heads of Homeland Security are exemplary managers or leaders, no human can do more than pretend they can manage something as large and diverse as Homeland Security or the Intelligence Community or a number of other government agencies and departments.

You see, the  catalyst of expanding centralization is the speed of information transmission and processing. Managers believe because they can communicate they can understand and manage. This is a dangerous illusion. How well did Presidents Johnson and Nixon, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and later National Security Advisor Kissinger personally manage the Vietnam War? Not well. I was there and read many of their directives. Some verged on comic relief.

A few organs of government like the Defense Department and NASA have been able to somewhat mitigate the downside of centralization because at all levels, except the very top, managers come from men and women on their way up the management ladder. They and their staffs can receive and understand the flow of information. They understand the culture. In a sense they have all been there, done that. I believe the only remedy to the downsides of centralization is to ensure organizations are made up nearly entirely of men and women who have had a deep immersion in various mission levels of their organization and to decentralize those departments and agencies that have an impossible scope of attention and management for anyone. Letting the states manage their own affairs according to the Constitution will check rampant centralization. This is truly a bi-partisan issue.

By the author of the Jack Brandon Thriller Series.



Filed under centralization, complexity, Conservative views, Eight Decades of Insights, General, information technology, Intelligence & Politics, management theory, political solutions, Politics

2 responses to “EIGHT DECADES OF INSIGHTS 32

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  2. Pingback: INSIGHTS FROM EIGHT DECADES #6 | Barry Kelly | Facts and Fictions

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