Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Great Expectations

Terry Pratchett coined an alternate term for describing humankind. Rather than Homo Sapiens (the Thinking Man), he suggests Pan Narrens (the Storytelling Ape).

Today, my attention is on how our love for narrative have essentially screwed up our lives.


Much has been said in the blogosphere about the Minister's pay rise. I will not repeat arguments about benchmarking, or the audacity of the Government to begrudge $290 a month to the needy while voting for a massive pay rise for themselves. Hat tip to Intelligent Singaporean, which has a fairly comprehensive listing of all the blogs discussing this issue.

If the Singapore Government insists on comparing itself with a corporation, then let it. I'm perfectly happy giving them enough rope to hang themselves with. After all, the issue of executive compensation will only demonstrate how much of the existing discussion on ministerial pay is based on myth.

In the late 90's and early 00's the issue of rising CEO and executive compensation has been debated to death. CEO compensation is spiralling out of control. Shareholders often wonder if what they are paying for actually translates into gains for a company. They would be right. The business world is rife with examples of well-compensated underperforming CEO's.

The arguments for often cited for rising CEO compensation is an attractive one. Top talent deserves top money. The CEO makes or breaks the company after all - would you skimp on hiring a good CEO? There is something in our psyche, after all, that longs for a saviour.

The reality, however, is that the idea of a leader-hero is nothing but a myth. The sucess and failure of a company is more complex then the decision of one powerful man (or for that matter, a group of powerful men). Yet, when things go right, credit is claimed. When things go wrong, responsibilty is disclaimed. Such is the nature of men in power.

I submit that it is more important for us to grow a strong team than to grow strong leadership - something this process of paying top dollar for ministerial talent has completely undermined.

My question to the Government. Are you truly being pragmatic? Or is pragmatism just an excuse to pay yourself more?


Here's a second story that I think women have become too enamoured with - success. I will not be commenting much on this one. It still cuts too close to the bone. Suffice to say that I think it is not solely a woman's problem. I've experienced first-hand how it affects men too.

(Hat tip to Zach who found the link, and to Feministing who reported the story.)


gecko said...

The sucess and failure of a company is more complex then the decision of one powerful man (or for that matter, a group of powerful men)."

The circumstances that led to the polder model in Dutch post-war economic revival lends credence to this view.

Anthony said...

55Interesting. I note the criticism of the Polder Model is that it is slow to come to a decision.

Yet if we are truly as pragmatic as we make ourselves out to be, how come we don't adopt whichever model that works? Is haste and firm control really the answer to everything?

gecko said...

Consensus is the key in the polder model. Deliberation and consultation makes its rounds to all the parties involved. That is why it is slow.

'Pragmatism' is a veneer for the technocrats in rule. There may be many capable men and women in our government but all of them are prone to groupthink due to the manner in which they are indoctrinated and assimilated by the selection process over the years.

Do you notice most of the people who think outside the PAP box have already left the country? If not, they refuse to be a whitecoat and instead focus on their profession and making their fortune?

Haste is the last word I would use to describe the policy-making process of the government. The process is robust. Yet, the process is also fragile as shown by the latest ministerial pay rise episode - those outside the PAP box poke very large holes in their reasoning and logic.

As for the firm control, hah: "The tighter you clench a fist of sand, the faster the grains slip from your grip."

Anthony said...

Having had -some- experience in how government policy making works, I'll say this - "haste" in policy making isn't a contradiction in terms.

The problem here is that top-down decisions tend to have already been concluded long before studies are commissioned. That is what I meant by "haste" - the haste to draw a conclusion without, and sometimes despite, empirical evidence to the contrary.