In previous columns, I’ve talked about the demise of common sense in modern management, and how it’s been bludgeoned to death by our misplaced obsessions with efficiency. As tools
of our tools, we’ve fashioned a business landscape whose only real imperatives are speed, scale and brute power. In the process, we’ve created a wholly risk-averse business environment,
entirely hostile and anathema to both innovation and inspiration.
In this next series of "Uncommon Sense" columns, I’ll show you how to lower the 21st-century barriers to innovation and inspiration and restore common sense to its rightful place atop the hierarchy of modern management tools.
We begin with the common-sense observation that innovation and inspiration ride the same wind, that we don’t find them as much as they find us. We don’t set out to search for them as much as we clear a path for them. We need to welcome the good black swans into our lives and prepare ourselves to weather the bad ones with the realization that innovation and inspiration -- good and bad -- are always and forever disruptive.
We must also examine the true nature of common sense as an act of faith in perpetual conflict with unchallenged expertise and orthodoxy. Of course, the unchallenged expertise and orthodoxy of the 21st century is all about digital. The creation myths that accompany the digital orthodoxy are manifold and supreme. Not least among them are:
The Myth of Working Faster, Smarter, Better
We may work faster, but hardly smarter or better. In fact, we’re working harder for far longer hours and far less money than ever before. Not exactly smarter or better.
The Myth of Diversity of Thought
In recent years, we’ve been taught by our media masters how to mistake and confuse channel diversity for diversity of thought. But make no mistake: those who benefit most from digital tools of scale are those institutions with the most data to manipulate. Consumerism, democracy and diversity of thought are sideshows designed to distract us from the true bias of digital media: the accrual and consolidation of raw power by massive institutions, both private and public.
The Myth of Leisure Time
No one I know has any, but that’s what happens when we market and sell office productivity tools as consumer devices. Our lifestyles will always reflect the design imperatives of our tools. Just as the consumer appliance explosion of the 1950s freed us from grunt work around the house and created leisure time by design, our digital consumer gadgets -- designed initially as office productivity tools -- vastly increased our work loads and destroyed leisure time.
The Myth of Digital Accountability
Digital tools of scale eventually obliterate accountability by converting it from a reward into a punitive measure of efficiency, and feared consequences create underground cultures -- thoroughly unaccountable by definition. Four years after the financial collapse of 2008, and not a single scoundrel in Washington or on Wall Street has been indicted. Not one -- by design.
What we have instead is a society driven by high-priest experts and intermediaries who wield statistics and metrics as the new liturgy of efficiency. But like the cynic who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing, we can no longer distinguish between what works and what can be sold. We can’t keep adding zeros in triplets to the national dialogue and debt and somehow expect more accountability at the same time.