authority, budget, bureaucracy, business, Innovation, noneffective, opinion, politics, public sector, solution
Let’s take the perspective of a bureaucrat. His or her authority is in large part derived from the budget he or she commands, and the number of people managed. What is therefore his or her unstated objective? To increase the budget commanded, or at least, to ensure the budget is maintained. Spend less one year but attain the job’s objectives, and superiors could reduce next year’s budget, with a corresponding reduction in authority. No good.
So to simplify, the assertion is that bureaucracy’s objective is to spend. Now the private sector also spends. A private enterprise spends on business solutions. In that environment, solutions are judged by the ability to address a problem more effectively, which usually includes a reduction in cost. And so, if a bureaucrat would spend on effective solutions, these would point out inefficiencies and the fact that the same job could be done with less. This is in direct conflict with a bureaucracy’s survival. And so, a bureaucracy not only has an interest to increase spending, but it has to make sure that whatever “solutions” it acquires never reveal its own inefficiencies.
Bureaucracies will of course advertise their appetite for solutions. But saying something and meaning it are different things. And so, there are many more than willing to sell just such “solutions” to bureaucracies: the ineffective type. These are usually the out of context type “fixes” concentrating on “blind” efficiency, measuring quantity but not quality. As an example, instituting a workflow management solution that tracks the number of meetings as proof of work being done. Never-mind whether worthwhile conclusions or good decisions are being reached.
Now let’s step back to effective solutions. The ultimate in solution effectiveness renders a job obsolete. In the private sector that works out well since innovation creates new problems to be solved and thus new jobs (Clay Christensen of course contends that even the private sector is not investing in sustainable innovation lately, but let’s leave that aside for now). So unlike the private sector, bureaucracies have to be ever vigilant they don’t work themselves out of a job. That is because they do jobs which are supposed to be around forever addressing unchanging societal needs, like social security.
But from what we know so far about the universe and the life it supports, nothing is forever. So why should bureaucracies? What if societal needs are changing and not static as bureaucracies appear to assume? Why shouldn’t bureaucracies adopt solutions that put them “out of business” and force them to innovate new jobs that address more complex problems beneficial to the improvement of society at large? What if we found a way to incentivize bureaucracies to reward innovation and risk? What if the bureaucratic concept itself is an “unnatural” invention that doesn’t reflect the true characteristics of social systems? What if bureaucrats themselves live a false sense of fulfillment that resumes to stability and job security but traps their higher human aspirations for creativity, competitiveness and continual renewal, for challence and change? What if bureaucracies are bad for everyone involved and there is a smarter way to fulfilling the purpose they presumably serve?