3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on Bureaucratic Insanity
Collective Delusions, the Dead Horse Theory & Permit A38
I. Collective Delusions
Economics professor Roland Bénabou on groupthink in the public sector:
In the aftermath of corporate and public-sector disasters, it often emerges that participants fell prey to a collective form of wilful blindness and overconfidence: mounting warning signals were systematically cast aside or met with denial, evidence avoided or selectively reinterpreted, dissenters shunned.
—Roland Bénabou, Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations and Markets
I’ve written more about groupthink in my latest post on Mental Shortcuts: 5 Ways Heuristics Can Lead to Poor Decisions.
II. The Dead Horse Theory
The Dead Horse Theory is a meme built around the idiom of ‘flogging a dead horse”:
The Tribal wisdom of the Indians, passed on from generation to generation, says that: “When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.”
However, in modern business, education and government, far more advanced strategies are often employed, such as:
1. Buying a stronger whip.
2. Changing riders.
3. Threatening the horse with termination.
4. Appointing a committee to study the horse.
5. Arranging to visit other countries to see how others ride dead horses.
6. Lowering the standards so that dead horses can be included.
7. Re-classifying the dead horse as 'living-impaired'.
8. Hiring outside contractors to ride the dead horse.
9. Harnessing several dead horses together to increase the speed.
10. Providing additional funding and/or training to increase the dead horse’s performance.
11. Doing a productivity study to see if lighter riders would improve the dead horse’s performance.
12. Declaring that as the dead horse does not have to be fed, it is less costly, carries lower overhead and, therefore, contributes substantially more to the bottom line of the economy than do some other horses.
13. Re-writing the expected performance requirements for all horses.
14. Promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position of hiring another horse.
I’ve tried to solve The Dead Horse Theory with more ancient horse wisdom here.
III. Permit A38
Acquiring a Permit A38 is one of the tasks cartoon characters Asterix and Obelix have to complete in the animated film Twelve Tasks of Asterix. It’s only a formality, really. They must get the permit in the Place That Sends You Mad, a large building housing incompetent and useless bureaucrats. The two are almost driven insane by unhelpful staff who send them from one office to another on their pointless quest to get Permit A38.
Asterix and Obelix only manage to complete the task by requesting a made-up Permit A39. This plunges the place into chaos as staff are trying to figure out what the form is. Eventually, the bureaucrat in chief hands Asterix Permit A38. Just to get rid of them. 🐘
Have a great week,