Wednesday, October 15, 2014

White collar robots

My working life was almost entirely spent in environmental science. Over almost forty years I saw it change from a piecemeal, locally-based effort to a full-blown global bureaucracy with the UN at the top. It became process-driven.

Apart from an ambitious few who knowingly go with the flow, most capable scientists don’t cope well with bureaucracy. Their working ethic tends to be based on two assumptions.

The truth will out.
People are essentially ethical.

Unfortunately the truth isn’t that powerful and process-driven people are not known for an unequivocal reliance on ethical standards. As a result most scientists do not compete well with the implacable nature of process-driven bureaucracies. By the time I left, the good scientists had mostly departed and process worship was setting every agenda.

Even so I had an interesting time and probably learned more about human nature and the nature of institutions than I then realised. I now look back on it as a time of profound social change which eventually became obvious, but had been rather less obvious only a few decades earlier.

One reason why the left/right political dichotomy no longer works is that both sides of the political divide are process-driven. They also seem increasingly willing to merge their processes. The traditional left always loved process with its tendency to centralise every decision and its endless mistrust of the uncontrolled.

Today even our local electrician is enmeshed in process - trained, certified tested and certified again. The butcher the baker and even the candlestick maker too no doubt. Maybe the latter will make a comeback after a few more years of process-driven energy policies.

So political right dances hand in hand with political left because government and global business are nothing if not process-driven. We are entering a process-driven world where most young people probably have no prospect whatever of avoiding process-driven employment.

Everything they do will fall into one of two categories.

It will be part of a documented process – or
It will be forbidden.

The vast majority will have no outlet for their modest talents because there will be no tick box for modest talent. Process rules. White collar robots are the future.


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Sackerson said...

Yes, definitely. You are making a very important point. Rigid application of process will discourage and make invisible unconventional thinking,because the form-designers think they have mapped all possibilities.

CherryPie said...

An excellent analysis of where we are today!

Paddington said...

You are spot-on about scientists. As for the process stuff, it is similar in education, where too many administrators/middle managers think that magic pedagogy can make up for bad textbooks, under-prepared and over-worked teachers, and students with their own sacks of personal problems.

A K Haart said...

Sackers - yes it's the attempt to map all possibilities which is so damaging.

Cherry - thanks. Hindsight makes it visible but what happens when those with the memories are gone?

Paddington - from someone close who is just entering the profession, I get the same impression about education.