All Politics is Local

By | January 16, 2018

A phrase closely linked to Tip O’Neill, which has been on my mind lately. Specifically, I was thinking about how companies make decisions. When you gather a diverse set of people in a room to make a decision, people usually try to lobby for the decision that is best for their locality.

Let’s imagine the decision was about what to put in the next release of a product. The sales people would optimize for features that help sales. Support wants features that help support. Engineers want to pay down technical debt. UX wants to work on the interaction design.

Each constituency thinks about their own department and negotiation begins. Often an executive will play the tie-breaker. This patterns plays itself out in small groups all the way up to the executive staff.

The problem with this approach is that it is fundamentally based in selfishness without the perspective of the good of the whole. Each person just looks at their own point of view and doesn’t care about the “right” decision. Of course, not every person thinks this way. However, many, many, many people do.

This is why Climate Change has had difficulty getting the proper focus. This is why insuring the poor isn’t popular with the “not poor”. This is why products often get the wrong investments. This is also why people are often miserable in the decision-making process of the product.

Policy should be global. Each person should think about their locality and then think about the global situation. When coming together, they should represent the whole organization and not just their own myopic point of view. People should have empathy and think logically about what makes sense based on the evidence we have at the time.

We all make mistakes based on poor data, poor assumptions, and poor choices. I just wish we would diminish the mistakes we make based on selfishness. I know I am fighting the tide here, my wish is not likely to be granted.

If I can convince one person to go to their staff meeting and think about the decision from the company point of view, not just their department, I would feel like it was a victory.  Are you that person?

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