The Original Error

Business, politics, policy and basketball; it’s amazing how their lessons intersect. My degree is in management, I currently write about American politics which necessitates that I explore policy. The basketball is just a part of me that influences my decision making but has nothing to do with today’s article. I promise you it gets much more interesting. Let’s explore.

Decades ago I came up with a management theory that I called The Incidence of Original Error. I first articulated it at a bar having a few adult beverages with my then boss. (Out of the office, one-on-one we had a very open relationship including an abundance of salty language to which no offense was taken. To us in those settings they were just adjectives.)

Paul was complaining about how frustrating his job was. To him it seemed like he spent his entire day putting out fires. I’m certain his accounting was accurate. There were several layers of management above him in two different cities and to be honest I was less than impressed with them. (Paul was actually a good guy trying to do a good job.)

At that point I interrupted and said that was the essence of the problem; they were always putting out fires. I said, “The art of management is being Smokey the (expletive deleted) Bear and preventing the forest fires.”

Earlier this year I read and added to the Recommended Reading list the book Upstreaming: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen by Dan Heath. It is the same theory, decades later. Heath has the credential of being with Duke University’s CASE Center and the wisdom not to use barroom adjectives.

At this point you are probably thinking: nice story Larry but what does that have to do with today’s American politics and policy. My answer is everything.

Two of the biggest crises in 2020 America are the coronavirus and policing. We are having difficulties largely because we are trying to solve them too far downstream. (Heath’s examples/verbiage is also better but then I was drinking not writing a book.)

Let’s look at the pandemic. We know with certainty that President Trump knew of the problem by January of 2020. (It actually may have been as early as December 2019 but we do not have undisputable proof of that at this writing.) Yet he did nothing until mid-March. He was too far downstream or if you want to use my verbiage the fire was already burning close to out of control.

At least three citizens died last week at the hands of gun touting right wing “patriots”. The dead were involved in demonstrations. They were demonstrating to protest the police killings of unarmed citizens. This is not something novel to 2020; it has been going on for decades. (In other words the fires were already burning.)

Trump and his right wing extremist supporters are only too happy to call out the looters and arsonists using the protesters as cover. Theirs’s are crimes of opportunity and asking the police to discern the criminals from the protesters in the midst of a chaotic situation they are ill-trained to handle is simply an unrealistic request. I will defend the demonstrators’ right to peacefully protest; looters and arsonists are simply criminals.

Militarizing law enforcement and supplementing them with militia is not the answer; in fact it figuratively pours fuel on the fire. Police culture (and to a lesser but very important degree) training has to change so that the murder of unarmed citizens by the police is an extreme rarity. That would remove the cover for criminals taking advantage of a golden opportunity and remove the excuse gun touting extremists use for taking to the streets; in the process making the police’s tasks of keeping the peace and enforcing the laws much more achievable.

Keeping with my general outlook that the street cops are victims of the laws cowardly legislators give them to enforce, consider how much easier crime prevention would be if open carry laws were amended at least to the point where carrying a firearm in demonstration settings was illegal without specific permits. It is ridiculous that in many states open carry is permitted almost universally. While the looters and arsonists hide among legitimate demonstrators and are difficult for law enforcement to preemptively detain; a radical with a gun or rifle is another story. They stick out like a sore thumb.

In The Art of War Sun Tzu wrote that most battles are won before they are fought. I contend that we are looking too far downstream at which point it is much more difficult to solve today’s major challenges. The forest fires are already burning, the pollutant already entered the water miles upstream and we are fighting a battle that we should have joined when it was much less challenging. We are paying the price of bad management, especially in the White House.

We have the opportunity to change DCs “management” in a few short weeks. That will bring about pressure and a mandate for elected officials to address many of the other issues. VOTE!!!!!!

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