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Drunks and Womanisers

I’m often criticised for being too much of a socialist and that label often carries the related assumption that I place greater importance on collective welfare than on individual freedom. But nothing could be further from the truth.

According to various ratings I have done, and self-evidently from my opinions, I do tend to the political left, but at the same time I am very much an individual and have little time for collectivism. My socialist attitudes mainly extend to placing more trust in elected governments to provide essential services rather than relying on private enterprise. Neither strategy is inherently more or less free than the other in my opinion.

And yes, I don’t place great trust in governments, just like my more right-wing opponents, but I am even more skeptical of private companies and corporations, and this is an attitude that the dogma of the right prevents them from appreciating.

Anyway the reason I mention the topic relates to a podcast I listened to recently which discussed the decreasing role of the maverick in modern journalism. And it’s not just in journalism where this trend has been evident because it’s happening everywhere in my experience.

The podcast presented an opinion that in the “good old days” of journalism (about 20 to 30 years ago I guess) there was more room for mavericks in news rooms, that older people now say things “aren’t what they once were”, journalism training schools are producing many graduates who are “cut from the same cloth”, that previously people drifted in form a variety of routes and had a “bit of mongrel” in them, and that there were a disproportionate number of “misfits and non-conformists, drunks and womanisers”, but they knew how to unearth stories and were free to develop their own individualistic style and flair.

Wow. It sounds like journalism used to be a really sweet profession! Especially the part about drinking and womanising! But of course the critical part is not whether the no doubt somewhat nostalgic memories of the good old days are actually accurate it’s more about whether individual flair is really being repressed by modern education and management.

It certainly seems that way to me although I concede that perhaps I’m also falling victim of the common phenomenon of reminiscing about the good old days. But I don’t think so. I have noticed a steady tightening of control of the work I can do at my workplace, for example.

The usual justification for tighter controls over workers is to ensure a certain level of quality of work is achieved. If there were no rules and checks on people’s work practices there would be the opportunity for people to do substandard work or even do no work at all.

I agree that is a real issue. But the problem is that by insisting on much tighter controls on people’s work habits modern managers inhibit the truly exceptional workers by dragging them back down to a defined level at the same time as they (in theory) drag the less capable people up.

So there is no gain without sacrifice. If everyone is expected to work in one particular way and at a particular level then it prevents exceptional employees from working at a level higher than that expected. Is it worth sacrificing that possibility even if the performance of lesser people is enhanced?

From the point of view of management it’s probably a good thing. Managers are often lazy and lacking in imagination and original ideas so having a standard level of performance is always going to be easier for them. Encouraging people to work to a potentially higher level by giving them greater freedom is just too hard.

Another factor favourable to managers is that they won’t have superior employees who might be able to make greater demands (for salary, etc) because of their performance. If everyone works to the same mundane level then no one is so important that they have that power. Any awkward employee can just be dismissed and replaced with someone who is more compliant.

Economic theory states that managers optimise the way their employees work to create the best outcomes for their organisation. But theory rarely matches practice in these situations. Managers are far more likely to create a safe environment and not take too many risks even when those risks could potentially result in far superior results.

It explains why big organisations tend to be full of mediocre employees who don’t enjoy their work and don’t work to anything like their full potential because of arbitrary rules and regulations imposed by people who do nothing useful themselves.

So I say throw out the managers and replace them with more mavericks, mongrels, misfits, non-conformists, drunks, and womanisers!

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