Thursday, June 26, 2014

On Ukraine: Why have we not heard from the “41ers”?

Most Republican criticism of President Obama’s Ukraine policy has come from alumnae and ideological allies of Bush 43. The critics accept the premise of Victoria Nuland’s policies: that Ukraine should be integrated into the EU, that NATO should move its frontiers closer to the Russian homeland, that the struggle with Putin is a zero sum game, and that fomenting a coup against a Putin ally is wise policy.

The critics harp on the need for greater strength, greater resolve, greater confrontation.

The debate is only between imperialist hawks and superhawkish imperialists. The policy differences are small; it is mostly a matter of how loud one rattles the sabers.

I’ve noted before that Bush ’41 had a completely different approach to Moscow and its former satellites. (See here and here).

Here is President George H. W. Bush himself in a speech to the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev in August 1991:

Americans will not support those who seek independence in order to replace a far-off tyranny with a local despotism. They will not aid those who promote a suicidal nationalism based on ethic hatred.
This is a viewpoint that deserves a hearing today.

Morning Chesterton

Not everyone realizes how much of what is called Progress is really procrastination. It is not so much hurrying toward the ideal state; it is rather, hurling the ideal state onwards far in front of us, that it may be a good long time before we catch up with it.
Illustrated London News
4 February 1933

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I wish Ace would tell us how he really feels about Eleanor Holmes Norton

A stupid and impulsive woman who pounds buttons on unfamiliar machinery rather than asking the engineer seated right next to her what the button does is one of the Congressmen dictating every aspect of economic life in the nation.


Friday, June 20, 2014

Harvard versus Harvard UPDATED

Disruption theory and the Genteel Tradition

Disinterested scholar or scared Luddite?

Harvard history professor Jill Lepore has a lengthy article on Clayton Cramer’s theories of innovation and industry disruption.

What the gospel of innovation gets wrong.
These are the two best responses I’ve read:

Will Oremus: The New Yorker Thinks Disruptive Innovation Is a Myth

Steve Denning: The New Yorker: Battle Of The Strategy Titans
Lepore starts out strong. She criticizes Christensen for drawing simplistic conclusions from ambiguous case studies, for overstating the predictive power of his theory, and for ignoring contrary evidence.

So far, so good. But even this portion of her critique is vulnerable to the Gelernter Rejoinder:

But if you allow carpers to shoo you away from every generalization before you have time to explore it, you have no hope of coming to grips with basic questions of modern America.
There is no doubt that Clayton Christensen has spent the last twenty years exploring some of the most important questions in modern business. Lepore implies that his work is fatuous; thousands of executives and investors disagree.

Harvard history professors are not in the business of writing narrow critiques of business fads and theories. Nor is the New Yorker in the business of publishing them. Lepore piece is supposed to do more than that. She hints that disruptive innovations are bad (likening them and the companies who try to implement them to terrorism and “packs of ravenous hyenas.”)


First of all, why single out Christensen’s work for its shaky intellectual foundations? The flaws of his case study based research are shared by most social science research. Unliked Freud, Christensen at least used real names in his case studies.

Give us science but not too much
I think Oremus nailed this point in his article:

At this point I couldn’t help thinking that her thesis boils down to: “Disruptive innovation is a myth, and also please stop doing it to my industry.”
Recently, Christensen has written influential articles on the coming disruptions in higher education and journalism. Lepore, Harvard professor and New Yorker writer, has two oxen being gored by Christensen and his acolytes.

As Oremus notes, Lepore shifts “awkwardly” in mid-article “from questioning the legitimacy of Christensen’s theory to lamenting its impacts on established institutions that she holds dear:

That’s how a smart skeptic becomes a clever Luddite.

Articles like this probably should come with a warning label:

Content only appears to be disinterested scholarship. The writer has large financial interests and larger psychological investments in the material s/he discusses.
Over a century ago George Santayana mocked his Harvard colleagues for their cloistered existence and their blind faith that it could be preserved:

Yet the smoke of trade and battle
Cannot quite be banished hence
And the air-line to Seattle
Whizzes just behind the fence.
It looks like not much has changed in Cambridge.


Doctors have obligations to their patients, teachers to their students, pastors to their congregations, curators to the public, and journalists to their readersobligations that lie outside the realm of earnings, and are fundamentally different from the obligations that a business executive has to employees, partners, and investors. Historically, institutions like museums, hospitals, schools, and universities have been supported by patronage, donations made by individuals or funding from church or state. The press has generally supported itself by charging subscribers and selling advertising. (Underwriting by corporations and foundations is a funding source of more recent vintage.) Charging for admission, membership, subscriptions and, for some, earning profits are similarities these institutions have with businesses. Still, that doesn’t make them industries, which turn things into commodities and sell them for gain.
Journalism has always been an industry in America. The owners wanted a profit and employees wanted higher wages. The rest is just self-serving PR flackery.


The Newspaper today and tomorrow
In the end, Lepore’s special pleading reveals her ignorance of both innovation and journalism. I’ve read most of Christensen’s published works. I know that he never wrote anything as stupid as this:

The logic of disruptive innovation is the logic of the startup: establish a team of innovators, set a whiteboard under a blue sky, and never ask them to make a profit, because there needs to be a wall of separation between the people whose job is to come up with the best, smartest, and most creative and important ideas and the people whose job is to make money by selling stuff. Interestingly, a similar principle has existed, for more than a century, in the press. The “heavyweight innovation team”? That’s what journalists used to call the “newsroom.”
Scott Shane of the New York Times disagrees that the newsroom represents a “heavyweight innovation team”.

A typical daily reporter on deadline calls a couple of people and slaps something into the paper the next day.
Doesn't sound like the work of Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs


Lepore a not so careful reader?

David Foster from the comments:

"The logic of disruptive innovation is the logic of the startup: establish a team of innovators, set a whiteboard under a blue sky, and never ask them to make a profit..'

This makes me wonder if she actually *read* Christensen's books. In The Innovator's Sollution, he specifically stated that In a venture dedicated to the introduction of a disruptive technology--whether a start-up business or a division of a larger company--early profitability is more important than early rapid growth. See my review of the book, here:

This John Kirk article is outstanding:

Disruption Corruption: What Disruption Theory Is And What It Isn’t
His point about insiders being blinded by product features is important. It is lies at the heart of incumbent blindness when a disruptive innovation starts up. He uses the iPad as an example. One could also point to Detroit in the 60s and 70s where "car guys" just knew that Toyotas and VWs were not "real cars" and hence no threat to GM and Chrysler.

Christensen has addressed this point when he tells managers to ask "what job do consumers hire my product to do"?  Often, that job has little to do with the features than managers consider important.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Smart people and strategy

Very astute post:

Why Smart People Struggle with Strategy

The problem with smart people is that they are used to seeking and finding the right answer; unfortunately, in strategy there is no single right answer to find. Strategy requires making choices about an uncertain future. It is not possible, no matter how much of the ocean you boil, to discover the one right answer. There isn’t one.
I’ve posted before on this issue.

On the problems with the case study method:

One of the real problems with business education is the heavy use of prepackaged case studies. While they purport to hone critical thinking skills, they also impart false lessons. Future managers come to believe that the information in front of them is complete, reliable, and predictive. The only thing left to do is exercise some thinking and then make a decision.

In real life it will never be that simple. Numbers are shaky and dirty data is a persistent problem. In the beginning there won't be enough critical information on the matter at hand. At the same time , there will be a flood of trivial and irrelevant material that demands attention.

It is tempting to wait until more data and better data can be obtained. Unfortunately, time is often a critical competitive dimension.
On the superficial way business schools teach strategy and corporations implement it:

Strategy and Execution: Business and the Military

Overall, I think American businesses put too little emphasis on clear strategic thinking. They put a lot of emphasis on planning but these efforts are frequently evasions of thought rather than real attempts to clarify and define.

Zbigniew Brzezinski once wrote that large bureaucracies do not have strategies-they have shopping lists. That sums up the output of the strategic planning process in most businesses as well. The end result is a grab bag of initiatives and budget items larded with some wishful thinking and trendy buzzwords.

While it is true that B-schools emphasize strategy over execution, they do not do a very good job of it when compared to military education. The approach is superficial using cookie-cutter templates in textbooks and skimpy case studies.
On George W. Bush and how his MBA training influenced his governing style:

GWB and his MBA

I discussed the conventional case study method here. I'm not sold on the idea that it is great training for strategic leaders. Decision-making under uncertainty is the sine qua non of strategic leadership. Paralysis by analysis is a constant danger. But it is possible to veer too far in the other direction. A bias for deciding can stifle curiosity. In a case study no one has extra information. The meta-lesson is that "no one knows more than I do." In real life, a little extra digging, some pointed questions, some humility, can prevent a lot of mistakes.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chuck Noll, RIP

Chuck Noll / Coach who led Steelers to 4 Super Bowl titles
Jan. 5, 1938 - June 13, 2014

Success was never a destination for Chuck Noll. It was not a road that had an ending, rather always a new beginning. It was a journey, a path that never allowed for complacency or made room for satisfaction. Along the way, the lesson he instructed was always the same, whether it was life or football: Getting to the top is not nearly as difficult as staying there.

No head coach in National Football League history has ever enjoyed as much success as Charles Henry Noll, the only coach to win four Super Bowl trophies. And he did it in a six-year span of the 1970s in which the Steelers, the franchise he transformed from doormat to dynasty, became one of the most dominating teams of any NFL era.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Watergate and history

Max Holland has an eye-opening look at Timothy Naftali’s tenure as director of the Richard M. Nixon Library:

Naftali Reconsidered
Worth noting is how Naftali worked to bolster and shore up the false narrative of All the President’s Men and served as an apologist for Mark Felt (Deep Throat). As Holland writes:

The oral histories about the scandal are “Woodwardian,” as an archivist at the Nixon Library, put it. “There’s nothing new. A lot more real research would have had to occur. But it was easier to stay with what’s popular with the parlor set, the accepted version” of Watergate
Naftali is fond of portraying himself as the beleaguered defender of historical truth fighting against the whitewashing propensities of Nixon loyalists. Holland shows that he is actually a self-serving drama queen who sacrificed history on the alter of the Washington Narrative.

Stephen Hunter:

The narrative is the set of assumptions the press believes in, possibly without even knowing that it believes in them. It's so powerful because it's unconscious. It's not like they get together every morning and decide 'These are the lies we tell today.' No, that would be too crude and honest. Rather, it's a set of casual, nonrigorous assumptions about a reality they've never really experienced that's arranged in such a way as to reinforce their best and most ideal presumptions about themselves and their importance to the system and the way they have chosen to live their lives. It's a way of arranging things a certain way they all believe in without ever really addressing carefully. It permeates their whole culture. They know, for example, that Bush is a moron and Obama a saint. ... And the narrative is the bedrock of their culture, the keystone of their faith, the alter of their church. They don't even know they're true believers, because in theory they despise the true believer in anything.
It’s a real shame because there is so much we do not know about Watergate let alone the rest of the Nixon administration.

Historian Beverly Gage on Robert Redford’s documentary All the President’s Men Revisited:

As far as it goes, the film is a reasonably adequate primer on Watergate mythology, and it’s certainly fun to watch. But it is also a missed opportunity for historical reflectionand one that, given the age of most Watergate participants, is unlikely to come around again. Forty years out, we know most of the basic facts about Watergate. The real challenge is figuring out what they all meant.
It is not true, however, that we know most of the basic facts. For instance, James Rosen has a few questions for CIA:

Watergate -- 40 years later, questions endure about CIA's role in the break in

These are important questions, for they conjure, like unwelcome ghosts, the enduring mysteries of the momentous events we lump under the catch-call name of “Watergate.” The deaths of Nixon and many of his top aides in the intervening decades render the pursuit of these questions no less important or urgent; what mattered to a nation of laws in 1972 should matter today, too. And the answers to these questions will not be found in the collected works of Woodward and Bernstein. Neither of their Watergate books the now-much-discredited "All the President’s Men" (1974) and "The Final Days" (1976) even mentions Wells or Oliver. The first answers started appearing in Hougan’s landmark of principled revisionism, "Secret Agenda: Watergate, Deep Throat and the CIA" (1984); more evidence surfaced in Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin’s controversial bestseller "Silent Coup: The Removal of a President" (1991) and my own book, published, after seventeen years of research, in 2008, sought to advance the story further, on several fronts.

Anniversaries like this tend to trigger a lot of pontification about the “lessons” or “myths” of Watergate, but not much reexamination of, or search for, the facts. Let this, then, be the chief “lesson” of Watergate: that facts matter most of all, and that our lone duty to history, as Oscar Wilde once said, is continually to rewrite it.
Here’s a key Watergate question that may never be answered now. This is Charles Colson from an interview he did in 1976 shortly after he was released from prison.

According to [Bernard] Barker's testimony, Hunt recruited the break-in team four months before I employed him at the White House. Hunt went to Miami in April, 1971 and left a note for Barker saying, "If you're the same Barker I worked with before [on anti-Castro operations for the CIA], call me. Eduardo." I didn't recommend Hunt to the White House staff until July. So why was Hunt recruiting the Watergate break-in team before he even knew he was going to be in the White House?
The question remains as interesting and as important today as when Colson asked it.

Hougan’s Secret Agenda has been around for 30 years. It is full of such revelations and pregnant questions. Sadly, few serious historians have pursued them.

I reviewed Holland’s book on Mark Felt/Deep Throat here:

An inconvenient book (Part One)

An inconvenient book (Part two)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Teaching leadership- testing character

An innovative approach to business education

Stress testing the character of future business leaders

Early one morning late last summer, a bus load of ambitious Ivey Business School students departed from Western University’s campus in London, Ontario, and headed north for a unique course on leadership. The individuals in question were not exactly sure what to expect when they arrived at their destination—Canadian Forces Base Borden.

From the course outline, the students knew Leadership Under Fire: Developing Character was a new program designed to challenge them both mentally and physically in an environment outside their comfort zones. Many students, however, didn’t fully realize how much the course would empower them to explore their personal strengths and weaknesses and assess their suitability for leadership. Some students imagined they had signed up for a field trip with relatively simple team building exercises and a fun obstacle course. At least one didn’t even bother to bring along boots and a backpack, which were clearly listed as required items on the course equipment list. These harmless misconceptions were quickly dispelled along with the dangerous and false idea that good leadership comes easy to intelligent and confident people.

Waiting for our Clausewitz

Clausewitz (II)

Fad Surfing

Making sense of the Age of Obama

They Had a Dream
Rule by experts comes a cropper

They had a dream. For almost a hundred years now, the famed academic-artistic-and-punditry industrial complex has dreamed of a government run by their kind of people (i.e., nature’s noblemen), whose intelligence, wit, and refined sensibilities would bring us a heaven on earth. Their keen intellects would cut through the clutter as mere mortals’ couldn’t. They would lift up the wretched, oppressed by cruel forces. Above all, they would counter the greed of the merchants, the limited views of the business community, and the ignorance of the conformist and dim middle class.
I think this old post at Photon Courier helps explain why academic experts made such a hash of things. It's all about the theory

In university humanities departments, theory is increasingly dominant--not theory in the traditional scholarly and scientific sense of a tentative conceptual model, always subject to revision, but theory in the sense of an almost religious doctrine, accepted on the basis of assertion and authority. To quote Professor "X" once again: "Graduate "education" in a humanities discipline like English seems to be primarily about indoctrination and self-replication."...

Becoming an alcolyte of some all-encompassing theory can spare you from the effort of learning about anything else. For example: if everything is about (for example) power relationships--all literature, all history, all science, even all mathematics--you don't need to actually learn much about medieval poetry, or about the Second Law of thermodynamics, or about isolationism in the 1930s. You can look smugly down on those poor drudges who do study such things, while enjoying "that intellectual sweep of comprehension known only to adolescents, psychopaths and college professors" (the phrase is from Andrew Klavan's unusual novel True Crime.)

How we live now: The rule of the inept experts

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The country is in the very best of hands.....

There’s an Intelligence Crisis at the White House

As Russian tanks rolled into Crimea, the administration sheepishly admitted it had no strategic warning of what Putin was up to.
How. Is. That. Possible?

You don't need NSA transcripts of Kremlin telephone calls to know that Crimea was part of Russia for much longer than it was part of Ukraine.

You don't need an agent in place in the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation to know that Crimea was the home for Russia's major Black Sea naval base.

That, in and of itself, constituted strategic warning.

The White House and other agencies were surprised that Russia behaved as a Great Power?

Of course, this helps explain why the White House and State department decided to foment a little coup in Kiev despite the risks. People like Victoria Nuland did not recognize the risks.

Monday, June 09, 2014

All too true

Ideology is making America stupid

Political illiteracy, misguided by ideology, is the core of the problem. When they look at the world, Left and Right in America today both see several billion people who are either very much like us, or want to become just like us as soon as possible. This, of course, is the WEIRD conceit I’ve discussed before, and it seems to be second nature to Americans in 2014. The only real difference is how we want to help the world to become just like us. While the Right prefers using American capitalism with periodic injections of UAVs and TLAMs – drones and cruise missiles, that is – the Left likes employing “values,” which in most places boils down to dispatching platoons of activists pushing present-day American views on race, gender, and sexuality. It seldom occurs to either Left or Right that both approaches generate considerable push-back around the world. My family is more European than American, and over the past decade, I’ve watched many of them transition from strong support of America in the world to various forms of discomfort and worse, thanks to policies enacted by Washington, DC. And if Europeans, who share enormous political, cultural, and historical ties with the United States, feel this way, you can imagine what poorer countries around the world, who have much less ability to tone down U.S. policies they dislike than Europeans do, must feel.

To many people on our planet, the USA in 2014 looks like a broken society pushing itself on others, often aggressively. While this depiction sounds ridiculous to most Americans, we must understand that is widely held by billions of people over the globe, including by many who are not congenitally anti-American. We cannot see this because we believe our ideologies so deeply that we never question their basic assumptions, Left or Right. One of the best things about getting out of the country is noting how, from abroad, the political divisions at home that seem so powerful appear trifling to foreigners, who note that beneath the Left and Right talking points there lie surprisingly common views of the world and America’s supposed place in it.
On television, which is still the dominant political medium, there are almost no grown-ups left when it comes to political and international journalism.

Three out of four for Brian Stelter

Back in March i wrote this about CNN's new media critic:

I’m left with this question: Is Brian Stelter clever and dishonest or is he stupid and completely lacking in self-awareness?
After watching a few more months I've pretty much decided that he is dishonest, stupid, and utterly lacking in self-awareness.

However, he is utterly devoted to advancing White House spin AND is a loyal, hard-working flack for the CNN brand. So he'll have his CNN gig for a long time.