Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Understanding Trump: War on Mount Olympus

What we have here is a failure to communicate

Tucker Carlson on Dave Rubin (26 October 2018):

Trump “asks the question at the core of whatever the issue is that is the one question that everyone has been avoiding because they don't have the answer to it”

This reminded me of a story that organizational scholar Charles Handy used to illustrate the differences between two organizational cultures.  Handy moved from a large, bureaucratic organization to an ill-defined role with an entrepreneurial investment bank.  He was appalled at the slap dash way things were run.

Clearly, some  serious professional project appraisal was urgently needed. Luckily, I just happened to have brought along with me from my previous organization a set of procedures and tables for project appraisal.  I could readily adapt these, and then I could propose introducing a little more system nd procedure into the current craziness.

In a week I was ready. The chairman arranged for me to present my ideas to a meeting of the board. They all listened very attentively and politely.
At the end, the chairman thanked me for all the work I had put into I, and then observed, “I suppose a project would have to be very marginal to justy all this analysis and procedure?”

“Well, I said, “it's obviously vital to marginal propositions, but you can't even know if it's marginal until you've done this kind of formal analysis.”

“Hmm. You see, we're probably wrong,” (in the tone of voice that Englishmen use when they know they're not), “but in this group we've always thought that we got success not by making better decisions on marginal propositions than our competitors did, but by making quicker decisions on obvious propositions.”

In the end, I realized that I had a different cast of mind and left before they threw me out.

For three decades Republicans and Democrats, neoliberals and neoconservatives, debated the proper mix of tax incentives, transfer payments, and trade concessions required to bring China into the New World Order. Trump had no time for that: he wanted to know why it was good for America to send good jobs, even vital jobs, to a potential adversary.  His rude questions proved to be more popular than the conventional answers Republicans usually offered to the conventional questions.

Only Trump, a man who had spent decades leading companies with a Zeus culture would base a campaign and a presidency on asking rude questions the Acela Blob wants to bury.

It is not surprising that a Zeus president was going to clash with an Apollo bureaucracy and their media clones.

Zeus vs Apollo

Handy defines four basic organizational cultures  which he names after Greek gods: Zeus, Apollo, Athena, and Dionysus.

Zeus cultures are entrepreneurial.  They operate in the out-sized shadow of the leader.  They excel at speed of decision and in turning decisions into action. They have little time for procedures and policy manuals.  Their strength comes from a shared mindset and commitment to the leader's goals and vision.

Zeus does not write; he speaks eyeball to eyeball if possible, if not, then by phone.
As a politician Zeus tweets directly to the voters over the heads of his bureaucratic gatekeepers, media minders, and media deciders.

Apollo cultures are classic bureaucracies. They focus on rules, procedures, flow charts, and org charts.  They value stability and predictability.

The Apollo style is excellent when one can assume that tomorrow will be like yesterday.

What he have seen in Washington for the past three years is more than a clash of cultures.  The Apollo bureaucracy, with breath-taking arrogance, decided that Trump's style was not merely unconventional but wrong and dangerous.  They want an end to the rude questions that they cannot answer.

They demand not merely independence from the president, but supremacy over the executive branch.

The irony, and maybe the tragedy is this: Trump's style, the Zeus style, is the style and culture best suited for turbulent and chaotic times.

Tomorrow is not like yesterday.   Pretending that the procedures, norms and protocols based on the presumption of stability will work in the midst of an unprecedented crisis is foolish, self-serving, and futile.

The bureaucratic/media Apollos will not save us; they very well may destroy our economy and what is left of our tattered social fabric.


Conservative anger and the Reagan legacy

How Reagan became Reagan: The Texas Earthquake of 1976

Who’s afraid of a Republican landslide?



David Foster said...

I have had a somewhat related thought: Much of the hostility toward Trump is because of his thought process, which is basically of an intuitive/pattern-recognizing nature. Whereas government officials, academics, and journalists tend to have a strictly deductive mental process, working within the box of what they have been taught.

I'm more of a deductive reasoner than is Trump, but I have enough of the intuitive/pattern-recognizing mode to realize the value in it. The people I'm referring to do not.

craig said...

I think that's right. Trump is also "action-oriented" something academics, bureaucrats, consultants, and journalists are not.

They want to "be right" and don't care if that means waiting two weeks for more data and analysis. Trump wants to move in the right direction and understands that doing so today is better than waiting for a better map.

The key thing is that we are talking about differences in styles, while the press assumes that there is only one style (the one they have) and any deviation from that style represents failure.