Monday, June 18, 2012

A Conspiracy of Compliance

Do we demonstrate organizational discipline, or show an organization that aggressively disincentives dissent?

Are we so convinced that our ideas are correct that it is natural that all right-thinking individuals believe in them, or do good people smile and nod while trying to do good while surviving in a culture dominated by the intellectually insecure who will not tolerate open disagreement by those who they control?

Do we have a culture based on the creative friction and intellectual vibrancy of a free republic, or a culture based on fear?

Is there a point where supporting the boss comes at the cost of the organization and country everyone serves?

It there a power imbalance that manifests itself in Soviet like lockstep?

Over at USNIBlog, our Galrahn has seen behind the curtain - blinked his eyes hard - and lets what comes in to focus sink in.
... I took the opportunity to solicit opinions from several students regarding this years Current Strategy Forum, and everyone tended to focus on one specific panel of General and Flag officers that was moderated by Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work. The single most noted characteristic of this particular panel was how one could not slide even a piece of paper between the opinions and positions of the uniformed officers; they all spoke from the same piece of paper.
...
We are seeing a wider variety of different opinions publicly in print today from the Peoples Liberation Army Navy even under existing Chinese censorship laws than we are from leaders of the United States Navy in a land of free speech ...

There is no defense for solidarity of mind among leaders for any organization intrusted with so much responsibility. Under no theory of order has solidarity of opinion been a strength in a free thinking society, and in the highest funded government agency where national security and means of arms is stated as purpose, that kind of oligarchy is dangerous to any free society.
What we are looking at is the simple result of a toxic command climate that stresses loyalty to individuals over loyalty to institutions. It has taken the wartime and/or intra-staff dictum to "argue behind doors and come out in agreement" as a universal.

It is the result of a culture where it is all about not having you or your boss getting "the phone call."

It cannot deal with open negative information and will twist itself into self-parody in order to avoid it - either by making INSURV classified, or by sitting on a panel where all they do is agree how perfect their agreed policy is.

Most of us have noticed "The Craddock Effect." On the path to promotion and positions of more authority, most leaders avoid public and even private friction with others with a goal to get to a point they can do something with their position of power.

They never have enough, of course, and right before they lose it all they finally throw off some sparks before they get the gold watch.

Young leaders see the habits of those who are promoted - and for better or worse benchmark that behavior. They also see what happens to those who speak up - and keep quite to avoid those consequences.

In a way then, this conspiracy of compliance is based on fear. How do you fix it? Simple - it has to take place at the top - as in people wearing civilian gear.

Having contrary opinions has to be rewarded. Give a demand signal for melee - and you'll get one. Give a signal for North Korean like concurrence, and you'll get it.


What Galrahn saw is a signal that we all do agree that everything we are doing is actually the best thing in the world and of course we all agree. We are all equally perfect as our plans, policies, and programs. After all, if we disagreed, then someone would have to be wrong, or at least less correct than someone else.

We can't have that. Much better to get out our little notebooks.

I don't know about you - but when I look at the record of the last 20 years when it comes to how we are running our Navy and its programs - I think we could use a little creative friction. I think we could use a bit more respectful discourse. I think, well I hope, that we have leaders with the intellectual security and ego to take a little challenge in public - if for no other reason than to let people know that we too believe in the marketplace of ideas - to let the power of our ideas win the day, not the power of fear.

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