Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sunday Globe Special: Populism a Bad Idea

If you are trying to build a New World Order:

"The leaders we deserve in the age of populism" by Joshua Macht   July 28, 2016

We’re witnessing the dark undertow of our current international wave of populism is tearing apart all that has been loosely stitched together, whether it be culture, class, or country. Those leading this unraveling are riling up the masses by stoking their distrust of the system and the elites who run it.

Our current predicament would not have surprised W. Edwards Deming, one of the titans of management thinking, who came of age in a postwar world shattered physically and culturally by the tsunami of fascism. His ground-breaking management ideas swiftly made sense of a broken globe and guided its reconstruction.

He called it Total Quality Management — the widespread success of that philosophy has put workers from around the world in direct competition with one another, making it all but impossible to return to the halcyon days of American manufacturing dominance.

The role of the leader is to ensure that we not only see the bigger picture but also understand our role within it.

Right now, however, those aiming to assume power seem much more intent on playing up all that divides us. And this comes at a cost.

The difficulty with the politics of divisiveness is that it creates a chain reaction: Division begets more division. Consider the Brexit. No sooner had the United Kingdom voted out of the European Union, than the Scots began floating secession again. The Northern Irish weren’t far behind. In London, thousands signed a petition to secede from the United Kingdom. The problem, as Deming recognized, is that deeper and deeper subdivisions only make the act of leadership that much more challenging. Just look at the United Kingdom, where they are struggling to reconcile their widespread desire to be separate with the economic need to be part of a common market.

Fact is, the world is more connected than ever — economically and technologically. We see this most poignantly when we watch the live streaming of a black man gasping for his final breath after he has been shot by police, or when we click through the postings from a stroller-strewn promenade in France. In an instant, we are collectively shocked, angered, and horrified. It’s as though the world is feeling one giant shuddering effect together.

The leader’s job is to reinforce how we can all work toward a common purpose. Truly effective leaders transform an organization by cogently articulating the changes that are needed; they also maintain respectful communications across every boundary.

It's politically-correct fascism they are advocating.

Deming’s brand of leadership allows people to flourish because they have deep trust in their leaders as well as in one another across an array of subdivisions. Populism, too, has an important role to play. Upending a failed system and the leaders who perpetuate it is very much in the spirit of Deming.

Of course, capsizing the current order comes with consequences: Who will lead us back together after the revolution and how? What type of leader can at once cater to our individualism and still bring us together towards a greater good?

This is where Deming’s work and insights become so crucial.

At the core, he believed that workers are often stymied because they are put into bad systems. Deming tells us that “a bad system will beat a good person every time.”

That explains the failed presidencies.

The fundamental way to improve, according to Deming, is for leadership to build trust across an ecosystem of silos, vendors, and partners who tend to have a natural suspicion of one another. Deming set out to capture his leadership philosophy in 14 points that are well worth reviewing. Three of these stand out as most relevant to the style of leadership that seems so direly needed today — and yet so lacking in today’s political arena.

The company government

Isn't that an argument FOR a Trump?

Building trust among a diverse set of people across a company — much less a nation — is no easy task; but it feels nearly impossible at a time when our faith in politicians, law and order, religion, and other societal institutions may be at an all time low. Continued job losses and wage stagnation aren’t helping the situation. Moreover, our heady pace of societal and technological change appears to create the perfect breeding ground for fear, anxiety, and fundamental distrust.

Deming understood these root causes of distrust and discontent. Toward the end of his life, he even conceded that his leadership ideas would have trouble taking hold in world that seems intent on dividing us from a very early age:

These unknowable losses appear to be accumulating rapidly right now in painful ways as we watch the death toll rise from all that separates us. Unfortunately, our current crop of world leaders — with far too few exceptions — seem to exacerbate the polarization around the world that has turned so bloody.

Deming implies that we work in complex systems with forces of good and evil always in play; perhaps the single most important responsibility of our top leaders is to artfully mold and shape this dynamic to create shared success. All systems are rigged, of course. But great leaders adjust the rigging so as to capitalize on human potential, not destroy it.

The great danger that we face today is that our leaders are perpetuating a bad system that leaves out so many and caters to so few. Finding a better way will require a transformative leader who is not only persuasive but offers a compelling understanding of all that ails the current order. It’s not about being an insider or outsider. It’s about leadership that has a deep understanding of how things work and can suggest new ways of accomplishing common goals.

This also means that as a populace we need to be much more mindful of how all that separates us also unites us, as Robert Frost showed us so long ago. The leader’s role in this process is to show us the commonality among society’s striations. Instead of stoking our differences, we need an approach that demonstrates how it’s precisely our deep-seated diversity that can be the heart of our strength. None of this is easy. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult. But worth the risks.

All of this, however, points toward a much more nuanced and enlightened view of populism — one that simply might be out of reach for our current presidential hopefuls. Perhaps, instead, it’s time now to look beyond the current roster of political leaders, who all feel sadly compromised, and start to think now about what must be done to groom the next generation who might work together to maintain strong relationships across all that divides us. What would it take to develop leaders who will act plainly to build trust among their constituents and peers and not just talk about building walls or bridges? A healthy dash of Deming might go a long way in this process.

Our history is one of dramatic swings from periods of strife and conflict to reunification and back again. Right now, it feels as though everything is coming apart in brutal fashion. Given the right leadership, we can come together to mend what that is broken.

But we should also be honest about where we are headed. There is no undoing globalization, international trade, instant communication. We’re approaching uncharted territory, and who knows where the boundaries will be redrawn. “We are here,” Deming advised, “to make another world.”

Joshua Macht is executive vice president and group publisher at Harvard Business Review Group.


Or not:

"Don’t blame the masses" by Stephen Kinzer   August 03, 2016

The decision to invade Iraq continues to shape the world.

The countries we are told to consider our chief adversaries: Russia and China.

Because we interpreted the end of the Cold War as the ultimate vindication of America’s economic system, we intensified our push toward the next level of capitalism, called globalization. It was presented as a project that would benefit everyone. Instead it has turned out to be a nightmare for many working people. Thanks to “disruption” and the “global supply chain,” many American workers who could once support families with secure, decent-paying jobs must now hope they can be hired as greeters at Walmart. Meanwhile, a handful of super-rich financiers manipulate our political system to cement their hold on the nation’s wealth.

Our leaders told us that the end of the Cold War would make America more powerful than ever, that we had to invade Iraq because Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, and that deregulating our economy and signing trade deals would improve the lives of ordinary people. We cannot be surprised that as the scope of those deceptions became clear, people would become angry.

American elites are hardly the only ones who have cynically misled their people. The same happened in Europe.

Blaming the masses for stupidly supporting demagogic politicians is mistaken. People quite reasonably resent what their leaders have done to them over the last quarter century. They demand something different, whatever it is. That is the central cause of the new world disorder....

As it was meant to be? 

Order must be brought out of chaos, right?


"Today, as in the 1800s, populists see democracy as a missed revolution" August 07, 2016

In his alarming Ideas piece, “Walls against the wave” (July 31), Joshua Macht gets it wrong, especially his shallow understanding of populism.

The populist movement of the late 1800s was an attempt to build a democratic movement large enough to confront the overwhelming power of corporations, big banks, monopolistic railroads, and wealthy individuals who controlled the economic and social life of the country with an iron fist. It built a movement in a democratic manner, each person having a say, and eventually had several hundred thousand members in its organization and affected millions of people.

In its final flowering as a third political party, known as the People’s Party, it was a grand coalition of farmers and industrial workers who tried to organize the people against the organized money interests that controlled the economy, state and federal government, the newspapers, education, foreign policy, and the very rules of the American political process itself.

It was this corporatized state that the populists attempted to bring under democratic control. They realized that democracy was a missed revolution in America. The populists did not triumph, but they did show the promise of democracy, and what organized people could do when they worked together.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because the same conditions exist today.

What we don’t need now is a new management system or a charismatic leader. What we do need is a true populist movement, one that will educate Americans about what a democratic country could really be like.

Len Solo, Marlborough."

"There’s a lighter side of populism’s ‘dark undertow’" August 07, 2016

RE “WALLS against the wave”: The subhead of Joshua Macht’s Ideas piece, “How to manage the dark undertow of a populist surge,” makes populism sound quite sinister.

But my dictionary defines it as “a political philosophy supporting the rights and power of the people in their struggle against the privileged elite.” That does not sound sinister at all.

It seems to me that we are seeing, here and now in the United States, two versions of populism. The Bernie Sanders version is based on the fact that many of our representatives in Congress vote with the people who give them a lot of money, rather than with the common people. As Sanders says, we are dangerously close to oligarchy.

The Sanders message sounds like true democracy to me. Contrast that with the Trump message, which, as Macht suggests, is similar to what we are seeing in some other countries. An example is the near-election of Norbert Hofer in Austria. This form of populism is characterized by xenophobia and chauvinism. The similarity between “America first” and “Deutschland uber alles” is striking.

As Hillary Clinton said, quoting Franklin Roosevelt, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear of terrorists may be reasonable, but general fear of Muslims, Arabs, etc. is irrational.

Augustin H. Parker, Marblehead"

I've kinda hit a Waterloo at this point regarding the history of populism.