The Cluetrain is leaving the station . . . are you on board?

Ben Stein wrote today about the absence of grown-ups as the heads of businesses and governments, especially the federal government, these days. His point, which is valid, is that most of the adults in those positions are behaving like adolescents rather than grown-ups. And I agree that it appears to be a new phenomenon; I can’t picture my father, for all his disagreements with various regulatory agencies, ever shirking responsibility for his or his company’s failings. I count myself among those adults who still behave like adolescents far too often, but having a child is certainly breaking me of some of those habits.

As Stein points out, whining and assigning blame for one’s own problems to others are prevalent attributes of adolescents . . . and of the heads of businesses–think of the head of any airline except Southwest, who came begging to the government for welfare checks–and governments–think of the entire Dick n’ Bush world tour. I’ve found, however, that whining and passing the buck won’t get 3B’s diaper changed, it won’t get him fed, it won’t get him dressed, and it certainly won’t get him soothed down for his afternoon nap. Perhaps all of these people had nannies to handle les affaires des enfants in their households, but around here, I won’t soon forget this lesson, which is a part of my daily routine, anytime soon.

It’s been hard changing my daily habits, just as it is for anyone. It’s not that I don’t love 3B with all of my being–I do–but I was used to lolling around on Sundays without having to scrape poop off of someone’s ass half a dozen times. But, as I changed my routines out of necessity, I found that I enjoy the new ones far more–even with all the diaper changing. Before, Mama and I certainly kept each other company and had fun, but neither of us was as much fun as watching 3B discover the world, in part because, in so doing, he’s helping us discover the world. This week, he’s started turning pages in books as we read them, and several times I’ve sat and watched him flip the page back and forth, staring intently, slackjawed, at the book, figuring out how it works.

It’s the same look I would have if a goldfish swam circles in the air above our kitchen sink, and that’s how new and strange the world must be to 3B. Watching him, I’m reminded to leave behind what I believe and know about the world and look at it for the first time, if I can, and allow myself to be amazed and feel joy at what I see.

Often, we reap such great rewards when we make what seem like painful changes in habits to conform to how the world is now, rather than continuing with our habitual reactions to the world as we once knew it to be. Often, however, we can’t reap those rewards because we can’t shift our mental model to match the new situation that surrounds us, and it seems to me that this is a greater problem amongst our leadership than the whining the Stein is kvetching about.

Another illustration of boomers who can’t understand how outdated their modes of thought are, came in today’s Times Magazine, in the Tales from Tehran interview with Abbas Kiarostami. He described his treatment by U.S. immigration officials at JFK: “I had two and a half hours of Q. and A.”

I’m not the first to observe that our government’s approach to the difficulties of traffic, legal and illegal, across our borders since 9/11 is deeply flawed at best. However, it occurred to me today for the first time that these flawed tactics are logical, given our boomer-leaders, who still believe that bigger is better and will always win the day. Although this has been disproved many times since Microsoft whupped IBM’s ass in controlling the PC marketplace, boomers are old dogs, and it’s hard for many of them to learn new tricks. I grant that this is a sweeping generalization, and I know that there are boomers with nimble enough minds and spirits to change with the times, but I have yet to see them run a major international company or government near me.

Rather than intelligent sifting of data at the granular level, relying on many small bits of information aggregated into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts, which is how businesses around the world have made vast increases in accuracy and efficiency, our boomer-leaders repeatedly apply a blunt-force approach. My guess is that using Google, which relies on the knowledge of dispersed crowds, to run a few searches with skillfully selected search strings would reveal more about Kiarostami than his two-hour date with the immigrations officials at JFK. This would not only save Kiarostami time and engender warmer feelings from this influential Iranian toward the U.S., but also it would save the immigrations officials time, allowing them to focus more closely on those who do deserve scrutiny and who are far more likely to slip in under the radar than a man who is due to be interviewed by the New York Times.

For me, then, the petulance of our leaders that Stein observed is an added insult, but not nearly as vexing as the problem of having one-size-fits-all, bigger-is-better, assembly-line MBAs running a country that is increasingly facing niche, small and finite, and unique difficulties. It appears that all of our leaders have missed the Cluetrain. Perhaps at the next station, some new leaders will get on board. For 3B’s sake, I hope so.

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  • Magical thinking…that about sums it up.

    I’m guessing the reason that Bush et al aren’t worrying more about the consequences of their policies is…they won’t have to bear the consequences. These are rich people who won’t have to worry about Social Security for retirement, future federal deficits, etc. They just love the power, like any good adolescent out for a joyride.