Bureaucracy as an extinction event

I saw another great disaster movie yesterday.

The special effects were superb and the script writers clearly knew their purpose – create scenes where big disasters and narrow escapes occur every 12.8 seconds.

Some disaster movies seem to feel the need for an escaped psycho or a pointed series of emotional scenes where people attempt to seriously portray drama while waiting for the next volcanic eruption.

This time there was no perceived need for an escaped psycho to add drama.  There were emotional scenes to help us identify with the characters and see them as complex three dimensional people … as long as the drama didn’t get in the way of the next hurtling airplane that nearly took their heads off.

As always though, the government discovered the looming disaster years before they let the public know.  Apparently we would all panic and the governments think it would be better to get some of the world’s leading scientists together in secret to work on the solution.

As always they thought they had a long lead time, based on what the scientists thought.  And as always the small group of scientists was wrong.

So things got desperate and the small elite group of scientists rushed through things at the last minute while the rest of the world went to hell.

In this movie the scientists had about three years to save humanity.  One year was taken up with confirming their fears and secret lobbying.  Then two years was left for a secret project to save mankind.

In the end they did pretty well compared to what might have happened – they saved about a quarter of a million people people out of 6 billion.

But while they were studying away and forming their secret plans for three years, all of the smartest people in MIT, IBM, Google and Swanbourne TAFE, were inventing new toothbrushes or looking into improved web browsers.

In reality you would hope that we would make the threat known as soon as possible to get all the world’s scientists and students working on the threat to our existence rather than having our future depend on a special government run project to build unprecedented technology in a tight timeframe.

Especially given the recent (last 20 years) track record of defense contractors building fighter jets, submarines and other relatively easy vehicles.

Sadly, the movie was probably quite accurate in what could happen.  A group of politicians and a small group of scientists and engineers would try to fix things themselves, relying on one solution and their own limited understanding of the situation.

Then, rather than mobilising thousands or millions of intelligent people, our future would depend on a single multi-billion dollar project being delivered on time (or early) when the history of such projects suggests they will never do so.

But I guess it would be an ironic end to the human race – depending on one large, secret and highly bureaucratic  project for our survival and then becoming extinct as the final deadline flies by and all we have to show for the project is a super-large project plan and 18 special committees to allocate the blame for our extinction…. all while some enterprising kids at a university were inventing a solution that could have saved us … but had no funding or opportunity to pilot it.

I guess if the dinosaurs were wiped out by a comet, it is fitting that our extinction event should be our addiction to bureaucracy.

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About James King

I coach organisations in how to better make use of the untapped talent they have in their people and to explore new ways of understanding and solving new and old problems I live in Sydney with my wife and daughter and have no real hobbies beyond the usual boring ones of reading, writing and watching tv.
This entry was posted in odd or rambling, Organisational change. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bureaucracy as an extinction event

  1. Jon says:

    Hmm. Let me guess. Was it 2012?

  2. James King says:

    Yep. Though it could also have been deep impact. Let’s just hope if it becomes a real project then it won’t be done in secret by one team of scientists who get it all wrong like in the movie.

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