Friday, July 10, 2009

Gettin' all renegade-y

A lot of people have already commented on TIME's cover story on Sarah Palin, and I'm certainly not going to go through the whole thing - it's all I could do to read it. It's a curious piece, one almost obsessed with creating an image of Palin as quintessentially Alaskan, and thus foreign to normal understanding. There is some talk of her negatives, but that all seems to get washed away in a tide of admiration, forced, I suppose, by the attempt to explain her appeal. But there is, along with a Web sidebar titled "See the fashion looks of Sarah Palin," which probably never accompanied a TIME story about Eisenhower, this:

Whether that is true or not, Palin's unconventional step speaks to an ingrained frontier skepticism of authority — even one's own. Given the plunging credibility of institutions and élites, that's a mood that fits the Palin brand. Résumés ain't what they used to be; they count only with people who trust credentials — a dwindling breed. The mathematics Ph.D.s who dreamed up economy-killing derivatives have pretty impressive résumés. The leaders of congressional committees and executive agencies have decades of experience — at wallowing in red ink, mismanaging economic bubbles and botching covert intelligence.

If ever there has been a time to gamble on a flimsy résumé, ever a time for the ultimate outsider, this might be it.

This is simply claptrap, not illuminating at all. That we should believe that Palin stepped away from the governorship because of her "ingrained frontier skepticism" of her own authority is almost insulting. It suggests that she doesn't trust herself to run something, and, while I think a little self-doubt is a good thing, this is not exactly the quality we look for in a president.

We still trust credentials a lot, as we don't ask our barber to take a little off the top and fill a bicuspid while he's at it. We might be starting to understand that credentials don't guarantee wisdom, but I don't think that credentialism is on the wane at all. If anything, it's become more prevalent as we tell our kids that the only road to success leads through college.

What's interesting is the title used on the cover of the print edition: The Renegade. I believe we're supposed to admire Palin for taking "the road less traveled." And this seems strangely reminiscent of another politician, one who bucked the system, voted his conscience, a press-deemed "maverick."

And as I wrote about John McCain close to a year ago:
Is it possible that John McCain, the original maverick, thinks that "maverick" implies random, unexplainable decisions, rather than adhering to a set of principles that are sometimes at odds with a party's orthodoxy? Because I think the people think that McCain is the latter, and I'm beginning to suspect that McCain is the former.
As entertaining as the press may find randomness, it seems a very poor quality to seek out in our leaders. A little unpredictability may be admirable; running amok rarely is.


Anonymous said...

credentials like "twenty years of experience" doesn't mean wisdom to me.

i think you've created a straw man, and knocked it down, with regard to "modern-day management thinking". i work with outsourcing at almost every job i take, but certainly not the way you describe it. there are contracts, but it's the relationships that are critical. the "newest" solution is bringing suppliers into the company? Tom Peters wrote about that 10 years ago.

gotta hit the sack. have to be an American making, selling, and shipping something tomorrow at the American company Microsoft.

- mcfnord

Androcass said...

[For anyone who's wondering, most of the previous comment and this one actually go with the post before this one, Hello? Is anyone there?.]

I'm glad we're in agreement on the difference between credentials and wisdom.

As for your second point, I think you'll find that companies like Wal-Mart are less interested in relationships with most of their suppliers than in sucking them into their notion of a supply chain.

And my point was that Boeing sees it as new to bring suppliers into the company; the strategy has been around far, far longer than Tom Peters. Boeing was rather pompous about their insistence that they were going to do something new; now they've found that they actually have to manage something, and that struck me as ironic.

Anonymous said...

Boeing manufactures different parts of its airplanes in key political states, and more states overall, so that it can gain and maintain political support in Congress in those states. Internationally perhaps it's a similar story.

Wal-Mart does grind down brands. Thankfully, some brands decline to sell there. (John Deere I believe is an example. Levi's is an example of a brand harmed by Wal-Mart's cost-cutting.) And I decline to shop there. Wal-Mart is unethical and cynical, and should be punished for some of its activities. But box stores are also inevitable. One popped up in my tiny home town, and I know for a fact that prior, people were drinking and sitting around. Now they have jobs. Wal-Mart's clinics are a great idea.

Nobody's compelled to sell at Wal-Mart, unlike the current debate about Google's market position with regard to news and information providers.

- mcfnord

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