Friday, September 26, 2008

Firing Line

The only things missing were the blindfolds. There they were, teeth gritting Viceroy Hanley, Mr. Personality D. Cook, teacher's pet Yoder, and our favorite Italian waiter, Mr. Vu-graph, S. Cook in their last opportunity to make their confessions before being sent into obscurity.

(As in the real world, justice is sometimes hard to come by. Putting an honest green guy like Clinton Dorris on the stage with that bunch of criminals only made the contrast more poignant.)

S. Cook showed how al dente that the ESAS gospel really was. With his chart showing the evolution of the ARES-V from his 2005 Scott Hubbard moment ("We have the ANSWER!"), he only proved the onlooker's point that ESAS was undercooked and requirements are something to write after the design is in place. Ready, Fire, Aim!

The takeaway: ORION/ARES-1 is running so late and are so broke that ALTAIR/ARES-V are slipping two years to the right. Sure there will be some crumbs thrown to industry to keep the mumbling down, but none of the real hard work will now happen before 2013, assuming the program survives November's results.


kT said...

It's going to take lots of psychology undergraduates many many years to figure out what the hell happened here with this institution.

Anonymous said...

This is what happens when good, responsible, smart people cave in to their own fears. We see a few bravehearts stand up but they are picked off one by one. We see the majority react to the threat by simply giving in and avoiding conflict. This avoidance of healthy conflict, allowing a weird sort of loyalty to override sense and reason, is a major problem in our society. We never have a a get down to brass tacks discussion that challenges the assumptions and motivations behind a particular proposal. We allow grandstanding to trump intellectual reasoning. It permits illogical, ill-conceived activities to proceed farther than they ever should have. Squandering untold billions in irreplaceable resources along the way.

How does a fool like the Emperor get into such a position? He clearly has the paper credentials- but as anyone who has gone through an institution of "higher learning" can attest there are many smart people who do well in school who clearly should not be allowed to do too much in the real world. They have no connection to the real world. Their ideas about how things work and how they really work are utterly disconnected. The Emperor appears to be just this sort of character. His personality is perfect for the academic world. So how did he get to steer?

The main problem is that the way we choose leaders is utterly non-transparent. We somehow think that having them picked from above is the way to succeed. But often the "picker" is profoundly ignorant of the job that needs to be done. Lacking any insight into the job he picks someone who he gets along with (meaning he will do as I say right now) or somehow has a "feeling about". We are picking people for key leadership positions based on their ability to kow-tow or straight-up superstition. It is hardly surprising if we are ill-led. There are evolutionary forces at work all the time - here is a dangerous example.

I can tell you that the leaders in our company are neither the brightest nor the most inspiring men in the team. We anticipate their little foibles, often vicious tempers and pathetically slow thinking processes. We have to spoon feed them and not upset them. These are fearful men who that feel they are sailing an ever-changing, stormy political sea without a life jacket. Since their motivations are tenuous their guidance is either ham handed or non-existent. In short, many of them are functional dullards and they keep dullards close to them. Their functional incompetence is never challenged- their "position" armors them against official criticism. They hardly ever ponder that they are shopkeepers of high technology and ought to be minding that store lest their inventory be rendered obsolete by a clever competitor with the proper focus.

As a team we succeed by overcoming these weaknesses in leadership on a daily basis. We succeed- barely. With inspired or at least competent leaders imagine where we could be. I suspect NASA is just an extreme case of this phenomenon.

I often wonder if it is just a form of "peacetime General" syndrome. Wherein during peacetime we can have any damn fool in positions of command and not too much harm will come. When war comes we rapidly get rid of them and replace them with wartime Generals or we are defeated and it doesn't matter. I often pray for a technical equivalent of war to purge the leadership now and again. It's good for us.

Anonymous said...

A line from a move said it best,"We are a part of the same, sick play. Out boss is a lunatic and he is ungrateful and that is just the way it is."

For a very long time, style has trumped substance because we have not been in that "wartime" situation. I finally realized that and quit trying to advance and stand up for what was right.

Seems that my record of being right is inversely proportion to my advancement. I noticed long ago that when you tell the stylish ones that they are wrong, they close ranks and kill you. When you are finally proven right, none of the stylish ones ever come around and so much as apologize for their actions.

The machine is broken. Odds are that after the election, this will be recognized. However, historically, the new ruling class will install the same old, broken parts in the machine thinking that the results will be different this time.

Picking weak subordinates is not new. Edward I picked John Baliol to be the King of Scotland because he knew that he could control him above the other candidates. Just to make sure, he had him arrested and thrown in the Tower of London.

Just remember this, showing talent and expertise makes you a threat to the rulers and they will react accordingly.

Finally, if you are not the lead dog in the sled dog team, the scenery never changes!