Monday, 1 June 2009

An Historic Fable of our Times

Once upon a time, the Emperor Blarr was told that the people in the south were dying from thirst.

“Sire, Your Capital City here in the North has endless supplies of water”, assured Mervin-the-Dowser. The Emperor decided to grant to the people of the south the water that they needed.

Grand Vizier Bludge urged caution, “Sire, we must take care not to waste your precious water. It would not be prudent to assume that it may never run out. I must protect your Empire’s wealth.” Emperor Blarr commanded that it be done without delay, “Send water directly to the people of the south and let them use it at will, I trust them not to waste it. They will love their Emperor for His Benefice!”

Grand Vizier Bludge did as he was told, but not for long. He returned to the Emperor, “Sire,” he said, “My spies tell me that your water is being wasted by the people of the south in the most profligate and irresponsible manner.” He brought forth elaborately woven and finely spun tales from his spies. Sadly, Emperor Blarr agreed to let Grand Vizier Bludge take steps to control the wastage. Did he know that, at that moment, he had sealed his own doom?

The Grand Vizier appointed members of the Court to a Commission to control the Benefice of Emperor Blarr. He rewarded the Commissioners liberally - with a proportion of the water. They promptly used these allocations to purchase goods and influence with the thirsty and needy people of the south. This brought them benefits for the City and the Court and so they prospered mightily.

Emperor Blarr discovered that his influence and power were waning. He raged and cried out, but his Court was too busy scheming and dealing to get more influence. Grand Vizier Bludge smiled his sick lizard grin.

Suddenly, after a military set back, the Courtiers deposed Emperor Blarr and sent him into exile to beg for gold in foreign Courts. They acclaimed Grand Vizier Bludge as their new Emperor. His cunning plan was complete – except for the small matter of securing his own rear.

At once, Emperor Bludge summoned his creature, Grand Vizier Sweethart. He commanded, “I do not trust the Commissioners not to waste or misuse My Benefice. Appoint Agencies for each of the Commissioners to help them to distribute the water by My rules. See that they are rewarded generously to ensure their loyalty to Me.”

Grand Vizier Sweethart carried out the Emperor’s command, and, bowing low to the High Priest Gee Shin, installed “Efficiency-By-Healthy-Wind-Of-Competition”. He appointed many Agencies for each Commissioner and decreed that each should receive a generous allocation of water for their own use. He prescribed that each supply of water should be divided into many separate pools, regularly, and that the Agencies should compete with each other for each distribution from each of these lakes. To keep everyone on their toes, from time to time, he decreed that water should be moved from one lake to another, to better balance The Emperor’s Benefice. Systematic spillage was, of course, only a small price for “competitive efficiency”.

The Agencies worked spasmodically to distribute such water as reached them, once it had trickled erratically through the pools of the Commissioners. They all worked very much harder and longer to make sure they won their bid for their next allocation of the precious fluid. The Commissioners and the Agencies were now well accustomed to the benefits and power that came with distribution rights, therefore bidding had to be their main priority.

The Emperor Bludge announced at regular intervals that even more massive amounts of water were being distributed – and expected the people to love Him for His Benefice. And, all the while, the Emperor’s spies kept Him informed so that, in all the land, nothing was done or said about which He did not know. Anyone who incurred His displeasure was threatened (by His Mighty Fist or His Imperial Hairdryer) that their share of the water could be limited, or denied Wherever it appeared that anyone was acquiring too much influence, a further Agency was appointed to further sub-divide their water allocation.

After many years of the Emperor Bludge’s rule, all the Commissioners and the Agencies had become well accustomed to this “competitively efficient” way of conducting the Emperor’s state. They took great care not to displease the Emperor Bludge or his creature Grand Vizier Sweethart. They all now depended on their entitlement of water with the power and lifestyle it purchased for them.

Disaster was not expected, but it came nevertheless.

Mervin-the-Dowser staggered white faced into Court. “There is a massive liquidity crisis. It is situation RED. Resource Exhaustion Syndrome is clearly indicated”, he mumbled quietly (as was his wont). “I don’t understand” cried Grand Vizier Sweethart (as was his wont), “Spell it out for me”. Mervin-the-Dowser shouted (nearly), “The wells have run dry. The water has run out. There Is No More Water! Is that clear enough for you?”. Grand Vizier Sweethart fainted, but in a brief flash of consciousness, announced that “Everything is under control. All will be well. We have a sound system”. The Emperor Bludge declaimed that “Evil Genies have spirited away the water, this is a totally unforeseeable disaster brought on by malign forces”.

Scribbler Dick asked, “What about the people in the south? Now what will they drink?”

“We solved that problem years ago” replied Grand Vizier Sweethart, rallying, “They all died of something new and unknown called “de-hyd-ration”. It was a fortunate coincidence because there was not enough water for them to survive anyway after the Commissioners and Agencies had used their entitled shares. It was market forces, sadly, but we all did our best and we all followed the rules.”

The enraged Courtiers protested loudly, “Where are the allocations of water to which we are entitled?” The Agencies wept and wailed, “Oh save us! Save us! We are being consumed by The Abyss”.

· What will become of Emperor Bludge and Grand Vizier Sweethart?

· Will the Commissioners and Agencies also perish from this de-hyd-ration?

· What will become of the Empire?

· Can Mervin-the-Dowser find any more water?

· Is it really too late for the people of the south?

Is there a Lesson in this Fable?

Far too many, we are certain. Here are two from our Competitive Strength perspective.

This Fable illustrates the terrible consequences when the principles of Total Quality Management are applied by those that either do not understand them, or wilfully corrupt them for their own purposes.

We are focused on Exceeding Expectations and the massive Comparative Competitive Advantage that is the result of the effective pursuit of Excellence, which in turn is achieved through the effective application of the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM). This has been proven and quantified by robust research.

§ One of the principles of TQM is that everyone in any organisation is the Customer of everyone else in that organisation and should act accordingly.

o What the principles of TQM do not say is that this means that everyone should set up, administer, and incur the cost of, a complex contractual apparatus to negotiate and award these customer relationships.

§ Would only a simpleton such as Grand Vizier Sweethart think that, perhaps? Or is this just cleverness without intelligence?

· Or was he just having a laugh?

§ Did he mishear in the Temple of High Priest Gee Shin? Or was the sermon unclear?

§ Another principle of TQM is that every transaction causes waste and that they should therefore be reduced to the absolute minimum; we call this LEAN Thinking nowadays.

o What the principles of TQM do not say is that you should fragment a process and introduce multiple extra activities for the purposes of control or manipulation.

§ Would only a devious despot such as Emperor Bludge enforce something so unproductive and wasteful, perhaps? Or is this also clever but deeply unintelligent behaviour?

· Or was he just having a laugh?

§ We could answer this only with an objective measure of the intellect of Emperor Bludge; objective as distinct from how his Courtiers rate it.

In this Fable, the overwhelming mixture of patronage, over-bureaucratisation, over-control, corruption through entitlement, ignorance and complete disregard for outcomes, has doomed this Empire to The Abyss. A very sticky end awaits all – nobody has any reason to laugh here – there will be tears before bed time..

A Challenge for You

Please take a hard look at your own organisation. Are there any of the works of the Emperor Bludge or Grand Vizier Sweethart that you might recognise anywhere? Have you placed your faith in Economic Divining and how sure are you of your Mervin’s foresight? Do you assume that you cannot trust your people? Do you have any Commissioners and Agencies that you really do not need? Are you shuffling resources unnecessarily? Are you approaching The Abyss and not realising it?

Maybe not, we hope so. However, here is the question that we believe you must ask yourself in these uncertain and turbulent times - are you anywhere near achieving your full Comparative Competitive Advantage?

You can find out more about your potential, or contact us, on our ChangeWORLD web site at the Competitive Strength page, or discover more details on the Competitive Strength Report website.

“You’re Having a Laugh … Seriously?” is brought to you by Steve Goodman and Tony Ericson of ChangeWORLD. For even more serious information and comment go to our website and our other three blogs:- Exceeding Expectations Capitalism or Common Sense & Business Bloop of the Month Award.