I stray over to The Thinking Policeman when he posts. I’m usually late. He posted a very interesting piece on ‘back room talk’ – readers of Goffman would be very familiar with the general gist. Different stories being told by the same people in different contexts. Most of us are at least aware of ‘talking behind people’s backs’, though many, despite being active participants, don’t understand this is what we do as a rule. Thinking describes goings on in an SMT situation I have been familiar with across organisations and the theories we use in trying to make sense of them. The classic in my area is the difference between ‘espoused theories’ and ‘theories-in-use’ in the work of Argyris and Schon. The chief constable ‘espouses’ by re-hashing ConDoomed rhetoric in terms of his force, and Thinking ‘wonders’ what any of it will mean in practice, generally aware this will not be the same thing. The metaphors used are superb.
I’m busy doing other things at the moment, but would like to write a book that uses policing as a grand metaphor for what is going wrong in our society. I generally want to support policing, and believe a good and honest police force may have a lot more to do with economic success and well-being than much written about in economics – though a strong common law is considered a vital part of any country’s ‘success’ in economics. My current guess is that our cops are as out of control as the rest of our institutions, including the private sector. I believe we can say ‘bureaucracy’ is the biggest culprit, but this is glib and more or less useless. Most of us do not spend much time doing what is needed or worthwhile. One could call this the Pareto Principle, but again what’s the point? What we need is not labels, but ways to change.
My broad thesis for a long time has been, if you like, that ‘incompetence rules’. The only way to deal with incompetence, personal or organisational, begins in being able to recognise and admit it. These are skills we generally don’t have. It may be so bad, that we only start to get to grips with incompetence in war, when we realise our lions are led by donkeys. If I’m right, we need to look at our society in a very different way, including such matters as what our current education, recruitment, selection and training processes are really achieving. Many of our ‘answers’ may be major parts of the problem.