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Draining the Reservoir?

22 June 2017

When the results of the British election came in on June 8, I posted a blog that I had written when the election was first announced, on April 18. I can't say that I called the surprising result, but I felt that my earlier comments were close enough to take them public. So, confidence intact, here come some early comments about the future of the Trump presidency.

I am a pattern recognizer, who defines strategy as pattern in action. Watch what people in power do, and don’t do, not just what they say. The pattern in the actions and inactions of Donald Trump since his election seems evident to me. Consider this:

When the results of the British election came in on June 8, I posted a blog that I had written when the election was first announced, on April 18. I can't say that I called the surprising result, but I felt that my earlier comments were close enough to take them public. So, confidence intact, here come some early comments about the future of the Trump presidency.

I am a pattern recognizer, who defines strategy as pattern in action. Watch what people in power do, and don’t do, not just what they say. The pattern in the actions and inactions of Donald Trump since his election seems evident to me. Consider this:

  • Massive cuts proposed in the budgets of some key American departments, including State
  • Many significant government posts left unfilled, some after firing the incumbents
  • Certain cabinet secretaries appointed who are diametrically opposed to the mission of their department.
  • Fights picked with many of America’s most trusted allies—including Angela Merkel, of all people—plus the badmouthing of NATO and the EU, while cozying up to the likes of Putin and Erdogan
  • Proposed tax breaks that would squeeze the government while exacerbating income inequalities, a major grievance of the very people who elected him
  • Despite all the promises, surprisingly little enacted legislation

All of this cannot be explained by a normal neoliberal agenda. (And surely Donald Trump cannot be so totally under the influence of Steve Bannon’s abnormal one.) The pattern—namely strategy—seems evident: Donald Trump is determined to dismantle the American government. He is not just draining the swamp; he is emptying the reservoir. I am not particularly paranoid, nor do I tend to fantasize, but I do know a pattern when I see one.

What could Donald Trump possibly have to gain from going this far? Surely, we can rule out simple greed, and even his narcissism, to rule in what seems more obvious: He looks to be under the influence of some powerful force that does have something to gain from the dismantling of the American government. What can it be other than Putin’s Russia? If this seems excessive, then find me a more plausible explanation for Trump’s steady stream of actions that have themselves been excessive.

What might the Russians have on Donald Trump?  Take your pick: money owed to them, knowledge of some dubious business or personal deal, manipulation of the election in those four states. Whatever it might be, the Russians could well be using something to get him to do their bidding. Why else would he be so concertedly pro-Russian? Aside from admiring bullies, why the great love affair with the Kremlin?

If this is true, then Donald Trump will not be able to resign. But since the true truth has a habit of getting out, he may well be impeached, and removed from office. And from there, he may well go broke, since he has not proved himself to be a particularly adept businessman, short of depending on his brand. The problem with brands is that they are double-edged swords. They can cut back a lot faster than they have been developed to cut forward. But, more significantly, he could end up being charged with treason, namely “giving [to the country’s enemies] Aid and Comfort.” If Russia has been doing this, they are the enemy.

An American friend of mine who read a draft of this blog wrote back that, with so much uncertainty, “for now it feels like a fool’s errand to place particular bets.” Maybe so, but we do need to speculate beyond the usual banalities. Besides, patterns discerned in early signals can sometimes be necessary to avoid later crises.

© Henry Mintzberg June 2017

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British election: The surprise will be on whom?

8 June 2017

Well, not exactly “Reporting live”: I wrote this on April 18, just after Theresa May called the British election. I sent it to three British friends, also to the Canadian Globe and Mail that said it was too short. I post it here today exactly as I wrote it then (aside from adding “British election” to the title, and regretting having included two words in the first sentence: Jeremy Corbyn).

There are 64 million Brits and yet they can’t do better than Theresa May, let alone Jeremy Corbyn or David Cameron? Of course, the Americans couldn’t do better than Donald Trump. The world is now a strange place indeed. 

I thought there was one overriding message from David Cameron’s snap vote on Brexit: don’t call snap votes when so much of the electorate is restless. She is, I guess, as sure as was he. Labor is ill-led, and how can the Liberal Democrats possibly come back?  The British prime minister may be in for a surprise.

Well, not exactly “Reporting live”: I wrote this on April 18, just after Theresa May called the British election. I sent it to three British friends, also to the Canadian Globe and Mail that said it was too short. I post it here today exactly as I wrote it then (aside from adding “British election” to the title, and regretting having included two words in the first sentence: Jeremy Corbyn).

There are 64 million Brits and yet they can’t do better than Theresa May, let alone Jeremy Corbyn or David Cameron? Of course, the Americans couldn’t do better than Donald Trump. The world is now a strange place indeed. 

I thought there was one overriding message from David Cameron’s snap vote on Brexit: don’t call snap votes when so much of the electorate is restless. She is, I guess, as sure as was he. Labor is ill-led, and how can the Liberal Democrats possibly come back?  The British prime minister may be in for a surprise.

There is another message too, from other snap elections in different places. Be careful of sending voters to the polls too early: they might read this as political cynicism rooted in cocky confidence, punishable by purgatory.

What has happened to good sense in politics, to decency, to wisdom, to modesty? (At least here in Canada we have a prime minister who doesn’t pretend to be president.) There is the story of an old lady in Maine who said: “I never vote. It only encourages them.” In these days at least, that’s wisdom. How come she was never elected president?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017

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The Tower of Bapple

3 June 2017

My grandfather bought a Model T Ford in the 1920s, and my mother reported that when they took their usual Sunday drive, he had to be able to fix just about everything. This was not a user-friendly technology.

Today I get into my car, turn the key, and drive away. Nothing to fix, happily, because while I may be trained as a mechanical engineer, I don’t have a clue what’s going on under the hood (except theoretically). This is a user-friendly technology.

I was named after my grandfather, but I did not follow in his footsteps. I used to be a techno-Peasant. My phone was a hand-me-down, two generations earlier, from my cousin. I never even learned how to get voice mail. But then I bought an iPhone, and became a Techno-PhonePhile! I discovered what a spectacular piece of consumer technology this is, without a doubt the greatest one ever.

My grandfather bought a Model T Ford in the 1920s, and my mother reported that when they took their usual Sunday drive, he had to be able to fix just about everything. This was not a user-friendly technology.

Today I get into my car, turn the key, and drive away. Nothing to fix, happily, because while I may be trained as a mechanical engineer, I don’t have a clue what’s going on under the hood (except theoretically). This is a user-friendly technology.

I was named after my grandfather, but I did not follow in his footsteps. I used to be a techno-Peasant. My phone was a hand-me-down, two generations earlier, from my cousin. I never even learned how to get voice mail. But then I bought an iPhone, and became a Techno-PhonePhile! I discovered what a spectacular piece of consumer technology this is, without a doubt the greatest one ever.

You see, all the others did one thing. The wheel carried loads, the printing press propagated books, the automobile took us places, the telephone brought in distant voices and television added images. The iPhone does just about everything. It is:

a dictionary
a thesaurus
an encyclopedia
a telephone
a tape recorder
a TV
a calculator
a calendar
a camera
a low-fi hi-fi
photo albums
a clock
a watch
maps
a GPS
a flashlight
a mirror
a copy editor
a dictation secretary
a translator
a safety deposit box (for passwords)
a compass
a level
a bicycle speedometer
a beacon (to find itself)
a surveillance device (for others to find you)
the game room
a mosquito and even polar bear repellent¹

Ah, but is it user-friendly? Hardly more than that Model T.

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there….

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth….

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” …it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

True the iPhone has one language and a common speech, albeit scattered over the face of the whole earth. But the Lord is still hard at work, confusing that language. Welcome to the Tower of Bapple.

Do you realize how many instructions we have to know to maneuver minimally through this tower? Must be hundreds. To maneuver fully? I’ll bet thousands. To maneuver competently? Zillions. Look, I have a PhD from MIT. How do PhDs from Harvard cope?

How many ways don’t you know to delete something on your phone? Slide left, slide right, scroll up, scroll down, hit something somewhere, in fact anything everywhere…in desperation. Sure I like to collect things. But not delete-directives. To accept something looks to be easier: just hit the place on the upper right where it says “done”. Except on my calendar. When I change something, in place of “done” on the upper right, there appears “cancel”. But I don’t expect it, so I hit that place anyway, and lose what I just did. The second time around, I do find “done”, on the lower right. I hit that, and guess what? “Done” appears again for the hitting: now on the upper right! This technology is user-ferocious. 

On that calendar, I wish to know the holidays. No problem; I programmed it for Canada, where I live. This is what appeared on August 1 (and I kid you not).
1. British Columbia Day (British Columbia)
2. Civic/Provincial Day (regional holiday)
3. New Brunswick Day (New Brunswick)
4. Natal Day (Prince Edward Island)
5. Heritage Day in Alberta
6. Terry Fox Day (Manitoba)
7. Saskatchewan Day
8. Natal Day [again, this time in] (Nova Scotia)
9. Civic/Provincial Day [this time in Nunavik, Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island, and Ontario]
10. Clean the Chimney Day. (OK, here I kid you yes: I had added this one myself.)

It’s all or nothing for this calendar. I just want to know on which date certain important holidays fall—like New Year’s Day. (I’m told it’s January 1, but in this age of Bapple, you never know.) But no, I must have Natal Day twice and Saskatchewan day once. etc. OK, so this is a Google Calendar: should I blame Apple for that? Absolutely, because of the company this company keeps in their common Tower of Bapple.

Passwords, boy do I have passwords. Actually I have only one, the Master Password. It opens the door to the 55 others. (Yes, fifty-five.) Imagine your car requiring separate keys to open each of the doors and windows, for each of the gears and windshield wipers, to fill each of the tires, to access AM and FM, etc. I received this message recently: “Installer is trying to install new software. Enter your password to install this. User name: Henry Mintzberg” Hey, Installer, Henry Mintzberg has 55 passwords! I would be delighted to have only one password, but in this tower, some passwords require a cAp, and others DoN’T; some need numb0rs (#%&%#), and others don’t; some require eigth8 letters with a number and others require eightxx letters with no number. Constructing that old tower must have been like building a sand castle compared with our tower today.

iOS. I shudder at these letters. Every time I install a new one, back I must go to fix all kinds of settings that Bapple has screwed up, with uninvited banners and bantering appearing all over my eyes and ears. When I installed a new iOS a few years ago, I lost all my contacts--forever. Someone said that this iOS was designed for a 6, and I had a 5. The nerve of me. (Why did I hit “done” when I should have hit “cancel”—everywhere, always.) Yet not a peep from Apple, hiding behind its own tower in California. Hey, the Bible never said anything about having to change the mortar in that tower every few weeks, let alone with a kind that brings down half the structure. Simon has been my trusty TWOG teammate. Simon says—so it must be true—that his productivity is suffering from having to learn so many new productivity tools. (Did you know that “empathetic engineer” is an oxymoron?)

STOP the presses, or at least hold the electrons. Marley, the daughter of my cousin, showed me a major discovery. He was trying to talk, and she turned his phone up-side down. Have you noticed all the people who speak on the phone as if the LOUDspeaker is off, when actually it’s on. (You have certainly HEARD these people.) They need to turn their phones upside-down, because now the speaker is at the bottom, not the top. Imagine if those biblical builders had started upside-down: built their tower from the top, heaven2earth. The Lord, close by, might have HEARD a different message. Who knows, they might have finished the tower and now we’d all be speaking the same language—hopefully not Bapple.

Now, DA DAM, here comes Siri, the Goddess up to whom this terrifying tower is being built. Siri in the sky with data. She actually speaks in only one language, at least at a time. This is particularly evident here in Montreal, where Siri fractures French names as never before.

The fact is that I love Siri, although not in the usual Internet way. That kind of love I could have saved for the Facebook friends I cannot have, the LinkedIn contacts I cannot con, because I never have time in this tower for anything human—which I am told still exists out there.

Siri can, however, be sheer entertainment. Once Laura, my granddaughter, was playing with my phone, and told Siri to stop calling her “Henry,” “My name is Laura, not Henry”, she said in terms so certain that my email started to come addressed to “Laura”. So I pushed Siri’s button and said: “My name is Henry, not Siri.” (I meant to say “not Laura”, but it was too late.) She asked me amiably to confirm that henceforth I was to be called Henry not Siri, which I did, and she replied promptly: “OK, what can I do for you now, Henry not Siri?” Who needs satire when we’ve got Siri?

Look, it’s not all that bad. Wheels make ruts, books foment revolutions, cars trigger rage, telephones distract and television dumbs down. This user-ferocious technology merely drives us customer-crazy. A small price to pay for its wonders. Except that, while I have a day job that pays the rent, Bapple is a full-time job that pays nothing. I checked my contract with the phone company. Not a word about having to be a prisoner in a tower, let alone with the only maiden out of sight being Siri in the sky.

© Henry Mintzberg 2017. My thanks to Simon for managing these TWOGs so well for so long, and welcome to Tanya for picking up the torch. A special thank you for Leslie also, to whom I turn for all these problems. Her shift ends each day at 11:59 pm and begins again at 6:01 am. I pay her Bapple rates.

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¹There are apps that emit some ultrasonic thing, supposedly to keep away mosquitos. (Several reviews say it doesn’t work.) And when a woman was attacked by a polar bear near Churchill, Manitoba a few years ago, she held up her phone to it and it ran away. Wouldn’t you?

© Henry Mintzberg 2017

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing here. To help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.