Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Freedom to Ignore Theory

President elect Barack Obama's appointees consistent say they will lead pragmatic, non-ideological change. HHS Secretary Tom Daschle said it. Education Secretary Arne Duncan uttered those words. What's the problem with such statements?

Without theory, there is no knowledge.

"Vowing to do anything that works" is like driving using the rear view mirror. Works is an output or outcome.

What's the aim of the system? What incentives encourage suboptimization? What are leaders doing to kill people's intrinsic motivation to do good work or to take joy in learning?

What variation exists? Acting without an understanding of variation can make things worse, waste money.

When management acts, what's the theory? How is the impact assessed? With many strategies happening simultaneously interaction occurs. Is that understood? The most important things are not measurable.

Surely, President elect Barack Obama's Chief Performance Officer will help with these questions. I think not. Her past work shows Nancy Killefer a fan of accountability, aggregate performance measures (which hide critical variation information), and pay for performance.

Health care and education, prepare to be hammered with numbers and bribed to perform. The same management theory that caused Wall Street to produced investment junk will invade our hallowed halls of healing and learning.