Does it seem like so many important systems aren’t working the way they are supposed to be working? Just think of the problems associated with airlines, supply chains, and electrical grids.
We live in a complex society where so many interconnected parts need to be working efficiently. And we need competent people running them. Harold Robertson persuasively argues that “Complex systems won’t survive the competence crisis.”
He explains, “America must be understood as a system of interwoven systems; the healthcare system sends a bill to a patient using the postal system, and that patient uses the mobile phone system to pay the bill with a credit card issued by the banking system.” He concludes that, if one part of this complex system fails, you have cascading consequences for it and all adjacent systems.
The reason for these failures, he believes, is due to the changing political mores of society. We have established a system of promoting unqualified people and sidelining the competent. “By the 1960s, the systematic selection for competence came into direct conflict with the political imperatives of the civil rights movement.” For many institutions (universities, corporations) diversity is more important than competence, Therefore, we have a competence crisis. Put another way, the weakest link is often the person in charge.
We shouldn’t be surprised that formerly stable systems are having accidents at a rate higher than the system can adapt. Unless we once again select people based on meritocracy rather than diversity, the problem will go from bad to worse.