bottom-up, not top-down

Last week I went to a presentation by Jack Ukeles  which was pretty amazing. It was called ““Doing More With Less: Turning Crisis Into Opportunity” and I really loved it.  I’m kind of a process nerd – I love workflow analysis and management systems innovation.  I get all wobbly at the thought of re-structuring org charts, coming up with mission/vision  statements, focusing institutional priorities and building sustainable infrastructures to maximize effectiveness. I love getting sh*t done and dreaming up new ways of doing things.

One of the interesting things Ukeles suggested was that when many institutions  embark on re-organization they look at the org chart and go “Oh, what a mess! Let’s clean that up!” and they start from the top-down until they have a nice, neat, orderly chart which, all too often, has no basis in reality. He says you need to re-org from the bottom up – identify the work that needs to be done and who does it; then make sure there are support personnel, and then move upwards.  I thought it was so refreshing to hear that (from a guy that helped save NYC back in the 1970’s!) In NYC this is particularly relevant.  Mayor Bloomberg was recently quoted as saying:

“You know, the yelling and screaming about the rich – we want rich from around this country to move here. We love the rich people.”

Totally missing the point. Its not about loving or hating rich people. Its about building a stable society from the bottom up, not the top down.  It is in the wealthy’s interest to have a stable, productive society. And that comes from affordable housing, reasonable cost of living, good public schools and the cultivation of a civil society through education and the humanities. Stadiums don’t create stabililty.  Tax breaks for huge corporations who end up leaving the city anyway, building an economy that is entirely predicated on the highest end of the notoriously volatile financial sector – these things do not create stability.

We deserve a government that is committed to the greater good. I’ve been saying for awhile – this is going to be a bumpy ride, but I truly believe that in the long, long, long run this “Great Recession” is going to be an unprecedented opportunity to innovate, reassess, reevaluate and rebuild.  From rebuilding the internets to restabilizing the global economy, we are being given a chance to fix the world a little bit.

If David Brooks will suggest, in public, in the NY Times:

Republicans could offer the public a realistic appraisal of the health of capitalism. Global capitalism is an innovative force, they could argue, but we have been reminded of its shortcomings. 

and if Bob Herbert can say, in his op-ed in the Times:

Working people were not just abandoned by big business and their ideological henchmen in government, they were exploited and humiliated. They were denied the productivity gains that should have rightfully accrued to them. They were treated ruthlessly whenever they tried to organize. They were never reasonably protected against the savage dislocations caused by revolutions in technology and global trade.

Working people were told that all of this was good for them, and whether out of ignorance or fear or prejudice or, as my grandfather might have said, damned foolishness, many bought into it. They signed onto tax policies that worked like a three-card monte game. And they were sold a snake oil concoction called “trickle down” that so addled their brains that they thought it was a wonderful idea to hand over their share of the nation’s wealth to those who were already fabulously rich.

America used to be better than this.

The seeds of today’s disaster were sown some 30 years ago. 

Then maybe there’s a chance that we can use some common sense to rebuild a stable, progressive,  economically just, enlightened civil society in the U.S. and around the world.

2 thoughts on “bottom-up, not top-down”

  1. Pingback: News Room :: 3/12/09
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