Friday, December 11, 2009

"Perception is reality"

Oh my favorite quote comes back again and again ... Note that this is quite a long and unwieldy post, so be prepared for some forks in the road, some rants, some common sense (Warren-style), some tortuous moments, and even more wandering than normal.

Long ago, a few jobs and a few bosses ago, I had a boss's boss's boss who was an idiot.  I honestly don't think he meant to do poorly as a manager, however being a senior manager in charge of a couple hundred people means that you should have at least some semblance of managerial aptitude --- you, know, the ability to at least manage your way out of a cardboard box.  He didn't.  Said manager did virtually nothing right in the several years during which I worked in his organization.  He left on his own after a somewhat failed attempt to figure out what was really wrong with his reign by way of an employee "How is management doing?" survey, from which he learned that HE was the problem --- but that is another story.  I did, however, take away one single good thing from this guy, something that he preached but didn't do at all well for himself.  He'd tell us manager-types (I was at the lowest rung of the managerial ladder at the time --- lucky me ...) that "Perception is reality".

Perception is reality.

I think I'll say that again:
Perception is reality.

This has since become one of my all-time favorite sayings, great words to live by (or by which to live), one of those "Read it, Learn it, Live it" things.  And I see it pop up constantly.  It comes into play frequently in the news whenever we hear about yet another decision making-type (be it a Gubment employee (local, state or federal, but someone in whom the taxpayers trust), an employee of a company, or whomever) making some decision and not keeping in mind the consequences of this decision based on the simple fact that they might just have something personally in common or at stake with the decision that they are making on behalf of 300,000,000 Americans.  Case in point from just the other day, which is why I am bringing this up now, is explained in the Wall Street Journal article titled "Baucus Tie to Nominee Kept Mum".  The first sentence of the article explains the problem (actually, the very succinct title of the article did it for me):
"In nominating his girlfriend for the job of U.S. attorney, Montana Sen. Max Baucus didn't disclose the relationship to the White House, Montana's other senator or a local attorney tapped to review potential candidates, several people involved in the process said Sunday."
If you don't see a problem with this, then you are a) ignorant, b) not really a "detail kind of guy" or c) both.  Let me help by separating out and combining the two important issues:
"In nominating his girlfriend for the job ... [he] didn't disclose [their] relationship ..."
See the problem?  Yeah, I thought so.  Sort of a personal thing going there, huh?  I have taken (and continue to take) many a Gubment contracting course, and in every one of them, without fail, they tell us over and over again to avoid anything that even remotely resembles any sort of conflict of interest, even if it really isn't a conflict but appears to be so.  Why?  Because "Perception is reality."

The American public, say what you want, is not very bright.  They do NOT pay attention to details.  They do NOT wait until they get all of the necessary information before forming an impression.  They DO pay attention to the media, all of which is biased in one way or another (I have yet to find a media outlet, save for some foreign media like the BBC, that is NOT biased somehow).  They DO pay attention to the wrong stuff, the ridiculous stuff, the stuff that should not crowd our newspaper front pages, but does.

Want proof?  Look at the stock market.  If our citizenry waited until they had all of the necessary information before making any buy or sell decisions, do you think the market would go up or down, oftentimes for no apparent reason, as fast as it does?  (This has, by the way, made a lot of skeptics of the Efficient Market Theory.)

Want proof?  See my first post on my investing blog on the Dow 30 and how irrelevant it is and yet how much attention it still gets to this day.  The media again ...

Want proof?  "Dubya" was in office for ... not four years, but ... eight years.  Details, or lack of, or people looking at the wrong details ... 'Nuff said on that one (for now).

Want proof?  I know too much about Lindsey Lohan's drinking problems, Britney Spears' family (and head shaving) problems, Rihanna being smacked by her wonderful and loving boyfriend (and I just now happened to see an article telling me all about her new tattoo!!!!), Jon Gosselin's kid issues (he's the Jon and Kate Plus 8 idiot, or so I have been told), Sarah Jessica Parker and her 'stunning pink dress' by Tuba Phalopia (yeah, made that up), or who "The Biggest Loser" is this week.  I don't care about them.  Really.  But the media forces me to listen.  If I want to know what the weather report is for the next few days, I first have to find out who is winning on Survivor "Mars", who the finalists are on American Idol, and how many more guys Paris Hilton has pounded this week.  That damned media again.  (Oooh ... this reminds me that I must begin to write my Anti-Katie Couric rant very soon.)

Shall I go on????

So where was I ... oh ... so our fellow Americans are, on average, not very bright.  And because of this, Perception is reality kicks in very easily and very quickly.  People get just a few of the facts and form their perception of the situation quickly.  Right or wrong, there it is.  And it is extremely difficult to change this perception once it is in place.  Therefore it becomes reality.

So our instructors at work drill this into our heads over and over again.  Don't do anything that might be misconstrued as a conflict of interest issue.  Don't do anything that might compromise the trust of the public, of da Gubment itself, of the contractors who are involved (or who are NOT involved), everyone.

Senator Baucus didn't do this so good.  He misused his position and power to nominate someone with whom he has a personal interest (in this case, I assume he is banging her).  That is bad.  Definitely not the worst case I have heard, but bad nonetheless.  Now keep in mind that the girlfriend may well be the most qualified candidate in the entire world for this position.  But the mere fact that he may have used his position and power to get his girlfriend into a public position (no pun intended) shows bad judgment, and shows that he doesn't understand that this is bad judgment.  This from one of our most powerful senators.

This type of bad judgment does happen quite a lot, unfortunately.  Two Gubment contracting incidents (just something about which I happen to be familiar 'cause I follow such things in the news):

Incident #1) Haliburton in Iraq: Dubya and his sidekick/brain DICK Cheney gave a $100B contract (yes, that equates to 100 BILLION dollars) to Haliburton to "help" us in Iraq with logistics, supplies, all of the behind-the-scenes kinds of stuff.  They told us, the public, over and over that Haliburton was not only very qualified to do this job, but that they were the only company qualified to do this, and the only company who could get things going in a very short timeframe, because we had us a country to take over, and we hadda do it very soon.  They also told us over and over that even though DICK was Haliburton's CEO not-too-long-ago, there was no conflict of interest because he was no longer with the company.  Oh, and keep this in mind too: This was a sole-source contract, meaning that Haliburton did not have to compete with anyone else --- da Gubment (Dubya and DICK) went directly to them and said "Give us a price ... It's yours."

   BULLSHIT FLAG!!!  There is no doubt in mind that there were several companies who could handle this chore, either by themselves or jointly (ever think of that option DICK???), and who could ramp things up quickly enough.  But what is worse in all of this is Dubya and DICK's "It ain't a conflict of interest" attitude.  Hell yeah it was!  DICK may not have been working for the company any longer, but do ya think that maybe, just maybe, he had some buddies back there in Haliburton HQ who might have owned a few Haliburton shares or stock options and just may have profited from this contract?  Oh yeah, and do ya think that maybe, JUST FREAKIN' MAYBE, the big DICK himself may have owned just a few shares or options himself, and may have drawn a tidy little profit from the fact that this company received this contract?  No conflict of interest?  MY ASS there is no conflict of interest!!!!!!!  I will never forget lunch one day when a Gubment employee friend of mine said that he was so incredibly pissed of at Dubya's administration because it would take him months and mounds of paperwork to order a simple $50 tool for the lab in which he worked because of all of da Gubment red tape and mandatory competitions between suppliers, however Dubya and DICK could go off and dole out a $100 BILLION SOLE-SOURCE CONTRACT that padded DICK's pockets by nobody-will-ever-know-how-much money.  He was pissed, and I don't blame him at all.

Incident #2) Back a few years ago one of the Air Force's highest acquisition people (meaning that this person is in charge of buying stuff or having stuff made for the Air Force (y'know, like big expensive airplanes and stuff), and as such they are s'posed to do so with as much due diligence and honesty as is humanly possible) decided that she would give Boeing a contract worth $23B (there is that Billion again), and then promptly quit the Federal Gubment and work for ... hmmm ... Boeing.  See any conflict of interest there?  There are laws in place to prevent this from happening, to keep Gubment people from padding the coffers of companies that are owned by their buddies, owned by people who show them a little extra [fill in the blank here] on the side, or just decide to go work for that company.  Laws.  Laws which were intentionally sidestepped and broken.  Laws which make Gubment employees go through months of work just to make sure that they are purchasing that $50 wrench from the lowest bidder (or most proper bidder --- small business, minority-owned business, whatever --- DON'T GET ME STARTED ON THAT ONE!!!).  Laws which this asshole broke so she could go and get herself a nice pay hike working for the big company after she GAVE them lots of money.

   BULLSHIT FLAG!!! Well, I already explained the BS in this case, but I wanted to yell it out again ...

So, back we are to "Perception is reality."  All of the above demonstrate gross negligence by high-level Gubment employees (in the Incident #1, the HIGHEST level empoyees), using their positions and power to do things for their own benefit.  And what is the result?  The buying public trusts da Gubment even less than it did before.  Why?  Because they perceive (well, in these cases they blatantly saw) that da Gubment is out to rook the citizenry, rather than to help it.  And what they perceive becomes reality.

Senator Baucus (remember him?  I mentioned him a while ago) made a big bozo-nono.  It made little news from what I saw --- a 3rd or 5th page mention in a few newspapers.  But what he did was wrong!  Even if this chick was very highly qualified, his ties to her can (and would be) perceived by everyone else as him doing something that would come back to benefit himself (in this case, some doinking, I presume).

End of explanation.  And of rant.

1 comment:

  1. whew! That's some rant!

    Thanks for commenting over at my place, Warren. I'm still holding out hope that 2010 will be a better year.