Re: Executive personalities

From: John Conover <>
Subject: Re: Executive personalities
Date: Wed, 18 Jan 95 22:19 PST

Robert Levi writes:

 > John's comments on executive personalities (Re:Flapping your wings) was
 > enlightening and depressingly obvious. It reminds me of some thoughts I'd
 > like to share regarding a community that I lived in for three years that is
 > attempting to re-organize itself from a hierarchically-based decision-making
 > structure to consensus-based.

Let me "table" something for discussion. I want to offer a potential
advantage of LO that other paradigms (MBO, BPR, etc.,) can not
address-and that is a "formal" basis (eg., one that can offer a
rational, or logical, chain of reasoning on its superiority, as
opposed to offering statistical merits-specifically, statistical
methodologies can be regarded as offering only circumstantial evidence
as to the superiority of a paradigm since the environment of the study
is not single simplex, in case you are mathematically inclined.)

In 1952 an economist, Kenneth Arrow, was trying to use game-theoretic
methodologies to optimize the social welfare function of a
society. The results of the study were rather astonishing, IMHO. What
he proved was that in a group, of more than two people, there is no
rational or logical process that that can be used to rank priorities,
(priority ranking is intransitive, in mathematical parlance-he was
awarded a Nobel for the work.)

Now, if it is assumed that, at least at the executive level, a large
portion of the activity is setting priorities, then the difficulties
of operating in the executive environment become clear. (Note that in
some sense, this would kind of explain why Congress operates the way
it does-they are trying to do the impossible-eg., set priorities as to
which organization will receive funding, etc., and since there is no
rational methodology that will work, they must rely on other, less
formal methodologies like politics, etc., to arrive at a consensus.)
As a matter of fact, Congressional voting was one of the issues
studied (using Arrow's techniques) later, and was found to support
Arrow's conclusions. (For example, it is easier to defeat a Bill than
to pass it-which is in conformance with Arrow's work.)

So, if you have to rank priorities, (and it seems that this is the
case, although for completeness, I would admit that this may be an
epistemological issue,) the organization had better be capable of
learning how to operate in an environment which may not be rational,
stable, static, or in equilibrium, eg., everchanging and dynamic.

Just a thought.



John Conover,,

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