​Longevity of the temporary


One of the most obvious facts of social and political life is the longevity of the temporary. British licensing hours for taverns, for instance, French rent controls, or Washington “temporary” government buildings, all three hastily developed in World War I to last “a few months of temporary emergency” are still with us many years later. The effective decision-maker knows this. He too improvises, of course. But he asks himself every time, “If I had to live with this for a long time, would I be willing to?” And if the answer is “No,” he keeps on working to find a more general, a more conceptual, a more comprehensive solution—one which establishes the right principle.

As a result, the effective executive does not make many decisions. But the reason is not that he takes too long in making one—in fact, a decision on principle does not, as a rule, take longer than a decision on symptoms and expediency. The effective executive does not need to make many decisions. Because he solves generic situations through a rule and policy, he can handle most events as cases under the rule; that is, by adaptation. “A country with many laws is a country of incompetent lawyers,” says an old legal proverb. It is a country which attempts to solve every problem as a unique phenomenon, rather than as a special case under general rules of law. Similarly, an executive who makes many decisions is both lazy and ineffectual.

The decision-maker also always tests for signs that something atypical, something unusual, is happening; he always asks: “Does the explanation explain the observed events and does it explain all of them?; he always writes out what the solution is expected to make happen—make automobile accidents disappear, for instance—and then tests regularly to see if this really happens; and finally, he goes back and thinks the problem through again when he sees something atypical, when he finds phenomena his explanation does not really explain, or when the course of events deviates, even in details, from his expectations.

These are in essence the rules Hippocrates laid down for medical diagnosis well over 2,000 years ago. They are the rules for scientific observation first formulated by Aristotle and then reaffirmed by Galileo three hundred years ago. These, in other words, are old, well-known, time-tested rules, rules one can learn and can systematically apply.

4 thoughts on “​Longevity of the temporary

  1. Great quote: “A country with many laws is a country of incompetent lawyers.” I’m going to tweet it!

    It is in the self-interest of lawyers (and accountants) to have as many laws as possible, and to be as complicated as possible.

    Liked by 1 person

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