These are two errors people make in all types of organizations.  They seem to be complete opposites, but in fact they stem from the same failure in logic.

“The Competition Is Doing It”: People in business, sports, politics etc. will often say this to justify doing something.  “We need to spend the big bucks on this.” “Why?” “Because the competitors spent big bucks on it–we don’t want to be left behind.”

The problem is, this makes you susceptible to fads and fashions.  If the other guys are doing it and it’s actually a bad idea, then you are copying their mistakes. It’s an advanced form of peer-pressure. People who don’t know what they are doing will just copy other people on the assumption they do.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see what the competition is doing–of course you should–but rather that the fact that they are doing something is not in itself a reason to copy them.  Only if it’s working for them is it a reason to copy them.

Of course, people sometimes make the complete opposite mistake…

Not Invented Here Syndrome“: This is where people are too concerned about keeping their own insular culture, and refuse to adopt new ideas. A variant is “we’ve always done it that way” as a justification for something.  People are too afraid to try something new and justify it by saying its not “who we are” or “how we do it”.

Now, on the surface, these errors are in complete opposite directions.  One is about taking ideas from the outside, the other is about refusing to do so.  But the common theme in both is that people are unwilling to do something no one else is doing. They are afraid of the risks involved with trying something no one else has tried.

So, how to avoid making either of these errors?  It seems like a delicate balancing act, where if you try too hard to avoid one, you end up making the other one.

The answer is to focus on what actually works. That way, when someone says, “The competitors are doing it”, you can say, “And is it working for them?” And when someone says, “We’ve always done it that way”, you can say, “And has it worked for us?”

The truth is, many screw-ups occur because someone was afraid to do the thing that they knew would work, either because no one else was doing it, or because they themselves had never done it.


Be it known, then, that there are two ways of contending, one in accordance with the laws, the other by force; the first of which is proper to men, the second to beasts. But since the first method is often ineffectual, it becomes necessary to resort to the second.

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Politicians will tell you they are not out for power, but they’re lying.  There is no other reason to be in politics.  The business of politics involves two activities:

  1. Seizing power
  2. Exercising power once you have seized it

If that sounds cynical, know that power is not always bad.  Some people want it in order to do good things.  Other people, to quote a Batman film, just want to watch the world burn.

You can tell whether someone is good, bad, or otherwise by looking at their handling of point no. 2 above-what do they do with power, having seized it?

The problem is, if they turn out to be bad, there’s not much you can do about it at that point, because, well, they have power.

So, you need to find out whether they are bad earlier, when they are still at point no. 1.

But history suggests that the skills needed to seize power are often precisely the skills that are undesirable in people who actually wield power. That is, the ruthless, win-at-all-costs mentality that is needed to successfully seize power is not the kind of mindset you want in someone who holds power.

(The reverse is also true. The spirit of compromise and tolerance that’s desirable in a person holding power is absolutely crippling in someone trying to seize power.)

This is true seemingly across different time periods and forms of government.  Be it the countless revolutionaries-turned-dictators who were ultimately overthrown or disgraced, or the rule of thumb in modern politics that the best campaigners are often the worst office-holders, the pursuit of power and the use of it seem to always demand different skill sets.

The American Revolution is one of the big exceptions I can think of–in that one, the people who seized power don’t seem to have become bloodthirsty monsters once they won.  Maybe this was because they were wise people, inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment.  Or maybe it was because the government they were rebelling against was headquartered across an ocean, and so they didn’t have to be too vicious in order to defeat it.

But this seems to have been an exception that proves the rule.  And thus we are left with the dilemma that few who are capable of getting power are fit to wield it.

Probably the best chapter in Donald Trump’s book The Art of the Deal was about his renovation of the Wollman ice rink.  Trump, operating as a private businessman, could get the job done much faster and cheaper than the city bureaucracy could. That was good.

Trump claimed he did it to be a nice guy.  But I don’t think that was it.  I think he did it because he knew he could get publicity, and that he could make his nemesis, then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch, look stupid.  It was about getting attention and getting revenge, as it often is with Trump.

But that’s ok.  Who cares what his reasons were? He did something good.

This gives me an idea for how the Democrats might be able to prevent the Trump Presidency from being a total disaster: trick him into thinking he is getting revenge on them by doing stuff that they want.

I’m not sure precisely how to do this.  I think even Trump would see through it if Pelosi were to say “Oh, don’t you dare make sure all Americans have affordable healthcare, Donald. That sure would make me mad.”  Or if Obama said “Boy, Donald; the egg would really be on my face if you appointed Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Then I’d just look silly.”

They will have to be more subtle about it. (Not too subtle, though. He wouldn’t pick up on it then.) But it’s worth considering.


It’s worth asking.  It was a very close election, and so a little careful cheating could have changed the outcome.

The experts seem to take it for granted that the election couldn’t possibly have been stolen.  But the experts also took it for granted that Trump couldn’t possibly beat Clinton.

I’ve always assumed that in a country as big as the USA, there is bound to be some cheating in national elections, but that it is on a small scale, and people from both sides do it, so it more or less evens out.

There is, however, reason to think 2016 was particularly ripe for cheating, due to two facts:

  1. Earlier in the year, the FBI warned that the Russian government was hacking U.S. voting systems.
  2. Donald Trump was singularly sympathetic to Russia throughout his campaign–not only in comparison to Clinton, but also in comparison to his rivals for the Republican nomination.

I am not saying that the Russians hacked the election in order to ensure their preferred candidate won.  I am just saying that if that did happen, it would look exactly like what has happened.

Trump and his staff kept saying throughout the campaign that the polls were wrong, and they had secret supporters in the Rust Belt. And sure enough, that is exactly the way it appeared to play out on election night, with Trump narrowly pulling upsets in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Maybe Trump is an instinctive political genius who could intuitively sense what the professional analysts were all missing. Or… maybe those secret Trump supporters were really deep cover. As in, perhaps they only existed as lines of binary code.

Again, I’m not saying I think this is the case.  To my mind, the election results match up perfectly with what the charisma theory would predict. That seems like the most likely explanation.

But because the Press got their predictions of how it would play out so wrong, it seems to me they should at least look into whether it might have been stolen, rather than simply assuming it wasn’t–just as they previously had assumed Clinton couldn’t lose.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump has said he would “hire the best people” to handle almost everything–foreign policy, economics, etc. In his book, “The Art of the Deal”, Trump also stresses the importance of hiring the best people to do jobs you yourself don’t know how to do.

Trump has been ridiculed for this. People say he is using this excuse to cover for his lack of policy knowledge.

I hate to say it, but Trump’s idea is, frankly, what I’ve always thought a good President–or any executive–needs to do.

There aren’t enough hours in the day for someone to be an expert on all the issues on which the President needs to make decisions. You would need to be the world’s greatest economist, diplomat, orator, military strategist, environmental scientist, financier and epidemiologist to do that. Nobody can do it all.

The President, therefore, needs to be able to figure out who the best people are for handling the myriad duties and put them in charge of each. That ability to recognize good people who can get results is what matters.

Look at F.D.R., widely considered the greatest President in U.S. history. He was not exceptionally bright, or even especially energetic. What made him great was that he insisted on getting people who knew how to get the job done. F.D.R. was focused on getting results, and that, in turn, led him to hire good people.

In contrast, look at George W. Bush, who even many Republicans now consider to be a colossal failure as President. He wasn’t a dumb guy, despite what some Democrats will say. He had degrees from Yale and Harvard. No, what made Bush’s administration such a mess was that he (a) gave important jobs to people who repeatedly showed they could not do them right (Cheney and Rumsfeld) and (b) failed to hold them accountable for their failures until it was too late.

President Obama’s track record has been sort of mixed as far as picking good people. And Obama is obviously smart–but identifying the right person for a job is a completely different skill set that unrelated to factual knowledge. And it’s especially hard in the world of politics, where jobs are given in exchange for political support rather than ability.

To be clear, I am just saying Trump is right in terms of the theory of being a good executive. It is by no means clear that Trump actually knows how to find “the best people”. The fact that his campaign manager is currently charged with assault, plus the fact that he has been obviously unprepared for easy questions in recent interviews, argues that he does not.

Via HuffPo:

(Ignore the title of that clip.)

It’s too bad, because I can see where leather jacket guy is coming from, but he does a bad job making his case.  I’ve never liked Attorney General Holder.  He seems to be one of these people who just gets embroiled in controversy, like his “nation of cowards” comment.  Of course, the Republican opposition is eager to seize on anything to use against him, but most people in the administration, including Obama himself, have been quite good at not giving them much to work with.  Holder, not so much.

The “Fast and Furious” thing seems like a case where the Justice Department tried to avoid a P.R. disaster by keeping things quiet, and Darrell Issa, who has been tasked with preventing the Executive branch from doing anything, has picked it up as a convenient excuse to hamstring Obama’s administration in any way he can.  It is possible to say “Eric Holder has made some very serious mistakes, and perhaps even intentionally covered up information,” while still understanding that Issa and his committee are not noble truth-seekers but simply acting out of a desire to thwart the other party.

I can’t understand, incidentally, why Obama got himself into this mess by exercising “executive privilege”.  It’s another case of giving them needless fodder for criticism, especially because the executive power aspects invite comparisons to Nixon and Cheney.

The big story of the day is that the Obama administration has been using executive power to act unilaterally without the approval of Congress. It’s based on this New York Times story by Charlie Savage:

As a senator and presidential candidate, [Obama] had criticized George W. Bush for  flouting the role of Congress. And during his first two years in the White House, when Democrats controlled Congress, Mr. Obama largely worked through the legislative process to achieve his domestic policy goals.

But increasingly in recent months, the administration has been seeking ways to act without Congress.

The first several paragraphs of the article all portray Obama as making something of a reversal; of now doing what he accused Bush of doing. Eventually, in the ninth paragraph, we get the details:

[F]or the most part, Mr. Obama’s increased unilateralism in domestic policy has relied on a different form of executive power than the sort that had led to heated debates during his predecessor’s administration: Mr. Bush’s frequent assertion of a right to override statutes on matters like surveillance and torture.

“Obama’s not saying he has the right to defy a Congressional statute,” said Richard H. Pildes, a New York University law professor. “But if the legislative path is blocked and he otherwise has the legal authority to issue an executive order on an issue, they are clearly much more willing to do that now than two years ago.”

That’s sort of a major difference. It’s one thing to use the Executive’s legally-granted powers aggressively, it’s another to go around the laws of the Legislative branch–“through the dark side”, as the fellow once said. But that’s not really the impression the casual reader, or the reader of headlines, is likely to get.

 I leave it to others to be witty about this. For now, I’ll just say that I’d like it if he would explain why the hell he didn’t get Donald Rumsfeld out right after the Abu Ghraib scandal. If you want my opinion, that is the single most disastrous decision of his administration.

Any questions you’d like to hear him answer? (But know that he won’t.)