Do you care more about the process or about getting results?

I suspect most people would say “results”. Maybe not everyone, but my feeling is that most people care about the bottom line. I could be wrong, though.

In theory, these two things should be complementary.  If you have a good process, it will generate good results. Most processes get created for the purpose of getting better results.  And everyone lives happily ever after.

Except sometimes–especially in large, bureaucratic organizations–process takes precedence over results.  This is especially true in government, because the organization doesn’t have to worry about making money. In that setting, people will start to focus on implementing new processes mindlessly–just because it gives them something to do.

If you focus only on results, on the other hand, you can sometimes get extreme cases where people are willing to do anything to get results.  This can include doing illegal things. (This is why you see cheating in highly competitive fields–anything to get an edge.)  In fact, from a certain perspective, morality is a sort of process that people follow by social or religious custom, and that some people (criminals/politicians) ignore in order to achieve results.

Bottom line: in a good organization, processes exist and are followed, but only with the goal of ensuring good results. Good organizations do not implement new processes for their own sake; but only with the intention of getting better results.

P.M. Prescott’s comment on this post reminded me of an issue I’ve wanted to write about on here for a while: TV commercials.  Are they worth it?

I almost always mute commercials when they come on, unless they’re for something I am already interested in.  I can’t think of any time in my life when I’ve decided to buy something just because I saw a commercial for it.  I generally research any major purchases first.

And then there are the commercials for small things, like soft drinks.  Maybe other people are different, but I don’t see those commercials and go “well, I’ve just got to go buy a [X soft drink] right now.”  My soft drink purchase decisions are made purely on the basis of what’s most convenient; I don’t care about brands enough to spend extra time hunting down a particular drink.

Some say that commercials work subliminally.  Well, maybe.  But how effective can the ads be when they produce no noticeable change in my behavior?  Even if it’s subliminal, I would notice that I suddenly had a desire to go out and buy particular things.

Especially interesting to me are political ads. (With which we are about to be deluged, incidentally)  Is anybody really going to vote based on what a TV ad said?  I just assume that all political ads are telling half-truths at best, and so I tune them out automatically.

Given all that, I have to think that companies are overpaying for ads.  The return on it can’t be that much, can it?   I think a company gets more benefit from announcing at the beginning of a program that they are sponsoring the whole thing without commercial interruption than they do from advertising during it.  Because, in general, commercials annoy the viewer who is just trying to watch something.

So, the Obama Campaign released this ad earlier this week:

Effective ad.  Ironic contrast of music and imagery is always a good trick.  And Willard Mitt Sinatra there really needs to quit trying to sing; he always looks like a moron when he does.

But anyway, I’ve come to offer a half-hearted defense of the guy on this.   I still think he’s a rotten candidate from a rotten party; but I will say this:  that ad appeals both to nationalism and anti-intellectualism, both of which are hallmarks of the Republican party, and something I hate to see the Democrats doing.

First off: outsourcing.  Yeah, it’s terrible that people lose their jobs.  No one disputes that.  But standard Ricardian economics show that free-trade and comparative advantage are useful strategies for economic success.  That’s basic economics.  Also, a lot of these anti-outsourcing appeals rely, at some level, on anti-foreigner sentiment.  Not what I like to see.

The problem in this country isn’t so much the outsourcing itself as it is the lack of a good social safety net to help the out-of-work, along with a boneheaded resistance to Keynesian economic policies to help the macro-economy and provide jobs.  Now, Romney is part of a lot of those problems, and for that reason, I don’t think he’d make a very good President.  But the outsourcing itself makes economic sense.

Here’s the other point: if Romney would say something like:

I outsourced because it made sense for the company.  My job was to help the company and I did.  And as President, I will help the country.  It’s just that what’s good for the company might not work for the country, and vice-versa.

That’s a totally honest position, and I could respect that.  Of course, he won’t do that because, like I said: rotten candidate, rotten party.  They think you can run a country like it’s a business. 

All I’m saying here is that I’d like to see the Democrats focus more on what’s really wrong with the Republican party–see: hostility to macroeconomics and attempts to destroy social safety net, above.  This ad–which I’m sure will be quite effective–strikes me as contrary, in many ways, to what the Democratic party is supposed to believe in, or at least to what they actually end up doing in practice.  Do you think Obama really would, for instance, raise tariffs to stop this kind of thing?