Transform. Or Improve.

I enjoy Twitter – not so much sending tweets as getting them.  It’s often the best way to enjoy public events – whether the Eurovision song contest or the closing ceremony of the Olympics.  I’m not sure it can claim to create a sense of community, because people tend to choose tweeters of similar views/nationality/class for their daily input.  Nevertheless, it gets you into news events, and often alerts the world to abuses or idiocies.

And sometimes you get great wisdom in short packages.  Just yesterday I saw a retweet from someone who calls himself Kurt Vonnegut (surely not a spirit message from the real one, who died in 2007) – “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance”.  This rang a bell with me after a life in public administration under the rule of people who prefer reform and restructuring to the hard work of doing a proper job. Structural reform is so much easier and quicker than doing it right: think how easy it is for a politician to change the funding or governance systems of schools, rather than improve teaching (which is the only proven way to raise standards).

This is reflected in the way that politicians have been quick to adopt the empty emotional language – vision, passion, obsession – of the MBA graduate.  Orwell was onto this – in the 1940s he was mocking people who were promising ‘radical transformation’. The promise of change is pretty seductive – witness the 2008 Obama campaign (‘change you can believe in’) and Francois Hollande’s 2012 campaign – but I reckon what most people actually want is not restructuring, but the current system run better and more cheaply.  This has been backed up in a recent poll reported on the BBC website on 25th August.  Running things better is undramatic work that requires competence rather than vision. As one Victorian aristo said – “Reform ? Reform ? As if things aren’t bad enough already !”.

Footnote – This logic works in sport too.  Journalists who tried to find out the secret of the all-conquering GB Olympic cycling team were rather baffled to be told that the secret was in remorseless incremental improvement.  I think they were looking for a whole lot of drivel about vision and passion and obsession with excellence: what they got were details of how pedal weights could be reduced.  Passion is what the England football team got under its least successful manager, Kevin Keegan: results immediately improved when he was replaced by a dull Swedish technocrat.

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