The idea that the main stream media are preoccupied with irrelevant trivia is hardly a new one.
Nevertheless Tom Friedman found an amusing way in his New York Times column to express the point: by imagining what a leaked report from the Chinese Embassy in Washington might look like.
What Friedman's article misses: what the real headlines should look like.
According to Friedman, the leaked report would point to the polarization of politics over all the wrong things, people fighting over how and where an airport security officer can touch them, whether to proceed with the nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia, an election determined by who could tell bigger lies on TV, while ignoring structural problems like the ballooning deficit, the declining educational performance, the crumbling infrastructure, the diminished immigration of new talent; the slow speed of the train from DC to NY; the number of dropped calls on the journey; the quagmire of Afghanistan; the denial of science on climate change.
While Friedman is right to lampoon the preoccupation with irrelevant trivia, his suggestions as to what the real discussion should be about fall short of the mark. Apart from the foreign policy issues, the root cause of our problems is that our organizations have become unproductive.
The crumbling infrastructure, the speed of the trains between DC and NY or the number of dropped calls are merely symptoms of a more serious illness. That illness is that our institutions are no longer productive. Because of the way that our institutions are managed, they are no longer capable of creating real value for the economy and good jobs for people doing the work.
As a result of unproductive management, the private sector is experiencing declining returns and is no longer able to provide a decent living to our citizens. The public sector no longer has the resources to subsidize them and fill the gap. Our education system no longer provides an education that fits our children for the future. Our health system, quite apart from Obama’s health reform, is heading the country towards bankruptcy.
So what would the real headlines look like:
The irony is that we know how to run our institutions differently. We need the wisdom to see that something is fundamentally amiss and the courage to plunge into this different future.
To learn more about how some organizations have reinvented management, read my synthesis of recent thinking on the subject, or read The Power of Pull by John Hagel, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison, or Reorganize for Resilience by Ranjay Gulati, or my own book, The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century