Losing creativity for safety.

In the next while over several instalments I want to write about a topic that has troubled me for a while and has become more urgent in recent months. It’s a complicated issue of the struggle between oversight and creativity, between guarantees and risk taking.

Our culture seems to have quietly been overtaken by a sense of wanting guarantees that nothing will ever go wrong and a sense that when they do that someone is to blame. It began as a legitimate sense of oversight of services. In the 60’s society finally matured and democratized a bit with a sense that we cannot just leave ‘the powers that be’ to govern.

For instance, police services needed oversight, there had to be civilian watchguards of policemen and the police department activities. Spying on citizens is not acceptable. Arbitrary arrest and beatings, while they still occur, are no longer acceptable. We no longer take the word of a policeman/woman who arrests a citizen. We want to see proof of wrong doing.

But somewhere along the line that desire led to ‘keeping a paper trail’ which became a huge burden to the point where now upwards of 40% of police personnel’s time it taken up by paperwork. The cost is enormous in financial/economic terms. But the cost is even higher in lost creativity, which I will get into in future articles.

In medicine, where I work, I spend increasing amounts of my time satisfying Ministry requests of proof of my compliance with guidelines and other administrivia to the point that it really does impact how I work.

But what bothers me most is the sham that these bureaucratic procedures represent. Everyone I speak to at the Ministry claims these regulations are to safeguard the health of the public. But I know that they are simply there so that if something goes wrong, the shit will land elsewhere but on their shoulders.

Today I was talking to someone who does basic research in a hospital lab. He was telling me about the numerous procedures he must go through and the compliance paper work he completes that are mandating by administrative authority in hospital and government. The joke is that these procedures are promulgated ostensibly to protect the public and lab workers against accident. But he freely says that they do no such thing. They are simply there to assure then if and when something goes wrong highers-up can say they took all precautions and it’s not our fault.

Examples abound everywhere. Everyone working in the real world knows what I am talking about.

The sad thing is that many people on the left are the perpetrators of these regulations. Partly they do this in a genuine desire to protect the public service. But too often they do it because there is a bureaucratic and non creative, almost fearful strain in the left.

Progressives all too often see any criticism of the public service as an attack on social values. And hiding behind this misunderstanding they allow the public service to rot from the inside.

Government bureaucracies and social services are of the people not above the people. It’s the same theme of people as citizens and not consumers of services from the government. It’s the rejecting of the management based system instead of the creative provision of services.

Unfortunately the right and left are afflicted with misunderstandings of the provision of service by the public sector. The right sees us all as consumers looking for ‘bargains’ in the provision of service. But the left, while not using the label of consumer, can nevertheless be patronizing in what is to me that absolutely galling manner of managerial correctness. They never saw a round peg that couldn’t be squared to fit in their much neater square holes.

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2 Comments to “Losing creativity for safety.”

  1. Interesting piece. I’ve definitely seen lots of cases where NOBODY wants to take responsibility for ANYTHING. I think it’s quite common. In my naive view, I think it boils down to laziness – laziness on the part of the manager who doesn’t want to spend the time understanding the details of what her underlings are doing, but also laziness on the part of the end customer to do some due diligence understanding and criticizing the product/person… so demand some kind of bureaucracy to place the burden of self-policing on the underling.

    On some level it’s a necessary penalty of an increasingly complicated world. We have to depend more and more on ever more specialized people, and the bureaucracy is a way of forcing them to explain things to us.

    And maybe in the public service it has a little more to do with the transient nature of leadership, and the lack of more established relationships?

    But I generally agree with you, and I think it could be alleviated by people having a greater sense of shared responsibility.

    • This is the type of dialogue I am hoping for as I try to sort out my ideas on this topic.
      There is a certain amount of laziness and one question is ‘how do we overcome this?’. And what has led to what you are calling laziness. But I wonder if it isn’t lack of feeling as a result of the excessive bureaucratization. Have we all lost our ‘edge’, our creativity, our drive under the weight of administrative detritus? In other words, which came first?

      I do agree that it is worse with increased complexity. But the world isn’t going to get any less complex so we have to find a way out of this morass. The complexity comes from size, ie: traditional societies, essentially just extended families, don’t have the same requirements of a modern multi-layered technological society. But I am not prepared to accept that this level of abstruse organization is necessary. This is something new.

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