Different Skill Sets

Nobody likes to do everything or is equally competent in all areas. I understand that and I am reminded again now that I am working in the press office.  I needed a place to stay from now until I go to Brazil and they needed someone to fill in, so that is what I am doing.  It is the kind of exciting job that they might make into a TV show.  We have urgent challenges, big personalities and short deadlines. Yesterday, for example, we worked on the press surrounding the extradition of a Mexican drug lord, statements from high level meetings and various other hot items.  It is a truly essential job but I don’t like it.

Some of my colleagues love it and I can understand why. I get to be close to important people and events and, in time, I could probably convince myself that I am an important person too. But it is a “machine bureaucracy” where you are most successful to the extent that you can maintain the integrity of the hierarchy and the procedures. 

We often speak of bureaucracies in pejorative terms, but the reason all literate human societies have developed bureaucracies is that they work wonderfully within their areas of expertise. If you need to control events there is nothing better, providing that conditions are reasonably predictable within the accountability of the bureaucracy and you have the resources to make it work. I can affirm that we have a great bureaucracy.  Nothing gets lost. Information passes efficiently through the system; decisions are made and promulgated.  The machine works. The question really is not whether or not a bureaucracy works; it does. It is rather where and when the bureaucracy is the appropriate tool for the task.*

I am able to do the work and I am willing to do it because it needs to be done. I got all that language training that I loved, so it is fair to do some of the more bureaucratic tasks.  As I said, some people love that sort of work and many think I am crazy for loving the language training. I suppose people should do the things that they do well. I will be glad when I can get back to doing the things I am better at doing, the things I like to do. It won’t be long.

Give a man a hammer and every problem starts looking like a nail. That phrase comes from Abraham Maslow and a lot of my understanding of bureaucracy comes from Henry Mintzberg.  I don’t pretend to be a scholar on this, so this is my extrapolation from their ideas.   One problem for bureaucracy is that it grows and applies rules to inappropriate situations.  But the bigger problem is that most humans don’t adapt well to highly-rule based system.  It is essentially not a human system.   If you want to see an ideal bureaucratic system, look at a computer program.  A computer automates many of the machine bureaucratic functions, which is good, since it frees people for the tasks that they are better at doing.