Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Death of Intelligence

From this article on The Atlantic (Tuesday, April 10, 2012): Peak Intel: How So-Called Strategic Intelligence Actually Makes Us Dumber

"[I]ndustry consolidations have created gigantic bureaucracies. Hierarchical organizations have a very different logic than smaller firms. In less consolidated industries, success and failure are largely the result of the decisions you make, so intelligence about the reality of the marketplace is critical. Life is different in gigantic organizations, where success and failure are almost impossible to attribute to individual decisions. Though a given conglomerate might have hundreds or thousands of "executives," each is much more beholden to a complex culture of bosses. Even if people mean well, they're living and dying by a system where the incentives are to seek advancement by pushing responsibility downward and pulling credit upwards. In large, slow-moving bureaucracies, conventional thinking and risk avoidance become paramount, irrespective of how many times a day people at that organization use the word "strategy" or "innovation." It is far more preferable to fail conventionally than to make a daring but uncertain decision without the full backing of the entire organization. Because massive bureaucracies are so much more common than they were even a few years ago, decisions are simply not in vogue right now."

"... most importantly, the world's economy is today driven more by policy makers than at any time in recent history. At the behest of government officials, banks have been shielded from the consequences of their market decisions, and in many cases exempt from prosecution for their potential law-breaking. Nation-state policy-makers pick the winners in industries, such as automotive, and guarantee the smooth operations of others, such as Verizon and General Electric, both of which received zero-interest cash flow via the TARP program in 2008 and 2009. Eventually, states might do less of directing specific outcomes in the world markets, but for now, these policy-makers have suspended many critical free market principles, and at times the rule of law, on the notion that we are in a crisis, and keeping the system together comes first.

Thus, what use is the old model of competitive analysis if you are looking at markets in Greece right now? Which would have more impact on a given market: the clever, innovative actions of a CEO in Athens, or the politics within the European Central Bank? And how about analyzing the future of the housing market in the United States? Are you going to examine how much people are able to pay for accommodations and the level of housing stocks available in given cities, or shall you look at the desires of central bankers and Congressional policy-makers able to start new financing programs to end up with a desired outcome? How can you use classical competitive analysis to examine the future of markets when the relationships between firms and government agencies are so incestuous and the choices of consumers so severely limited by industrial consolidation?

There is no good way to reliably predict the future in these markets anymore, except maybe by being privy to the desires of an ever-decreasing number of centrally connected power players. Companies still need guidance, but if rational analysis is nearly impossible, is it any wonder that executives are asking for less of it? What they are asking for is something, well, less productive. "

In other words, there is more govt intervention in the markets now than at any other time. A centrally planned economy like the former Soviet Union? If not centrally planned, then centrally intervened, disrupted, distorted.

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