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View Full Version : Insightful Article on Rumsfeld-David Brooks


banyon
04-19-2006, 01:00 PM
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: April 16, 2006
In 1955 Sloan Wilson published "The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit," and in 1956 William H. Whyte published "The Organization Man." Both books captured the spirit of the times, when young men graduated from college and were absorbed into large, anonymous corporate organizations.
Whyte described the bland conformism that prevailed in these bureaucracies. The young men, he wrote, don't see the system "as something to be bucked, but as something to be cooperated with." The Organization Men, he said, are technicians, not innovators; conformists, not rebels. They are "obtrusive in no particular, excessive in no zeal."

At about this time, smarter and more daring young men were also entering the work force. But these renegades rebelled against the organizational mediocrity they saw around them. They may have looked and dressed like all the other corporate cogs, and they tended to go into business like the others. But inside they were hostile to stultifying organizations, and contemptuous of protective, slow-moving bureaucracies. They saw themselves as anti-Organization Men, as bureaucratic barbarians who would crash through the comfy old routines and wipe out corporate sloth.

Donald Rumsfeld, who graduated from Princeton in 1954, was of this type. Athletic, heroic, he never met an organization he didn't try to upend. He made it to Congress in the early 1960's and challenged the existing order. He was hired by Richard Nixon and quickly reorganized the Office of Economic Opportunity, slashing jobs and focusing the organization. He wrote to Nixon that he would upset the education bureaucrats and destroy "their comfortable world."

As his career went on, he took his streamlining zeal to the Pentagon, and then to G. D. Searle & Company, where he dismissed hundreds of executives, spun off losing businesses and streamlined the bureaucracy.
Rumsfeld's style appealed to political leaders who were allied with the corporate world, but hostile to self-satisfied corporate fat cats. Nixon loved Rumsfeld, and George W. Bush, the rebel in chief, quickly hired him.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Rumsfeld held a town meeting in the Pentagon that almost perfectly summarizes his career. There is an organization that threatens the security of the United States, he warned. "With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas." The adversary is close to home, he concluded: "It's the Pentagon bureaucracy."

Anti-Organization Men like Rumsfeld value the traits needed to mount frontal assaults on vast bureaucracies: first, unshakable self-confidence; second, a willingness to stir up opposition and to be unmoved in the face of it (on the contrary, to see it as the inevitable byproduct of success).

Anti-Organization Men tend to love fast-moving technology for the way it renders old structures obsolete. They tend to see themselves as event-making characters who exist above their organizations, or in a tightly organized renegade band. Rumsfeld wrote his own rules, and many of them sing the glories of disruption: "You can't cut a swath through the henhouse without ruffling some feathers."

These anti-Organization Men did a lot of good. If you look at the corporations that reinvented themselves in the 1980's — G.E., Chrysler, Citibank, I.B.M., Xerox — you see they were led by men who were viscerally hostile to organizational inertia and willing to take gigantic risks to shake things up.

Unfortunately, we've learned that though Rumsfeld is a perfect warrior for peaceful times, his virtues turn into vices during wartime. War is nothing but a catalog of errors, and in fluid, unpredictable circumstances, the redundancies of the World War II style of organization actually make sense. When you don't know what you will need, sometimes it is best just to throw gigantic resources at a problem. You can adapt later on.

Rumsfeld the reformer never adjusted to the circumstances of wartime. Once the initiator of new ideas, he now strangles ideas. Once the modernizer, he's now the dinosaur. Amid the war on terror, he has unleashed a reign of terror on his subordinates.

If you just looked at his résumé, you might think he was the best person to lead the Pentagon in time of war, but in reality he was the worst because his whole life had misprepared him for what was to come. He was prepared to fight organizations. He was not prepared to fight enemies.

Now the bureaucracy he assaulted is rising up against him. In other times their enmity would be a mark of accomplishment, but now it's a symptom of failure. He has become a past-tense man.

banyon
04-19-2006, 01:01 PM
or at least I think it might be insightful...