Monday, June 17, 2019

Sunny's new one stings

"When people oppose reasonable arguments vigorously, it behoves us to look carefully at where their reward comes from." - Sunny Bindra, Who Is Paid Not To Understand?
I live an exciting life. I play with fire every day I come to to the office. I review many, many schemes and offer my professional advice based on whether or not the proposals pass legal muster. I do not make policy. Nor do I execute policy. But my grubby fingerprints are all over some of the dodgiest schemes. And it sometimes shames me to the core to witness the aftermath of some of the schemes that came across my desk that I was powerless to quash. Sunny Bindra's words are a cruel echo that sometimes it isn't enough to dig into where an unreasonable person's rewards come from, but who among us enable such obduracy.

Bad ideas do not gain currency merely because they are defended by obdurate, but powerful, backers. Many bad ideas gain currency because they have been sieved and vetted by an entire ecosystem designed to bring them to the fore. In many cases, well-functioning systems act like kidneys and livers, filtering out impurities. When these kidneys and livers fail, bone marrow manufactures powerful antibodies to repel the more tenacious impurities. But every now and then, even well-functioning systems fail. That is the best case scenario. The worst is truly horrible to behold.

Bad systems are composed of different layers of, for lack of a better word, corrupted components. At each stage in the process of proposing, making and implementing bad ideas, the incentives at play are self-serving, not intended to benefit anyone other than that one dealing with the proposal at that time. The big picture is merely the sunny sky outside ones window and no more. Bad systems are made up of poor incentives at every stage of the way and they often have men and women determined to defend their roles in bringing forth bad ideas to the death - or, quite often, to a frothing mouth end.

Harebrained schemes are the usual outcome of bad systems and the loudest defenders of the harebrained schemes have perfected the art of manipulating the rewards' processes of the system. Not everyone is rewarded in treasure and not everyone seeks treasure as a reward. So a careful look for cash transfers or similar rewards will only reveal part of the problem areas. Look for people whose scores have been unfairly settled in their favour. Look for people whose career progression has received an unwarranted boost from higher authorities. Look for the emergence of sacred cows. When the, lets say, waziri is frothing at the mouth, spit-flecked lips flapping, defending the implementation of a harebrained scheme, look for the most enthusiastic clappers standing behind him, listen to the technocratic mandarin explaining why what you heard is not what you think it means but some wonderful solution to a problem you didn't even know you had. Rewards come in many forms and it pays to know which ones are relevant and which ones are not.

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