One of my favorite examples of how anybody who is going to exercise power has to go in blind has to do with aviation negotiations and Richard Nixon.
It is impossible to imagine anyone being on top of being President of the United States going in. Most people go there from the Senate or was a governor or a general or a high level executive who knew next to nothing about the rubber or syrup or service his institution produced.
If there is any job that would seem to prepare you for being president, it would seem to be the only other elected national office, one heartbeat from the white House, the vice presidency.
But when he first reached the White House in 1969, having been Vice President for two terms 1953-1961, Nixon admitted he had no idea how to allocate his time. He spent one of his first days in the Oval Office agonizing over the details of a civil aviation agreement. Far be it from me to minimize the importance of civil aviation agreements, especially ones made way, way above my pay grade, But they are at absolute most the business of a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and just go to the President for initialing.
But it was on Nixon’s desk, so instead of calling on someone to prioritize for him he worried about it.
Even a former vice president goes in blind. But Nixon probably thought that, as a former senator and vice president, he was expected to know how to do his own prioritizing.
In one of the four thousand or so articles here I have talked about the Senior Executive Service (SES). Eventually, everything here relates to everything else.
Before the Civil Service Reform Act in 1978 or so, the government was not very up-to-date on some things.
Before the Reform Act the top three grades, equivalent to generals were called “super grades.” A person who was in supply in one part of the government, say office supplies, would advance grade by grade in that same area right on up to GS-18.
Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, a sizable typewriter company looking for a new Chief Executive Officer would not look for someone who knew all about typewriters. They hired somebody who had been a chief executive officer or his deputy somewhere else and usually in an entirely different industry.
It took less than a century, but the SES caught up with this. Before 1978 if you wanted to fill a slot at the top of anything you had to find someone who had come up in that area. If you wanted someone to take over office supplies, he had to be picked from the few people who had risen to a supergrade, GS-15 or above, in office supplies.
The Reform Act totally scrapped that. The old supergrades were changed to SES, the old GS-16 becoming SES Level I. Since 1978 an SES is expected to be able to manage personnel, supplies, or other things from one end of government to the other, from Defense to the Interior.
In other words, even the Federal Government finally realized that if you go in at the top, you go in blind.
And nothing is a better example of going in at the top than Mantra Thinking.
The specialists, the writers of times on both sides, hate it.
But if even the Feds can get with reality, so can we.