Money is a great servant but a bad master.
― Francis Bacon
One of the clearest characteristics of our current research environment is the dominance of money. This only shadows the role of money is society at large. Money has become the one-size-fits-all measuring stick for science. This includes the view of the quality of science. If something gets a lot of money, it must be good. Quality is defined by budget. This shallow mindset is incredibly corrupting all the way from the sort of Lab’s where I work at to Universities and everything in between. Among the corrupting influences is the tendency for promotion of science to morph into pure marketing. Science is increasingly managed as a marketing problem and quality is equivalent to its potential for being flashy. In the wake of this attitude is a loss of focus on the basics and fundamentals of managing research quality.
Making money isn’t hard in itself… What’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting one’s life to.
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Doing science properly becomes an afterthought, and ultimately a lower priority. Doing the basic fundamental work for high quality research does not bring in money thus becomes optional. More and more the basics simply don’t get done. The core of managing research is talent management and development. It is about hiring, developing and retaining the best people for the work. If one thing is clear about our Universities and Labs, talented people are not important. There are those who might chafe at this, but talent is now the ability to gets lots of money, not do great work. Expertise is something all of these institutions are ceasing to value. Experts are expensive, and complicate things. Marketing is all about simple and experts tend to make things hard. Things are hard because they are. All of this is consistent with the overall diminishing ethics and integrity in public life. Rather than focus on a mission, or high-quality, money becomes the emphasis with mission and quality sacrificed as nuisance, and troublingly made equivalent to financial measures.
Don’t think money does everything or you are going to end up doing everything for money.
Money is a tool. Just like a screwdriver, or a pencil, or a gun. We have lost sight of this fact. Money has become a thing unto itself and replaced the value it represents as an objective. Along the way the principles that should be attached to the money have also been scuttled. This entire ethos has infected society from top to bottom with the moneyed interests at the top lording over those without money. Our research institutions are properly a focused reflection of these societal trends. They have a similar social stratification and general loss of collective purpose and identity. Managers have become the most important thing superseding science or mission in priority. Our staff are simply necessary details and utterly replaceable especially with quality being an exercise in messaging. Expertise is a nuisance, and expert knowledge something that only creates problems. This environment is tailored to a recession of science, knowledge and intellect from public life. This is exactly what we see in every corner of our society. In its place reigns managers and the money, they control. Quality and excellence are meaningless unless they come with dollars attached. This is our value system, everything is for sale.
What’s measured improves
― Peter F. Drucker
The result of the system we have created is research quality in virtual freefall. The technical class has become part of the general underclass whose well-being is not the priority of this social order. Part of the rise of the management elite as the identity of organizations is driven by this focus on money. Managers look down into organizations for glitzy marketing ammo, to help the money flow. The actual quality and meaning of the research is without value unless it comes with lots of money. Send us your slide decks and especially those beautiful colorful graphics and movies. Those things sell this program and get the money in the door. That is what we are all about, selling to the customer. The customer is always right, even when they are wrong as long as they have the cash. The program’s value is measured in dollars. Truth is measured in dollars, and available for purchase. We are obsessed with metrics, and organizations far and wide work hard to massage them to look good. Things like peer review are to be managed and generally can be politicked into something that makes organizations look good. In the process every bit of ethics and integrity can be squeezed out. These managers have rewritten the rules to make this all kosher. They are clueless about the corrosive and damaging all of this is to the research culture.
Make no mistake our research culture has been undermined systematically. The people at the top are acting in full accordance with the rules designed to make their job better and provide them with “ethical” justification. The pay structure and benefits have been systematically slanted to their advantage. Organizations are defined by their management talent rather than the technical talent. Managers are celebrated and held up as the emblems of organizational identity. Gone is the sense that managers are there to serve their organizations and enable the best work. The issue is the low-quality, low-integrity and low-ethics culture instilled at the top. These attitudes are in lock step with the rest of society. Across the organizations from industry to academia to government we see one set of rules for the management at the top and another set of rules for the peons laboring below. Ethical lapses and low integrity actions by peons are swiftly and mercilessly punished while the same actions by managers receive praise. Our management is creating a culture of hypocrisy and privilege then acting utterly oblivious to the consequences. We are a society where as the saying goes “the fish rots from the head”. Our leaders lack ethical fiber and integrity while celebrating incompetence all while being compensated handsomely. They will all simply claim to be acting within the written rules and avoid any discussion of the moral, ethical and culturally corrosive implications of their actions. The new cultural norm is that the top of society rules with a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality. Our leadership is morally bankrupt and ethically corrupt; yet operating fully within the parameters of the rules or laws.
On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.
– Jack Welch
Once upon a time we had incredible research organizations across our society including industry, academia, and government. We have allowed a number of forces loose to destroy these societal treasures. One of the biggest forces undermining the quality and competence of our research is lack of trust. This lack of trust has manifested itself as an inability to take risks necessary for research quality. The lack of trust has also produced an immense administrative load that our management class delivers to make society happy. This is only one of the forces undermining research albeit a powerfully destructive one. The second force is equally harmful. This is the topic today, the dominance of money in managing and measuring science. Money has become the great measure of what is good and bad. Rich is good, poor is bad. If you are poor, you are a bad person. It is your fault. A big part of this force is related to the dominant business principle of today. Profit is king, and everything is OK if it benefits stockholders. This principle is undermining society as a whole and making life awful for the vast majority of people while enriching the upper class and powering inequality to record levels. The same poisonous principles have been adopted by research institutions almost reflexively. The impact on organization structure mirrors society. In addition to managing society’s lack of trust, the adoption of “business” principles to research have powered the management class. Along with these principles has come a redefinition of integrity, ethics and quality to be strongly associated with money. Simply having money makes things high integrity, ethical and high quality. Without money you have the opposite without regard to other facts (which are optional today anyway). Culture has followed suit.
Free enterprise cannot be justified as being good for business. It can be justified only as being good for society.”
This discussion cannot be approached in a rational way without addressing the nature of our highest leadership today. We are not led by people with integrity, ethics or basic competence. The United States has installed a rampant symptom of corruption and incompetence in its highest office. Trump is not the problem, he is the symptom of the issue. He may become a bigger problem if allowed to reign too long, he can become a secondary infection. He exemplified every single issue we have with ethics, integrity and competence to an almost cartoonish magnitude. Donald Trump is the embodiment of every horrible boss you’ve ever had, then amplified to an unimaginable degree. He is completely and utterly unfit for the job of President whether measured by intellect, demeanor, ethics, integrity or philosophy. He is pathologically incurious. He is a rampant narcissist whose only concern is himself. He is lazy and incompetent. He is likely a career white color criminal who has used money and privilege to escape legal consequences. He is a gifted grifter and conman (whose greatest con is getting this office). He has no governing philosophy or moral compass. He is a racist, bigot and serial abuser of women.
He is a fucking moron.
– Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State under President Trump
In a nutshell Donald Trump is someone you never want to meet and someone who should never wield the power of his current office. You don’t want him to be your boss, he will make your life miserable and throw you under the bus if it suits him. He is a threat to our future both physically and morally. In the context of this discussion he is the exemplar of what ills the United States including organizations that conduct research. He stands as the symbol of what the management class represents. He is decay. He is incompetence. He is a pathological liar. He is worthy of no respect or admiration save his ability to fool millions. He is the supremacy of marketing over substance. He is someone who has no idea how ironic his mantra “make America great again” is completely undermined by his every breath. His rise to power is the most clear and evident example of how our greatness as a nation has been lost and his every action accelerates our decline. People across the World have lost faith in the United States for the good reason. Any country that elected this moronic, unethical con man as leader is completely untrustworthy. No one symbolizes our fall from greatness more completely than Donald Trump as President.
Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.
― Peter F. Drucker
The deeper worry is that all of these problems will ultimately result in very real consequences. The signs are all around us and our leaders at every level act do nothing. We cannot violate the fundamentals of competence and quality for so long and not suffer ill effects. Reality will descend upon us and it will not be pretty. Just as the research in the United States is falling from its summit, the effects will be felt in other areas of life. The long-term impact could well be catastrophic. We can only fake it for so long before it catches up with us. We can allow our leadership to demonstrate such radical disregard for those they lead for so long. The lack of integrity, ethics and morality from our leadership even when approved by society will create damage that our culture cannot sustain. Even if we measure things in the faulty lens of money, the problems are obvious. Money has been flowing steadily into the pockets of the very rich and the management class and away from societal investment. We have been starving our infrastructure for decades. Our roads are awful, and bridges will collapse. 21st Century infrastructure is a pipe dream. Our investments in research and development have been declining in the same time frame scarified for short term profit. At the same time the wealth of the rich has grown, and inequality has become profound and historically unprecedented. These figures are completely correlated. This correlation is not incidental, it is a change in the priorities of society to favor wealth accumulation. The decline of research is simply another symptom.
Money is not quality, money is not the objective. Money does not replace ethics and integrity. Reality matters and marketing does not replace quality and focus on the fundamentals. We need to prize people and prioritize talent and expertise if we want to succeed. Who we choose to lead us matters and the values they represent. It is time to choose differently.
Top 15 Things Money Can’t Buy
Time. Happiness. Inner Peace. Integrity. Love. Character. Manners. Health. Respect. Morals. Trust. Patience. Class. Common sense. Dignity.
― Roy T. Bennett