Friday, November 06, 2009

Does accountability create liars?

The short answer:

Yes, it does.

The longer one:

Some of the basic facts of human existence are these:

  • People are flawed, and their ability to do everything 'right' and according to plan is inherently limited. They will therefore make what's known as 'mistakes'.
  • People's flawed-ness extends into the realm of ethics and morality. Besides, said realm is littered with ambiguities, especially when coming into contact with 'real life'.
  • People screw up—an alternative way of saying 'make mistakes'—and when they do, they don't like being found out, for any number of practical and psychological reasons.
  • The only way to avoid being found out when having screwed up is by taking actions designed with the goal of not being found out in mind.
  • Lying—directly or through obfuscation, in word or in action—is the only means available to conceal mistakes or hide the fact that the mistakes are one's own.
Hence... Well, you connect the dots.

The irony of the whole situation is that our current current obsession with 'accountability'—which is one of those organizational yak-speak buzzwords nowadays, like 'stakeholders' and 'progressing' or 'actioning' something—is creating a tidal wave of deliberate and calculating liars, who are preoccupied with their inherent fear of 'accountability' and spend, and waste, incredible amounts of brain space, time and effort on methodologies and procedures to ensure that they either get everything completely 'right'—as 'right-ness' is specified in whatever organizational context they happen to operate—or that, if they don't get it right, they have strategies to obfuscate their screw-ups.

Of course, one might argue that, from an organizational point of view and historically speaking, this is really nothing new. And it isn't. What is 'new', if you will, is that what once used to be a, albeit widespread, implicit organizational problem caused by life and human nature—which, however, human organizations had adjusted themselves to and found a kind of 'working balance' for—has suddenly been catapulted into prominence by having been made explicit and one of today's buzzwords.

Everybody wants accountability from everybody else—but when applied to oneself, everybody's basically shit-scared of it, and will do everything to ensure that it doesn't bite one in the butt. So, far from creating a culture of accountability, we are in a headlong rush to create a culture of liars; adding to what you might call the already existing 'natural background level' of lies that are a part of normal social life anyway.

Am I advocating a removal of the whole accountability concept from the political-correctness agenda?

Of course not. I'm just observing here and calling attention to it—for yet again Peggy Noonan's dictum about history being an irony-factory proves only too true.

The only solution, as usual, is not implementable, because it would rely on a change in the statistics of human nature. If 'accountability', or the value of it, were an integral part of the ethical code of most people; if people realized that being personally accountable for one's actions is a good thing, and one to think about with pride rather than trepidation; then we wouldn't have this problem.

But people aren't like that. And they may never be.

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