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MAN VERSUS NUMBERS

Posted by Tim Bryce on June 2, 2014

BRYCE ON SOCIETY

– How we are losing the common touch.

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
To use this segment in a Radio broadcast or Podcast, send TIM a request.

In the April 28, 2014 issue of the “Wall Street Journal,” an orthopedic surgeon from Santa Barbara, Dr. Daniel F. Craviotto, Jr., wrote an interesting column entitled, “A Doctor’s Declaration of Independence.” In it, he vented the medical community’s frustration with the ever growing number of federal rules and regulations. He rightfully contended government bureaucracy is inhibiting doctors from practicing medicine. Craviotto argued the doctor-patient relationship should be of paramount importance, but due to today’s numerous regulations, doctors and nurses are spending more time processing paperwork than taking care of their patients. You may remember me discussing this a few years ago, “My Dinner with the Doctor.”

Let me shift gears for a moment. You may recall in an earlier column, “Beware of the MBA’s,”
I contended there was a growing trend in management whereby more emphasis is being placed today on managing numbers as opposed to people. I am seeing more and more of this in business. It is no longer a matter of sharpening people skills, but more a matter of crunching numbers. I refer to this as “neutralizing humanity” in the workplace. Managers today study numbers as opposed to workers, vendors and customers. This leads me to believe their priorities have shifted.

Let me give you an example, I have a business friend who recently told me of his company’s system for customers returning products due to problems. It could be damaged, missing documentation, a wrong or missing part, or any other criteria preventing the product from being used by the customer. Such a system is common in many companies today. Inevitably, his manager wanted to change the procedures of the system.

Due to the complexity of their products, it can take up to an hour to enter all of the documentation, photographs and everything else going into a problem report. It next goes to the person responsible for the error and charged with correcting it. When solved, they close the report which is then returned to the original customer service rep who must click the “verify close” button on the computer screen and all is done. If they are not satisfied, they “re-open” the case.

The manager wanted to change this procedure by having the customer service reps just click on the “verify close” button, and if a problem persisted, to open up a new case. His reasoning; the number of cases “re-opened” would make him look bad to his superiors. In other words, he thought the numbers were more important than addressing the problem of why cases were being re-opened.

Now let’s bring the doctors and the managers together. What we are witnessing is a concerted attempt to turn humans into insensitive machines. In the doctor’s case, federal bureaucracy takes precedence over doctor-patient relationships. In the business world, managers are taught to think only in terms of occurrences (making a cold call, visiting a customer, etc.). Concepts such as salesmanship, service, hospitality, etc. are considered antiquated concepts. Numbers are king.

As another example, let us consider the public education system where it is no longer a matter of teaching students to reason and communicate, but to simply memorize facts and take tests. This is leading to a generation of people who are socially handicapped and easier to micromanage. Today, there is less emphasis on developing people who are caring and thinking, and more on passing tests in order to earn supplemental government funding. The federal government’s Common Core initiative will only compound this problem. Teachers are also frustrated and are beginning to abandon their profession as they come to the realization they are being judged more by numbers as opposed to the students they teach, thereby causing them to lose empathy and concern for the well-being of their students.

The emphasis on numbers is dehumanizing and represents a significant change in our culture. It means we are losing what was once called the “Common Touch” (aka “Personal Touch”). It is analogous to driving an automobile by its dials and gauges, such as the odometer, speedometer, tachometer, gas gauge, etc. These are useful tools but we cannot become obsessed by them. The human being still drives the car. We must be mindful of the dials and gauges, but we must never take our eyes off the road, for if we do, disaster will inevitably ensue. We can certainly drive the car without the dials and gauges, but run the risk of speeding, going too slow, overheating, or running out of gas. However, we cannot drive the car simply by dials and gauges.

Maybe the Millennials will adapt, but it will likely represent the death knell of the Baby Boomers who are more accustomed to interpersonal relations. Managers and Doctors, like Craviotto, who are in their 50’s or older, are likely to abandon their profession as they are being pushed to the brink. Think I’m kidding? Talk to an older doctor on your next visit and ask about his satisfaction with current government regulations. Also talk to the managers who have been on the job for thirty or more years and ask if they have witnessed any changes in terms of how customers, employees, and vendors are handled. And finally, ask your offspring in school to give a three minute dissertation on a current event in the news (or simply this article) and have them be prepared to argue their position. One thing should become evident, it’s no longer about humanity, just numbers.

This approach to social-engineering could be construed as a 21st century version of a lobotomy intended to make the patients more docile and easier to manipulate. Between the emphasis on numbers, government programs encouraging such behavior, the influence of the media, and the excessive use of technology, we are witnessing a significant change in the thinking patterns of people.

Just remember, the word “man” is embedded in the word “management” for a reason.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim’s columns, see:
timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

NEXT UP:  IT’S ME, RIGHT? – As Johnny Nash sang, “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.”

LAST TIME:  WHY AMERICA SUCCEEDS  – The answer should be rather obvious.

Listen to Tim on WJTN-AM (News Talk 1240) “The Town Square” with host John Siggins (Mon, Wed, Fri, 12:30-3:00pm Eastern), and KIT-AM 1280 in Yakima, Washington “The Morning News” with hosts Dave Ettl & Lance Tormey (weekdays. 6:00-9:00am Pacific). Or tune-in to Tim’s channel on YouTube.

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8 Responses to “MAN VERSUS NUMBERS”

  1. Tim Bryce said

    A W.A. of the Dominican Republic wrote…

    “Good morning, Tim. Not sure I mentioned that I had major back surgery on all 5 lower lumbars 6 months before moving to the DR. Was attended by 5 physicians. 2 Neurosurgeons, 1 cardiologist, 1 urologist and the anesthetist. Of course, this was 8 months before Obamacare was enacted, but much talk was generated by all of these doctors concerning the possible passing of the bill. 3 of them, all in their mid 50s, said they would definitely retire, 1, A young cardiologist, about 40 said he would if he could, but needed to practice at least 10 more years, and the other had no opinion. So, just saying, 3/5 a definite, 2, Just not enough money saved yet. So, if this holds up as an example, 3/5 of all docs. in their early 50s to mid 60s will probably retire as soon as they are able. I have no way of checking to see if they did yet, but I can say they were very definite as to how much they hated what they knew about the law. I just thank God we are here and hope this kind of law does not make it’s way here. Just had an operation on my leg 6 days ago that took 45 minutes to remove a possible cancerous cell about the size of a marble. The doctor did not take my insurance, so I had to be charged the full price. 3,500 Pesos or about $80 US. This includes follow up and removal of stitches and analysis of what was taken in the operation. Beautiful job with the stitching and probably won’t even know there is a scar after some time goes by. WHAT A COUNTRY!!!! A statement that used to be made by that foreign comedian, who’s name escapes me. “

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  2. Tim Bryce said

    A B.H. of Boulder, Colorado wrote…

    “Years ago, when in the military, I was being seen for a strange set of symptoms – all of which eventually (after 6 months of appointments) led the doctor to a conclusion that I was simply under stress. But, as a navy doctor, he was also wearing a “hat” as a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences at Bethesda, and another “hat” at the National Institutes of Health. After my appointment was concluded, I noticed he was filling out 5 sets of paperwork (no carbons, no NCR paper). When I asked why, each of the groups he had a responsibility for needed a copy of his patient records, he wanted a copy, and they needed one for MY records. He commented that he spent more time filling out paperwork than actually seeing patients.

    Later, when I was still playing racquetball, my partner at the 0500 sessions was a family practice doctor. (I figured if I was going to get hurt playing a sport, might as well have a doctor on the court with me. Turns out, he got injured playing softball and had to quit playing just about everything). Anyway, one time after our set, we were talking in the dressing room, and he commented that if he knew then (when he became a doctor) what he knew now, he would NEVER have become a doctor. His comment was that he became a doctor to HELP PEOPLE – not fill out paper. Paper from insurance companies, paper from regulatory agencies, paper from organizations not directly involved in patient care, but involved in the medical profession or the hospital – to make sure the LEGAL ramifications were covered. He eventually just quit practicing out of frustration.”

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  3. Tim Bryce said

    An R.Z. of Winter Garden, Florida wrote…

    “A really good one, and I can certainly relate as of late.”

    Like

  4. On the public policy front also, the numbers game absorbs a lion’s share of the attention of our elected officials to our concerns and opinions. A statistical and clerical tool, known as narrow-casting, allows our representatives to drop contacts from us into neat packages for response (usually in the form of inane little ‘official’ letters…”Thank you for contacting Rep. XYZ about issue ABC. Your opinion is very important to the Rep. and we are examining this issue closely…etc, etc.”. An issue may even be broken down into sub categories, so that you will receive updates, depending upon how the original contact was worded, on topics perceived to be related to the original one: all of that without a real person (and least of all your elected official) with even a scintilla of interest in your concern, let alone authority to actually DO anything about it, having any understanding of the reason for your having voiced concern.

    Appearances, ultimately, being the real objective, dovetail that sort of high-tech ‘finger in the wind’ attention to constituent concerns with the electorate you describe in this piece: educated on the one hand to think in terms of the most vapid of trivialities (and so, likely to be duly impressed by their representative’s response) and who, on the other, have as their greatest interest ‘being taken care of’ by their government.

    I was present in the audience, about 30 years ago now, when a post-lecture questioner asked economist Thomas Sowell what he saw on the horizon for America, if such mindless acceptance of authority and focus on gorging at the public trough continued. He thought for only a moment and then said, “I will answer your question, but you will not like the answer. I see dictatorship and it is unavoidable, if those trends continue.”

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  5. sirchristiantheheck@reagan.com said

    Very true I’m sure. What can REALISTICALLY be done to unravel the mess we’re just making worse ?????

    Like

  6. Tim Bryce said

    A B.B. of Versailles, Kentucky wrote…

    “I was struck by your Numbers related column recently. You are right on about how management emphasizes numbers over people or results. The part that you touched on, but might deserve more emphasis, is the decline of the overall all understanding of number by the majority of people. I am currently teaching a 200 level Stats class and had to spend two lectures on how to compute an average. Granted it is a community college, but really? is it that bad? I think Congress as a rule doesn’t understand numbers or people.”

    Like

  7. Tim Bryce said

    An A.A. of Norway wrote…

    “Another ‘home run’ article!

    Expanding a bit on your concept of ‘neutralizing humanity’, I was having this discussion at lunch with two supervisors at work. I have seen this disturbing move in a few companies where they keep a distinctive partition between the company’s employees and their contracted employees. I see this as a very destructive problem in companies. At the current company I am at, I am listed as a ‘consultant’, as we will only be here in Norway for a couple years, then we will return to the real world. Last Christmas, I was invited to the company Christmas party by email, then un-invited by email a day later because I am a ‘contracted employee’, only to be accidentally re-invited by one of the parent companies a few days later. This spring, I was invited to a company golf outing, only to be un-invited by email again. This division of employees that companies have devised is very demoralizing to its employees. It drives home the notion that its contracted employees are inferior to the ‘real employees’ of the business. As many companies outsource more and more work to contracted employees, many of whom work onsite, what will be the effect in the future on the morale of the workforce?”

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  8. […] MAN VERSUS NUMBERS […]

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