Last week Rob Long wrote a Ricochet post quoting a Bain Consulting study that concluded that corporate managers are spending too much time ‘connecting’. Rob said:
“I've often wondered how much better some meetings would be if every laptop was shut and every phone switched off.”
This article triggered an idea that I have had for a while, that is best introduced by answering this question: why was the British Empire so efficient? For there is no doubt about it, it was. A mere thousand bureaucrats in the Colonial Office managed an empire so large that the sun never set on it, an empire that included a subcontinent. How was this possible?
One reason, I think, is that the colonies weren’t informatically connected. No phones, no text messages, no Skype, no e-mail, no conference calls, no webinars, no meetings. Therefore, no micromanagement. For reasons of necessity, all decisions had to be pushed down to the lowest possible levels. This not only had the effect of minimizing bureaucracy but it also meant that the character of the Empire’s decision makers was more solid.
Consider, say, the Governor of Tasmania. Halfway around the world, if there was a sudden insurrection or unexpected invasion, it would take two weeks for your urgent request for help reach Whitehall. That means that the soonest help could arrive is a month, assuming the government sends off reinforcements within a day, which it wouldn’t. So who would apply for such a job? Not a bureaucratic manager, content to transport papers from the inbox to the outbox and breath heavily at conference calls all day. But a bold leader, a man of action, might. Somebody, for whom, the lack of connections to the home country would be liberating not enervating.
The result was an efficient, adaptable and decisively run empire.
UPDATE: Thank's for the Instalanch Glenn!
For those of you who have been directed to this post for the first time by Glenn Reynolds, feel free to look around. And don't let the name fool you. I do talk a lot about American politics.