Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Wrong People for the Job: Keeping CEOs in media and business that are going to sink the boat.

"Failure to learn from past mistakes begins with the belief that what happened was never a mistake in the first place."
      -Me, just now.

Although it may seem as if you, dear reader, are in for an art history lesson, it is the actual Medusa event that is the inspiration here.  It is something I have been thinking about as it applies to contemporary matters.  Famous for being immortalized in "The Raft of the Medusa" by French master Théodore Géricault in 1819 currently on display at the Louvre in Paris, The Medusa Affair was  a horrific event involving incompetence, cronyism, class-ism, and not only epic, but consistently poor decision making by "management" you could call it. 

Since Wikipedia exists, the entire story need not be retold here, only that due to the above stated reasons (and maybe a shark or two), the evacuation of most of the people on board met with an 8% success rate, and in case you were wondering, that would be -92% return on living people. The result was mutiny, murder, suicide, and eventual cannibalism.  It is a situation with striking parallels to the result of current business practices in these the times in which we live.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Also the boat itself sank.

For more information, visit your local youtube video where a college freshman will blur the lines between explain, extol, and pontificate, while talking about what they read about this in an art history book published in 1992.  It will be followed by a google ad-sense link for where you can find the best deal on a sub-par print you can hang in your tiny apartment to make people who come over think you're smart.  (Which is good because you have really got to stop telling people that "The Scream" is your favorite Van Gogh painting when you point to that old poster of it you got from the campus bookshop that's still up in your kitchen). I put so many miles on this joke I could take it to an antique dealer at this point.

Moving on; The recent episodes of corporate death and disease we have been seeing, which range from MGM to Toys R Us, and from G.E. to Toshiba, are not specific to any one industry, but rather the result of a potent mixture of a failure to adapt, generational disconnect, staunch baby boomer self-righteousness, Executive Worship, immense misplacement of corporate social responsibility, politically complicit corporate corruption, and simple greed in the notion that selling the soul of the company to an investment bank so you could have more money to carry out your bullshit was somehow not going to end up like a real life version of Faust (but hey, you're "executive level" so what do you care...). 

As these companies navigate the turbulent seas of global business, success and even survival depends on command decisions with the health of the vessel in mind as paramount.  All too often in the past two to three decades, concern for such welfares  have found themselves replaced by some nebulous commitment to unknowable collectives of financiers, with priorities far too narrow to sustain anything other than the monetary equivalent of theoretical physics that only finance majors could hold so dear.  This has elevated the concept of the all-star CEO to something of value.  An asset of luxuriant necessity who's lack of presence is as inconceivable as the absence of air-conditioning in a car owned by someone living in Arizona.  It is not.

 March 2017 

March 2018
"How do ya like THEM APPLES?"

Such is the function of self aggrandizing smoke and mirrors.  But much like smoking cigarettes, it only looks cool in the movies, and that intangible coolwill* can dangerously overshadow the real irreparable damage to very tangible healthy tissue.  Damage which is obscured from being a cause of concern until the lifeblood of the drained body-corporate pours from a gasping desiccated mouth twisted in the physical pain of necrotic tissue attempting in vein to maintain its life, quivering below eyes widened by the fear of  inevitable mortality, dripping with impotent tears impregnated with the lamentable knowledge of the fact such a fate as final as this death was by their own hand, preventable.  

Basically their way of running a company is very harmful but they don't realize it until it bites them in the ass.  This is because like the Captain of The Medusa, they have gained their position through favoritism and noble title, not by showing an ability to navigate an overloaded military naval vessel in the dangerous shallows off of West Africa.  Being appointed to such responsibilities leaves most executives genuinely questioning how their "brilliant plan" which relies on strategic metrics and business sensibilities which fully petrified in 2002 could have missed the mark by so much.  And why their concerns for rescuing things from their disastrous endeavors are egregious cries of "assets and golden parachutes first!" when filling the few lifeboats who's shortage and inadequacy seems to exist by design.

 Despite how awesome this looks, in reality it is the result of some very poor life choices.

 *What is "coolwill"?  Related to the business concept of goodwill, coolwill is an intangible asset not generated not by deeds which create general feelings of gratis and dependability in consumers, but by deeds which create feelings of envy in competitors.  This can include everything from innocuous flamboyance, to seriously self-destructive behaviors such as the insanity of CEO Dennis Kozlowski. While Tyco is an extreme example, the notion of the "cool kids" having the run of the school despite being anything other than human garbage, is a long and storied one and continues into just about every aspect of society.  So coolwill is when a Company or Executive benefits from such enviable and not rewarding or dependable behavior.

This brings us to today, where a mix of said "coolwill" and baby boomer selfishness have created an invisible monster that is giving corporate sepsis to companies that make the things we love and which employ the people our communities depend on.  Nothing appeals to older executives like being atop a social pyramid and older such people are finding out that the only such pyramids they can stand atop of are ones where they stand on the shoulders of those simply too economically terrified to ever contradict them.  Even if that pyramid is one they are ill equipped to take command of.  While the myth of the CEO being something valuable is well known and documented, they react like the owner of a pit-bull which has already ripped open 2 Yorkies and human toddler's face, oh well that's not ME and MY doggie, I'm totally different.  Yeah, sure you are.  But that's only a small part of the reason these companies are showing signs of ill health.

The more important part is that the solution to these problems is going to have to include the strategy of filling positions based on ability and competency, not experience and seniority.  Nothing makes a baby boomer start worrying more than the realization that their skill-set of telling other people what to do and their "experience" of working with dot matrix printers is not an asset.  We see these people paid more for doing less.  The notion of "not being able to set up your own email" was cute in 1998, but 20 years on that's like proudly admitting you don't know how to dial a phone or order a pizza.  Why does the VP of marketing need someone to explain to them what tent-poling is, or how to analyze new market data?  The notion that the keeping of their positions might get tied to their demonstrable abilities and not simply the fact that they just have been there forever will make them dangerous wounded animals.  Anyone who says "I've been in the business a long time" needs to be told "yeah, and look what you've done to it."  But of course that's always someone else's fault.

Social issues are also very important, especially in creative and entertainment media.  No one wants to work for a generation that denies civil rights to Americans, and calls video games (a multi-billion dollar industry that pays enough taxes to keep their precious Medicare, bailouts, and unending wars going) as dangerous as lead-poisoning, unless they get paid enough to off their student loans I guess.
 (oh, 2016... See what I did there?).

Although this argument could fill pages upon pages, I will simply conclude that this economic environment of terrible terribleness is only going to bring us more bad decision making by a management with inherited and artificially portable power, and unearned reputations of competence value, and a desperate need to stay relevant despite sucking at their CEO jobs.   (Jeff Immelt I'm talking about you... You can only sell NBC once).

So what does this mean for media creation and consumption for Otaku?  Well I think it means this:

For the USA:
This means that media companies will finance irrelevant projects, use outdated strategies, and fail to give the necessary importance to emergent technology ("disruptive technology" is the wrong term, it is just something the old world execs use for new inventions that they can't figure out how to turn on or off).  Companies will make crap, and eventually we will see a decline in creativity and content.  Just look what FOX did to every single good show they had... yeah, we really need that Tim Allen reboot of whatever it is.  Look how well Rosanne did ammiright?

You just know Fox is gonna bring this one back in such a socially tone-def manner, the lack of self-awareness is going to create a vacuum which rivals a black hole.

For Japan:
The risk for Japan comes from a direct threat to financing.  In terms of content and licensing "keep doing what you're doing" is not only a prudent idea but it's such a Japanese way of doing things that it's gonna happen that way no matter what. Sure there are in-studio changes that should happen which won't, but that's just going to make life continue to suck there.  What keeps most anime actually happening, is financing from massive corporations and banking networks which are too frequently starting to fall like diseased trees and take out whatever happens to be in their way as they plummet into dysfunction.

Is the Shining top of an Oji-san's head the new face of Japanese Global Industry?  

It's getting there, but recent events indicate that Japan is still playing more of a long-game, which seems like a good idea since we're now in a current climate where the only way to win is almost not to play (at least for the moment).

As The Medusa triggered the fall of the Bourbon Restoration and eventually lead to the July Revolution of 1830 in France (actual photograph of the event below), perhaps we shall see one of these disasters spur on the recognition that the balance of power, opportunity, and long term national preservation, so desperately in need adjusting.

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