The first model is idea-centric. Idea-centric people and companies are driven by the power of an idea. They view power as residing in facts, logic, analysis, and innovation. These companies are often flat, meritocracies where the best ideas win and the way to win is to make the most cogent, objectively correct arguments. These people believe in substance, in doing the right (logically speaking) thing, open agendas and transparency, and the belief that ideas speak for themselves. Ie, if the ideas are well stated, why wouldn’t someone agree? I fall into this camp and often believe that if I make a logically consistent argument (ie axiomatic) then it should be clear what to do.
The second model is person-centric. Person-centric people and companies are driven by the power of hierarchy. The merit of an idea is not driven by the cogency of the logic but by the power, position, and political support for the speaker. In this world, ideas definitely do not speak for themselves, but rather image and the perception of support (who supports this, what does the VP/CEO, etc think about it). In these companies, people often don’t do what’s right but rather what works. Decisions, given they are not based on logic, are far from transparent and meetings are fait accomplis rather than opportunities for genuine discussion and feedback. Relationships drive support, not ideas and merit appears to lose out to coalitions and sponsorship. Loyalty, alliances, and working the system outweigh doing whats right and trusting the system to pick the “best” outcome.
In my experience, companies land somewhere along a continuum of the two models. The challenge for all of us is to understand the type of company we work in and what style we will need to adopt to be successful, or rather to quit and leave. Often the most frustrated people are idea-centric people working in people-centric companies who simply don’t realize it and cannot understand why their brilliant ideas find no support or traction.
It has been part of the camouflage of leftist movements in this country, helped by the muddleheadedness of many who really believe in liberty, that “liberal” has come to mean the advocacy of almost every kind of government control. I am still puzzled why those in the United States who truly believe in liberty should not only have allowed the left to appropriate this almost indispensable term but should even have assisted by beginning to use it themselves as a term of opprobrium.
This seems to be particularly regrettable because of the consequent tendency of many true liberals to describe themselves as conservatives.
”—Friedrich Hayek, preface to the 1956 American edition of The Road to Serfdom
“I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel. In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.”—Eleanor Catton, 2013 Man Booker-prize winner
A lot of political debates get bogged down in these kinds of questions of micro-fairness. Take, for example, road pricing. Congestion pricing, road tolling, and market pricing of parking all reduce traffic and cause the economy to grow faster. They create broad benefits that can be shared among society. But every time proposals come forward in these areas, we get bogged down in fights over whether it’s “fair” that some individual’s commute is going to get more expensive.
Focusing on micro-level fairness leads to all sorts of errors. It leads to policies like rent control, which protect incumbent tenants from “unfair” rent increases, instead of policies that would broadly reduce the cost of housing. It leads people to obsess over bank CEO pay instead of bank leverage. It leads to discussions of copyright law that focus on rewarding artists rather than fostering the availability of great content.