Sunday, October 6, 2013

From the String Quartet to Representative Government

I just finished reading a fascinating reprint from Administrative Science Quarterly that basically examined the behavior of a string quartet as a model for an "intense work group" (the sort of group that might, for example, be involved in making high-level policy decisions for a large organization). The paper ended with the requisite "lessons learned" section, suggesting that such work groups did, indeed, have something to learn from the work practices of string quartets (at least the successful ones). The sentence that really stuck with me from this section of the paper was the following:
When facing conflict, groups might (a) leave hot topics alone to give everyone a chance to cool off (Pruitt, 1981; Ury, Brett, and Goldberg, 1988); (b) never settle for majority rule which, at a minimum, engenders minority dissatisfaction; and (c) know each other well enough to know what can't be said, i.e., ignore unavoidable dissimilarities and let policies evolve without raising issues explicitly.
One of the key conclusions was the conflict was inevitable. However, good string quartets accept that inevitability as axiomatic and, as a result, are more interested in getting on with making music than with trying to resolve those conflicts.

It is hard to resist reading that quoted sentence without thinking of the currently crippled state of our government. After all, one of the reasons why the TEA Party has come as far as they have through what I recently called "politics by terrorism" is that their leaders appreciate the advantage of keeping hot topics as hot as possible and avoiding any efforts concerned only with cooling down the heat of the situation. Indeed, those steering the TEA Party probably know full well that their group will never assume a controlling majority but can still work the hell out of "minority dissatisfaction." Unfortunately, our President still embraces the virtues of rational efforts to resolve conflicts, not realizing that, from the very beginning, all the TEA Party ever wanted was to keep the government from "getting on with making music;" and they seem to have succeeded on an impressive scale.

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