Vested interests, protectionism, conservatism are the enemies of diversity, innovation and change.
This idea has been at the heart of liberalism since John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty. He used the example of China, a civilisation so advanced and sophisticated that it invented paper, printing and gunpowder centuries before Europeans ever got near them.
Then China got bureaucracy. Got complexity combined with central control. And it stopped. Nothing changed, the elite decided how the world would be and how it would be forever. It’s a kind of societal Amish effect.
Clay Shirky’s written a fascinating essay about all of this called The Collapse of Complex Business Models. I especially love this quote:
Bureaucracies temporarily reverse the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In a bureaucracy, it?s easier to make a process more complex than to make it simpler, and easier to create a new burden than kill an old one.
He uses examples of AT&T backing off from web hosting because of an obsession with up-time and reliability that didn’t fit the market. It’s what’s happening now with media companies that expect to be paid for their IP in the way they choose because the alternative does not compute for them.
It’s an interesting thought that the inability to see how things could get simpler might be what chokes an industry, a business. Does it jar with the Russell Ackoff call to ignore the “Keep It Simple Stupid” oversimplification that middle managers are so often englamoured by? I don’t think so – understanding complexity doesn’t mean you have to defend it.
Thanks @neilperkins for the point…