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We plebes aren’t stupid; we have the Internet too

February 23, 2010

It only took David Brooks, the Op/Ed columnist for the NY Times Op/Ed page about a year to get it right.

He wrote the other day about how our republic is failing because we no longer have implicit faith in our meritocracy bred leaders.  Well, the real issue is, do we really have a meritocracy bred leadership? The answer is, we absolutely must have a leadership meritocracy, but based on judgment and track records and not family dynasty or alumni pull. Many of our seeming best leaders seem to be (as we termed it in our blog entry back in March of 2009) ‘an inch too smart’ but remain a part of the ‘in crowd’ not matter the consequences of their decision making.

Centralization of power is as core to human existence as air.  Going back almost 2000 years, in the 3rd century CE/AD, Roman society was divided into honestiores (“more honorable people,” and the humiliores (“more insignificant people,”). Economic and political power and even the legal system were very different for the two.  Before that, during the last years of the Republic, the Senatorial, Wealthy (‘equites’) and lower classes (‘vulgus’) all lived in the same zip codes but in very different countries.  As a citizen, you had a chance of entering the ‘equites’, but it was a pretty closed society. Of course, eventually the upper classes couldn’t show their decision making and judgment value-add, being focused only on themselves, and so after a while the populous no longer supported the status quo.  Que the Dark Ages theme song.

As we start the long slog of economic recovery, we have to restore general faith in our nation’s business leaders.  We have to understand access to information confirms or decimates the occularity of our decisions and credibility, the two most important factors in leadership.  You’re the well paid head of the Humane Society of the United States.  You brush your teeth and climb into your comfortable bed, satisfied you’re the meritocratic leader of a huge not for profit.  Over coffee 8 hours later you see a full page ad on page A9 stating your organization spends less than ½ of 1% of your $100 million budget on hands-on pet shelters, but your pensions are very well funded. It’s not about being wicked smart and acing tests and asking deep, penetrating questions, it’s about your judgment across a broad spectrum of issues and elite schools cannot guaranty that but the internet can expose it.

With dozens of cable talk channels bloviating all day and night, with online search ubiquitous, at some point everything we do will become public.  It’s more than technology, the general public, us plebes, now look at life from the angle of being able to research anything in our spare time and it’s a national blood sport to pinpoint and expose inconsistent behaviors. The only meritocracy in our country today is the roughly 200 Million people who use the internet. David Brooks, himself a member of the journalistic meritocracy, got it backwards.  We have to lead knowing everything is visible or risk basing our economic future on a barely engaged workforce looking forward to bringing our bad decisions into full view.

King Canute, of English lore, tried to command the tide to stop rising, finally telling his followers that even the power of kings was subservient to a higher order.  As business leaders, our power is surprisingly subservient to the search engines.

Rich Eichen is a Managing Principal of Return on Efficiency, LLC, who’s website is and is one of their senior turnaround leaders/CROs, Program and Interim Executives with over 25 years experience reshaping companies, Operations and key initiatives. He can be reached at

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