Questions & Answers
CARMICHAEL: Well, this is going to be a version of the question I asked to the first speaker. Stuart, you said early in your paper that you expected early-on that there would be more rational problem-solving than there has been. And it seems to me that there are different rationalities involved, and this is one of the things that's really -- that I've been learning while looking at Y2K. It's not my view that protecting the market is a good thing, but I think it's the view of the leaders, and that the rational strategy for protecting the market is different than the rational strategy of dealing with Y2K. And there's kind of a probability matrix here of where you expect the problem to be. So that protecting the market with some felt probability that you might lose in that strategy has different outcomes than if you act like Y2K is a big deal. And that the leadership primarily has been organized around market logic and not around the technical failure logic. That's not an irrational position. The thing is, there are different rationalities depending upon how you define the problem. And the idea that we should do something about Y2K seems to be a somewhat monolithic view of the world. Leaving out that there are also other problems that leadership has to cope with in a very complex world, and that we live in a plurality of problem definitions with different rationalities. There's no overleading one that says that is so transcended like with a single epigenetic model; that you can see the others as failures to embrace the whole because we really live in a plurality, which is part of the Darwinian view I think, of a society; that you're trying different strategies, some of which are going to fail. And each strategy is rational within itself. So that the framework for Y2K forces us back to a deeper view about what is rational in regards to human society. And that what we've done is created a situation where the economy and what's good for it, and the society and what's good for it, have diverged; which creates a real dilemma for all of us.
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: Well, I agree completely with that, Doug, and I think you're absolutely right. That's one of the things I've learned through the whole experience. The way that that has surfaced in recent days has been in a discussion of communities, where there's sort of John Koskinen on one side and the community organizers on the other side. Where people operating at different levels see the problem differently, they approach the problem differently. And I think it's -- the whole Y2K phenomenon has been extremely revealing; exactly what you're saying. It's going to be wonderful to write it up.
CAWS: For the record, Peter Caws. There's an -- I've got a current New Yorker review of books that I recommend and you might have your differences with it -- probably will. I can't remember who wrote it but it's a review of a whole bunch of Y2K books. And a rather interesting metaphor or parallel the guy uses is, when you say software problems solve slowly and we don't know much about timeliness and so on, he says look at the difference between the late delivery of book manuscripts as opposed to the putting on the television news. He said, if you were to look at the pattern of the delivery of book manuscripts you would believe that the news could never get out on time. But because there's a real deadline and because people are used to scrambling for a real deadline, the television news in fact, does get out on time. Now, there must be cases, there must be studies I would think -- I don't know where they would be -- of crisis management situations where you have had real deadlines. I mean, the Chernobyls that didn't happen or the Three Mile Islands that didn't happen, and the technological ingenuity that had to go into solving these things. And I don't know, is there a literature on that? Because I think that there is a kind of real world constraint when the thing is about to blow. But there isn't if you're just sort of sitting back in September thinking about it. And I don't think we can rely on that; by no means. On the other hand, I think it's something to be factored into the analysis.
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: Just two comments on that. Apollo 13 is usually used as an example of a time --
CAWS: I'm sorry, what 13?
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: Apollo 13.
CAWS: Oh, yes. Right.
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: The Apollo 13 catastrophe is one in which there was a response and it was successful and it was time-critical. Ed Yourdon has addressed this issue and said that -- he's written books on Mongolian horde software development projects and --
CAWS: His is one of the books reviewed in the article.
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: Yes, I'm sure it must have been. And basically he says that, well, we've always thought that it was time-critical; we've always thought that it was an important project. Why would we believe that this would be different? I hope it is different and that more gets fixed than is normally the case. I think he's not betting on that, but I will definitely look forward to the review. Let's go back there and then Sally.
HAMILTON: Hi, I'm Bud Hamilton from Georgia State University, and I teach Strategic Management and we tend to be people who are forest people. And I wanted to say that your review is a wonderful review of a lot of the different theories in a lot of different areas. As a Strategic Management teacher I'm going to have a few quibbles with some of your characterizations there a little bit later, but I'm going to save that for my presentation. What I was interested in here though, to discuss now, is the Soros idea in combination with this issue of cybernetics, self-reference. My concern for at least two months has been if John Koskinen attempts to manage panic that he will manage it out of control. Because there is going to be a tremendous gap between perception and reality. I am in contact with a lot of firms in Atlanta and I can tell you, what's going down on the ground is not exactly what's being said. You know, don't worry, winter storm. That's completely different from what the reality is going to be. And when the population determines that, my fear is that that's going to be when the panic erupts and that's going to be a very dangerous point.
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: Sally, and then Jack. I agree with that last comment, by the way.
MS. STRAKBEIN: Something that you said in your presentation corresponded very nicely with what Dr. Caws said. You talked about political re-alignment and he spoke about what happened to the man in New Zealand who had not taken care of the power failure problem. What I've been writing about in my writings is that I've seen very clearly that we have a bunch of politicians who have not taken care of anything as far as Y2K is concerned, and I'm wondering if you have any ideas about what will happen to them? It's been my prediction that they're going to be fired. Could you comment on that, please?
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: The politicians?
MS. STRAKBEIN: The politicians who haven't accepted Y2K and done something about it as far as helping the people prepare.
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: Well, that's my concern, yes. I think people will be upset. I've said I think there will be a lot of blame and that the blame will take the form of lawsuits and it will take the form of lost elections, and it may take other forms as well. I hope that it's channeled into institutional forums. In the case of Germany -- and I'm very concerned -- Der Spiegel, which is sort of the Time or Newsweek of Germany, published their first article on Y2K in August of this year. It's a report summarizing a federal government of Germany report that says that Y2K is very serious and can lead to very serious disruptions. And in the report they also quote Chancellor Schroeder and the Economics and Finance Ministers saying it's not a problem, it's not going to be an issue, there aren't going to be any ill effects. And so the government report and the statements by the leaders of the government are not in sync. So I do not know those societies well enough to anticipate what the sequence of events will be. I'm hoping I'll learn what some people think in October. But I will relate to you one conversation I had in the train in Austria about a month ago. There was a man: he was in charge of a construction project; he lived in Vienna; he was working in Klagenfurt; he was commuting back and forth. He had just read Karl Mueller's book, "Chaos 2000: The Global Time Quake". I asked him, how is Y2K going in his company. He had a big smile. He says, well I don't know. He says, I'm reading the book; it doesn't sound very good. And so I said well, the government doesn't seem to be very concerned about it. And he said no, that's right. And I said, do you think they ought to be more concerned about it? And he said, well think about it this way: that every generation has had their major event. Like, there was World War I, there was World War II. He says, the young people would talk to the people who came back from the war, and of course they only talked to the survivors. They didn't talk to the ones that died. He said, it sounded very exciting. So the next generation went off. He says, this generation has had no excitement. If they fix this, life will continue in its very predictable, highly regulated, extraordinarily boring pattern. Why fix it? I thought it was a very innovative explanation.
HIRSCHFELD: My name is Jack Hirschfeld, for the record. Stuart, you mentioned in the rundown of theories that shed light on Y2K, you mentioned in passing that there didn't appear to be a theory for what happens when governments cannot solve the problem. I think those were the words that you used. And I think empirically there is a good deal of information about that, which is that when government can solve the problem either they repress -- they create social order -- they maintain social order through repression -- in other words, act independently of the society that they're governing -- or there is rebellion. Those are the historical I think, outcomes when there is a failure of government to maintain or achieve legitimacy. I think my question is a kind of very funny question: is that my perception of the universe that we live in today is one in which governments are performing fewer and fewer important social functions. That is, that a lot of the social functions that historically have been the province of government, are passing over to large corporations. And in a way -- I'm picking up on something that Doug said -- in a way it is in the interest of corporations to further reduce the legitimacy of government. So I don't know how that plays in the Y2K situation because clearly nobody desires suicide. But I think that it's a factor and I don't know that there has been any literature on that. But relative to what a government would do, I think it's really pretty clear. I think that if there is a total loss of legitimacy, either it will establish its legitimacy through force of arms or it will be cast aside by force of arms. That's historically what's happened.
MODERATOR UMPLEBY: Yes, there is an extensive literature on the French Revolution and other revolutions. The model I worry about is Russia, in recent years, where you had a collapse in authority and you had decentralization and the rise of mafias, where the mafias in a sense, established the new authority through strength. I think that the decentralization of countries is certainly a possibility. If the central government cannot maintain communication and transportation of its own activities then I think there definitely will be a decentralization. And I think that the government of the United States is moving very strongly in the direction of maintaining central control; not in the tension of martial law or anything like that, but just to maintain viability. So I guess the United States is in that respect, more prepared than many other countries. I think we probably ought to take the break and try to stay on schedule because one of our speakers is William Ulrich who will be speaking from California and he thinks he's going to start at 11, but in fact, we've got Jay before him. So I would like for you to have a quick coffee break and come back and let's hear Jay, and then we'll go to William Ulrich via wire.