Kris an’ Murphy: High Reanxietability


Kris: “What about ’em?”

Murphy: “They’re not back in the news, are they?!!”

Kris: “Worried about losing your electricity again?”

Murphy: “Kris, what part of ‘one crisis at a time’ do you not understand? We start getting wildfires on top of the COVID-19 lockdown, we really will be toast!”

Kris: “Hm. If that happens, it will be interesting watching you get religion.”

Murphy: “How so?”

Kris: “Friar Murphy.”

Murphy: “[…] You’re more likely to be watching me lose my religion.”

Kris: “Why? You started this ‘burn baby burn’ schtick.”

Murphy: I wasn’t the one sharing pictures of smokejumpers on his Skype screen without explaining what they were for!”

Kris: “I was reading about high reliability organizing.”

Murphy: “I’m sorry. With the shutdown, I though there’d be fewer participation-trophy master’s theses we’d have to slog through.”

Kris: “This is no vanity degree, this is real. Smokejumpers, and wildfire fighters generally, have to have a highly reliable organization in order to get their job done, to the extent that Nature and their resources allow them, and stay alive while doing it. They’re held up as a positive example. Paper was written awhile ago, but it’s resurfaced in connection with responses to the virus outbreak.”

Murphy: “Which might have encountered a highly reliable organization in China. Not so much anyplace that respects the concept of personal liberty.”

Kris: “Spelled C-O-R-P-O-R-A-T-E P-R-O-F-I-T-S?”

Murphy: “Well, the Wall Street Journal seems to think that the value of the lives saved just about balances out the cost to the economy of saving them.”

Kris: “Which the Chinese have done a much better job of than the democracies. As if they needed any extra selling points versus the spectacle of our President having temper tantrums over the refusal of the World Health Organization to genuflect to him.”

Murphy: “So what makes for highly reliable organizing? And how would, say, our university stack up?”

Kris: “You sure you wish to go there?”

Murphy: “If we don’t, somebody will.”

Kris: “OK, you asked for it. According to the article, there are three characteristics associated with problem detection, and two with problem management. First step in problem detection: a preoccupation with failure.”

Murphy: “Strike one!”

Kris: “‘Using failure and near failure as ways to gain insight into strengths and weaknesses.'”

Murphy: “The failed don’t pay fees, the only strength the university cares about. Not off to a good start. Next!”

Kris: “Reluctance to simplify.”

Murphy: “Every whine about ‘is this going to be on the test?’ codified into university policy. Preferably in words of one syllable, which the students might be able to understand long enough to keep them paying fees. Strike two! Next.”

Kris: “Being aware of the big picture, ‘specifically how all the components of work fit together and how problems in one area can spread to other areas.'”

Murphy: “And everybody at the university is the ultimate specialist. Plus identity politics. Strike three, we’re out! And we haven’t even gotten to your ‘problem management’ section.

Kris: “Don’t expect any improvements. ‘For problem management, high reliability organizing involves resilience, developing the capacity for coping with unexpected events.'”

Murphy: “You mean, like planning the university hospital, never mind the rest of the health care system in the USA, to have enough ventilators for emergencies instead of squeezing things and people to breaking point, without emergencies, for decades, all in service of 30% annual returns to shareholders? We have the resiliency of a submicrometer-thick sheet of glass, and deserve to have it. You can stop now.”

Kris: “Not yet. One more point. You’ll love it.”

Murphy: “I wasn’t scared before this …”

Kris: “Be afraid. Be very afraid. The last point? ‘Deference to expertise.’

Murphy: Nooooooooo!!”

Kris: “Yes. ‘Understanding where the expertise is in the organization and ensuring that decisions about how to deal with problems are made by those experts.”

Murphy: “Thanks, Kris, this has all been very enlightening. Signing off now, I have a time-critical task to complete.”

Kris: “What task?”

Murphy: “Updating and posting my resume”.

Kris: “Word. And good luck. Remember, most of us ‘experts’ are already living out of our cars.”

Murphy: “[…]”

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2 Responses to Kris an’ Murphy: High Reanxietability

  1. nathhoke says:

    Good again.
    As far back as I can remember in school I found the, “is this going to be on the test?” hilarious. If I had been a teacher I would have always answered, “Yes.”

    • Amoeba says:

      I did. They fought back by insisting that professors spell out what was going to be on the test before the class even started. Which, of course, was and is a boon to the gray- and black-market ‘how to pass the test without lifting a finger’ providers. When you’re selling courses to students, you get the student customers what they want. Even if it’s wrong. 25 years since I quit that game. Never happier about it than now.

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