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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Friday November 08 2013

Last night I attended the Simon Gibbs talk about how to herd cats.  For me the problem was right there in the title.  It was like he knew he was attempting something impossible.

My immediate reaction is that what I do to cats is stroke them, if they will let me.  If I “owned” a cat, that would mean that it would also be my duty to feed it.  But herding cats?  There’s a reason this phrase is used to describe social schemes that can’t work.

Simon’s scheme seems to depend on some kind of website.  Websites are not my strong point, even understanding the point of them let alone actually making them work.  The less new software I have in my life, the happier I am.  So maybe I am missing not something here, but everything.  Simon made several mentions of a “button”.  When I find out where this is (somewhere at Libertarian Home?), I’ll give it a go.  If others do and do whatever Simon wants them to do, then I guess the cats will start being herded and my present scepticism will be proved wrong.  I hope that happens.  (As I said to Simon after his talk, see this.)

Slightly more seriously, Simon’s talk made me think of a distinction that I associate with the great American theorist of management, Peter Drucker.  As I recall it, Drucker describes various different ways to do organisation.

One is to imagine the perfect organisation.  You ask: Suppose we had no organisation already, with all its obligations and habits and rituals, what would the ideal organisation for what we are trying to accomplish look like?  And then let’s turn what we have into that.  An example Drucker was fond of was Sloane’s General Motors, probably because Drucker worked for Sloane, although exactly when he did that work, I’m not sure.

Another is not to dream dreams of future perfection.  It is to ask: What little steps can we take, now, immediately, in the right general direction, given the strengths and resources that we already now possess?

In my opinion the second attitude is better suited to the life of a London libertarian with a bit of influence but not much (i.e. libertarians like me and like Simon Gibbs), than is the first.

The late Chris Tame, whose Number Two I was for about a decade, was one hell of a libertarian organiser.  Over the years he organised some superb and superbly ambitious events, because he asked what the perfect event would look like (as I did not) and then went ahead and organised it.  But my ongoing disagreement (it never boiled over but it was always there) with Chris was that too many of his ideal schemes did not achieve anything other than some rather demoralising costs.

My own approach was to concentrate on much smaller completions – a small meeting, a pamphlet, a radio performance – and just try to get each potential completion completed as quickly and satisfactorily as possible, at which point it was on to the next one, and so on until victory is achieved.  (You can see why I like blogging so much.  And perhaps also why Chris never liked it, although he had other reasons besides the mere smallness of individual blog postings.)

The reason I mention Chris Tame, apart from the fact that I think it may illuminate, is that what I may very well be doing here is being reminded by Simon’s current scheme, as expounded last night, of a past argument in my life, and then slotting him into that argument on the other side from me.  I may, that is to say, be completely misunderstanding what he is now proposing.  I might, as the saying goes, be fighting the last war rather than this one.  Since I do not now really get what he is proposing, this is not, to put it mildly, unlikely.  Happily, Simon’s talk was being videoed, so you’ll soon be able to watch it for yourself and decide for yourself what you think about it.

I may very well, at some future date (maybe after watching the talk again), be explaining why this posting is completely wrong.