Dealing with Encrustment

How we organize people and resources change constantly as humans get more educated and more prosperous. As we approach and get into the “post-snap” environment of the 2050’s those changes are going to continue and pick up in pace. Three organizations that are of big concern to me as I prepare to write my Technofiction stories about living in the post-snap environment are education, business and government. How are these going to change?

The Dark Side of this change issue is “encrustment” — my term in this essay for changes in how an organization is structured that slow down its adapting to change and distract it from its main mission. They are things which add to the cost of the organization and reduce its flexibility — its ability to adapt to changes happening in and around it. Encrustments are additions to the organization’s costs and ways of doing things that are implemented with good intentions during the fat years, but then force the organization to change slowly in the lean years and as a result it loses its ability to keep succeeding.

The issue of encrusting
As the Hostess Products debacle of late 2012 has so poignantly demonstrated even rock-solid success can be spoiled. In the Hostess case the brand identity was rock solid, but the management, workers and investors trying to exploit that icon failed. To explain that failure there’s been a lot of finger pointing in the media between managment and various unions: Each said they were giving up too much and various others weren’t giving up enough. But the harsh reality is this failure has been going on for more than a decade. This is, just to belabor the point, the second Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

What we are witnessing here is encrustment. Over many years of success the brand and the company acquired so much dead weight that continued success first became difficult, then impossible. That said, the lesson to be learned here is not the specifics of which weight at Hostess was the dead weight. What is more important is looking at the processes that allowed so much weight of all kinds to be acquired. And acquired in such a way that made it difficult to lose when harsh reality came — lean times. So difficult that it seriously threatened survival. In the Hostess case, dead seriously.

One way stands out in my mind as the big problem way: This is when weight is added based mostly on good intentions — emotional justifications. The problem doubles when those warm fuzzy benefits are then taken for granted, “Of course. We should always have [X].” This happens during successful times — fat times. People involved with the successful organization say, “We’ve got a good thing going here, let’s add some emotionally attractive features to the basic mission. We’re doing well so we can afford it.” Because the justification is emotion-based, not cost-benefit based, this addition feels real good. The problem with feeling real good is that losing it at some future date will be emotionally painful. It will hurt, a lot! The benefit becomes a given, an encrustment, and losing it will be seen as betrayal in future lean times.

This kind of encrusting is a constant threat, and every organization controlling the movement of resources is threatened, right down to the personal level. At the individual level impulse buying is an example of encrusting. When it gets out of hand, the individual, and those around him or her, don’t get full value for their efforts. Hostess is an example in the business scale range, and on the regional scale we have what I call the “Midwest Disease”, which I have written about in in other essays.

Again, the hazard of encrusting happens when the benefit is taken for granted. The weight becomes an axiom of the organization’s life. So when harsh reality calls for giving up the expense, people involved get angry, outraged, and feel betrayed. They feel they will only give this up over their dead bodies.

Encrustment in the post snap environment
Sadly, as Hostess has so poignantly demonstrated, life has a lot of such corpses. The challenge to be thinking about for the future is: How does TES effect encrusting? The TES state (Total Entitlement State) is a prosperous state. In the TES state the various communities can afford a whole lot more. Does that mean they will pay for a lot more encrusting?

The Dark Side answer is yes. Humanity will use the exponentially growing wealth of the post snap decade to engage in more and more emotion-driven causes and perks. In the process they will divorce themselves more and more from the harsh reality of “No such thing as a free lunch.” That will become an “old grandpa saying”, irrelevant to modern times.

The more this course is followed the more irrelevant humans become to creating wealth and innovation — the more they become rent-seekers and entertainers, and the more they revel in their successes at gaming the system.

As this happens the cyber elements will become more and more responsible for making tangible and valuable things happen in civilized Earth communities. They will have to deal with, and be in charge of, harsh reality. This leads to my big concern: Humans will more and more become reality shows for themselves and cybers. As humans prance around in the delusion of their reality shows, the real work will be being done by the Morlocks… er, cybers. The cybers will be deciding what is and isn’t possible, and while humans may rant and rail about a few of the choices made, if push comes to shove they will have to accept them. And, even more spooky, they will take 90+ percent of the cyber choices for granted — the cyber choices are just part of life. But unlike draconian SF Big Brother scenarios, the ranting and raving will have an effect: The cybers will likely toy with those ranting and raving because it makes good entertainment.

This is a spooky future scenario, and quite probable.

The Bright Side

The Bright Side alternative will take a lot of dedication and self-discipline on the part of the humans who engage in it. Those humans will stay enmeshed in the processes that create manufacturing and services. They will understand what’s going on and contribute innovations and reality checks. I envision that a few humans will do this — they will stay enmeshed in the system. As the snap progresses these enmeshed humans will become fewer in number and be looked upon by the rest of humanity as either faceless technocrats or semi-magical mad scientist types.

Strange as it may seem in today’s heated emotional environment about bankers, finance will likely remain an important center of cyber-human coordination. This is because finance is about marshaling resources. It will continue to attract clever and ambitious people and they will help the cybers decide how to allocate resources. Big Business will be a closely associated profession. Small business, on the other hand, will be mostly about hipster endeavors, something quite different. Big and small business will become distinctly different institutions.

Government will become more and more about emotion. It will remain “for the people and by the people” but it will become divorced from the harsh reality of making and servicing. Even more than now, it will become the home for busybody thinking.

This will produce a series of crises as the role of government adapts to supporting delusion and away from being able to influence how wealth is created and distributed. Even more than now government will become the institution for ambitious demagogues and busybodies — people who understand a lot about human emotion, but little about how material things are accomplished.

Government will become able to support long-standing mythologies and fantasies. Something such as Area 51 — some kind of secret government base supporting some mythical secret activity — may become more and more real just because government gets so disconnected from harsh reality.

Encrustment has been with us a long time. It happens when an organization has good times and in those good times allows itself to get distracted into supporting feel-good projects and perks. This becomes hazardous to the organization when these¬†distracters are taken for granted — the people of the organization think they should always be part of the organization. When lean times come and the organization needs to cut back, there’s a lot of harsh emotion connected with cutting back encrustment. The cut backs feel like betrayal to the people of the organization.

Encrustment can kill.

The hazard of encrustment is likely to grow in the post-snap environment because people are going to become divorced from the harsh reality of how stuff is made and serviced. Without harsh reality to put limits on their wishes, they will successfully wish for a lot more — their emotions will win out even more than they do now.

But… we will be living in a prosperous world, and cyber will be keeping it running, so we will be able to afford a lot more than we do now. Even with massive encrustment the post-snap TES lifestyle may be a success.


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