On Goals, Part 2: Call to Action

2013-02-02 14:42:42 by chort

In part 1 I outlined what I believe to be some of the fundamental, strategic problems facing Western society, and in a general sense how it applies to US businesses. In this part I'm going to relate that to specific courses of action and how anyone reading this can change their behavior to shape a better future.

To be very blunt, I think US (and more broadly, Western) business have identified the wrong competitors. While we are busy trying to keep secrets from each other out of fear that competitive advantage might be lost domestically, we are getting systematically looted and out-flanked strategically. Compounding that issue, social extremists are undermining the education of future generations with an irrational anti-science agenda, the effects of which are only just beginning to be felt, as the USA tumbles in international science and math benchmarks.

Our economy desperately needs more educated, skilled workers who are capable of operating effectively in an information age. The winners of tomorrow will be those capable of collecting, processing, analyzing, and acting on the most information, all the while protecting the output from adversaries who would seek to cheaply duplicate the results, without investing in the process. I mean this in a global sense. We shouldn't be trying to balkanize information within our own society, when such restrictions impede our own economic efficiency.

We can see this for example, in scientific and academic journals. Some very short-sighted people have decided that information funded by US taxpayers and educational institutions should be withheld from US citizens, which slows our research and innovation nationally. We're treating higher-education as a privilege for the wealthy, rather than an economic health benefit that improves the welfare of everyone living in this country.

More personally, we can see this kind of behavior and artificial exclusion in various disciplines. For example, why do we continue to tolerate institutional sexism towards women in technology at a time when the entire field is desperate for more talent? Those who try to create an artificial scarcity to protect their own positions and discourage competition are a tax on the entire system. The only reason to fear competition is if one believes they will lose. Anyone trying to exclude competition in order to stay on top--rather than aggressively pursuing their own self-improvement--is a drag on the entire system and rightly deserves to be passed-over or expelled.

We can apply this same lesson all the way up the stack. Individual departments, divisions, business, etc, shouldn't be working so hard to sabotage each other by withholding information and lobbying for special rules to benefit themselves to the detriment of others. These are such petty, micro-issues with minor short-term benefits, but great long-term harm.

So here's my challenge: Start identifying ways you can promote healthy organizations by sharing information and encouraging more participation. Do you have information another department could use, but they'd get all the credit for if they acted on it? Take a few minutes out of your day to share it. Do you have a industry group, club, or other organized meeting for practitioners of your discipline? Go the extra mile to make women and minorities feel welcome and included. Yes it's more effort, yes it requires stepping outside your comfort zone, but you're going to need all the talent you can get, so best not to artificially constrain the pool. Do you have kids? Encourage them all to explore Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math studies. Even though it's annoying at times, encourage them to ask tough questions and not to take "because I said so" as a satisfactory answer.

Similarly, in Information Security I think we can easily lose the forest for the trees. Each security team at each company is so focused on handling the threats coming at them, that it's easy to forget we're part of a greater community. If you work for Company A in the widget industry and you're seeing attacks trying to steal your widget plans, chances are pretty good your peers in Company B are getting hit with the same attacks. While you (or your company management) might short-sightedly think "well it's good for us if we block the attacks and Company B doesn't," please remember the likely outcome is soon Company C in a different country will be making widgets and selling them for 1/3 the cost, which has a very real impact on Company A as well. It's very much in our interest to share threat information and security tactics with our domestic peers, to fend off foreign competitors (who we might not even know about yet).

Some times I hear people talk nostalgically about the 1940s war era and the "family values" the country had. I encourage people to remember women made huge contributions of labor and our relentless pursuit of science lead to incredible break-throughs, such as advanced radar, computers, and atomic energy. I think the real value of that era was the ability to step outside one's self to see how actions affected their community and society as a whole. Sure there were a lot of flaws and we've made a lot of progress since then (particularly Civil Rights), but let's not make the mistake of believing extreme conservatism was the defining characteristic of the decade.

These ideas have been percolating in my mind for quite a long time. I've been struggling with how to express what I see as a disturbing lack of domestic information-sharing and cooperation. Too many Americans are trying to hold back fellow Americans, for their own personal gain, all the while ignoring the fact that we're falling behind on a global level.

I don't think this is an issue of political ideologies or parties. I think these issues are important to all parties, but the application of the ideologies has been misplaced, in my opinion. Competition is good, a sense of tradition is good, personal prosperity is good, spiritual peace is good, but make sure they're all applied in appropriate places, via appropriate means, to appropriate ends.

The catalyst for this little outburst (this domain name isn't "effuse" for nothing) came a few days ago when someone pointed out to me they weren't feeling very included in a particular situation. That was a big wake-up call for me that I could be doing more for my community. Someone with a greater flare for the dramatic might invoke JFK here, but I'll say this: What are your real values, and do your actions match them?

As for me, I'll be working on setting and achieving goals to share more information and make people feel more included. I'd appreciate the company of people who passionately believe in the same.

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