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OPINIONThe Stupidly Dangerous Politics of Blame

OPINIONThe Stupidly Dangerous Politics of Blame

I hope that, like me, you are off this long holiday weekend and have a chance to think about the drama that now surrounds the U.S. administration. What I find fascinating isn’t that the government is a bit of a mess but that the accidental transparency of this administration is focusing us more on the visibility of the problems rather than on the problems themselves.

For instance, let’s take the issue with the Russians hacking the election. President Obama knew about it but largely sat on the information, while President Trump likely wanted to do the same thing, but leaks made it impossible. So, our focus currently is split, with blame going to one of the two administrations, when it should be focused on fixing the system so that the next election isn’t hacked.

It is kind of like having a barn fire and rather than getting the horses out before they burn, arguing over who forgot to turn the lights off. What is troubling about this is that in the face of some of the most dangerous digital times we’ve ever lived in, our government isn’t focused on making us safe — it is focused on using the recurring mistakes to make peers look bad.

That is pretty stupid, and the result could be not only avoidable digital disasters, but also avoidable escalation to war. Neither party seems to have a clue that the focus is on the wrong things at the moment. It is almost as if the politicians seem to think that the purpose of government is drama rather than keeping its citizens safe.

I’ll offer more thoughts on that his holiday break and close with my product of the week (which I’m using to type this column): the New (Generation 5) Surface Pro.

Blame vs. Cure

The focus on blame isn’t limited to security, though that is where much of the concern does lie, and likely should. It also seems to surround healthcare. We currently have two badly flawed programs tied to two different administrations.

Obamacare ignores the excessive cost of healthcare and uses a hidden tax to cover up the massive cost of covering folks who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to pay for insurance before they got sick. Its replacement attempts to reduce this massive tax without focusing at all on the actual excessive cost part. Effectively, both plans simply move around the costs — which are unsustainable — so different people are taxed to pay them.

Collectively, those of us who have been good about making sure we had insurance coverage are screwed by both programs — but the amount of pain varies, based on which constituents vote for which party.

Of course, rather than either party focusing on the excessive cost, both parties are focused like a laser on blaming the other for what are both unsustainable healthcare programs. This is the problem with a focus on blame. The actual problem takes a distant second place to articulating with great depth and vehemence the belief that a rival is an idiot. If you were sick and the two parties were your disagreeing doctors, you’d be well advised to buy a burial plot because you clearly wouldn’t survive — but you’d know that once you were dead, the blame would fall someplace.

Solution Focus

This is common not only in politics, but also in business. A CEO often fails due to lack of support — both among board members and subordinates who are more focused on appearing right than in ensuring the survival of the CEO and the success of the company.

I’m sure we’ve all had bosses — I know I have — who were really good at shifting blame to us for mistakes they made, and because they never learned from those mistakes, they continued to recur. I usually recommend against working for people like that, because it not only is annoying but also can damage your employment record, making it harder for you to advance and succeed.

Focusing on a solution, sadly, is far less common than focusing on blame. However, it is far more rewarding, because you actually are able to improve things over time. It means putting aside the need to blame someone for a problem, and instead focusing on both the cause and on what it would take to ensure the mistake wouldn’t recur.

It is fascinating to me, given the number of overseas elections that the U.S. has manipulated over the years, that no one apparently has focused on ensuring the same thing couldn’t be done to us.

As you watch this play out, consider this: When you see a problem, whether at work or at home, do you focus first on whose fault it is or on making sure the problem is corrected? I know I’m often guilty of the common tendency to look for someone else to blame for a mistake I’ve made. It takes significant effort to focus on the problem and leave blame as the far less important component.

However, given that our security, health and even happiness may be tied to our ability to shift from a blame focus to a solution focus, I’m suggesting that this holiday we all make an effort to shift from the former to the latter.

Wrapping Up

This holiday I’m suggesting that you look at the mess that is Washington and consider that the big difference between the Obama and Trump presidencies isn’t competence but unplanned transparency. We are, this time, seeing the mess that is the U.S. government. That mess showcases an extreme focus on blame and almost no focus on understanding and fixing the major problems the nation is facing.

It bothers me that the it appears more important to stick a rival with a problem than it does to fix it, and these problems have a great deal to do with our happiness and even whether we live or die.

As we move to artificial intelligence, when machines increasingly will learn from our behavior and then train each other at the speed of light, this blame focus could become far worse. Competing systems might focus on discrediting each other rather than on addressing the problems we want them to fix.

In emulating their parents, our future digital children could end us — and that possibility is keeping a lot of us awake at night.

What I’m suggesting is that the shift to a solution focus starts with us. Maybe rather than blaming the Republicans or the Democrats, we instead should ask for a focus on eliminating the problem.

While it may be fun to blame a problem on someone we don’t like, it is far more fun not to have to deal with the problem that triggered the blaming in the first place. It may also prevent this behavior from moving to the coming wave of AIs, vastly improving our lives rather than ending them. I’d personally prefer the former outcome. Just saying…

Rob Enderle's Product of the Week

I’ve been using a
Surface Pro on and off since the first generation, and this product has improved a lot over the years. Gone is the flimsy plastic feeling and the keyboard with the crappy touchpad.

Now you get an Alcantara covered, lighted keyboard with a large glass touchpad. Battery life that was around six hours on a good day easily has doubled, and the product remains light and nice to look at.

Surface ProSurface

You now can adjust the kickstand to get the right angle, though it still will fall off the back of short tables on airplanes. The company has improved substantially the resolution and feel of the pen. There is no pen dock, but the tradeoff is that the pen actually feels better in your hand than one that can be docked.

I’m not a pen user myself, and drawing isn’t a skill that I’ve developed, so this hasn’t been a big deal for me either way.

The Surface PC line has three models. It starts with this product, which is geared toward providing a better alternative to the iPad for work, and it generally does that really well. This is a tablet-forward design, though, and if you are more of a laptop person, then the Surface Notebook is likely the better product in this line for you.

The top of the line is the Surface Book, which is a blend of the two concepts. While you get a lighter, thinner tablet, you also take a big hit in tablet-only battery life. There still is a shortage of Windows tablet apps vs. either iOS or Android apps, so I view the Surface Book as more of a technology showcase than a practical product, with one exception: gaming. The Surface Book has a discrete graphics card, giving it gaming and some high-end graphics capabilities.

In the end, the “New” Surface Pro is a great product, but I still prefer the Surface Notebook myself, followed by the near-magical Surface Book. This would change if I had inherited art skills from my mother, but sadly I didn’t. This likely would have been the product she’d have preferred, and so partly in memory of my mom, I’ve made the Surface Pro my product of the week.

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has undergrad degrees in merchandising and manpower management, and an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

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