Is there an entrepreneurial lesson to be gained from the New Orleans tragedy? All weekend we've been listening to, and reading about, descriptions of how the federal and local bureauracies were massively unable to respond to the dimensions of the crisis. The circumstances were unimaginable, yes -- a complete breakdown of communication, command and control, infrastructure. Nevertheless, had the system encouraged entrepreneurial thinking, and encouraged those on the ground to be willing to bust out of the rule book and become innovative problem solvers, I have to believe that we would have gotten supplies and relief to the Superdome and the Convention Center faster and more efficiently. But civil service and local public employee training programs don't encourage this kind of thinking; in fact, they discourage it. That's why they don't attract the kind of independent thinkers required to overcome the kind of systemic failures we witnessed.
The tension between discipline and entrepreneurial thinking is a real one, but unless we engage it, understand it, and manage through it successfully on a public policy level, we're bound to have similiar displays of organizational collapse the next time we have a comparable event.
I am reminded of what happened on the first day of the Normandy invasion. The press surrounded General Eisenhower, repeatedly asking him "Did the plan work, General, did the plan work?" Finally, he looked at them at said: "The plan meant nothing. Planning was everything."
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