Whitewater’s Major Public Institutions Produce a Net Loss (And Why It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way)

I’ve often contended – and about this I’m sure – that most people are sharp and capable.  It’s only on this foundation that a prosperous and dynamic culture like America’s would be – could be – possible.

Whitewater’s major public institutions – her city government, school district, and local university – produce this unexpected result: although members of the government are certainly also sharp and capable individually, they often produce collectively a product that’s beneath their individual abilities or that of other competitive Americans.

There’s no doubt that many members of these public institutions are intelligent, educated, and capable on their own.

(There is one exception worth noting: the high-level leadership that former Chancellor Telfer gathered at UW-Whitewater is notably weak or troubled, exhibits a tendency toward act utilitarianism, and almost certainly faces greater disappointments ahead.  UW-Whitewater would have done better by picking almost any administrative leadership team than the one it did.  The worst is likely yet to come for – and from – that group.  A person of even moderate sense would stand as far from that upper echelon as possible.)

Yet, for the Whitewater School Board, or Common Council, do you not see plentiful talent?

I’m convinced that if one sat across the table from many of the elected or appointed leaders of these public bodies, just one-at-a-time, one would find capable and intelligent interlocutors who could easily hold their own in discussion and debate.  I’ve no doubt if it.

And yet, and yet, place those talented people together as a collective, and they produce so much less than their individual abilities would cause one to expect to produce.  I’ve no doubt of this, either.  Some of the collectively-produced projects in the city are simply ill-considered, counter-productive, or deleterious.

This odd result, in which talented individuals produce a collective result that’s less than a level of their individual abilities, is truly perplexing.

The whole should be more than the sum of the parts, that is, a true synergy.

Instead, for these public bodies, the result often seems to be a net loss in quality and accomplishment over that of individual members.  

I’ve no certain explanation for this, although over the years many people have suggested possible causes.

There is, however, a solution: each of these bodies could and should establish a deliberate, formal approach in which some of their talented members take a contrary position to the majority view, to test theories and projects.  In planning and debate, one would be left with (1) a group that advocated an approach and (2) those who intentionally took a contrary view to test the strength of that approach.  (That would be something like a Tenth Man Principle.)

This should be a serious, deliberate, formal process. (A few scattered questions at a meeting, sometimes at the last-minute, is not a serious, deliberate, formal process.  It’s a start, even sometimes a good start, but a start isn’t enough.)

A formal process of inquiry would produce much better work than government does presently.

Given the politics of Whitewater now, it’s much better – for clarity of thinking – to be outside a collective that produces work below the standard of its members or the community.  To trade individual clarity for collective confusion is a foolish trade.  An individual can do better than an addled collective.

Collective quality, however, can easily be improved through a formal, established process of questioning and inquiry.

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8 years ago

this is really interesting. politicians in whitewater think elected is better. this says the opposite that they do not do as good a job as they would do on their own.this explains how a blogger would sound confident against a whole group. i know you say you are an “underdog” but no one in town thinks that way. even people who totally hate you know you must be smart.lots of people read you even if they worry about saying it.also lots of people want to see you kill the digester.including people who don’t always support your other ideas.people get that your blog is much better than the city descriptions.keep up on that because lots of people think its a stupid idea. thank you.

8 years ago

Have to agree with most by the commenter, especially how one person can hold his own against others. Boy oh boy is that true with some groups. They do have some great people but the results are not often poor. True that. There’s also respect around town for someone who speaks sharply but does not want to be first in line for everything.

Too many community leaders want to shove themselves forward like VIPs at each event. A drinking game based on longtimers bragging about themselves would get people drunk real fast. It’s a small townitis virus but some are immune. You get huge credibility since no one thinks you want to blog and sit on council/schoolboard/every damn committee ever.

100% agreement on the digester, of course. Opposed is the right side of the issue. Great work to keep Whitewater clean, healthy, respectable for people to live here!!

Ayn Rand
8 years ago

Group Think wrecks everything.

The Phantom Stranger
8 years ago

I regularly encourage friends to read Free Whitewater.
It is the ONLY local source —and resource—for an intelligent, reasoned discussion of local topics, politics, and business.
Some view Free Whitewater as subversive: it asks questions and looks at issues from various different angles. Gee, like a pamphleteer, or alternative publication. Scary.
This is not at all controversial. Our area media are merely press agents/ mouthpieces/lapdogs/ free outlets for Whitewater’s Babbitts.
Blog on, Mr. Adams: we are reading and we are with you.
And, Thank You!

8 years ago

The shift in influence is happening even faster than was predictable 1-2 years ago. For WI it is happening really, really fast. Gannett buying Journal Media is much more beyond proof that papers will go away. Gannett is proof that no one will notice even before they go away. It really is that bad for print.
Most print is imploding – everywhere. The vacuum gives print alternatives (such as blogs) more influence in that vacated space.
It’s a generational thing, however: I guarantee that older people still think that print makes a big difference. (Publishers obviously want decisionmakers and readers to think so to get the last buck before it all sinks below the surface.) Except for a few blue-chip papers (WI has none by the way) the print audience isn’t decisive anywhere. Print publishing has slipped to a motivational seminar where publishers tell inexperienced reporters or elderly readers to repeat over and over “I think I can”
In the new environment, alternative publications will become more critical than traditional media…with the obvious exception of television.
Like it or not that’s where we are going.
Political or business leaders are going to have to adjust to a world where alternatives are all there are. (I know that means no real alternatives. Alternative guys will soon be the only guys.) In a news hole like your area that’s completely predictable. I would never, never tell young man or woman to pick local print for a career. It’s not a career. Heck, outside of a major daily, it’s not even a decent summer internship.
That stinks for oldtimers but will turn out great for bloggers/independent websites/small publishing cooperatives. They will be bigger relatively while the print herd thins out, becomes insignificant, then goes extinct.