“We cannot cram the embryonic world of tomorrow into yesterday’s conventional cubbyholes.
Nor are the orthodox attitudes or moods appropriate.”
Finnish educator Sahlberg shrugs.
“There’s no word for accountability in Finnish.
Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
“Real winners do not compete.”
We talk about accountability a lot these days. And for some odd reason it always seems to get tied to ‘responsibility’ in that it shows proof you have been responsible.
For some reason, even though I do like some accountability measurements, I have always struggled with quantifying responsibility.
I do believe Life demands you to be accountable for a variety of things and I do believe Life demands constant relentless accountable moments … but responsibility, to me, is either something you assume as a duty or … well … responsibility <assuming I can ever have responsibility for responsibility>.
But beyond my belief the rest of America wields accountability like club.
It is the watchword of today’s culture. It almost seems like society believes if we have enough accountability measurements in place we can actually force accountability.
This seems ass backwards to me.
It seems to me that we would be much better off teaching responsibility and then accountability almost becomes unnecessary.
Well. that may be one of the most un-American thoughts I have ever shared.
Which made me think about how we got to this absurd place with regard to accountability because, honestly, my sense is that we Americans haven’t always been this way.
And I also thought that there had to be some root foundational attitude that was driving it.
Here are some thoughts.
America has always had an uneasy relationship with competition and winning. Swinging back & forth between winning is everything to everyone wins.
In my opinion this is all grounded in America’s ethos of “doing.”
From day one the pilgrims and Indians were aligned with doing. Some people called it survival but survival can take on a variety of forms and ours was an adventuresome version of grabbing the bull by the horns and just doing shit.
Initially this came to fruition in the form of agriculture.
There was no competition. There was no winning. There was simply everyone doing. That didn’t mean there were contests of skills but those skills being measured for winners and losers were not based on productivity but rather … well … a skill.
<jumping several decades>
And then we crashed into the industrial revolution where doing was measured by output. Winning and success became more competitively quantifiable.
<jumping several decades>
And then we decided that if measurement was good in manufacturing … what the hell … everyone and everything should be measured. We assumed people were responsibe but measured with an intent to … well … compare & contrast winners and losers of responsible people.
<jumping several decades>
And then we ran into the really uncomfortable thought <which the founding pilgrims most likely would have been horrified by> that we … uhm … shouldn’t assume everyone would be responsible so we created an entire industry of “accountability & measurement.” <note: I could argue this was the beginning of the general unraveling of trust and ‘fairness’>.
<jumping several decades>
This all then got even more complicated <and exacerbated the situation> when we created “non making shit industries” or entire industries based on servicing people who had money to be serviced as well as entire industries based on managing money <or making $’s off of $’s … not shit that is actually made>.
Therefore, not having any tangible shit to assess doing we crafted a tangled web of ‘accountability’ measures to … well … measure the intangible winners and losers <and then even compared the value of a tangible doer against an intangible doer>.
Suffice it to say that while you could haggle over some of my decades everything is grounded in doing and attempting to measure, or create winners & losers, the ‘doing population.’
But I imagine my main point is that the origins of doing were inextricably tied to responsibility.
Everyone assumed equal responsibility therefore the doing need not be measured and the doers need not be measured.
I am sure something like accountability was in the backs of some of the leaders minds but the overall sense was responsibility equality need not have milestones or objectives or even ‘mid project assessments.’ The leader viewed what was happening and nudged the underlying sense of responsibility.
Somewhere along the way the output and outcomes and competition measurement began to outweigh teaching ‘principled & responsible behavior.’
We turned the equation around backwards and … well … shoved accountability up everyone’s ass.
It seems to me in my pea like brain that we have things out of whack.
And I will not suggest America be anything but American.
We like to just do shit.
And we do like winners & losers.
But it seems to me that we also like fair competition and we truly like beating the best. And if that is true then we should seek to apply accountability to fairness.
As in if you want to preserve American competitiveness the country has to prepare not just some of its population well, but all of its population well.
This benefits society, benefits all players in the game <the best have to up their game because even the non best get better> and it benefits America’s competitive place globally.
No one should be left behind. All should be able to compete at their best.
You can still have winners & losers.
And I imagine you can still compete if you want.
But I could argue, and would argue, that if you did this then all the wacky accountability crap we weave into business & life would be diminished significantly.
We could focus less on accountability and more on just doing shit.
Toffler did not say the following with regard to what I just offered but the words resonate:
“These changes are cumulative that they add up to a giant transformation in the way we live, work, play, and think, and that a sane and desirable future is possible.
In short, what follows begins with the premise that what is happening now is nothing less than a global revolution, a quantum jump in history.”
<Alvin Toffler: The Third Wave>
Americans are consistently obsessed with tracking, testing, improvement measurement and fostering competition. We obsess over these things as if we can build a matrix of certain buttons we can push to actually foster this behavior.
By the way … none of those things foster independence, independent thinking or individual responsibility. All they do is foster pain avoidance or reward pleasure.
Shock me enough times and I will start doing even the most abhorrent behaviors just to avoid the shock.
It seems to me we would be better off as a country and society of we actually encouraged people to just do shit the right way because … well … it feel good to do it right and do it to the best of their abilities <EVEN if their best is not THE best>.
I know a lot of this sounds absolutely whack to many Americans.
Aspects of what I am sharing is so far out of our DNA I imagine some people are just laughing.
But I don’t want to change our DNA. I just want to activate the DNA that made us who and what we are.
The first settlers didn’t need accountability.
And for many years we didn’t need extreme accountability measurements and tests.
Our DNA was ‘just do it’ and a responsibility to just ‘do shit.’
We don’t talk about this issue often except maybe some of the education reform people. But I believe more of us should be talking about this beyond education … for business, for athletics, for … well … everything.
Here is one thing I know for sure.
We need to think about some changes in how we do things. And we should be thinking about ALL things … even the things we currently find “essential to the way we do things.”
Many people will disagree with me but, in my mind, accountability is one.
Just think about it. Think about what I wrote. It just seems like we have arrived at our current state of ‘how we view accountability’ through a variety of smaller type decisions and have inevitably fostered the creation of a Frankenstein.
But. That’s me.
Which permits me to close with one last Toffler thought:
Two apparently contrasting images of the future grip the popular imagination today. Most people to the extent that they bother to think about the future at all … assume the world they know will last indefinitely. They find it difficult to imagine a truly different way of life for themselves, let alone a totally new civilization. Of course they recognize that things are changing. But they assume today’s changes will somehow pass them by and that nothing will shake the familiar economic framework and political structure. They confidently expect the future to continue the present.
This straight-line thinking comes in various packages. At one level it appears as an unexamined assumption lying behind the decisions of businessmen, teachers, parents, and politicians. At a more sophisticated level it comes dressed up hi statistics, computerized data, and forecasters jargon.
Either way it adds up to a vision of a future world that is essentially “more of the same.”