November 2012 Archives

to_tell_the_truth-300x208.jpgIt's two days before election day.  In actuality, two days until the last day to vote.  Most of my friends, either by choosing to vote via absentee ballot or being required to vote by mail, all ready have.  From those that have not and are still on the fence with regards to the Presidential election, I hear a common refrain:

Who is Mitt Romney?  What does he stand for? What is at the core of his values?  His "flip flopping (e.g. abortion rights, healthcare reform, taxation)" is confusing. I think we collectively have asked:

Will the Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?

(Apologies to Bill Stewart and Goodman-Todsman of "To Tell the Truth" fame)

Flip Flopper?  Yes.  But Why?

Based on positions taken, it's clear where Mr. Romney stands, today.  However, such positionsromney.jpeg are very different from his positions in the past.  I'm guessing they may be different than those in the future.  Is he just another politician, speaking whatever is currently convenient?  A man who can't make up his mind? Is he irrational?  Or perhaps, a rational flip flopper? I say no to all of the above.

I've looked to his LinkedIn profile for a clue.  A Harvard MBA.  A consultant during the hey day of being a consultant.  A consultant turned CEO.  All great credentials.  I've worked with the best of the best consultants.  I've worked with great CEOs.  I've even worked with consultants turned CEOs.  He's one of them.

After discounting all the other reasons why we know so little about Romney's convictions and values, I've realized there is one explanation -- he's a consultant at his core.  A consultant turned CEO.  And, if elected, I think he'll be a consultant turned President.

See, many consultants rarely have convictions of their own.  And, they lack imagination.  They have a goal or problem to solve.  Employing tactics of gathering smart experts and opinions, diving into the problem, applying methodologies of their firm, consultants "get to to the bottom of the problem and find a solution."  Or, maybe just telling the client what the client wants to hear.  Cynically or real, the joke most often told by a consultant seems to be, "My job is to look at a client's watch and tell him (her) what time it is." Rarely, it seems, that consultants have opinions of their own.  And, even less common, do they formulate imaginative, creative solutions.  Rarely do personal values or convictions enter the equation.

Consultants-turned-CEOs often employ the same strategies.  Such CEO's rely on the success of their past.  They use the consultant's methodology to solving problems.  And, oftentimes they create a complete disaster or fail to turn around a company because of the lack of imagination or personal insight.

Mitt Fits the Suit

Is this the real Mitt Romney?  A consultant-turned-Presidential candidate?  His resume certainly points to this.  Sure, proponents point to his business leadership as qualifications for the Presidency.  If you want a consultant in the White House, maybe this makes sense.  If you want a President with convictions and ideas of his own, maybe not.  And, if you are searching for core values, I'm guessing you won't find them.  That's by design.

(Caveat:  I await the comments of "Not *ALL* consultants or consultants-turned-CEO are this way." True enough.  Lou Gerstner was a great consultant turned CEO.  I only speak in generalities.  YMMV.)

Flip Flopping on Flip Flopping

flip flops.jpgThroughout the 2012 Presidential campaign, Mitt Romney has been accused of being a "flip flopper."  He seems to have changed his position on many key issues: health care, abortion rights, immigration.  Many, supporters and detractors alike, have come to question what he stands for.  Does he stand for anything? (My analysis of the root source of his convictions is coming in a future blog post.  Stay tuned.)  People, especially politicians, who changes positions (in fact positions that seem to be 180 degrees apart), are often labeled, pejoratively, as "Flip Floppers."  "Flip Floppers" seemingly holds contradictory positions or, in a temporal context, currently believe and support ideas that they opposed in the past.  George H. W. Bush, George Bush, John McCain, Sarah Palin (remember the "Bridge to Nowhere?"), and of course Mitt Romney come to mind.  To be fair, Barack Obama (on gay marriage) does not escape the scourge of being a Flip Flopper.

Flip Floppers
Flip Floppers have a bad name.  After all, how can you trust someone whose position is often changing?  I myself have looked critically and pejoratively at Flip Floppers.  I'm a  believer in logic, math and  science. Consistency is an important value and artifact of this believe system.  Illogical and inconsistent argumentation are easily discounted.

It's easy to rationalize such inconsistencies in the "Real World," however.  Premises are often times unclearly stated.  The language (say English) to build an argument is probably inherently ambiguous and fails to express precise meaning.  Hence, formal logic is often too brittle to express how we must reason about the real world.

While still clinging to the value of logic, science, and math, I must concede -- the rigidity of such systems must account for the possibility of Flip Flopping. 

I'm flip flopping on flip flopping!

Temporal Context

"Times Change."

Time really doesn't change.  This is a strange saying.  A misnomer.  However, it's easy to see the circumstances in which ideas are formulated, conclusions based, and actions taken  change.  Whether it be social values, Constitutional amendments, demographic shifts, economic climate, the circumstances of a decision are important predicates of those decisions.

Therefore, I understand why a person -- a candidate -- may support a position, legislation, or an ideology that is different from that of the past.  The premises for one's views are different.  So, it's logically consistent to have a different position because of the changing hypotheses.   Hence, there's a logical explanation for a flip flop.  So, I found my rigid values against flip flopping now suspect. I've flipped flopped!

Note however, this is not the only reason for a flip flop.  I suspect that Romney's flip flopping might not be based on this logical conclusion.  (Again, more coming.)
In Technology

Technology changes at a remarkable pace.  Some say exponentially fast.  Hence, the premises we make with regards to technology are constantly changing.  Consequently, the conclusions we draw and the opinions we have should also be changing with changing technology.  Even so, sometimes we "dig in" and stick to our guns on ideology.  I think this is wrong.  We must adapt.  The "pendulum of technology" swings wide, but not necessarily fast.

Examples are rampant.  Thin clients vs fat clients.  Cloud computing/storage vs. customer premise ownership Waterfall SW development vs. Agile.  Consumer applications vs. enterrprise solutions.  Out-of-the-box software vs. custom configured solutions.  Lots of processors vs. more memory. Fast networks vs. big processors.  My favorite:  Compile time typing vs. runtime typing.

Language Typing

For years I've clung to the value of strong typing.  At compile time.  It's not hard to see why -- in my formative years at the University of Washington going to Xerox, Bell Labs, Sun Microsystems, and BroadVision, strong typing, early typing, compile time object hierarchies ruled my thinking.  From Pascal, Eden, and Emerald to Mesa and C++ to CORBA/IDL and then Java, strong compile time typing provided the basis for sane system design.  Creating "contracts" through interfaces that hid implementation  seemed to be the path to software safety and scalable systems.  It's certainly served me well.

Then in the late nineties, a disturbing reality reared its (ugly) head -- it was clear the web was not going to be build on these principles.  Statically typed languages were failing us.  We couldn't build scalable web systems.  We couldn't move fast enough and we couldn't adapt to change quickly enough.  Dynamically typed, interpreted languages would rule the naughties.  Perl, php, Python, Ruby, JavaScript were destined to be languages of choice for the Internet.  Languages that deferred (or ignored) typing until very late.  How could such systems be safe or scalable?

But, it is clear what would happen; programmer productivity, the safety resulting from interpretation, and garbage collection would rule supreme.  Compile time typing was dead.  Long live dynamic typing and interpreted languages.  Indeed, the web was built this way. Flip flopping, I've since deployed systems in Python, joining the bandwagon.

The Pendulum Swings

The pendulum has swung far right.  We're all on the Python/Ruby/php bandwagons.  However, I sense a change back to the left afoot.  Strong typing, compile time typing, type safe languages will have their day in the sun again.  And we'll all flip flop again.

As for Romney

Does my technology example shed any light on Romney and his values?  Maybe.  However, I suspect his flip flopping is rooted in something different -- the formulation of positions based on the process of a consultant.  More coming...And, expect even more flip flopping in the future.