Thursday, November 05, 2015


Todd Herman wants to know why Seattle, a city world famous for building the most efficient, loved and best companies for whom to work, turns off its collective brain when it votes? (AP)
Todd Herman wants to know why Seattle, a city world famous for building the most efficient, loved and best companies for whom to work, turns off its collective brain when it votes? (AP)

Senseless in Seattle

Why does Seattle, a city world famous for building the most efficient, loved and best companies for whom to work, turn off its collective brain when it votes?, Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing and The Gates Foundation are all organizations that succeed because they innovate. The talented people who work for these iconic groups are purposefully not tethered to bureaucratic make-work-mazes or archaic 4 x 4 x 4 boxes that would limit their ability to creativity apply iconoclasm to build new, more efficient models that better serve customers and investors. These same employees are rewarded for taking calculated, educated risks on big ideas created through testing, cooperation with other teams and customer feedback where they try to kill their big ideas themselves before they release them to the world. 

These groups can reward risks because they constantly test new theses and meticulously track return on investment. At Amazon, teams compete for funds based upon how their ideas for new products deliver value to the customer and, in turn, the company. Each sub-page of is a lab and the leadership of Amazon is not shy about betting big on new ideas or shutting down—without the need to punish the people behind it—experiments that did not deliver. Starbucks experiments in its stores, the Gates Foundation with mico-grants and loans and by hiring people with—gasp!—no experience in nonprofits, but incredible records of innovation in their fields. 

They innovate with whom they hire. While these companies prefer to hire people with college degrees, they do not absolutely require it for people with proven performance and unique abilities, marketable skills and by and large they richly reward employees who deliver. Microsoft is still creating millionaires from risk takers and, on the other side of the equation, they adjust pay down for those who don't deliver before they are managed out of the company if they do not improve. Even there, they innovate: they learn about what kinds of people---at the deep, psychological levels---thrive in their realms. 

Seattle government and, more broadly, Washington state government operates in the opposite way and that hurts all of us. 

Innovation is an enemy of the state. In accordance with the wishes of one its biggest donor groups, Big Collectivism, The Supreme Court of Washington State has outlawed innovation in government schools. Charter schools, the test grounds for new ideas for instruction, less tethered to the arcane constructs of big education, were places where parents could—gasp!—choose to send their kids. Still, the Supreme Court, heavily funded by big education, outlawed charter schools based upon the way they used to be funded. Teacher's unions are thrilled as are all too many Democrat office holders. Innovation died and the establishment threw a party. 

Seattle's entrepreneurs are outraged: they threaten a boycott of the government schools just like they did when Indiana allowed bakers to not attend weddings they couldn't support and the entrepreneurs demand that Olympia fix this. 

Just kidding. 

For some reason, the smartest business operators in the world turn their brains off when it comes to public policy and not just with the government schools that refuse to engage in testing new ideas, refuse to pay teachers for performance and refuse any attempt to hire brilliant people with worlds of experience and the gift of reaching young people lest they return to Big College to get a Big Degree at a Big Expense. 

How does Big Seattle run big projects? Not like our best companies.

Does big WSDOT steer resources according to customer demand through easily obtained data? Don't be silly. Choo-Choo trains power a stunning 0.23 percent of trips in the Seattle area. WSDOT steers 60 percent of your money to them. Smart Seattleites whom would never support such a misbalance in their businesses continue to vote for more money for WSDOT. 

How does Big WSDOT go big? Bertha is a hole in the ground billions of dollars over budget which WSDOT's boss, Lynn Peterson, refuses to say to date certain will ever become a tunnel. Was Bertha tested? No. Was there real competition for other ideas? To some degree, but the political powers in the area re-ran the votes and changed the voting universe until, through cheating, they got the answer they wanted. Has the project been meticulously tracked and continuously reviewed?

No—their big drill ran into a pipe that they placed there. Was this project part of a carefully examined plan where a team of diverse thinkers decided this was the best path for success? Hardly. The failure of this project was easily foreseen from the insurgent political right—Dino Rossi, who would have been governor if perfectly evident vote fraud was more than winked at—saw it coming as did the establishment darling, the reflexively liberal Stranger.

Yet, no one has been seen their pay docked, their performance questioned, no one has been put on performance management or seen their jobs ended. In every possible way, WSDOT does things in full reverse of what Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Bill Gates and other brilliant minds do when they pursue excellence. 

As illustrative as those cases are of Seattle's weird condition of smart business owners by day and gullible voters by night, they are not the worst case.

Where is the diversity in Big Seattle?

Diversity is not a buzzword with Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Boeing or The Gates Foundation, it is a measured process owned by senior executives who serve as single points of accountability for reaching diversity goals. Hiring managers have in their job descriptions the pursuit of diversity. It is not a meme, it is THE way that the people at the top demand their teams walk. 

There is no diversity in Seattle's leadership—well, not diversity that actually counts for issues of governance—that is diversity of background, thought, point of view. Every City Council candidate in this year is in a contest to be the most leftist—that is, the most against innovation in hiring, how people are paid, the freedom business owners have to innovate (remember the war on Uber and Lyft?) and to be the most in favor of top down control—it's leftism versus radical leftism. There is no intellectual or philosophical diversity in Seattle politics; there is only surface level, photo-op diversity. 

Seattle's entrepreneurs are outraged about that. Just as they all pushed the book "Lean Forward" and bring in highly paid diversity consultants, just as they criticize the GOP for lacking any diversity, these business leaders demand more diversity on their City Council. 

Just kidding. 

The greatness of the City would expand at geometric proportions if Seattle voters would keep their business acumen when they fill out their ballots and deliver their campaign contributions. Honestly, if they simply did that, Seattle would be for lifestyle, freedom, equality of opportunity, creation of new wealth and a ladder up from poverty, what Amazon, Microsoft, Starbuck, Boeing and the Gates Foundation have been for the beautiful minds lucky enough to work there where they change the world every day

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