I’ve been reading a lot about management, supply chain, production, and other models of businesses. I’ve also read a lot of bad stories, including the infamous Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fanfiction. One excellent mock can be found here.
Key to author Eliezer Yudkowsky’s philosophy is a belief in science as a secret mystery cult. This will (supposedly) shield the world from the dangers of science, while at the same time enhancing its appeal-it’s something secret and therefore more interesting than pedestrian publishing.
So I had “fun” applying that theory to business. To be fair, I had to tailor it to a form of organization that it is especially ill-suited for. Something either low-end (where skills aren’t needed as much) or small high-end (where a few “geniuses” can indeed do everything by themselves) doesn’t quite work.
Something massively complex.
So I thought-who would this “rationalist CEO” resemble? What’s the most historical precedent?
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Smith was obsessed with technology and spent billions on robotics and computers (including Ross Perot’s Electronic Data Systems), integrating them in exactly the worst fashion possible (stuffing the plants full immediately rather than easing them in, which made the inevitable screwups and bugs damaging). This in many ways reminded me of someone with just enough knowledge to get into the field, but not enough to know its shortcomings.
There was also Saturn, which is unclear. Was it a good-natured but ultimately futile attempt to save the company from itself by setting up the only way an alternative to its overwhelming culture could exist, or was it just as big a gimmick as the robots and diversification, an attempt to find a shortcut rather than take the hard task of changing the business?
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Now, there are notable differences. Smith was a finance person, which was both bad compared to this hypothetical “rationalist” (Financial gimmicks, cost-savings that led to all the cars looking alike and boring, etc..) and good (Knowing the basics of accounting and cost control at all compared to someone who sadly would just throw money at everything to build the Perfect Widget). And, a lot of it was due to circumstance. GM could get away with this because it had the money to do that. A small startup or just smaller overall business would be limited.
Also, Smith did not seem to be an overbearing authoritarian beyond the norm for a big-business CEO. Saturn was in part designed to provide a labor model that would be more cooperative and empowering to the workers, not to crack the whip and, like foreign manufacturers, run to non-union territory. While some rationalists would not be this, the full-blown neoreactionaries seem like they would go straight back to the bad old days and beyond.
Finally, there’s one thing that Yudkowsky’s writing shows about the setting-an utter contempt for it. Applied to industry (and it’s something Smith, an organization man through and through would never have, in spite of his known weaknesses), it seems like it would lead to a wave of not-invented-here waste, amplified from its known existing issues in the motor vehicle business.
So the “rationalist” car company would make overengineered cars, have more automation purely for its own sake without a purpose, and be totally indifferent at best to its workers (what do they know? Do they have ____?) at best and hostile at worst (Those idiots-do they have ____?).
Maybe a mix of the worst of Smith, a supercar developer, and Henry Ford seems like it would be more appropriate.