“The Hand in the Dark” Points the Way

Posted by jlubans on January 04, 2021


While reading a 1920s mystery* – the virus made me do it - a paragraph took me back to a workplace conversation.
I was being counseled/berated by a colleague over my foolhardy emphasis on management theory and practice.
She insinuated I was betraying the profession.
Her opinion – held by many others – was that our noble profession was above such mundane and pragmatic practices.
After all, we went about doing good, don’t you know, and that was sufficient.
Any attempt to quantify the what and the wherefore was not necessary. Doing so implied that somehow we could do better when we were already doing the best.
Imagine the embarrassment when I compared our production statistics with industry peers and found that while we claimed to be first, we came in last in many categories.
Of course, the methodology was flawed! How else could the best come in last?
My colleague advised I read an article (I’d read it years before) by a well-regarded member of the profession.
The article was deemed by my colleague and others an effective apologia, a strong and stately case for a priestly caste. And, it faulted all management techniques as “deterministic, highly reductive and transient.”*
Now, I did not really know what the first two terms meant, but I did agree with the third one: management does suffer from passing fads.
Since I knew the author, I knew he was not against (how could anyone be?) the thoughtful borrowing of applicable “appropriate and proper” business ideas but I knew that he had good cause to criticize the ineffective and halfhearted embrace of business “fads” by some of our managers.
The “Official Mind”
But before I get too high in my dudgeon, let us return to The Hand in the Dark.
The mystery writer explains that an “imperviable dogmatism” (determinism?) can afflict all traditional professionals, in particular bureaucrats.
Such dogmatism results in an “official mind, strong in the belief in its own infallibility, resentful of advice or suggestion as an attempt to weaken its dignity”.
Such a “ruffled (and resentful) dignity (leads the infallible detective’s) judgment astray”, resulting in a “grave mistake” and the near hanging of an innocent woman.
My critical colleague took umbrage – in ruffled dignity - at my seeking to improve our work. Simplifying, streamlining, and improving turnaround times all seemed unseemly.
Even counting how often we did something somehow cheapened it, simplified it and made it, I suppose, “highly reductive” and open to misinterpretation by small minds (like mine).
Anyway, like the hero in The Hand in the Dark, I ignored my colleague’s free advice, persevered in questioning the why and the what of our work and managed to make lasting improvements.
How lasting? Take a guess.

*Arthur J. Rees. “The Hand in the Dark.” 1920. Mr. Rees also wrote "THE SHRIEKING PIT! Both are Gutenberg E-Books.
**Alan Veaner, Paradigm Lost, Paradise Regained, C&RL v.55, September 1994 pp389-402

© Copyright all text John Lubans 2021

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