When Watching LOST, Think "Washington"

Last week at the insistence of Tyler, our Assessments & Surveys Guru, I watched an episode of the TV series, LOST, and boy was I lost!  I quickly concluded this is not the kind of series that you can join in on the 108th episode and make any sense of what is going on.  Characters are flashing forward, backward, and sideways; a series of numbers from previous episodes reappear; clues to old mysteries pop up around every turn in the jungle path; and challenges to leadership are apparently on-going and critical to the preservation of the island and its powers.

As I was struggling to make sense of what was happening, I couldn’t help but think about Washington.  It seems to me that our elected officials are lost.  We elect leaders who create some followers and wander around till the followers realize they are not getting anywhere.  Then another leader emerges, or re-emerges, to say he knows the way out. After passing familiar landmarks along the trail, the followers realize the new leader is really no better than the last.  While some long for the last leader, some say that the new leader just needs more time to find the way, and others claim that only a new leader can ever hope to take them in a direction that will solve their problems.

A friend from New Zealand, Stig Ehnbom recently sent me a Spiegel On-line article on monetary policy, “China Has a Plan; Washington Doesn’t.”  His comment on the article was, “Considering also that China is buying up resources all over the world - mines, oil and gas deposits, forests, fishing rights, land for gowning food, water resources for farming and that China controls 95% of the world known REE's (Rare Earth Elements) forming key parts in batteries and electronics for defense and imagery - China has a plan all right and working on it while we in the West are flying around the world attending conferences at exotic resorts exchanging hot air and dreams. Dreams without money (China has got the purse) are called hallucinations and it is a sign of senility to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.”

Indeed we do seem to keep doing the same thing repeatedly, expecting a different result.  Politicians long for the days of Clinton or Reagan, acting as though nothing has changed in the world for the last 20 years and that the same things they did would work now. The problem as I see it is even when we have a plan we never seem to learn from its success or failure.In fact, we can’t even tell if we had a success or failure.

I remember several months ago when the $787 billion stimulus was being debated in Congress, a reporter questioned a Congressman about the wisdom of the stimulus.  His response was, “We’ve got to do something.”  In other words he had no idea whether it would work but thought that a $787 billion experiment, with no effective experimental design, was a wise thing to do.  Clearly, he was lost.  How many times have you heard a politician tell you that even though the country is not making progress on jobs, if we hadn’t done what we did it would have been worse?   I don’t think there is any evidence to support such claims.  How can they prove such a statement? 

How can they prove that anything they do is helpful?  Most people seem to believe that the best situation for the citizens is when one party controls the White House and another controls the Senate and the House.  That way the politicians can work long and hard on laws that the President can veto.  At least their waste of time would not cost the taxpayers much tax. I think Congress is  lost on most of the problems they are trying to solve. 

Whether it is health care, global warming or the stimulus, politicians rarely put themselves in a position to be wrong.  With the possibility of being wrong, there is accountability – what politicians want from everyone but themselves. I think that every law that is passed and every government program that Congress institutes should include a document specifying its clearly intended outcomes, the measures of success, to include timelines for achieving it, and Senators and Congressmen who sign-on should be praised for success and required to stand and explain faulty logic and execution in their failures. 

This way the public can see who is qualified to make our laws and spend our money in ways that really benefits the public they serve. What is the probability that will happen?  It is about the same as the characters on LOST finding out their true purpose for being on the island. However, as the show’s creators insist, all of our questions will be answered in this final season. When might we expect such assurance from our elected officials in Washington?


Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.