The Paradox of Improvement

In this age of transition, who is best to take the lead; an optimist or a pessimist?  As G.K. Chesterton said:

… optimists are more practical reformers than pessimists. Superficially, one would imagine that the railer would be the reformer; that the man who thought that everything was wrong would be the man to put everything right. In historical practice the thing is quite the other way; curiously enough, it is the man who likes things as they are who really makes them better.

A paradox indeed.  This paradox is not limited to politics, but applies to business as well.  It is the difference between a takeover and a turnaround.

A takeover of a company is a numbers game.  In order to meet the numbers there may be layoffs, assets liquidated, and lines of business shut down.  The takeover is not save the company but to absorb its most valuable assets.  All of this is done through a veneer of neutrality – “Nothing personal, just business“.

A turnaround is when someone actually believes in what the company does and wants to improve it.  There is no neutrality in a turnaround as it cannot be done by the numbers alone.  People need to be led in order for a turnaround to be successful.  People follow people, not numbers.   People will not lead if they do not believe in what they are doing.  So, as odd as it sounds, the person that believes the most in something is the most likely to change it.

Bear in mind, the term takeover is used to describe a financial transaction so not all takeovers are takeovers as defined above.

As pressure to reform is placed on institutions of all types, it is important to look at what is driving it.  Is it to improve the institution or to break it apart and discard the less desirable elements?  From whose perspective are they less desirable?

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