No decisions, no responsibility

We presume.

Human beings take shortcuts and believe in stereotypes. Sometimes we misjudge someone as dumb, who isn't, or unsuccessful, who is far from it. Too often, we make grave errors, disrespect our fellows and lose out on opportunities because we're too busy judging.

The way the authorities treated Aditya Mukerjee a few weeks ago will/should make you shudder. This goes far beyond one person relying on stereotypes, though. It's an indictment of how too many organizations work.

I don't think we can assume that the people we hire will somehow lose their prejudices. I do think, though, that we ought to build systems where the system itself works against those stereotypes, instead of amplifying them.

Throughout his story, we encounter individuals who should have known better, professionals who should have been trained and monitored, but most of all, we see a typical bureaucracy. People who refuse to make decisions and who are absolved of responsibility for their actions (or non-actions).

TSA, TSA, TSA, NYPD, NYPD, FBI, JetBlue, TSA, NYPD… in this parade of uncaring cops and bureaucrats, wasn't there one person who could grab Aditya a glass of water? One person who could talk to him like a fellow human, like a fellow citizen? In the many hours that he was held, why didn't even one person stand up and say, "wait!"

We presume. And often, we're just wrong.

There are only two choices available to any large organization:

1. Hire people who make no original decisions but be damn sure that if they are going to run by the book, the book better be perfect. And build in reviews to make sure that everyone is indeed playing by the book, with significant monitoring and consequences in place for when they don't.

2. Hire people who care and give them the freedom and responsibility to act. Hold people responsible for the decisions they make, and trust their judgment.

We can do better, all of us. We better hurry.