Thursday, April 21, 2005

University as Information Traps

By mistake I taped a Charlie Rose interview with the President of Stanford, which was interesting. Rose asked how he would go about improving a school. The answer was rather general, hiring a good dean, hiring great professors which helps attract great students. The implication I drew from the discussion is that it's a circular process, a virtuous circle. Good leadership and one great professor helps attract other great professors and then great students. (He claimed that Stanford was continually raising the number and quality of its applicants.)

It struck me that the whole process has a dynamic of its own. The university invests in the school, the great professor invests by moving to the university, the great students invest by attending--it's to the advantage of everyone to portray the school as great. No alumnus wants to say that her aluma mater was a poor school. The university becomes an information trap, a black hole, in that it captures all negative information and only permits positive information to be aired.

I suspect you could extend the analysis to other organizations. Political appointees in DC are known for going "native" after they're appointed to head agencies. No one who's been in office for 6 months wants to say I head the worst, most disorganized, ineffective organization I ever saw. Perhaps the only exception will be John Bolton if he wins confirmation.

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