The Con Artist vs the Centralisation Obsession

Over the last few weeks in Australia we’ve seen our very own version of Leo DiCrapio’s (typo, but is it fitting?) character in Catch me if you can. Alleged con artist Jodie Harris apparently spent $45,000 of other people’s money over 12 days, taunting police along the way before being caught last week with 100’s of credit cards, driver’s licences and so on. She’s now in custody awaiting court and the media circus and so on.

A friend remarked how unbelievable it was that she’d gotten away with it, along with the comment that more rules needed to be put in place. I’d actually argue the opposite: we already have loads of rules – and it’s this obsession with centralising thought and control enabling the more “creative”, like Harris, to run rings around the system.

Maccas, Starbucks and the 7-11

Let me expand with an example. It’s de rigeur for any young urban professional to shake their head at the numerous coffee, food and convenience chains flooding the globe. Common war cries are the destructive effect on the environment, or the waistlines of the suburbs, but in reality this actually proves their efficiency gathering and distributing resources. In a free market unchecked by government , it’s only natural for mergers and increased centralisation to continue on this basis.

Centralisation in such an environment means that head office controls everything from the temperature of the hamburger grill (177 on the top, 219 on the bottom since you ask) to the size of the logo on the bag of chips fries. At one former employer, any use of the company mascot was subject to a review back in ol’ Massachusetts … as was any change to the central code … as was any new product initiative.

Wither the local

In my love affair with coffee, I’ve many mistresses. There’s Nat & Michael at Cafe Sorelle, Sarah & George at Zoo, Kim, Seta & Yianni at the Hole in the Wall. Besides the love of the brew, there’s banter in every transaction – and we know each other by name. Which keeps me coming back, and given a few like minded souls, this keeps them in business.

The centralisation approach removes this. Creativity suffers – when the sidebar of your website has only 192 pixels to move within, and only a techie in Hyderabad has the authority to publish to the world, it’s unlikely that the next hot market is going to originate within your department.

Once the permission/potential for ideas is knocked out of staff, so too goes their interest. If the company is actively stopping them from contributing their personality, they may well become the trained drones mandated (“would you like fries with that?”), but they won’t care about the business. Likewise, customers attach their loyalty only to the transaction at hand, and never develop a relationship to anything but the product.

So to complete the circle – in this restrictive and emotion-free environment, it’s no surprise that employees didn’t even notice Harris’ scam, let alone take initiative and try to stop her in her tracks. At the risk of sounding like a right-wing columnist, it’s a pretty good argument to push a values-based approach for a change, rather than a few more regulations.

One thought on “The Con Artist vs the Centralisation Obsession

  • September 27, 2006 at 12:22 am

    It’s ironic that many of the cookie-cut franchises have such innovative employee retention strategies, like that breath-taking example of inspiration: Employee Of The Month. Given the no-creativity-allowed environment, I wonder what you have to do to be Employee Of The Month?

    There’s another aspect involved here, I think: whenever the business is too much ‘churn and burn’, like fast food, or (some) design studios, everyone can default to patterned behaviour, and innovation gets harder. So back off, pushy clients, give us more time, more space, and you’ll get innovation! 😉

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