The Twilight Zone Economy & the Tick-The Box Bubble
Investment Office, March 2020
Most cities around the world haved turned into landscapes that ressemble a scenario for the Twilight Zone tv series of the late 1950s early 1960s. Human beings have left the stage, to make space for an invisible enemy that has taken the form of government orders, media panics and forced confinements.
Below the noise on the surface, it seems that a strange sense of tick-the box escalation has taken control of the system, with the fear of being compliant overtaking the fear of the initial threat.
Within this maelstrom, everybody is doing the right thing from his narrow point of view, sticking to his process, making sure not to be blamed in case they are not compliant, without any consideration for the system as a whole.
It is very similar to a government employee of the former Soviet-Union, whereas each individual was bravely doing his job, while the country was falling into pieces. A similar example in our domain could be the use of passive investing: here again, it makes sense from the point of view of every actor, but for the system as a whole the consequences are far from clear.
No individual wants to be held accountable for anything, so it is better to shift any blame to an invisible process that nobody has ever seen or met.
Sam Vaknin called it the "passive-aggressive organization", where "means become ends and ends become means. Consequently, the original goals of such organizations are now considered to be nothing more than obstacles on the way to realizing new aims (...) the collective perpetuates its existence, regardless of whether it has any role left and how well it functions." (Sam Vaknin, Lidija Rangelovska, Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited, 10th edition, 2015).
I like to refer to this pheonmenon as the tick-the box effect/syndrom. It now looks like the tick-the box effect has developed into a feedback loop, muting into the first compliance bubble.
In 2016, there was a insightful talk on TED from Yves Morieux, a partner at BCG, that I can only encourage you to watch.
Yves Morieux warned about the overload of rules, processes and metrics in organizations that keeps us from doing our best work together.
"You know, if you think about it, we pay more attention on knowing who to blame, in case we fail, then in creating the conditions to succeed. (...) What is the real goal ? To have somebody guilty in case they fail. We are creating organisations able to fail, but in a compliant way!".