Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Alon Levy alert! Omnicompetence at work

From time to time, we've referred back to this quote from Alon Levy:

There is a belief within American media that a successful person can succeed at anything. He (and it’s invariably he) is omnicompetent, and people who question him and laugh at his outlandish ideas will invariably fail and end up working for him. If he cares about something, it’s important; if he says something can be done, it can. The people who are already doing the same thing are peons and their opinions are to be discounted, since they are biased and he never is. He doesn’t need to provide references or evidence – even supposedly scientific science fiction falls into this trope, in which the hero gets ideas from his gut, is always right, and never needs to do experiments.

The context is usually Elon Musk or some other Silicon Valley superstar who goes into a field where he (or very occasionally she) has no relevant experience and announces he is supremely confident that he can revolutionize the industry. These claims are accepted uncritically by a fawning press, gullible investors, and sometimes even by the people in charge of spending our tax dollars.

While the tech industry is a hotbed of this particular scam, the grift is by no means limited to this one corner of the world. A recent high profile hire here in Los Angeles reminds us that not only are successful people routinely handed huge responsibilities despite a total lack of qualifications, but that with some of these people, this happens again and again.
In this decade alone, Beutner has gone straight to the top in no fewer than four fields in the City of Angels—without having to pay his dues in any of them.

It started back in late 2009, when Beutner convinced Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to appoint him to be first deputy mayor of the city of L.A. Without any prior experience in local government, he helped manage 13 city agencies. During that stint, he was named interim general manager of L.A.’s most fearsome government agency—the Department of Water and Power—without experience in utilities.

After leaving city government, Beutner, without experience in journalism, took over as publisher of the Los Angeles Times, and the San Diego Union-Tribune.

But all those were a mere appetizer for his latest job. Last week, Beutner became superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. With 600,000 students, it’s the largest school district in California and the second largest in the nation.

And if you think that earning such a position would require Beutner to have experience in school districts, you’re not thinking the right way.

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