Scale is a terrible metric for excellence. In all the cases I have considered, scalability is a detriment to excellence. Scale reduces the offering to the lowest denominator and celebrates repeatability. Scalability creates mediocrity. When we strive to be everything to everyone or to solve a condition with a grand one-size-fits-all application, we reduce the possibilities to a very narrow band of acceptable options.
When the Canadian Federal Government attempts to solve senior’s social isolation at a population level, they throw resources, time, and energy at a national program that eventually offers so little inclusion as to be useless. Social inclusion is a local issue, a community problem that requires a neighbour to neighbour solution. I know the boogeyman known as equality will raise his head and shout; “that’s not fair, some will be taken care of very well and some will be neglected. Some will be invited to share Thanksgiving and some will be at home alone.” He is likely tight but isn’t solving a problem for one individual better than solving for none?
The public and charitable sector have created myths and swallowed lies that enshrine mediocre scale over impactful equity. Both sectors have needed to give birth to an enormous bureaucracy that is at once, expensive, ineffective and inefficient. Scale in the public sector relies on grandiose solutions to small problems rather than addressing social change that is necessary to find our way out of the self-perpetuating mess. If they find a way to house one individual who has been street entrenched for years and help her find gainful employment so she can sustain herself or nearly sustain herself, isn’t that a success? Why do we need to create a universal (unexceptional) global program if a local initiative would provide a community-directed (and different from a neighbouring community) service?
The for-profit sector isn’t immune to mediocrity caused by scale. The reason may be more selfish and nefarious; shareholder value and profit, but in the end we never see the best product or service because it needs to be deliverable in Afghanistan and Alabama simultaneously. The made-in movement of artisans, guilds, growers, and artists bring a refreshing, unique product and service to friends, family, associates, acquaintances, and a small loyal following. Each item is different from the next, often designed in response to a specific request or an individual need or preference. Utility, individuality, and beauty are allowed and encouraged.
I can almost hear the hew and cry as I type these words. ” Yes, but what about …” followed loudly by ” cost”, or ” economy”, or “markets”. For many years I believed the myth of a free market and that if it was good for business it was great for the community. I think that at one time, when we had a local tailor, a local grocer, a milkman, one accountant on the block this was, in fact, a true imagined reality. But as we have devolved into corporate megastores serving pablum to droids, the good that was once bestowed in the community is now delivered through corrupt public markets. Even the stock exchanges that were once a place for considered investment are now just vehicles pushing a dying theory to its eventual and inevitable collapse. People are not served by a corporate culture. We become servants to the machine that churns obsolescence and expects obedience to the powerful purchase promises. ” Buy the next crappy thing because it won’t last long (neither inventory nor functionality).
How can I escape the rolling thunder of messaging? The invasive tracks that are everywhere coaxing me to be better, but only if I buy a new dress, a new phone, a new drug, a new temporary icon are fleeting because there is a new and better crappy thing lurking around the corner with its own marketing plan. The cycle seems unnatural to my heart and my head thinks that the perpetual Ponzi of feeding the beast can’t last.
Can I get off the train at Neighbourhood Station and still live in the world? Can I think local, act local, shop local, give local and still contribute to the global pot? I am hoping that I am up to the challenge. For me, the change that I desire (need?) will be a battle with an entrenched 20th C belief structure that until recently I believed had served me well. A redefinition of well, good, great are needed and my understanding of them will be mine. I am going to attempt a life scaled at the smallest functional level. If I am ready and capable of making a decision, then I should be the one to make it. If the family level is where it would be better made because of the impact the choice would have then the family should decide. The same is true for neighbourhoods, communities, cities. I am no longer convinced that we can make important local choices once we expand the range to provinces or states. It already feels like my health has improved and my stress has been reduced when I focus on those things that I can take immediate, relevant and concrete action on. For me, I need to be able to touch them, see them, walk to them for me to understand the issue or offer and have any hope of adding value.
What do you think?