By committee?

中国日报网 2017-03-07 11:39



By committee?Reader question:

Please explain “by committee” in this sentence: His temperament, he thinks, is better suited to theatre, where you don’t have to do everything by committee.

My comments:

Theatre belongs to the realm of arts, where individual talent is more important than one’s ability to work within a team, i.e. be agreeable and cooperative.

Or sometimes so. Or it should be thus to a great degree, or at least to some degree.

At any rate, that’s how “he” thinks, believing his temperament is more suited to theatre, where he has a better opportunity to allow his individual talent to shine.

A better opportunity than, say, if he has to work on a committee or council in government.

A committee, you see, is a group of experts or so called ones formed specifically to look into a matter and make a decision upon it. Usually, the said decision is made collectively rather than by any individual, say, by the committee chairman him or herself.

The Olympic Committee, for example, is entrusted with the job, among others, to name the venue of the next Olympic Games. They do so by committee, after asking committee members to go to competing cities for inspection and have their say and, finally, cast their vote.

In other words, the decision is not made by the chairman of the committee and him (or her, hopefully a her some day in future) alone. In other words and in contrast, a committee is not a dictatorship, whereby all decisions are made by one person and by him (or her, for there’ve been female dictators throughout history for sure) alone.

Anyways, if you do things by committee, you act as a team or group. You reach a decision after much deliberation, discussion and dialogue. By contrast, if you act like a dictator, you make all decisions by yourself, alone, out of your own wits or whim.

That’s not to say, though, that doing everything by committee is preferable and at all times preferred by all. A committee can be and often is bureaucratic. They take time to make a decision, if they can reach a conclusion at all. And when they eventually do make a decision, they can make a mess of it. For example, as the adage goes, a camel is a horse designed by committee.

Overall, I think the jury is still out. In democratic societies, more people seem to think a committee is preferable to a dictatorship. Others, however, think a dictator is sometimes needed, like, when an urgent decision has to be made. Only days into his presidency, for example, Donald Trump made the decision to prevent travelling Muslims from entering America. Only a dictator could do a thing like that. I mean, he was in such a hurry – it was that urgent to him.

What do you think? Decision by dictatorship or by committee? Which is better?

Undecided? Should we form a committee? Will you be on the committee?

Well, I’ll quit fooling around and let’s read media examples of situations where people do or don’t do things by committee:

1. The brilliance of the individual and the stupidity of the group or committee is one of the most poisonous ideas in modern society.

Scandinavians are very much a consensus-driven people. They discuss a lot. Managers are not supposed to impose their will but rather encourage consensus. What an awful place. Their companies must be a joke, their societies a shambles; because we all know that anything that involves -- snigger, snigger -- a committee must result in total stupidity.

Except that they're not of course. Scandinavian societies are the most healthy, wealthy, best educated and most equal on earth. Are they perfect? Of course not. Because there is no such thing as perfection, just an endless work in progress.

It is an article of almost religious faith that committees make bad decisions while individuals make brilliant ones. The fawning deification of Steve Jobs left the distinct impression that Apple would implode the day after he died.

I often read TIME magazine and that means reading about the best athlete in the world, the best cook in the world, the one man who will save Europe, etc. etc. The European Union -- the ultimate example of committees and consensus -- is the butt of all jokes right now. Let me, as a citizen of Europe, just say that I really like and am proud of the European Union. Long may it be committee- and consensus-driven.

What caused the global financial mess in which we find ourselves? Many, many things, but certainly a major contributor was smartest-boy-in-the-room syndrome. Letting testosterone drunk, somewhat psychotic young men rule the world of finance with their complex financial gambling is a great example of individual brilliance at play.

The last time I heard it was a committee-or a series of committees-that invented the Internet. I read a lot about science and what really strikes me is that while we have Nobel Prize syndrome, nobody would ever win anything without the diligent work of thousands upon thousands of other scientists over centuries and centuries. But TIME magazine will tell us that there is one great scientist that rules them all.

The brilliant individual is not supposed to need data to make a decision. They don’t do research. They don’t take time to make decisions either. No, it’s gut instinct all the way down. Like a Western gun slinger, they decide first, ask questions later.

I’m not saying that we should do everything by committee. But we should be hugely skeptical of the individual macho cult. One of the hugely damaging imbalances in modern society is that ever-tinier elites are gathering more and more wealth and power. It will not end well.

I am optimistic. I see the slow emergence of a more rational, data-driven world where opinions are replaced by facts. Of course, there are dangers here too. It’s been said many times that there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics”. And then, of course, there are opinions.

The future is collaborative and consensual. When I see organizations with successful websites I see the organization as a whole collaborating; IT and marketing and service and support working together. Let’s raise a cheer for the committee. It’s cool to be consensual.

- Web Experience: In Defense of the Committee, by Gerry McGovern, June 4, 2012.

2. The Agile Manifesto offers some great ideas. It stresses “individuals and interactions,” “working software,” “customer collaboration,” and “responding to change.” It can easily turn into a meaningless ritual, though, a way for self-appointed “scrum masters” to rake in money without offering value. When they talk about “doing Agile,” making it a noun, be on guard. That can lead to magical thinking which tries to get results by performing the right words and gestures.

Agility means quick reflexes, ability to negotiate obstacles, and balance when rapidly changing direction. In a development environment, it means reacting quickly to changes in requirements, keeping good communications, and not getting painted into a corner. It doesn’t mean being a slave to a process.

If the standard answer to a request for change is “Put it on the agenda for the next scrum,” that’s a clumsy approach, not an agile one. Deciding everything by committee is about as agile as a trailer truck in mud. Agility requires keeping communication lines open and letting people act on what they’ve learned.

“Agile” can become micromanagement. Breaking work up into small steps lets people be more agile, but making them fill walls with sticky notes describing each little bit drags them down. Keeping track of each team member’s progress and identifying delays is valuable, but you do that because plans are going to change. Everything takes longer than you think; you just don’t know how much longer.

Being truly agile is rewarding. It lets developers keep in touch with customers, avoids over commitment to rigid plans, and minimizes backtracking. It’s an approach built on flexibility, not a set of bureaucratic requirements.

- “Agile” Isn’t a Noun,, April 21, 2016.

3. After losing Matthew Dellavedova to Milwaukee this off-season and learning about Mo Williams’ sudden retirement Monday, the Cleveland Cavaliers opened the first day of training camp short on point guards.

According to head coach Tyronn Lue, it will take a team effort to fill the void. It will also take some experimentation.

We have to do it by committee,” Lue said Tuesday afternoon, following the team's first practice. “I thought (DeAndre) Liggins looked really good today. Did a great job. Kay (Felder). I think we can play Jordan (McRae) a little backup point, we’ve got Shump (Iman Shumpert) who can play a little backup point and having LeBron on the floor with him will help him out. We just have to do it by committee until we figure it out.”

- Tyronn Lue says Cleveland Cavaliers will take ‘committee’ approach to backup point guard situation,, September 28, 2016.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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