John Halamka is unhappy with the direction of federal health computing initiatives. He’s not alone, just about everyone outside of Madison Wisconsin is unhappy. My prescription would differ from John’s, and maybe I’ll write about that one day, but that’s not what this post is about.
This post is about a quote he references:
As Petronius Arbiter said in 27 A.D., we have to avoid change purely for the sake of change as this creates frustration
“We trained hard—but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while actually producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.”
On the one hand, this is perfect. I speak, of course, from experience. I’ve lived through reorg death spirals — when the reorg interval falls below 12 months the end is quite near.
On the other hand, it’s too perfect. It turns out we know very little about Gaius Petronius Arbiter except that he hung out with Nero. Even allowing for the slanderous and largely fictional descriptions of the Roman emperors, he was probably no pillar of virtue. This doesn’t really feel like something a Nero flunky would say.
Turns out, it’s a misattribution. The original was by Charlton Ogburn (1911–1998) in “Merrill’s Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure” in the January 1957 issue of Harper’s Magazine …
We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. Presumably the plans for our employment were being changed. I was to learn later in life that, perhaps because we are so good at organizing, we tend as a nation to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization."
Ogburn’s article isn’t freely available, but you can read about Merrill’s Marauders: "a United States Army long range penetration special operations jungle warfare unit, which fought in the South-East Asian theatre of World War II, or China-Burma-India Theater (CBI). The unit became famous for its deep-penetration missions behind Japanese lines, often engaging Japanese forces superior in number.” They had a blood and brutal story. I have no idea how that connects to Ogburn’s observation on reorgs. Anyone know?