Every now and again we make mistakes that could have been avoided had we gotten input from a more diverse group of people.
A group of Proctor and Gamble white shoe junior executives in Cincinnati regularly shared a commuting car with a Jewish lawyer who was their neighbor and friend. One morning, the P&G gang was excited about a new shampoo product they were about to announce. Seeing that they were particularly excited about the name, the lawyer pushed his friends to reveal it. After swearing their friend to secrecy, the executives told him they would be calling it “Dreck” after one of its active ingredients. The lawyer was struck dumb.
“Are you guys crazy?”
The executives didn’t understand why the lawyer was getting so worked up until he explained that ‘dreck’ is a Yiddish word that basically translates to “shit.”
According to the story, that is how Breck shampoo got its name.
Of course, the story is apocryphal—Breck shampoo was named after its creator and had nothing to do with P&G which has very few Jewish employees —but it is told and retold because it contains a deep truth: a diverse group can catch a potentially very embarrassing problem faster and better than a homogeneous one.
This is why vetting must be done by multiple people. Candidates should rarely be hired or appointed by executive fiat. When that happens, the result is often a disaster.
For example, ask rear admiral Ronny Jackson who was, until recently, the president’s physician, a role to which he was appointed by Barack Obama and in which the most attention he had previously drawn centered on his bizarrely hyperbolic statements about the health of the current Patient in Chief. But when Trump attempted to elevate him to the head of the VA without a proper vetting process, Jackson went down in scandal.
Trump looks—once again—like he has no idea how to run a competent organization, and Jackson received what may be a career-ending black eye. Maybe Jackson should have known better than to accept the nomination given his past, but he also probably should have known better than to loosely distribute opioids and drink while on official White House business.
Trump is used to the world of private business, and an idiosyncratic portion of it, at that. Perhaps he should have sought the advice from someone from the public sphere before attempting to install Jackson at the VA.
Like any sector of society, this White House needs to enable better cross-pollination between business, government, and non-profit types. While he does little to aid his own cause, the President is also paying dearly for the inexperience of White House and senior executive branch staff. There is a White House fellowship program that brings private sector stars into the White House for several months; making better use of it could help an administration that stumbles over its own feet all too frequently, and could be a model for similar exchanges in Cabinet agencies. Even (especially?) Congress and business and not for profits could benefit from perspectives and insights gleaned elsewhere.
While it is impossible to prevent every mistake, we owe it to ourselves, and everyone we have contact with, to try harder by elevating a diversity of viewpoints!