Robert McNamara: good analytics, bad judgment

July 9, 2009
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Tom Davenport on former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and how he failed despite good analytics.

McNamara was a hedgehog rather than a fox, an engineer rather than an ecologist. The hedgehog knows one big thing, and for McNamara that was rational systems analysis. If he’d been a fox, he’d have brought additional perspectives to America’s pressing problems. Like a dogged engineer, he believed that you could model and manipulate the inputs and outputs of any system. Unlike the ecologist, he didn’t seem to appreciate the complexity of systems involving living things. If the variables explaining poverty or victory in guerilla warfare were unwieldy or unmeasurable, he simply ignored them.


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Tom Davenport on former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and how he failed despite good analytics.

McNamara was a hedgehog rather than a fox, an engineer rather than an ecologist. The hedgehog knows one big thing, and for McNamara that was rational systems analysis. If he’d been a fox, he’d have brought additional perspectives to America’s pressing problems. Like a dogged engineer, he believed that you could model and manipulate the inputs and outputs of any system. Unlike the ecologist, he didn’t seem to appreciate the complexity of systems involving living things. If the variables explaining poverty or victory in guerilla warfare were unwieldy or unmeasurable, he simply ignored them.


Link to original post