View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, June 04, 2004

Iraq's 2+2 Syndrome 

One of the less-helpful innovations to come out of DU Business School is something called a "2+2." Basically, at the end of a group exercise in one of the softer classes, like HR, organizational behavior, or leadership, the members of the group each give every other members two compliments and two areas of improvement.

We did this at the end of HR, with fairly normal results. In my case, people felt that I could have volunteered for more, but that I produced consistently high-quality work, in a timely fashion, and carried my weight. There was one person who seemed a little upset that we had to work things around the ubiquitous Jewish holidays, and didn't seem to like the fact that I had opinions, but other than that, pretty milquetoast stuff.

You can see the problem here immediately. Other than the one critique that was long on blade and short on handle, there wasn't much to go on. The one consistent criticism wasn't really all that bad. And given that this past quarter resembled the B-school equivalent of a 100-mile forced march to Bastogne in the dead of winter, I was doing what I needed to do to survive. There's a time and a place for everything, but it seemed prudent at this point for me to stay well inside the divorce-coronary-suicide inefficient frontier. I've got plenty of group work left to play myself back into shape.

The point is that 2+2s flatten everything out. There's no scoring system, so for someone who was truly outstanding, like one of the gals on the team, you still have to come up with two "areas of improvement." They might be that "you chewed gum a little too loudly in the meetings," but they show up on the page next to, and take up about the same amount of ink as "you stayed up all night editing the group's 40-page paper."

Something similar is going on with Iraq. The pluses, which are gigantic, get written down in the same size type with the same amount of ink as the minuses, which are much smaller. The same psychology that makes 2+2 look good superficially is at work here as well: a post-mortem, or even a mid-term evaluation, of any operation will produce pluses and minuses. But without any judgment, without any way of ranking them, you can spend time fixing things that aren't really broken, or miss chances to stay ahead of the curve.

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