Okay, who here uses Windows?
Huh, not as many as I thought. Cool beans.
Okay, so the reason I ask is two-fold: one, the latest version of Ubuntu is out at the end of this month; and two, I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the last day to try and work out what exactly a Chief Director, a Non-Executive Director and an Executive Director actually do.
The thing Microsoft doesn’t tell you about computer operating systems is that they require very careful and dedicated management. Windows XP made this comparatively easy. Keep your registry clean, purge the temp files regularly, check every week or so for adware and spyware, make sure there are as few programs in the boot directory as possible, install the latest updates, and wipe the entire drive and reinstall the OS every year or so. Windows Vista seemed to go out of its way to make every single one of those simple tasks as difficult as possible, and that’s why I switched to Ubuntu.
Importantly, Ubuntu doesn’t keep lots of esoteric directories and the programs made for it don’t insinuate themselves into them. If you want a Ubuntu program to do something other than run when you click on it, you need to go into the command line and edit the code. And that’s good, because I don’t want any programs on my computer to do anything other than run when I click on them. Still, though, it’s good practice to reinstall the OS every year or so.
Why this obsession with reinstalling? Well, the operating system–regardless of who it’s designed by–is designed to run optimally on the systems and conditions present at its launch. As no one can predict the future, no one can really do anything better. However, computers, expectations, capabilities and operating environments change after the OSs release. In order to maintain their performance, updates are released that allow the OS to adapt.
Sounds fine. However, the system the update is designed to run on is not the system running on your computer. You’ve installed programs, uninstalled them, saved files, changed drivers, imported files, deleted them… Every change bringing you another small step away from the system the updates are designed for. As the updates are being forced on an ill-fitting system, the differences yours and the factory-perfect system are compounded. You install, uninstall, delete, save again and again, install updates that are an increasingly bad fit… Until the system you’re running is only fifty or sixty percent of the system it should be. It’s slow, errors are increasingly frequent, crashes start to happen. The continual updates by both you and the OSs erode efficiency and effectiveness as processes get lost in increasingly piecemeal code. So, you wipe it all, install the factory-fresh OS, install the updates designed for the factory-fresh OS, and it’s all good.
To use an analogy, you burn away all the tangled, uncontrolled growth that’s strangling the forest and the forest can breathe and thrive again.
So what’s this got do to with the Board of Directors?
Well, systems of corporate governance were established in the seventeen century (when the first chartered companies emerged). Since then, society, expectations and demands have continually changed and governance structures have changed with them. Each change incremental, designed to accommodate a specific set of circumstances. Change has been built on change which has turned into tradition and accepted practice which is then adapted to a new circumstance… Until we get to me, staring at my screen, unable to work out exactly what these people do other than wear suits and play golf. Partly because I’m a bit dumb, partly due to a lack of concrete information, but partly because the whole system is so self-referential and incestuous that there’s no easy way in, no way without understanding one term or role without understanding another equally opaque jumble of words.
It’s time for a wipe-and-reinstall. Boards of Directors, Executives, stock options, Hedge Funds, asset management companies, securities, portfolios, futures, the lot. Everyone and everything from the CEO to the investment broker to the minimum wage front-line employee. Wipe it all. Then, we sit down and ask, ‘what is it that we want companies to do? What is their primary function? What is the best way to achieve that?’ And then we make it happen.
Every long-standing system needs to be wiped and reinstalled periodically, from those that run our computers to those that run our society. Every incremental change makes it a little less fit for purpose.
Oh, politicians? Don’t get me started. I talked about companies in this post because I could fit it into one post without too much vitriol. The only OS worse than politics is law. Man. Burn the lot–lawyers, judges, books of law, court records, precedent–and start again, please!
(Of course, a note of caution needs to be added: wiping-and-reinstalling too frequently means your system is never going to get the momentum needed to achieve efficiency. Just look at the NHS–it’s redesigned every ten years and more money is spent on explaining what everyone’s new job title means and changing the stationary than is every spent on patient care. In computer OS terms, the NHS never gets out past the Alpha release.)