I know I’m going to regret this … and I promise, I will connect it to practical business concerns.

Last week’s possibly satirical discussion of non-human entities we’ve created and given power over us to (“Who needs Skynet,” 2/12/2018) led to a lively discussion in the Comments section, including a controversy in juridical circles as to whether, when the First Amendment mentions “the press,” the protections are supposed to apply to the technology and its use or to the institutions commonly referred to as “the press.”

Or both.

My own conclusion: Failing to recognize the press-as-institution puts us at serious risk. Imagine politicians or lobbyists who don’t like what a member of the press-as-institution publishes. Without imposing any restriction on any individual’s use of press technology to disseminate information or opinions, those politicians could pass laws that drive that press organization into bankruptcy in retaliation.

But, if we do want to recognize the press-as-institution and protect it from governmental retaliation we’re faced with the fascination challenge of defining it.

Strict originalists face an even more challenging issue: As written, the First Amendment only protects speech and publication. It doesn’t even mention the activities needed to discover and gather the information the news media publishes.

Dumbass opinions, in this view, would enjoy constitutional protections. The careful research needed to publish accurate information would not.

Which got me thinking about The Post, its recounting of how the Pentagon Papers were brought to light, and how, in the end, revealing how the American public was misled into the Vietnam War arguably strengthened our government in the long term.

Which gets me to a point I’d like you to entertain even if you disagree with the above conclusion.

Unlike our government, there’s nothing in how corporations are chartered, organized, and run that provides any protections that would allowing employees to play a press-like role in their management.

I’m not talking about whistleblowers and the discovery of corporate wrongdoing. I’m talking about something far more mundane and potentially useful.

Imagine you discover a function within the company you work for is guilty of chronic but concealed idiocy. Nothing illegal or immoral, mind you. Just stupid.

Speaking of stupid, now imagine you try to bring the issue to the attention of a member of the ELT (Executive Leadership Team for those of you who haven’t heard the term before). Think they’ll thank you for your trouble?

Not most business executives, who largely rely on their chain of command for most of their information about What’s Going On Out There, supplemented by management dashboards and computer-generated reports.

Which often means they know much more about unimportant matters than about, for example, the stupidity factory you uncovered.

As I’ve mentioned from time to time, one of the most important skills for any business leader to develop is organizational listening. In the past I’ve suggested developing a variety of mechanisms, ranging from formal metrics to informal internal networking to accomplish this.

But this whole conversation about what constitutes the press leads me to wonder if a business would benefit by establishing the internal equivalent of the press-as-institution.

I’m not talking about adding a First-Amendment-like policy to the manual. While the results might be fun to watch, the most likely result would be a very poor signal-to-noise ratio.

I’m talking about establishing a formal internal news-gathering function, focused on discovering what managers don’t want the ELT to know and that ELT members might not want to know.

One of the most important (and most easily abused) functions performed by the press-as-institution is deciding what information is worthy of publication. Whether you get your information from newspapers or broadcast or cable news, you rely on them not only for the information they provide itself, but also to let you know what subjects you should be paying attention to.

A corporate internal news-gathering function would play a similar role. It would be a known place for employees at all levels to report what they’re aware of and think the ELT should be aware of, without incurring personal risk. It would also be responsible for sorting through it all, deciding what matters, and, when the situation calls for it, researching an issue in more depth.

It would have a regular slot on the ELT agenda — it wouldn’t need to fight for air time.

The ELT would be responsible for paying attention — for reading its metaphorical newspaper. And for instituting and enforcing the one rule critical for this organization’s success:

Don’t shoot the messenger.

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This isn’t something I’ve tried with a client and can attest to. I know of no business that’s tried this. If you do, please post a Comment to tell the rest of us about it. If you don’t, post a Comment anyway.

“Markets don’t fail. They always allocate goods and services perfectly,” a correspondent explained in response to last week’s column about market failure and how its sources might apply to IT shops that act as independent businesses selling to “internal customers.”

My correspondent’s position was, however, unassailable: Markets do always allocate goods and services perfectly, so long as your definition of “perfect” is “whatever allocations the marketplace delivers.”

With non-circular definitions, though, market failures are very real. Take my favorite example, covered in this space almost a decade ago:

The Dollar Auction

I auction off a dollar. There’s just one change to the usual high-bidder wins auction rules: The runner-up has to pay me his last bid too. So if the winning bid is a nickel and the runner up stopped at 4 cents, the winner would net 95 cents, I’d get 5+4=9 cents, and the runner up would be out 4 cents.

Except the runner up wouldn’t stop. He’d certainly bid 6 cents instead of losing the auction. And so on, and so on, until the high bid is a buck and the next highest is 99 cents. The second highest bidder now has to either bid $1.01 for my dollar — losing a penny on the deal — or stop, losing 99 cents. As losing a penny is better than losing 99 cents, there’s no end to the escalation.

Which, as I wrote in 2007, looks a lot like a politically high-stakes project that’s going off the rails. The sponsor can either throw good money after bad or cut her losses. But as each click of the throw-more-money-at-it ratchet looks to have a better ROI than losing everything invested thus far, and also avoids the political embarrassment of backing a loser, the train wreck continues into the indefinite future.

Customer Incongruence

The term “customer” involves three very different roles: Decision-maker (true customer), consumer, and wallet. When the same person fills all three roles, call it customer congruence, and market forces do what they’re supposed to do.

Customer incongruence (my term) happens when different people occupy the different customer roles, as when the family goes to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. Be honest. It’s the kids who made the buying decision. Consumers? That’s the whole family. Mom or Dad are merely the wallet.

Healthcare provides another example of customer incongruence. The patient is the consumer, the insurance company is the wallet once co-pays and deductibles have been left behind. But who makes the buying decisions for your health care? For most of us it’s our doctor, who tells us what drugs to take and what surgeries to undergo.

That’s right: The seller of healthcare services holds the most important customer role: decision-maker. Which often leads to such inconveniences as buying a very expensive pharmaceutical solution when a relatively inexpensive alternative would be just as efficacious.

Which is not to suggest we should all prescribe our own treatments. Even with WebMD, few of us know enough. So while neither physicians nor IBM’s Watson are perfect diagnosticians, the alternative — self-diagnosing and self-prescribing patients — would result in a lot of unnecessarily dead people.

It’s a customer incongruity, which explains, at least in part, why the U.S. healthcare system is such a mess.

But IT organizations that act as a sellers to internal customers create customer incongruities that are just as challenging. The parallel with healthcare providers is, I hope, clear: Business executives and managers know where it hurts, but selecting or building IT solutions is complex enough to require professionals who know the field. They have the needed expertise.

As a result, to a very real extent, the IT organization acts as both seller and buyer of the company’s portfolio of information technologies.

The [partial] solution involves both formal governance and informal relationship management: Governance in the form of an IT Steering Committee or the equivalent — business managers who acquire enough expertise to oversee decisions about the company’s IT investments; relationship management in the form of the same trust-building you engage in with your doctor (and vice versa), and for the same reasons.

The better, admittedly partial solution is to not consider the rest of the business to be IT’s customer in the first place. It doesn’t do much for dollar-auction situations — what’s needed there is an executive culture that makes risk-taking safer by accepting that risk means some efforts must fail to pan out.

But customer incongruities go away when IT has no customers — when IT and everyone in the business collaborate to figure out and implement desired business changes.

I don’t know if it’s good economic theory. My experience, though, tells me it works quite well.