In response to my recent plugging of my daughter’s nascent contract programming business and my reference to the POTUS’ Twittering support of his own daughter’s business to justify it, a long time subscriber and correspondent wrote, “I am SICK TO DEATH of the politicization of EVERYTHING. Strike two, I unsubscribe next time.”

Huh. I thought I’d indulged in nothing more than a harmless wisecrack, and in fact, unlike various recent Oscar winners, I’ve restrained myself from political commentary in KJR in spite of near-daily temptations.

And, let me cast my vote in the same direction: I’m also sick to death of the politicization of everything, although I doubt my correspondent and I mean the same thing when we say it.

Which brings us to this week’s anti-politicized topic: dealing with politicization in the organization you work in.

But first, let’s be clear about what “politicized” means.

At the easiest-to-deal-with level, politicization means talking about politics in the office. It’s easy to deal with because given the current public political climate it’s an awful idea. Nothing good can come from it … no one will persuade anyone who isn’t already on their side of a given issue and there’s no need to persuade someone who already is.

Either way the most likely outcome of a political conversation is inflammation for all conversing parties, who all also risk damaging their personal relationships with the each other party in the bargain.

At the next level, politicization is a synonym for tribalism: Dividing the world into us and them and viewing them, not as opponents, but as enemies. In the public sphere this is what has made our political climate so toxic. In the enterprise it’s one of the root causes of organizational silos with high walls and minimal collaboration.

Worse is that tribalism almost invariably escalates, as each side views hostile behavior on the other’s part through a magnifying lens, calling for an even-more amplified response.

It’s my impression that silo-driven attitudes and behavior are, as a broad trend, becoming worse in most enterprises, although, as there is no good measure of organizational silo height I can’t prove the point. Nonetheless, whatever the trend line, politicized organizations in this sense of the word handicap themselves when competing with their more cognitive counterparts.

But not as badly as organizations that take politicization to the next level. Call it political epistemology.

Epistemology — the study of what it means to “know” something — is, in addition to being eye-glazingly opaque, quite frustrating to deal with. Peel the epistemological onion and you’ll reach two equally unsatisfying conclusions: (1) It is sensible to be more confident of some propositions than others, based on the comparative levels of evidence and logic in their favor. But (2) it isn’t sensible to be completely certain of any proposition, with the possible exception of the proposition that certainty isn’t possible.

Political epistemology is what happens when what to believe and how certain to be of it depends on an individual’s tribal inclinations.

Never mind public policy and how someone’s party affiliation shapes their beliefs about What Works. There are plenty of business examples right in front of you, from decisions about strategy, to IT’s choice of virtualization technology, to which PaaS provider is best, and whether to deploy its technology stack inside the corporate firewall or to contract for external hosting.

No, no, no, no, no. I’m not saying Democrats favor private clouds while Republicans prefer public ones. Among the metaphorical breakdowns here: Businesses tend to have more than just two major metaphorical political parties. Heck, IT tends to have more than just two, with many IT professionals enjoying at least dual citizenship besides, with such fracture lines as Windows vs Linux, COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) vs open source, Waterfall vs Agile, and Engineering-and-Architecture vs Management-and-Finance.

The hazard doesn’t come from individuals having these inclinations. They’re natural and probably inevitable.

No, the hazard comes from the close-minded certainty that starts with “my tribe is good, my tribe’s allies are good enough, and every other tribe is deluded and evil” and finishes with the by now commonplace phrase “confirmation bias,” which means, if you’re among the uninitiated, that people uncritically accept any and all inputs that affirm their pre-existing beliefs while nit-picking to death anything that appears to contradict them.

Is Keep the Joint Running becoming politicized? As the poet Robert Burns wrote,

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion

Which is to say, you’ll have to tell me.

I bet you’re expecting a Cubs-themed KJR this week. It’s a rich vein to tap, what with a World Series featuring two excellent managers who are class acts all the way; who win by recruiting the best talent, treating players with respect, turning them into team, and not over-reacting when things don’t go their way … and I could go on and on and on, but there’s already been so much written about the subject that really, what would be the point.

On a personal note, there were two big events I was hoping to enjoy during my stay here on earth: Halley’s comet, and the Cubs winning the World Series. Halley’s comet was a serious let-down. But the Cubs? After 59 years of rooting, the Cubbies, along with their partners in coronary sports the Cleveland Indians, gave us what might have been the best Game 7 in history.

One out of two ain’t bad. Even the best hitters don’t do that well.

* * *

Tomorrow is election day. We appear to have a national consensus on the most important issue: Is this the best we can do?

Please don’t vote. Every citizen who refrains makes me more important. Mathematically speaking, my vote constitutes 1/nth of the POTUS decision. Those who don’t vote make n smaller. So stay away from the polls, and ask all your friends to do likewise. Thanks.

If you insist, but still can’t make up your mind, try this: List of all the reasons to vote against each of the two major-party candidates … tangible, separate reasons, not vague statements like “she’s corrupt” or “he’s a horrible human being,” no matter how fervently you believe such things.

List only those issues that are tangible and backed by evidence that doesn’t require a conspiracy with a hundred or more members to be credible.

So Clinton’s email server is in. Vince Foster is out. The Trump Foundation paying to settle lawsuits against Trump’s for-profit businesses is in. The rumor that he molested 13-year-old girls is out.

The shorter list wins, no matter how angry any one transgression makes you.

Or, take the advice given in this space from time to time: Ignore policy and ethics completely, and vote for whichever candidate you think would be more competent in the job.

Competence matters most. Competence is what separates those who trust evidence and logic from those who trust their instincts. It’s what separates those who appoint the most qualified people they can find from those who prefer cronies who tell them what they want to hear.

It’s what separates those who take Salvor Hardin’s advice (The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov) that “violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” from those whose first instinct is to nuke ’em.

* * *

Following my recent Sherlock Holmes pastiche, some correspondents raised a significant challenge to making evidence-and-logic based decisions: Given the ease of setting up plausible-looking but phony websites, how can anyone decide which sources are credible and which should be ignored?

Here’s how I go about it, for whatever it’s worth:

  • Read multiple fact checkers. Any one fact-checking site could be a fraud. When, PolitiFact, and the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” agree, fraud would require a conspiracy.
  • Spot-check the fact checks. Don’t just read the ratings. Read some of the essays behind the ratings. If you detect ranting, raving, and expressions of outrage, chances are good it’s a fraudulent site.
  • Spot-check sources. No matter what you’re reading, if the author’s evidence mostly traces back to a few obviously partisan sources (e.g. Breitbart, Michael Moore) you’re looking at a phony fact checker.
  • Look for one-sidedness. If every claim of falsehood is about one political tribe while confirmations of veracity are always about the other, someone is trying to sucker you.
  • Read the opinion columns. I rely on these more than on news stories, with these provisos: (1) I ignore columnists who demonize those they disagree with. This cuts out at least 90% of the noise. And (2) I search for writers I don’t agree with who aren’t screened out by proviso #1.

What’s this have to do with the worlds of business and IT? Well, there is a nice irony: While we’re busily turning into a post-factual society, the world of business, awash in data that’s subjected to sophisticated multivariate analysis, is becoming increasingly dependent on evidence and logic for decision-making.

Other than that, not much. We’ll get back to it next week. That’s a promise.

Not a campaign promise. A real promise.