In 1991, I visited East Germany on a business trip. It was the period immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall which signalled the demise of the USSR and its socialist satellite régimes; in this case, the German Democratic Republic. In Dresden, I had a conversation with a civil engineer whose job under the former communist state was to build large public buildings. This engineer recounted how he would be given some plans one day and ordered to attend a certain site on a certain date and begin a construction project. When he attended the site and set up his offices, materials would start arriving from various suppliers. However, they would not necessarily be in the right order because they were being requisitioned by a civil servant, working in a central buying department hundreds of miles away who didn’t know the project or the people building it. This caused enormous difficulties, but the engineer said he just had to accept it and get on as best he could. In one notable instance, he said, there had been a countrywide shortage of copper wire and he had had to construct a building, finish it and hand it over without any cabling behind the light switches and power sockets. When I asked him why he didn’t stop the job until the materials arrived so they could be incorporated in the proper order, he replied ‘I would have disappeared and my family would never have heard of me again!’
There is no doubt that most organizations of ...