Many physical scientists learned of the curious phenomena of the Cargo Cult from Feynman’s commencement address at Caltech, as reproduced in his book, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman!”.
In the address, Feynman cautions us against the conceptually similar notion of Cargo Cult Science, where people go through the motions of mimicking a scientific process, while never comprehending the essential nature of science.
The Cargo Cult Scientists follow some process that bears a superficial resemblance to science without understanding the true nature of what they are doing and the results are worthless.
It is increasingly obvious that many administrative actions are really manifestations of Cargo Cult Administration. These administrations are following processes that only superficially resemble actual administrative actions: administrations talk of “best practices”, and “stakeholders”, and “consultation” and “transparency”, but do not act accordingly.
Rather policies are put in place that are either irrelevant or inconsistent, if not actively counterproductive.
No consideration is made of whether the actual issue at hand is essentially comparable to whatever “best practice” is being applied was developed for, much less whether its implementation is effective.
Stakeholder groups are assembled based on criteria other than whether those consulted actually have a stake in the issue, and others who clearly do have a stake are ignored and shut out.
Consultation becomes a pro-forma process, either intended to reinforce preconceptions or to provide a distraction with the input received promptly discarded.
Transparency is opaque, or a one-way mirror, and rarely leads to actual reception or adoption of feedback. It is forgotten that transparency is a means, not an end.
“Cargo cults often develop during a combination of crises.”
So it is with Cargo Cult Administrations.
Under stress, administrations fall under the leadership of figures, often lawyers, or advised by lawyers.
The leaders emphasize policies which on examination are seen to have a common core purpose of protecting the leaders from legal action, with the emphasis on process rather than results.
The underlying actions often have purpose in establishing or enforcing a social order in which the administrators take leadership roles and take control of distribution networks, changing the balance of power and role of other leadership groups within the society.
The Cargo Cult mentality occurs in many contexts, but the most insidious and damaging is surely its emergence in administrations in crisis.