I was channel hopping the other day and landed on an episode of Blue Bloods. The premise of the program is that Frank Reagan is the Commissioner of the NYPD and his family (sons and daughters) have deep roots in policing working for NYPD. It has to be reasonably good TV because they are in season 11. However, in the episode I watched, the character of Frank Reagan was a terrible boss. He has no humility and won’t admit mistakes or even uncertainty. He has no curiosity about others’ perspectives and it shows up in many places.
It shows up in his dinner table conversation, where he simply shuts down lines of discussion that might challenge his view of reality. It also shows up when he is portrayed interacting with anyone who might challenge his views about policing.
In the episode I was watching, the new Speaker of Council, a black woman, played by Whoopi Goldberg, was complaining that the “broken window” model of policing they were using was felt to be harassment by her community. She was asking for it to cease.
Neither side presented data. They had opinions. A smart supervisor might have asked how they could do a little experiment – something cheap without too much chance of nasty side effects – that could show whether any of the opinions expressed had merit.
As I thought about the situation, I could think of all sorts of avenues for exploration. How evenly did the police enforce jaywalking rules across the city. Was it the same in predominantly black neighbourhoods as in the wealthiest neighbourhoods? Were there any statistics regarding littering offenses in different neighbourhoods? What was the pattern of street cleaning in the different neighbourhoods? Of course, the show didn’t go into those details.
Unfortunately, the drama hinged on the absence of data and curiosity. If the Commissioner had been more curious, there would have been less drama! What an encouraging thought, but bad for TV ratings.
How, then, are we to encourage careful thought and smart experiments if the role models we see just advocate for opinions? Everyone is entitled to opinions, but the concept of alternative facts is fantasy. This show, at least, is doing nothing to help us learn how we can run an organization with wisdom and facts. It is doing nothing to help us learn how to do controlled experiments. It is doing nothing to encourage us to distinguish between Facts, Opinions, and Guesses. It is, instead, glorifying positional politics, which does not help the work or the workplace get better. Curiously, and maybe ironically, distinguishing between facts, opinions and guesses is at the core of good detective work. But that’s not what this program shows.
If the Commissioner ran his organization as shown in this episode, the NYPD would be a horrid place to work because if you ran into facts that told a different story, the facts wouldn’t be welcomed.
I can’t finish this blog without commenting on the matter of race in the episode I watched. The lead character (white and male) was completely dismissive of the Council Speaker (black and female). Too often true, but the program did not comment or challenge. It simply accepted the situation as “how it was.” At one point the Commissioner dismissed his Chief of Staff from the room, leaving just the two of them. I wondered how many times in history dismissing the aide was a prelude to another hidden assault.
It’s time for me to watch something else.