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Why the pub test does not work

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

In Australia at least, we are often asked to consider whether what we are doing (or propose to do) would pass the "pub test". How would a bunch of ordinary Australians react if they were told what we are doing or have done? Superficially, this is a good idea because it provides a perspective based on common sense and the underlying Australian culture.

Unfortunately there is a serious flaw in how the test is applied. Almost always, the information provided by commentators, news outlets and by those involved is partial, superficial and biased. Worse, there is little or no 'systemic analysis' - just talk, assertions and more talk. Even if the facts presented are true, there are almost always important questions that are neither asked nor answered.

Right now, people are aghast at the apparent largesse of Australia Post in spending "public money" on expensive watches for Executives. Politicians are ranting and raving, and commentators likewise. It would seem like the CEO and Board of Australia Post are incompetent buffoons. How could they possibly be so 'out of touch'? It's just not good enough! They should be fired!

The starting assumption (bias) seems to be one of 'incompetence' in the decision makers involved. While that could (just possibly) be true it's actually highly unlikely. It's much more likely that everyone involved is dedicated, smart, ethical, likeable and has a large dose of common sense. It's also very likely that their decisions were justified within the larger picture that they were aware of at the time - but that so far we been told nothing about.

Could that be true? In that case how could this possibly happen? I'm not sure, except to note that there will inevitably be powerful underlying drivers (factors) that will remain hidden or misunderstood until and unless we explore differently and analyse the facts differently. For example, is it clear when this happened? It seems to have occurred about 2 years ago. Is this"taxpayers" money? Actually its not clear, especially if rewards such as these lead to increased profitability and performance of Australia Post.

Right now, I don't know what to think about the Australia Post 'watches' saga. I've yet to hear or see any credible 'whole' analysis that gets below the symptoms and biases. Complex human organisations are not simple. Hanging people (such as the Australia Post CEO) out to dry based on half-stories and half analysis is NOT the Australian way. I don't know the CEO - but there is a good chance that if any of us met her at the pub we'd realise that she is ethical, likeable, smart and perhaps even 'a good bloke'. And before you say she'd never be seen dead in a real pub, how the hell would you know if you don't ask?

A quick check of news reports and comments on the web reveal a mass of half-truths from those with something at stake - especially from federal politicians. They protect themsleves from voter backlash by being aghast and angry. It would be more ethical, honest and fair to ensure the whole story is revealed so that "the pub test" can be based on more than half-information and bias.

Shame on everyone involved in misleading the Australian public. The people in the pub are not the problem. The problem is the expert commentators, news channels and vested interests that present Australians with partial stories, biased personal opinions and partially informed debate. It's not good enough especially from politicians who are supposed to have integrity and to serve the public interest. It's also not good enough from professional news organisations who should have the ability to find, understand and report the critical "untold" parts of the story.

There is a bad smell, but it's not coming from the gifts. The giving of watches as gifts to executives does not smell nearly as bad as the superficial and misleading reaction since it went public. Regardless of the underlying facts, I reckon the CEO has been lynched without fair trial by almost everyone involved. Except by the people in the pub - they (and the CEO) deserve better.

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