A board dinner discussion about scaling educational impact reminded me of Jane Jacobs’ Systems of Survival. The Library Journal summarized it this way:
Jacobs argues that modern societies utilize two distinctive moral systems–one being suited to the world of commerce, the other to the world of politics. Commercial morality is unsentimental, nonpartisan, and efficacious; political morality is personalistic, expansive, and vaguely altruistic. The problem is that we don’t always know which system of morality to employ in concrete situations. Furthermore, the wrong choice can have disastrous consequences.
While it failed to gain critical or popular support, Jacobs work is still a classic for those of us trying to improve a public delivery system by injecting private sector innovation and values. I was reminded by the dinner chat of how fundamentally different the cultures and incentives are for organizations designed to deal in commerce from those designed to deal in politics. It does help explain the oil & water reaction we often see when trying to mix the two.