Tony Benn once made a speech about the problems with the National Health Service.

To illustrate the problem as he saw it, he used a metaphor.

Roughly it went as follows:

“There was a boat-race between a Japanese crew and a crew from the NHS.

The Japanese crew won by a mile.

So the NHS set up a working party to identify the problem.

They reported that the Japanese had seven people rowing and one person steering.

Whereas the NHS had one person rowing and seven people steering.

So the NHS brought in management consultants who confirmed the diagnosis.

They suggested the NHS team needed to be completely restructured.

It needed to become more efficient, more cohesive, for all-round better performance.

A strategy document was drawn up, complete with recommendations about streamlining the entire organisation.

As part of the restructuring a significant number of new appointments were made.

These included:

Three Assistant Steering Managers,

Three Deputy Steering Managers,

And a Director of Steering Services.

The single rower was then incentivised to row harder.

The Japanese team and the NHS team competed again.

This time the NHS team lost by two miles.

Management could clearly see the solution was obvious.

They laid-off the rower and sold the boat, in order to give the Director of Steering Services a large pay-out, “for making the hard decisions”.

This is how Tony Benn saw the way the NHS was being run.

Basically, too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

Too many people having opinions about work, measuring work, observing work, commenting on work, writing criticisms about work, theorising about work, dissecting work, analysing work, summarising work, and having meetings about work.

Too few people actually doing any work.

Which strangely enough seems to be the problem with most of the UK.

Particularly advertising and marketing.

If you want an opinion on work, or a theory, or a commentary, it’s like prodding a wasps’ nest.

Thousands instantly rush out, very noisily with opinions.

But if you want any actual work, a script say that can actually run, prod the same nest and it’s empty.

No one’s there.

Advertising and marketing people can give you an opinion about anything sure, but they can’t actually do anything.

Exactly like the situation you see at most road works.

One person down the hole digging and seven people standing around the top commenting.

Seven people with an opinion about what is wrong.

Theorists, strategists, futurists, semioticians, trend-spotters, media gurus, managers, executives, associates, coordinators, supervisors.

Everyone’s got an opinion, no one’s got a shovel.

Everyone turns up for a meeting about the work, then they all go off to lunch together.

In fact, the only person who isn’t invited to the lunch is the person who actually did the work.


He or she isn’t thought to be important enough.