Are you moving to the front of the train?

I like France's TGV trains because you can cross the country in a few hours and, if you're travelling between city centres, it often takes less time to travel from a train seat to your destination building than it would from a plane's touchdown to arrive at baggage collection. While these trains cross the French countryside at close to 200 kph, passengers are able to roam the length of them reasonably freely, and can have a hot lunch or sit in a bar stool and read a newspaper. Though many are driven by the desire to arrive quickly at their destination, few are so obsessed that they move to the front of the train to achieve this. In fact, almost anyone on a TGV train would find it irrational for a passenger to deem forward motion within the train as progress toward their destination.

If anything, on a train moving to Lyon from Paris, it may be beneficial to walk toward Paris while being hurtled toward Lyon, because the train station exits may be close to the back of the train in Lyon. It's not really necessary to point this out; most people get it.

But I wonder if in other contexts progress is measured more in terms of moving up and down a train that is otherwise hurtling toward something else at an immeasurably higher vitesse.

General Motors is bankrupt and shedding decades-old brand icons -- not to mention 1/3 of managers -- as it tries to recover from something terrible that happened.

But what exactly happened? Did cars end? How could such a terrible outcome affect an otherwise blessed corporation?

Perhaps the answer can be seen in how progress was measured at GM. Manufactured Obsolescence is one business strategy aimed at stimulating demand by deliberately making your products worse. Stimulated demand could give the appearance of progress, while in fact, anyone who thinks clearly and independently could see that deliberately making your products worse for 40 years would probably not make your company better.

The finance industry -- capital for capital's sake -- similarly engineered highly complex new products that created an illusion of progress. Much of the mortgage industry stepped onto a train clearly marked "Going over a Cliff" and then began to, not just walk but run along the length of this train in a direction marked progress. Funnily enough, this blind march did not stop the train from going over the cliff.

I've written many times about Jane Jacobs. I think the lesson of her life is that an intelligent person who is exceptionally independent of mind or contrarian will find it easy to see that trains marked "Going over a Cliff" will in fact go over a cliff. But, as Warren Buffet says, the elite management class spends much more time looking left and right to see what they should do than thinking for themselves.