"Read odd stuff. Look anywhere for ideas." Tom Peters
Presumably we're all in the same boat. Our views about this or that may differ, but we are dumbfounded by the violence and terror—and especially the uncertainty—in the Middle East.
I want to pose a practical question. To which I haven't a clue as to what the answer is.
Most who read these rants are leaders ... of something or other. Thence carrying the immense burden of responsibilities for one's fellows that leadership invariably brings.
"Everything," "they" say, is "different" after 09/11. I'm not so sure. It surely was different for the first 30 or 60 or 90 days. And it still is different ... to a degree. But I'm mostly amazed that our thought patterns have returned quickly to something approaching "normal." Fair enough. The Afghan War success was ... simply ... stunning. But ...
"It" still looms. I am unflinchingly aware that this "Middle East thing," which I don't pretend to fully understand, could be the kindling that sets off a blaze of epic proportion. The use of Weapons of Mass Destruction, it seems, is not the statistically remote possibility that it was when Nixon and Brezhnev ruled & dueled.
So ... Mr. or Ms. Leader ... ARE YOU MENTALLY PREPARED?????? (If so … prove it. To yourself, not me.)
I'm not (necessarily) suggesting "this" should be an obsession. But ...
But "WHAT IF" ...Weapons of Mass Destruction were used on the U.S.A. We'd retaliate in kind X100, of course. But, to put a mundane cast to it, life/business/leadership would never be the same ... for a long, long, long (& long) time.
So ... I don't know. But that, in and of itself, may be useful. I do think it's important to spend some serious time thinking the unthinkable. And to engage others in that process—even if it is a bit demoralizing. That's what forward-looking leadership has always been about, at its (rare) best.
WHAT IF ... the unthinkable occurred?Do you need contingency plans? I don't know. I do think you need "contingency thinking." You need to put the unthinkable "on the table" as a possibility that I/you/we need to be (very?) aware of.
I have no answers. Only vague concerns that "things" have returned to something approaching "normal" far faster than is justified by a statistical assessment of not-so-distant/freaky possibilities.
Tom Peters/Raleigh Durham NC/04.04.2002
"Hate" is not a word I cotton to. (Especially as the World seems within millimeters of exploding in an epic rage ... which just might engulf us all.)
But I do reserve the right to use the word "hate" upon rare occasions. One, especially. Yes ... I HATE ... anyone who sees complex issues in Black & White terms. HOW STUPID.
To be sure, leaders must upon occasion paint portraits in B & W ... in order to inflame the masses to support Righteous Action. (Is that what’s going on now?)
But by & V-E-R-Y large ... life is messy. V-E-R-Y messy.
Richard Farson (a hero of mine) and Ralph Keyes just penned a fabulous book ... WHOEVER MAKES THE MOST MISTAKES WINS.
The spirit of the book is captured in a lovely vignette about a chap reflecting on his life ... and how he wished to present it to his peers. To wit:
A fellow of some substantial national renown was sending in his blurb for an alumni annual. He sketched out an exemplary story of moving from success to (ever greater) success. Fair enough. But then he caught himself. Truth is, that had not been the story at all. Hence his revisionist screed:
"Because I didn’t receive a single ‘A’ in college, I couldn’t get into medical school. I worked as a lifeguard, but got fired at the end of the summer. My next job, selling advertising in the Yellow Pages, was interrupted by breaking my leg while skiing. That gave me three months to think about what to do with my life. Since I’d enjoyed my psychology courses in college, I thought I might try to become a school psychologist. So, I enrolled at UCLA to pick up psychology and education courses, but got kicked out of student teaching because I couldn’t get along with my supervisor. Back to lifeguarding. Then I noticed that a prominent psychologist was giving a summer seminar at my alma mater, so I quit my job and enrolled. This experience was electrifying. The psychologist invited me to study with him at the University of Chicago. I was so intimidated by that most serious academic institution, however, that I put off going there for a year. Just before receiving my Ph.D. from Chicago, I was given a one-year fellowship on the Harvard Business School faculty. I left there at the end of the year with almost everyone mad at me."
And yet, of course, he had accomplished all the Grand Things he had recounted in version #1. It’s just that the trajectory had been anything but smooth … or predictable.
I’ve long argued that "scientific" papers present the Great Lie. The paper’s purported logic: I had an idea. I generated an hypothesis. I ran an experiment. The experiment worked brilliantly. Here’s the data. The hypothesis is thence proved. What a smart fellow am I.
The far messier (and un-reported) truth: I had an inkling about something. I started screwing around in the lab. Trial after trial was a disaster. (I’m an idiot.) My idea was reformulated a dozen dozen times, until it barely resembled my First Inkling. I wanted to quit a dozen dozen times, but some perverse compulsion kept me going & running more (and more) experiments. Eventually a few worked out … supporting a point that was barely related to my initial hunch. At any rate, after I finally got a few positive results, I wrote them up. The last item in my Formal Paper was the intro; it was the Tidy Hypothesis that I had purportedly been chasing all along.
"All this" was brought home with a vengeance via cover stories in the current issues of The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly.In the former, Robert Caro reports on Lyndon Johnson. He argues persuasively that LBJ did more for Civil Rights than anyone save Lincoln. Yet the story Caro tells focuses on an incident in South Texas where Johnson waffled like crazy. Also reported are Johnson’s crude, racist remarks when around cronies. (Who provided the $$$ that kept getting him elected to the Senate.) LBJ comes out tarnished. Message: Welcome to the human race. Without the dodging and weaving and tarnish … the Truly Good Stuff would doubtless never have occurred.
In Atlantic Monthly, curmudgeonly Christopher Hitchens does a similar number on my favorite politician/leader … Winston Churchill. Churchill comes out a winner … in the end … who indeed saved civilization. Yet WSC is described, with scads of supporting evidence, as "incompetent, boorish, drunk, and mostly wrong." All more or less true. As is the verdict of … Savior of Civilization.
MESSAGE. Beware the Champions of Order.Those who prescribe "rules" for tidy & righteous living … which will vault you into the Pantheon of the Gods. Hey, bro, it doesn’t work that way. I.e.: Get a life! Enjoy the mess! And, yes, maybe you’ll rise from the ruins of a "failed" career as lifeguard to Change the World.
Good Luck! (You’ll need it!)
ADDENDA (Mess Redux). I recently counseled a relatively young professional; it seemed that every other moment he made a whiney reference to someone who "has it in for me." Such was always the cause of his project’s latest delay -- and his apparent semi-permanent malaise. Finally, I’d had enough. "You know what I think when you gripe that ‘I woulda done this or that, but so and so has it in for me’?" I said. "I think that so and so has it in for you."
Welcome to the real world!
If we are attempting anything worthwhile, then numerous ‘theys’ are out for our scalps. [Definition: "Worthwhile"/worth the investment of our precious time & emotional capital = Counter to the way things are done today, as defined by the regnant hierarchs.] The truth, I added, was that no one gets stuff of importance done unless they literally revel in the hurdy-gurdy of internal politics -- and get their kicks out of solving puzzles which involve numerous end runs around those who indeed "have it in for us."
Best measure of the unimportance of a project: NO ONE "HAS IT IN FOR YOU"!
tp/West Tisbury MA/04.05.2002
Before blogging became all the rage, Tom was posting book reviews and Observations (essentially early blog posts) to this site. You can find the archives below.