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Archive for August, 2009

Wisdom is best exchanged between people. In fact, some Native Americans still believe writing something down makes it less sacred. Having said that, let me attempt to share this anyway.

While this case is political, the goal is objective discussion about a significant historical executive point of view –  in this case, a former member of two U.S. Presidential Cabinets. This post’s challenge is “What are the business lessons or parallels for today’s environment?”.

Believe it or not, we begin with a movie recommendation.

In February of 2004, director Errol Morris released an academy award winning documentary called “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.  McNamara was the 8th United States Secretary of Defense and served in office from January 21, 1961 – February 29, 1968 under JFK and LBJ. Rent the movie, the lessons and parallels for today are striking.

An interesting note is that the lessons in the movie are different from the lessons McNamara wrote.  Try comparing these and approaching with an open mind to McNamara’s reputation.

The Fog of War’s 11 lessons

  1. Empathize with your enemy.
  2. Rationality will not save us.
  3. There’s something beyond one’s self.
  4. Maximize efficiency.
  5. Proportionality should be a guideline in war.
  6. Get the data.
  7. Belief and seeing are both often wrong.
  8. Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.
  9. In order to do good, you may have to engage in evil. (I’m not convinced on this one.)
  10. Never say never.
  11. You can’t change human nature.

Robert S. McNamara’s Original Ten Lessons (and basis for the movie)

  1. The human race will not eliminate war in this century, but we can reduce the brutality of war – the level of killing – by adhering to the principles of a “Just War”, in particular to the principle of “proportionality.”
  2. The indefinite combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons will lead to the destruction of nations.
  3. We are the most powerful nation in the world – economically, politically and militarily – and we are likely to remain so for decades ahead. But we are not omniscient. If we cannot persuade other nations with similar interests and similar values of the merits of our proposed use of that power, we should not proceed unilaterally except in the unlikely requirement to defend directly the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii.
  4. Moral principles are often ambiguous guides to foreign policy and defense policy, but surely we can agree that we should establish as a major goal of U.S. foreign policy and, indeed, of foreign policies across the globe: the avoidance in this century of the carnage – 160 million dead – caused by conflict in the 20th century.
  5. We, the richest nation in the world, have failed in our responsibility to our own poor and to the disadvantaged across the world to help them advance their welfare in the most fundamental terms of nutrition, literacy, health and employment.
  6. Corporate executives must recognize there is no contradiction between a soft heart and a hard head. Of course, they have responsibilities to stockholders, but they also have responsibilities to their employees, their customers and to society as a whole.
  7. President Kennedy believed a primary responsibility of a president – indeed “the” primary responsibility of a president – is to keep the nation out of war, if at all possible.
  8. War is a blunt instrument by which to settle disputes between or within nations, and economic sanctions are rarely effective. Therefore, we should build a system of jurisprudence based on the International Court – that the U.S. has refused to support – which would hold individuals responsible for crimes against humanity.
  9. If we are to deal effectively with terrorists across the globe, we must develop a sense of empathy – I don’t mean “sympathy,” but rather “understanding” – to counter their attacks on us and the Western World.
  10. One of the greatest dangers we face today is the risk that terrorists will obtain access to weapons of mass destruction as a result of the breakdown of the Non-Proliferation Regime.  We in the U.S. are contributing to that breakdown.

Executive leaders have long drawn lessons from military science. Please leave a comment.

“What are the business lessons or parallels for today’s environment?”

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