Thursday, February 5, 2009

Resiliency vs. Prophecy

From a speech given by Ralph Shrader (Booz Allen Chairman & CEO) at the Association for Corporate Growth's monthly meeting McLean, Virginia. On his 35 years at Booz Allen:
The lesson is this: Don't tell me the future. I've learned, unquestionably, that resilience - not prophecy - is the greatest gift.

Now, that idea runs counter to human nature and desire. Seeking to know the future has been man's eternal quest - from ancient mythology to the 21st century (and into the 24th century if judged by Star Trek episodes).

If we remember back to studies of the classics and mythology, both gods and mortals sought out Tieresias at the gates of Thebes for his gift of prophecy. We haven't changed much over time. Today, among the storefronts of any city in the world, we find neon signs for psychics who'll tell our future. And, in video arcades, kids are still fascinated by the Great Zambini and his crystal ball, who will "reveal all" for a quarter.

Astrology aside, modern forecasting techniques are widely employed in science and business. Clearly, it can save lives and fortunes to be able to predict weather patterns, epidemics, and financial markets. (No question, we have a long way to go in telling the future of financial markets!)

But, it's important to recognize the limits of even the most sophisticated models and forecasting methods - and to rely on them as tools, not oracles.

I'm convinced that prophecy would be a curse, not a gift, in our most important human endeavors, from corporate strategy to national destiny to personal relationships.

[...] Much more than prophecy, resilience - the ability to rise to the occasion and opportunity, whatever the future may bring - is the far greater gift. And, it's also a gift we can reasonably attain.

Resilience is optimistic opportunism. Its power can be seen in the prescient observation that"Things turn out the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out." Think about that:"Things turn out the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out."

When rooted in hard work and experience, resilience is better than any crystal ball.
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