Good decision making comes from experience, and experience comes from bad decision making. This has been one Hell of a year, but what did we learn?
If you are shivering and exhausted after being blasted by a firehose of news and information, you are far from alone. That’s the nature of our world, and generally you have two choices: do your best to take it all in and make sense of it, or unplug and have a good life.
But like Buddha’s choice between hedonism and asceticism, either choice has to leave you wondering: isn’t there a third, middle way? And there is. It’s about planning and learning, about enjoying the here and now without a lot of noise but staying on top, perhaps even above, the world.
If we have learned one thing from this year I would hope that it is that a series of reactions is never a substitute for an actual strategy.
This is a post from ten years ago, back when the United States was at a fork in the road. Where are we now? I think that an extreme example of what I was talking about here in 2008 may cause a new generation to rise and finally solve the problem. Let’s see.
George Washington was known primarily for being fearless. When his men had circled around and were accidentally firing on each other, he drew his sabre and rode between the line of rifles, fiercely cutting them down. When he needed a win badly, he risked freezing to death by crossing the Delaware to surprise the Hessians camped in New Jersey.
I have been thinking about a few things, and this post from 2015 summarizes some of them well.
Leadership. There has been a lot of talk about it lately, or more to the point the lack of it. In common talk it is defined as “Doing or standing for the things I like” far more often than is useful.
There is a horrible lack of leadership everywhere in the developed world right now. Can anyone name a powerful nation with good leadership? Perhaps you can name a few businesses that have it, but not many. How about social leadership? Religious leadership? Are there more than a few people in rich nations anywhere who have a strong following that is capable of getting done what they want or need to?
Then again, the lack of leadership is hardly surprising. It is not about a charismatic figure that molds the masses to action – it’s about getting things done. That requires strategic thinking, and strategy is something horribly under-appreciated. I might chalk that up to excessive selfishness or a failure of moral character in our world, both of which are issues. But upon reflection, it seems to come down to a lack of understanding of what Strategy is and why it is important.
Heroism takes many forms, but the most raw and inspiring comes in war. In all of American history no moment has crystallized more clearly than the invasion of Normandy, exemplified most clearly on Omaha beach. The stories are horrifying and inspiring, but ultimately they are lessons – examples of heroism which inspire the value of leadership deep in head and heart both.
What is less commonly understood about Omaha Beach is how much it all went wrong. Nearly everything about this landing went as horribly off plan as possible, with thousands dying needlessly. The beach was almost abandoned as the loss of life mounted. What made the difference that day was leadership – courage boiled down into conviction to get the job done. It was shown at every level from every man who took part in the mission and rose above the problems.
Omaha Beach is a lesson for all of us as to what raw leadership can do in times of trial.
The war of the generations is heating up. The fight for supremacy between Boomers and Millenials in social, economic, and fashion is now the key distinction in the Democratic Party and to a lesser extent the Republican Party as well. Bridging the gap, as usual, are Gen-Xers – now poised to become the glue that holds everything together.
How messed up does the world have to be to have it come to this?
People of my generation, we know that no one can speak for all of us. So let me speak for the Gen-X generation and you can decide for yourself. You don’t have the time to listen to me whine so I’ll be as brief as I can:
It’s up to us, like it or not. We can either start leading or stand around and tell the Millenials to get off our lawn while we wait for the Boomers to die off.
The main challenge in this year’s FIRST Robotics Challenge is to scoop up a 2-foot yoga ball and shoot it into a goal 6 feet high. The machines that have to do this are designed and built by high school kids, including my son George. Many of them have never done anything like it before. It takes strategy, planning, and a lot of learning how to use power saws and drills. But the Great River School team 2491 No Mythic is hitting the challenge with great energy and determination. It’s also a lot of fun.
My role as a “mentor” is mainly to coach them along, but I also get my hands dirty. I also teach them really bad things like how to strip wires with their teeth. Through it all the robot is coming along. The pneumatic and electrical systems work well with the programming and no one has gotten hurt. It shows what kids can do when they simply get in and do it.
A study came out that says a little more about letting kids go off and do what might seem dangerous, even at an early age. It seems to fit with what I’ve seen at Robotics League.
“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.“
– The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
At this time every year we have the same kind of conversation around the dinner table. My kids are growing up in a different world, one even more thoroughly defined by the struggles and triumphs of Dr. King’s generation than mine was.
But as they grow older, they see the work left to do more plainly. It is disheartening and difficult to watch those who once thought that the old black and white news film of dogs and firehoses was a document of a black and white history – a story of races and realities laid bare for history to pass its judgement. Now that they are in school they’ve seen and heard what racism is. The struggle is still alive, and every year more than just black and white.