As we end another bloodied month in Afghanistan, I think about the many Julys I’ve spent here and the progress that is being made, albeit slow, standing on the lives and sacrifice of the military from many countries and the people of this great nation.
Like millions of others, I watched the testimony of Robert Muller. I could not help but be disappointed in the weakness of the testimony of an individual that was supposed to represent and protect the interest of the United States. Having watched him over these last many months, I felt that he had the wisdom and the credibility to do what had to be done. In retrospect, it was quite clear that he did not realize that wisdom cannot be neutral.
As I recall Robert Muller’s testimony, I fear he has caused the trust given to the very senior advisers to lose some of their credibility. It is my hope that business and government leaders will recognize that we should not all be judged by the performance of one individual.
This September, I will turn 71 in Kabul. I have had the honor to have worked across 54 countries over these past 30 years. I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people working to make a significant change. I have also had the pleasure to work with leaders of industry and governments to help design and support their vision. The one thing that I found consistent across each of these successful individuals is there was a clear understanding that you cannot create a “Future State” unless you understand “The History and the Current State”.
They also realized that without a long-term vision that we can only adjust in the short-term, whereas in the long term, we evolve into something bigger and better.
In 1919, William Butler Yeats penned a poem entitled “Wild Swans at Coole.” In this poem, he stated that “Wisdom is a butterfly and not a gloomy bird of prey.” The butterfly and wisdom are both fragile, begins its life in an unattractive state that grows into something beautiful. It is delicate and requires careful handling, and once it gains our attention, it requires our full and dedicated focus.
I have had the pleasure to work on and to write strategies that were designed to lead countries and businesses toward the vision of what is possible. This can only be accomplished if we have the confidence of our friends and clients and they trust us not to be neutral but to give them fair and honest opinions about what is possible and what is not.
It is also clear that one cannot understand the issues and the needs unless he begins with the right question. I believe that there are problems that are yet to be identified and that they will only appear when we know enough to ask the question. This is what we do.
I believe that Yeat’s message related to the wisdom that can only be gained with years of experience in complex environments that are both good and bad. I think that it is common sense that creates a common ground.
My experience has taught me that the wisdom that our clients are seeking and we must be able to show is that vision and success are pulled in three directions simultaneously.
The first is an interesting human trait called “Pareidolia”. This is a state where our brains perceive a familiar pattern in chaos. It happens to us every day as we see portions of words and we fill in the blanks. We also see a shape and assume that it’s someone we know. In business this is dangerous and in most cases these patterns are not what they appear to be.
The second is a “Confirmation Bias” where the brain believes that what it believes is real and true. This is again a high-risk area where business leaders genuinely believe that what they are seeing or feeling, based on experience and advice, can only be the right path.
In the third, and the most complicated, they believe they understand “The why behind the what” while not understanding the true root-cause, its history and current state.
The skills necessary to navigate this complicated and personal journey can only be walked by those that have traveled these paths before and are willing to be honest, professional, and clearly understand that wisdom is never neutral.