“He that is too secure
is not safe”.

Thomas Fuller

Kennedy, strategy and business

The John Fitzgerald Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston is a fascinating place. Like other presidential libraries in the country (dedicated of other presidents) it is established, among other goals, to remember the political stature of the President. In this case: Kennedy.

It is a superb, modern building overlooking the Boston harbor. It has a wonderful view towards the city’s downtown skyscrapers and it is a perfect spot to see ships of any kind moving around the harbor. It really is an evoking place, a place for reflection, where, especially, in its stunning Glass Pavilion, you can feel the touch of Kennedy’s ideas.

I’m a great admirer of President Kennedy. I could be commenting and talking about his way of approaching issues and his fresh view of the common good for longer than would be appropriate. So, I’m going to be, for this time, concrete an precise. I only want to highlight here a small part of one of his famous speeches: “Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought. Mythology distracts us everywhere. For the great enemy of the truth is very often not a lie: deliberate, contrived, and dishonest. But the myth: persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic”.

What an excellent thought. How deep it is and how well it captures the way we normally think, not only in political terms but also in business terms. I do not want to get into the political arena here. I prefer to focus my attention into the business arena where this idea is, unfortunately, pervasive.

Top managers find, in general, very hard to face the reality. Middle managers behave the same way. Low level workers do exactly the same thing. Reality is very threatening many times. It is better to try to go with the flow and wait for the situation to clear, to get better or, in any case, to try to “pass the baton” to the next CEO, team, generation or whatever. It is far more comfortable to hold to a “prefabricated set of interpretations” (we have always done this this way, we are very good at this, that approach is not going to work, I deserve this or that, they are the bad guys, etc.) than to really think about what should be done, more specifically, what we should be doing.

We mistake the principal of freedom (having an opinion is a right and it is for free) with our obligation to “think”, to distinguish facts from opinion, to discern what is good and bad and why. In some cases, not always, we react in the presence of lies, especially if they are evident. It is a totally different issue being keen to react in the face of “the myth: persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic”. We tend not to see it, we prefer not to see it, we don’t pay attention to it…but it is there!

The worst of the situations is when both of them combine and play together. Yes, they, unfortunately, play together many times: lies and myths, the worst combination. Business history is full of them, companies are full of them, professional careers are full of them, business failures are full of them. As Kennedy remarked, “Someone once said that you really do not understand politics until you’ve been defeated, and then all the mysteries become apparent”.

Strategy is a “perfect set of lenses” to look, to find and resolve problems. It provides the microscope necessary to see and analyze what can’t be seen without it. But is has a “problem”: it takes guts! Strategy in business (like in the political arena) takes guts, it requires taking hard decisions that affect the lives of many people. Very often, unfortunately, the absence of those decisions affects the lives of many people in a terrible way. Strategy is demanding. To analyze, design and implement a strategy is demanding…but it is the only way.

Nowadays, unfortunately, it is more “convenient” to be “politically correct” than taking the right decisions, it is more convenient to play around the myths, cover lies and maintain the appearance even if there is no substance. Kennedy’s thinking would help, a lot, business leaders of today.

By Enrique Cortés PhD. Strategic Thinker-Advisor.


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