Leading Blog






12.29.08

When Rooted In Hard Work and Experience, Resilience Is Better Than Any Crystal Ball

Ralph Shrader Speech

Ralph Shrader
IN separating Booz Allen Hamilton into two companies this year, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Ralph W. Shrader gained a valuable lesson and has presented us with an interesting perspective in a speech he delivered earlier this year. He states, “I’m absolutely convinced that separating our firm was inevitable—and that it was the right thing for our institution, our clients, and our people. But, I certainly never envisioned this path when I became Chairman & CEO in 1999 or when I joined Booz Allen 35 years ago.” The following remarks are edited from this speech.

There’s a well-worn saying that “I wish I knew then, what I know now.” But, I beg to differ. I’m glad I didn’t know then that we would end up taking this path. That’s a key lesson that this experience crystallized for me.

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).

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.

I firmly believe knowing the future could severely limit our vision, passion, and potential. It could cause us to take things for granted… or to give up hope. 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. I think—I hope—we’re coming to understand that we don’t need to know the future. We can be confident that our performance and resilience will enable us to succeed and control our destiny.

And, that’s the thought I’d like to leave you with: While we can’t know our destiny (and I’ve come to believe we shouldn’t want to), we do have a large measure of control over our destiny, as individuals and as institutions. What gives us this control? Hard work, experience, and resilience.

There’s no question that hard work, focused on a goal, is never wasted—even if the destination changes. The experience, expertise, and discipline we gain is invaluable and will lead to success, as long as we have the resilience—the optimistic opportunism—to sense the winds of change and go with them.

There’s a Japanese proverb that says, “Even the fortune-tellers do not know their own destiny.” I’m convinced we have more control over our destiny by not knowing it—as long as we strive for excellence and have the resilience to make the best of the way things turn out.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:57 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Personal Development



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