Sunday, November 16, 2008

The price of not failing

I keep hearing how complex everything is and how only the brightest can fully comprehend the scope of our recent economic and national security dilemmas. I am somewhat perplexed how a ton of people running national and global organizations can get paid gazillions of dollars and mess up so bad. I thought they were so smart that the rest of us just couldn't comprehend?
I think we need to refocus. What happened to ingenuity, honesty, integrity, faith, and hard work? I think too many of us have caught a case of the "greed bug", and checked their faith and integrity at the door for an extra buck. As a world leader, that is a pretty scary example to set.

I once heard a Naval Aviator speak on the price of not failing. He talked about the Navy's mindset that "failure was not an option". The result of this was that everyone played it safe. The ships cost billions of dollars and no one risked ingenuity or extra work to make things better. He commented that U.S. Naval ships were in a sad state of existence. They frequently broke down and required a full maintenance department to be at the ready to repair. Parts would break, so they had to have a full machine shop to rebuild broken hardware. All of these extra resources and the ship could only run at partial speed for reduced periods of time.

He compared this mindset to the Air Force which pushed to excel, they encouraged ingenuity and constantly pushed the envelope to make things better. Yes there were risk and consequences involved, but they were a necessity for growth and achievement. He commented that a fighter jet would go as fast as he wanted for as long as he had fuel, and it did so with grace, agility and an edge of cool that is beyond explanation. All this capability without a huge crew of technicians on board, or without any parts breaking and needing repair.

Sure, there were probably great sacrifices made. Sure there were probably financial losses. Sure there were probably people hurt in the process. But the outcomes have provided significant growth and the hard work and determination have provided great success for our country in the field of aviation. In fact we are a world leader today, due to the efforts of those in the past.

I hope the story above will help illustrate my fears of all this bail-out talk. When we think we can outsmart capitalism we lose out on the new opportunities for growth. I recently heard a news anchor comment on how the loss of TWA, spurred the birth of Southwest Airlines, and while shoe retailers have been hurt by this economy—business at shoe repair shops has skyrocketed. It is part of the circle of life my friends. Their is a balance to all this. We just have to let it work, accept the consequences of our actions, learn and grow from it.

If we risk nothing, we gain nothing. And if intervention deletes the consequences we don't have an opportunity to fail or to learn. As I mentioned above: we need to refocus. We need to check our "greed" and "complacency" at the door, and start this next go-around with a dose of integrity, hard work and faith. The price of not failing might be a solution for the short term, but if we want to continue to enjoy the freedom and flexibility we enjoy as Americans, we better take a look at the long haul and do something for the future, and not for ourselves.

I am embarrassed by the state of our affairs. I am sure I deserve my portion of the blame and will accept the consequences due me. But I guarantee you that I got the memo. I will not sit back and wait for a bail-out, but will push forward and seek new opportunities. This difference between "failing" and "not failing" could change the course of our country. We can be an expensive ship drifting haphazardly in the sea, or we can be the jet fighter—it's up to us.

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