Your weekly dose of wisdom
History is a very tricky thing. A person’s achievements need to be seen in the context of time. Let me give some examples.
Thomas Midgley Jr was an American inventor. He died in 1944, possibly of suicide, strangled to death by one of his own inventions. But that is not the story.
When he died, Midgley was laid to rest as a brilliant American maverick of the first order. Newspapers ran eulogies recounting the heroic inventions he brought into the world, breakthroughs that advanced two of the most important technological revolutions of the age: automobiles and refrigeration. “The world has lost a truly great citizen in Mr. Midgley’s death,” Orville Wright declared. “I have been proud to call him friend.” But the dark story line of Midgley’s demise — the inventor killed by his own invention! — would take an even darker turn in the decades that followed.
While The Times praised him as “one of the nation’s outstanding chemists” in its obituary, today Midgley is best known for the terrible consequences of that chemistry, thanks to the stretch of his career from 1922 to 1928, during which he managed to invent leaded gasoline and also develop the first commercial use of the chlorofluorocarbons that would create a hole in the ozone layer.
Read this article on Midley for more details.
The same can be traced to many corporate gurus. Jack Welch was hailed in his heydays as the greatest CEO of all time. Welch is credited with transforming GE into a global powerhouse during his tenure as CEO from 1981 to 2001. But with the passage of time, a lot of his strategies have come to be seen as harmful for the company which led finally to the downfall of the once great American icon - GE.
The same story repeats with IBM and its succession of once-great-but-later-shunned leaders like Lou Gerstner and Sam Palmisano.
In summary, what may look great now, may with the passage of time seem the opposite. Greatness can only be attributed once the consequences of one’s action are known, which takes time.
Thought of the Week:
“The investor’s chief problem – even his worst enemy – is likely to be himself.” Benjamin Graham
Video of the Week:
I now read and listen to William Green after reading his book, “Richer, Wiser, Happier”. This is an older talk but is brilliant.