Context Always Helps

Posted: May 21, 2017 in History
Tags: , , , ,

by Richard Martin

North Korea is launching rockets and testing nuclear bombs. The Trump administration wants to renegotiate NAFTA. Populist parties are being elected or getting closer to power every week. Terrorists are on a rampage. Countries that had democratized in recent decades are increasingly assuming the trappings of autocracy. Nations and ethnic groups around the world are closing themselves to trade and integration, while economic and political migrants cross the Mediterranean into Europe and thence, to North America and Australia. Environmental degradation is rampant as global temperatures rise and ice melts.

Given all this, it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that the world is in a worse state than ever. There is supposedly an ancient Chinese proverb that says, “May you live in interesting times.” Sure, but isn’t this all a bit much? Aren’t we in grave danger? One of my daughters is stressed out by all the chaos and cacophony!

Well, a little context and comparison helps. As the French proverb goes, “Quand on se regarde on se désole; quand on se compare on se console.” (When we look at ourselves we get discouraged, but when we compare ourselves we are encouraged.) Consider the following:

  • There have never been so few deaths from warfare. By comparison, it is estimated that over 80 million people, possibly up to 100 million, died during the long “Thirty Years War” of 1914-1945.
  • Communist revolutions (and counter-revolutions) and regimes caused the deaths of 60-100 million from civil war, brutal government, imprisonment, “reeducation,” famine, and general underdevelopment.
  • We worry and prepare for a global pandemic. I’m all for planning and preparation against that threat. But let’s not forget that the Spanish Flu of 1918-20 killed between 50 and 100 million, at least 3 % of the world’s population at that time. The Black Death in the 14th century wiped out between one third and half of the Eurasian population. The discovery and conquest of the Americas by European explorers and powers destroyed 90-95 % of aboriginal populations. The Ebola epidemic in Africa was a tragedy and killed several tens of thousands in central and west Africa. But it only lasted a short period of time, treatments were quickly found due to an unprecedented push to find vaccines and palliative measures, and the international community donated millions to fight the threat. It’s still present, but global monitoring, prevention, and mitigation are keeping it in check.
  • Life expectancy around the world (with a few notable exceptions, such as post-Soviet Russia) has been on the rise steadily since the 1950s, and is at its highest level ever. Both my grandmothers bore a dozen children, but only half reached adulthood. Cancer and heart disease are among the leading causes of illness and death now in the West. Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are growing by leaps and bounds. This is alarming, but these are all actually diseases of aging, and their increase is due to long life expectancies we now take for granted. After all, we have to die of something.
  • The poorest people in developed countries now have routine access to health care, reasonably good public education from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, clean drinking water, air conditioning, public transit (though not necessarily convenient), relative public safety, and non-intrusive government bureaucracy (with some notable exceptions).
  • There are fewer relative and absolute numbers of people living in absolute poverty in the world now than 10, 20, and 30 years ago. Population numbers keep rising, but growth is flattening as various countries cross the demographic transition to smaller families.

I could go on and on with this listing. All I’m arguing is that, yes, there are some nasty things going on around the world. But in at least some areas, things have never been better.

I don’t want to come across as an unbridled optimist, saying that “All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” (Attributed to Leibniz to explain God’s seeming non-involvement in the world.) On the other hand, we shouldn’t gripe and worry without reason. We have the resources and know how to prevent many catastrophes and fix many problems. That’s the essence of readiness, and it is fuelled by unparalleled prosperity, science, and peacefulness. Let’s hope these continue.

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Richard Martin’s Business Readiness Process:

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

Contact me to apply the whole thing–or just a piece, as needed–to improve your strategy, your readiness… and your results!

Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?

Why Sunday and What Does “Stand To” Mean?

Sunday? I want you to get my insights and advice first and fast, so you can prepare and up your readiness and results before others even know what’s happening!

And Stand To? It’s the order used in the military to get forces to man the parapets and be in a heightened state of situational awareness and, yes, readiness, so they can face any threat or undertake any mission.

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

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