By Tony Mulkern
Peter Drucker, the founder of modern management theory, published in the 1980s his Managing in Turbulent Times. Though much respected and still worth reading, the book was given a redundant title. Every epoch or era has been turbulent.
In our own recent history since the year 2000, we have had the attacks of 9/11; the war in Afghanistan, which continues; the second war in Iraq; constant economic theft from China; threats from a nuclear North Korea; the economic collapse of 2008; widespread terrorism; a three-year effort to impeach the President of the U.S.; the on-going scourge of illegal drugs; and currently Covid-19 cratering economies and social order world-wide. This is a shortened list.
An examination of any two or three decade period over the past 4,000 years of recorded history—especially in the 20th century—would show similar patterns, usually with worse and more destructive events, such as famines, massive wars of plunder and massacre, plagues, deadly earthquakes, genocides, revolutions political and/or industrial, etc. Each period of relative tranquility is more like the one-minute intervals between boxing rounds–short-lasting and barely enough time to recover from the last exchange of blows–but often misread as the onset of universal and unending peace, progress, and prosperity.
How often must this happen for us to learn?
Yet despite this turbulence, humankind has made great progress, scientifically, technologically, medically, politically, and economically. Never in history has so small a percentage of the world’s population been in danger of death by starvation as is the case today. And where that danger still exists on a long-term basis it is due to a shortage, not of sufficient food in the world, but of political will and leadership.
How has such progress been possible amid such perennial destruction? The answer, I submit, is from leaders who do not depend for their confidence and vision on the immediate and short-term.
It is admirable to have the resilience to recover from the shock of a crisis and to rally strength and forces to overcome it. It is even better to expect the unexpected, to be ever on the alert, to be the most vigilant when to others it appears that vigilance is superfluous. We rightly admire our “first-responders,” medics and firefighters, SWAT teams, and special ops military teams. Perhaps we sense that they provide a model for how we all should live, with practical wisdom—capable of making the most of periods of rest and leisure, but ever ready for the next crisis, the next great loss.
If you would like more discussion on how to become ever ready, I recommend Walter Russell Mead’s article, “The Pandemic is a Dress Rehearsal.”
When the link is expired, the article should be available through a search by title at wsj.com.