Recently, the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, asked some eminent economists why nobody had anticipated the credit crunch. She asked the question on a visit to the London School of Economics. She has received an apology, in writing, for their failures, signed by many of England’s top economists. I read this on Huffington Post, “British Economists Send Apology to Queen.”
According to the Observer newspaper, the letter says that “financial wizards” who believed that their plans to manage risky debts and protect the financial system were infallible were guilty of “wishful thinking combined with hubris.” “In summary, your majesty, the failure to foresee the timing, extent and severity of the crisis and to head it off, while it had many causes, was principally a failure of the collective imagination of many bright people, both in this country and internationally, to understand the risks to the system as a whole,” the newspaper quoted the letter as saying.
It is an amazing moment — economists admitting that they were wrong, that they made a huge mistake, and that their mistake was based partly, (in their own words), on their own “wishful thinking combined with hubris.” Hubris — one of the ancient, truly deadly sins. And when hubris goes unchecked, the consequences can be devastating, for many.
I have read a lot of business books. Many of them have great ideas to improve business thinking and performance. But still, our companies do not adequately make needed changes, and our companies fail to make needed corrections. And when they fail to make such corrections, they seldom apologize to anyone. And employees, customers, stockholders, and our entire society are negatively affected.
Correcting failures is hard work. Seeing the errors of our ways, seeing our own hubris which refuses to acknowledge our own failiures in thinking and action, is a terrible problem. Really, truly, a terrible problem.
I thought of all this in church this morning I don’t often quote from Christian Scripture on this blog, but let me do this on this issue. Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 that Scripture is useful “for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Let’s consider this simple formula, and apply it to business issues. I think that we do pretty well with the “teaching” and “training” tasks. It is the “rebuking” and “correcting” tasks that give us trouble. We do not like to face the facts of our own deficiencies, our own pride, our own mistakes, our own failures. And yet, constant truth telling with follow-on correction is critical in business improvement and long-term business success.
In fact, most of the books I read and present have a simple yet similar theme. It goes like this: “Here’s something you haven’t learned yet. And/or, here’s something you’re getting wrong that you need to correct. Now — learn it, correct it, and get to work on the path to success.”
Maybe we would all be better off if we had a Queen that we needed to apologize to.