business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

According to an old poem, “Those whom the gods would destroy they first make angry.” In other words, lose your cool at your own peril.

But we could probably expand that to include “they first make arrogant.” Assuming we know the answers is a recipe for disaster in all walks of life. Far too often all of us think we know more than we do and act on what we believe rather than what really is.

Let me explain my reason for waxing poetic today. As longtime readers of MNB know we try hard (too hard at times you might say) to find lessons in all kinds of activities. One I studiously try to avoid is politics because no matter how obvious the lesson the discussion alienates half the audience immediately.

There’s a third-rail issue that demands discussion and consideration simply because of the new way it is being examined. That issue is the Vietnam War, a topic that a few decades back tore apart families, communities and nearly a nation.

The war and all that happened around it is currently the subject of a brilliant 18-hour, multi-part documentary by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick that’s currently airing on PBS. Though painful in countless ways, the completeness of the work is staggering including interviews with both US and Vietnamese combat veterans. (Watch the interview of a young and badly injured John McCain and you might never look at the senator the same way again.)

But the reason to share this with you today is the painfully repeated lessons of ignorance and arrogance that comes through hour after hour. It’s an incredibly clear reminder of the importance of knowledge before starting any endeavor and the equally important need to get and accept factual accounts of the events all around you.

Minus that, ignorance and arrogance create a toxic mix and a near guarantee of failure.

As the documentary shows, the war began with the US badly understanding the country itself. The first teams of Americans into the conflict didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the history of 100 years of mismanaged French colonialism, didn’t know the terrain and, worst of all, didn’t understand the people. Our perception and goals of the war never fully aligned with those of our allies.

Worse yet, US military and political leaders consistently demonstrated an unwillingness to face the realities of the battles, bragging repeatedly of victory for purely political reasons. Incredibly, we learn the North Vietnamese demonstrated many of the same failings, refusing to listen to dissent or understand the painful toll their actions brought to their own country.

In one particularly painful episode we learn that the famous Tet Offensive was actually a shared defeat by both sides. The North suffered incredible levels of casualties and achieved almost none of the stated gains of the attacks. The US and our Southern ally badly lost credibility and confidence.

Arrogance and ignorance are a disaster in wartime and, no doubt, just as deadly for any business. The Vietnam War documentary offers a painful, but important reminder not to be missed.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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