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9/21/2001
02:45 PM
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Caught In Uncertain Times

However deep our faith in ourselves, our country, our military, or some overall sense of justice in the world, Bob Evans wonders: How will we react? Are we up to this long and difficult challenge?

So we are a nation at war. Reeling from the horror of Sept. 11 but resolute in our commitment--not only to rebuild here but also to destroy the terrorist organizations that slaughtered several thousand civilians from more than 40 nations, we find ourselves in situations few of us have ever faced before. And however deep our faith in ourselves, our country, our military, or some overall sense of justice in the world, I don't think I'm the only one who occasionally wonders: How will we react? Are we up to this long and difficult challenge? Do we have the fortitude, the selflessness, the courage, and the commitment to do things we've never done before? Will we, the daughters and sons of The Greatest Generation, find it in ourselves to carry on that extraordinary legacy?

Last week, the stock market was battered and showed no signs of having hit bottom; is that a core issue for our concern, or is it a peripheral issue not meriting our attention? Last week, 100,000 airline workers lost their jobs--is this a simple statistic chalked up to the fortunes of war, or will we hear similar numbers of jobs being shed from the insurance or hospitality industries? Or the computer industry?

And this week, as we head off to work or play with the kids or run errands, we have to think about things like contingency planning; disaster recovery; armed guards replacing security doors; new levels of system and network redundancy; greatly enhanced backup procedures; unprecedentedly stringent security processes; deeper and broader background checks on employees, consultants, vendors, partners--not to mention cleaning companies, concessionaires, electricians, plumbers, and every other type of third-party company with access to our facilities; ways to safeguard your company from virus attacks like the one unleashed last week; and, in the midst of all that, establish plans for how to run your business-technology operations while your country is at war. Not to be glib, but one other consideration is how to do all this on or under budget--the severe economic pressures triggered by the terrorist attacks will make this more challenging for every type of business.

And what about flying? How much can we cut back on travel within our companies without cutting into our ability to meet the needs of our customers? Are you ready to get back on a plane while thinking about your loved ones on the ground? Will you fly as much in the next six months as you did in the last six? If not, how will you fulfill the responsibilities that in the past required you to fly several times a month?

Then there are the expectations of those around you: your customers, your peers, those people who work for you, and your bosses. How can you be of greatest value to all of them during these times of profound change? How do you balance these new, inwardly focused challenges and responsibilities with your ongoing need to understand and collaborate more closely with your customers? Is this a time for managing, for leading, or for both? While charged with building real or virtual bunkers that protect your business-technology infrastructures, information, and knowledge, how do you help prevent your company from developing a bunker mentality? This, as much as anything else, will define the emergent role of the people who buy, build, and manage technology in business.

Meanwhile, we're all hearing about how our enemies have utilized and manipulated the Internet and other information technologies to achieve their murderous ends. We have heard that chaos has escaped from Pandora's box. We have heard that American arrogance and hubris, along with the free market's pursuit of innovation and growth, have perhaps run amok and somehow asked for something like this to happen. This is a terribly misguided idea, and one that needs to swept aside so we can all, with clear heads and hearts, focus on the weighty and relevant issues at hand. Nowhere has that thought been expressed more clearly than in the book The Ascent Of Man, by Jacob Brownowski; the pertinent excerpt appears below.

All we can do is keep moving forward as best we can, helping those around us along the way. God bless America. Book Excerpt
"There are two parts to the human dilemma. One is the belief that the end justifies the means. That push-button philosophy, that deliberate deafness to suffering, has become the monster in the war machine. The other is the betrayal of the human spirit: the assertion of dogma that closes the mind, and turns a nation, a civilization, into a regiment of ghosts--obedient ghosts, or tortured ghosts.

"It is said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That is false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance. It was done by dogma. It was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods."

How will we react? Share your thoughts with Bob Evans in his Listening Post discussion forum.

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