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Scott Snook
Military leader/Scholar

Scott Snook

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, Scott Snook is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Tukman Faculty Fellow at the Harvard Business School.

Drinking Our Own Bath Water

Corporate jets at Citi, billions in bonuses and $35,000 commodes at Merrill -- all in the wake of banking's worst year in modern history and all paid for by US taxpayers. How could (arguably) some of the brightest and most successful executives on Wall Street make such blunders? How could they so terribly misjudge the inevitable fallout? How could they be so blind?

It's far too easy to pick on bankers, saying, "It's in their DNA. They are inherently greedy!" Simply attributing this to a genetic flaw unique to financiers leaves us all open to falling prey to the very same affliction we see at work here. Today it's on Wall Street; yesterday it was in the governor's office; last month it was in Hollywood. None of us are immune from the disease behind these headlines.

In a cruel twist of fate, success itself becomes perhaps our biggest obstacle to continued growth and learning. We start reading our own press clippings; we start believing our own press clippings, drinking our own bath water, breathing our own exhaust fumes!

Pick your favorite metaphor, but we've seen this all before. The more successful we become -- as individuals, corporations or nations -- the harder it is for us hear and see clearly. As the accolades mount, a perverse form of deaf and blindness threatens even the most humble among us. "Hey, I'm good. Why should I listen to anyone else?" Strengths become weaknesses. Confidence begets cockiness; pride becomes arrogance; and brilliance becomes folly.

When I have traveled the world over the past few years, my military background and US citizenship went with me. One night, following a particularly lively leader-development session in northern Europe, I returned to my hotel room to find a link to this funny ad about the USS Montana in an email from a new friend I'd made that day. Ever since then, I've used it reinforce the point of this posting:

No matter how big and bad you think you are, there is always someone or something out there that can kick your butt!

The story behind the clip has been around for years (and the Navy has officially denied it ever happened), but I still use the clip whenever I can. Perhaps because the message is so important, or perhaps simply because I served in the Army (and not the Navy). Either way, I think you'll get my point.

By Scott Snook

 |  February 2, 2009; 4:26 PM ET
Category:  Economic crisis Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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There is not and never has been any rational for paying anyone more than say a Million bucks for doing their job! Anything above that is pure theft, plain and simple! Having worked with too many "senior" managers of fortune 100 companies, I have seen less than a dozen who were worth that much: more often than not, their companies were successful in spite of their best actions to screw things up in some inane attempt to convince themselves of their great value to humanity! And it is sheer insanity to value sports and entertainment stars based on much money can exploited from "advertising"; rather than their true value to society like as teachers, garbage collectors, and fire fighters.

Posted by: Chaotician | February 3, 2009 3:08 PM
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