In April 2021, The Cove published 52 Weeks of Ideas Part 1: By the Numbers, Leadership and 52 Weeks of Ideas Part 2: Resilience, War and Strategy. Two years later this article presents 52 Weeks of Ideas Part 3: on realising your personal, professional & cultural potential and on change.
The process applied to 52 Weeks of Ideas Parts 1 and 2 is equally applied to 52 Weeks of Ideas Part 3. Each week a new idea is written, as a casual note, in the top right-hand corner of my diary. By Thursday of a week, the idea is moved forward. This way the ideas are written, read, reflected upon, and re-written to consolidate thinking, assist memory, and encourage an aspiration of idea achievement.
Eventually, sufficient ideas are gathered to share as 52 Weeks of Ideas.
Divided into two themes – 'on realising your personal, professional & cultural potential' and 'on change' – this article provides 52 Weeks of Ideas to a wider audience. The ideas are a combination of well-known quotes, critical thinking, and key insights. Hyperlinks to biographies of quote originators are included in the article.
Finally, readers are aware that many popular quotes are apocryphal, inaccurate, or dubiously sourced. Therefore, available in the End Notes, so far as reasonably possible, this article includes accurate sources of quotes.
On realising your personal, professional & cultural potential:
- Andrew Anabi, New York attorney and writer: ‘therefore, the best way to cherish life is to remind yourself of life's impermanence. It is to remember that every time you see someone that is one less time you see them. It is to remember that every time you go somewhere that is one less time you visit. By doing this, you naturally slow down. Almost like a reflex, you start to truly live.’
- Archilochus, (attributed) c. 650 BCE, Paros [Cyclades, Greece]), poet and soldier: ‘we don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.’
- Marcus Aurelius, ‘do good to people, and practice tolerance and self-restraint; but as to everything which is beyond the limits of mortals, remember that this is neither thine nor in thy power’… often quoted as ‘be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.’
- Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, ‘In 1948, President Truman ordered equal treatment and opportunity in the U.S. military. Now, that didn't break down every barrier. But it did open new horizons for Black Americans. And this year, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of Truman's executive order, which let qualified patriots serve our country, regardless of the colour of their skin. And it paved the path toward a U.S. military where all brave Americans can rise as high as their talents and their initiative can take them.’
- Winston Churchill, ‘there is required for the composition of a great commander not only massive common sense and reasoning power, not only imagination, but also an element of legerdemain, an original and sinister touch, which leaves the enemy puzzled as well as beaten. It is because military leaders are credited with gifts of this order which enable them to ensure victory and save slaughter that their profession is held in such high honour.’
- Defence Values:
- Service: the selflessness of character to place the security and interests of our nation and its people ahead of my own.
- Courage: the strength of character to say and do the right thing, always, especially in the face of adversity.
- Respect: the humanity of character to value others and treat them with dignity.
- Integrity: the consistency of character to align my thoughts, words and actions to do what is right.
- Excellence: the willingness of character to strive each day to be the best I can be, both professionally and personally.
- Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’
- Andrew Fastow, former Enron CFO, warns that transgressions are more than making sure companies follow the rules: ‘What I am talking about are people who technically follow the rules but undermine the principles of those rules.’ Is a loophole a good thing or a bad thing? ‘Most people say it’s a good thing, especially when it comes to paying taxes. At Enron, I found every loophole in the finance and accounting area. My title was chief financial officer, but I should have been called chief loophole officer. I undermined every principle possible.’
- Amy Gallo, How to Control Your Emotions During a Difficult Conversation:
- Calm down,
- Focus on what you control,
- Push emotions away,
- Be present,
- Relax, and
- Do your bit.
- Rear Admiral James Goldrick, AO, CSC, RAN, ‘your first command is about proving yourself to yourself and every subsequent command is about helping others prove themselves to themselves.’
- Paul Graham, programmer, writer, and investor, ‘it's essential to work on something you're deeply interested in. Interest will drive you to work harder than mere diligence ever could. The three most powerful motives are curiosity, delight, and the desire to do something impressive. Sometimes they converge, and that combination is the most powerful of all'.
- Fred Charles Iklé, finds that ‘History is a cruel tutor. It hammers a lesson into our minds so sternly that no one dares to mention the many exceptions that must be allowed. Yet as soon as we have learned that lesson – and ignored its exceptions – history punishes us for not following another rule that posits the very opposite.’
- Caroline James, Seven crack negotiating tactics:
- Find a way both parties can win,
- Give a silver dollar, get a golden egg,
- Come to the table game-ready,
- Negotiation is not a blood sport,
- Don't forget to inhale,
- Focus on the issue, not the individual, and
- Don't be afraid to say, 'no deal'.
- Steve Jobs, all about Steve Jobs.com: ‘I’ve seen a lot of people fail a lot of things. And my point of view on this, or my observation is that the doers are the major thinkers. The people that really create the things that change this industry are both the thinker and doer in one person. And if we really go back and we examine, you know did Leonardo have a guy off to the side that was thinking five years out in the future what he would paint or the technology he would use to paint it, of course not. Leonardo was the artist, but he also mixed all his own paints. He also was a fairly good chemist. He knew about pigments, knew about human anatomy. And combing all of those skills together, the art and the science, the thinking and the doing, was what resulted in the exceptional result. And there is no difference in our industry. The people that have really made the contributions have been the thinkers and the doers'.
- Jack Lang, Australian statesman and Labor premier of New South Wales (1925–27, 1930–32), ‘always put your money on self-interest… it’s the best horse in the race.’
- John Macmurray, Scottish philosopher, 1891-1976. '…in practice sensitiveness hurts. It is not possible to develop the capacity to see beauty without developing also the capacity to see ugliness, for they are the same capacity. The capacity for joy is also the capacity for pain. We soon find that any increase in our sensitiveness to what is lovely in the world increases also our capacity for being hurt. That is the dilemma in which life has placed us. We must choose between a life that is thin and narrow, uncreative, and mechanical, with the assurance that even if it is not very exciting it will not be intolerably painful; and a life in which the increase in its fullness and creativeness brings a vast increase in delight, but also in pain and hurt'.
- Donella Meadows, scientist and systems engineer, on intellectual humility and learning from others: ‘remember, always, that everything you know, and everything everyone knows, is only a model. Get your model out there where it can be viewed. Invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own.’
- Plato, The Republic, ‘the expression self-mastery means the control of the worse by the naturally better part.’
- Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, ‘in other words, fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.’ For example, fight anew every day for relationships, values, ethics, exercise, reading, thinking, manners, sleep, diet and love.
Nick Saban, University of Alabama college football coach, breaks down the human ability to succeed, and at what level, to five choices we all have in life:
- We can be bad at what we do. Not the greatest choice, but a choice nonetheless.
- We can be average at what we do. This is the equivalent of going along to get along. Minimal effort can get you there.
- We can be good at what we do. Saban says if we use our God-given talent, without any extra effort, it is likely we’ll be able to achieve “good.”
- We can be excellent at what we do.
- We can be elite at what we do.
‘If you’re going to be excellent or elite, you’ve got to do special things. You have to have special intensity. You have to have special focus. You have to have a special commitment and drive and passion to do things at a high level and a high standard all the time. You can rely on your natural ability and that probably can make you good, but without the rest of it, I’m not sure you ever get excellent or elite.’
- Allison Schrager, Gen Z Really Does Have It Harder Than Millennials, ‘The idea that you can’t fail at anything if you want to be successful is a damaging myth. The world still does offer second, third and even fifth chances, and in fact — the more risks you take, the more you learn and the more likely you are to succeed.’
- Simon Sinek, British-born American author and inspirational speaker, ‘Failure we can do alone. Success always takes help.’
- Sam Slootman, CEO of Snowflake, creates a data cloud, built on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google cloud infrastructure, without hardware or software to select, install, configure, or manage. Snowflake enables organisations to operate, without owning, resources for setup, maintenance, and support of in-house servers.
‘It is breathtaking how slow, substandard and unfocused many companies out there get through the day. And think nothing of it. The lack of energy is palatable.There is performance upside everywhere. As a leader, your opportunity is to reset in each of these dimensions. You do it in every single conversation, meeting, and encounter. You look for and exploit every single opportunity to step up the pace, expect a higher quality outcome, and narrow the plane of attack. Then, you relentlessly follow up and prosecute at every turn. Yes, it is confrontational. That is pretty much what CEOs do all the time: confront people, issues, and situations.’
- Samuel Smiles, The Project Gutenberg eBook of Self-Help, by Samuel Smiles, ‘The battle of life is, in most cases, fought up-hill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honour. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.’
- Shane Warne, ‘The three lessons he shared [with his children] were that ‘manners are free’, ‘don’t give up’ and ‘be present.’
- General George Washington to Robert Morris, 25 December 1776, ‘I agree with you, that it is in vain to ruminate upon, or even reflect upon the authors or causes of our present misfortunes, we should rather exert ourselves, and look forward with hopes, that some lucky chance may yet turn up in our favour. Bad as our prospects are, I should not have the least doubt of success in the end.’
- General William Westmoreland, ‘...was an organisation man, more educated in corporate management than in military affairs. He did not graduate from either the US Army Command and General Staff College or US Army War College, although he was briefly on the staff of each. His sole educational experience, from the end of World War II in 1945 as a Colonel, to taking up his post in Vietnam in 1964 as a four-star General, was a three-month management seminar at Harvard University. He was described by contemporaries as ‘intellectually very shallow’ and appears to have made very little investment in reading within his professional sphere or beyond. Thus, he was undereducated by the standards of the US Army’s existing education system.’
- Jeanette Winterson, on seizing the day: ‘It's hard to remember that this day will never come again. That the time is now, and the place is here and that there are no second chances at a single moment.’
- Adrian Wooldridge: ‘The work ethic is the most important engine of capitalism. It keeps workers working long after they have satisfied their basic needs, drives entrepreneurs to found new companies and inventors to invent new things, and, in general, generates the surplus that pays for productive investment and supports people in need.’
- Dean Acheson, 11 April 1893 – 12 October 1971, U.S. secretary of state (1949–53) and adviser to four presidents, who became the principal creator of U.S. foreign policy in the Cold War period following World War II; he helped to create the Western alliance in opposition to the Soviet Union and other communist nations.
In Acheson’s biography, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department, he discusses the drafting of National Security Council Paper 68, United States Objectives and Programs for National Security (NSC-68), one of the formative Cold War policy documents. NSC-68 is often criticised for being hyperbolic and alarmist about the Soviet threat. Acheson dismissed such claims:
'The task of a public officer seeking to explain and gain support for a major policy is not that of the writer of a doctoral thesis. Qualification must give way to simplicity of statement, nicety, and nuance to bluntness, almost brutality, in carrying home a point. It is better to carry the hearer or reader into the quadrant of one’s thought than merely to make a noise or to mislead him utterly.
In the State Department we used to discuss how much time that mythical “average American citizen” put in each day listening, reading, and arguing about the world outside their own country. Assuming a man or woman with a fair education, a family, and a job in or out of the house, it seemed to us that ten minutes a day would be a high average. If this were anywhere near right, points to be understandable had to be clear. If we made our points clearer than truth, we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise'.[i]
- Brené Brown, ‘I believe that guilt is adaptive and helpful—it’s holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.’
- Heather Chong, ‘community projects show the power of getting things done at the local level. Our capacity to make small changes, is so big for the people you are impacting. Even if, from a local level, you can’t impact an entire group of people, if you start small and keep going, things will change for many people.’
- Robert Caro, ‘we're taught Lord Acton's axiom: all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believed that when I started these books, but I don't believe it's always true anymore. Power doesn't always corrupt. Power can cleanse. What I believe is always true about power is that power always reveals. When you have enough power to do what you always wanted to do, then you see what the person always wanted to do'.
- Dwight D. Eisenhower, 07 December 1961, Century Association, ‘who can define for us with accuracy the difference between the long and short term! Especially whenever our affairs seem to be in crisis, we are almost compelled to give our first attention to the urgent present rather than to the important future.’
- J. F. C Fuller, ‘We only know the past through the present and can only speculate as regards to the future from the present; and all our subjective knowledge in time is ultimately based on objective motion, or the relationship at any given moment between energy and mass.’
- Sophie Gee, associate chair of the English department at Princeton University, ‘literature is all about learning to work well with uncertainty and discomfort. Well-taught, the humanities train us to develop a deep, rigorous attention that accepts uncertainty, ambiguity and discomfort as precious, not unwelcome. The question is always: What makes this text strange? You learn to pay attention to moments when your eye catches on the page or canvas or screen. You learn to stay close to difficulty. Training in subjects where the goal is not to get it right leads to more resilient success. But learning how to be wrong is an acquired skill. It is not innate. Instinctively, we think we’re right, fixate on goals and outcomes, and repeat thought patterns that are safe but limiting'.
- General Ulysses S. Grant, referring to Baron de Jomini, The Art of War, 1838, ‘I have never read it carefully; the art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at them as soon as you can. Strike them as hard as you can and keep moving on.’
- Joe Harkins, ‘the instinctive drive in human beings is to avoid unpleasant experiences. This avoidance is the Achilles heel for leadership. Leadership requires acting in unnatural ways. You have to willingly, consciously take on unpleasant tasks because they probably got to be a problem because everyone else was avoiding them. And that requires an extraordinary degree of discipline and self-awareness.’
- Ernest Hemingway, ‘now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with what there is.’
- Daniel Kahneman, ‘competing priorities, limited resources and the presence of uncertainty combine to create difficult strategic problems that require contemplation. Because contemplation is a cognitive act, it is subject to cognitive biases like the tendency to address difficult questions by oversimplifying them and answering a related, but easier, question.’
- Henry Kissinger, ‘All the key choices are 51 to 49 [percent], and it takes moral and intellectual strength [to pick a course of action].’
- George Orwell, ‘We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.’
- Panic Rules, what you do when there is fog, friction and uncertainty in your mission:
- Do your job.
- Do the right thing. Always.
- You always have the option of having no opinion.
- Ronald Sharp, on how friendship or any great relationship transforms us: ‘It’s not about what someone can do for you, it's who and what the two of you become in each other's presence.’
- Stockdale Paradox, You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
Admiral James Stockdale elaborated further on the concept when, at a West Point graduation, he was asked if he dwelt on the end of his imprisonment [for eight years in North Vietnam, September 1965 – February 1973].
‘I lived on a day-to-day basis. … [M]ost guys thought it was really better for everybody to be an optimist. I wasn't naturally that way; I knew too much about the politics of Asia when I got shot down. I think there was a lot of damage done by optimists; other writers from other wars share that opinion. The problem is some people believe what professional optimists are passing out and come unglued when their predictions don't work out.’
- Michael E. Porter, ‘Strategy renders choices about what not to do as important as choices about what to do. Indeed, setting limits is another function of leadership. Strategy is creating fit among an [organisation’s] activities. The success of a strategy depends on doing many things well—not just a few—and integrating among them. If there is no fit among activities, there is no distinctive strategy and little sustainability. [Without strategic fit], leaders revert to the simpler task of overseeing independent functions and measuring operational effectiveness to determine an organisation’s relative performance.’
- George Schultz, The late, Marine-warrior-statesman-scholar, George Schultz, who accumulated vast experience over his long and distinguished career, once wrote:
‘We must recognise the complex and vexing character of this world. We should not indulge ourselves in fantasies of perfection or unfulfillable plans or solutions gained by pressure. It is the responsibility of leaders not to feed the growing appetite for easy promises and grand assurances. The plain truth is this: We face the prospect of all too few decisive or dramatic breakthroughs; we face the necessity of dedicating our energies and creativity to a protracted struggle toward eventual success.’
- Lewis Thomas, American physician, researcher, author, and teacher: 'Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we could never get anything useful done. We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as frequently as the right ones. We get along in life this way. We are built to make mistakes, coded for error. We learn, as we say, by "trial and error." Why do we always say that? Why not "trial and rightness" or "trial and triumph"? The old phrase puts it that way because that is, in real life, the way it is done'.
- Unconscious Bias, ‘The human brain can process 11 million bits of information every second. But our conscious minds can handle only 40 to 50 bits of information a second. So, our brains sometimes take cognitive shortcuts that can lead to unconscious or implicit bias, with serious consequences for how we perceive and act toward other people.’