Connect the Dots: No Promises

The mercury’s rising, birds are singing, flowers are blooming – yet it seems each hour of each day, the media smother us with details of a seemingly dysfunctional world, one marked less by hope and optimism and more by confusion, controversy and chaos.

Nationally, the first quarter of 2018 alone involved the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. Tales of sexual harassment and abuse in Hollywood and in Washington, D.C., bombarded us. Almost daily turmoil and turnover embroiled the White House staff, while special counsel Robert S. Mueller III continued to investigate potential Russian tampering in U.S. elections. Add to all of that the ongoing battle over immigration regulations, a missile scare in Hawaii, budding trade wars, a roller-coaster stock market and ongoing planetary environmental concerns.

With almost daily violence on our own area streets, of course, the local front scarcely remains immune to bad news, which also has included gubernatorial constroversies, the sale of Express Scripts, Bayer’s acquisition of Monsanto and St. Louis’ drop from the top 20 largest U.S. cities – all in all, enough to make one crawl back into bed and hide under the covers.

Of course, we can’t do that. Life goes on, and frustrated and depressed though we may be by current events, we must carry on.

The fact that so much has happened in so short a time supports the belief that we live in a world of no guarantees. At an event a few years ago, the late management and leadership guru Warren Bennis addressed the challenges people face in such a world. Bennis shared six points he once found on a company’s bulletin board, which speak to today’s U.S. corporate culture:

  • We can’t promise you how long we’ll be in business.
  • We can’t promise you that we won’t be bought by another company.
  • We can’t promise that there will be room for promotion.
  • We can’t promise that your job will exist until you reach retirement.
  • We can’t promise that the money will be available for your pension.
  • We can’t expect your undying loyalty and we are not sure we want it.

Bennis’ overarching point? In the current dynamic, corporations no longer make the kinds of promises they once did. So how do workers develop the psychological fortitude, leadership and managerial skills needed to navigate this perilous landscape?

Some may find Bennis’ perspective yet another sign of today’s societal decay. I myself find it refreshing and realistic, though. True, employees (especially millennials) may face a very complicated business environment of no promises. But recognizing no guarantees while retaining realistic expectations marks the first step in dealing with chaos and change. With change as the only constant, we can plan accordingly and remain open to new ideas and new directions. As the late, great Stephen Hawking told us, “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

Adapting to change in a chaotic world that offers no guarantees will require not only intelligence but also patience, persistence and creativity – qualities on which our society was built. And I’m confident such qualities remain our path to better days ahead.

I take joy in seeing young people expressing their anti-gun views openly, loudly and nationally. I marvel at the strength of the #MeToo movement and the courage of women to speak up for their rights. I marvel at the technological achievements our country consistently delivers, perhaps best symbolized by SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s red Tesla rocketing into space.

Finally, I look forward to the warmth Mother Nature and our own good natures likely have in store for us. As local weather shows, there are no promises or guarantees – but there’s always hope.

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande is the senior advisor to the chancellor at Washington University in St. Louis and former president of Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. He has a Ph.D. in economics and previously served as dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology at Webster University.