Leaders: Ignore Warning Signs at Our Mutual Peril

Wed, Jun 10, 2009

This blog typically focuses on business leadership topics related to what I call organizational tangles. Today I focus on a different type of tangle, a Cascade Tangle, and one that might well ensnare us all. Cascade Tangles are a multi-system mess that like dominoes, result in a cascade of failure. The recent financial meltdown appears to be a result of the failure of multiple systems, and like a house of cards, may still be on the brink of collapse.

In last Sunday's New York Times opinion section, Sandy B. Lewis and William D. Cohan wrote an op-ed piece with 72 font headers. Its title, "The Economy Is Still at the Brink" grabbed me.

Lewis is an organic farmer who was convicted of stock manipulation and later pardoned. Cohan, formerly a Wall Street banker, has written extensively about the financial crisis. Bottom-line, they make a very strong and persuasive argument that all efforts to "fix" the economy are in reality papering over real and structural problems.

Their proposed solution is to tear down the current system and build a new one that really works. We need more transparency and to fundamentally change our consumption habits. Restoring our confidence, they write, will not be enough to restore a broken financial system.

Lewis and Cohan raise some important and probing questions. Again, their opinion piece, interspersed with gigantic font, is surely a wake-up call. Will any of us listen?

What I know from my own experience and research is that we ignore clear warning signs at our own peril. It would be all too easy for all of us to expect a return to how things were before September 15, 2008. Lewis and Cohan's points are unsettling and my first reaction was discomfort. It was a truth that I didn't want to hear. However, burying my head in the sand is not an option. None of us can afford to do that.

We are all enmeshed in this potential Cascade Tangle. I plan to write letters to the editor and my state Senators. Will you all join me and do the same?

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

Marcia Ruben Ph.D, PCC, CMC

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