Magazine article Management Review

Time Mushes On

Magazine article Management Review

Time Mushes On

Article excerpt

Time Mushes On

As we near the year 2000, I am tempted to devote this space to a personal perspective of economic trends, emerging technologies and shifts that are taking place between the East and West - thus adding to the profusion of sunny predictions and dire warnings. An opposing temptation is to present an overarching macroperspective of the relentless forces that drive us in inexorable ways toward the next millennium. However, lacking the wit to do justice to either, I decided instead to share some less profound thoughts about the past and the future.

The past is in pretty good hands these days, as one after another anniversary of something or other is celebrated. Ever since the American Bicentennial, remembraces of the founding of the United States have followed in regular succession. We have, for example, marked the 200th anniversary of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And just a few months ago Congressman Dan Rostenkowski presided at an impressively wellfunded funded celebration of the House Ways and Means Committee's 200th birthday. Now there's really something to celebrate, it occurs to me, as I prepare to submit my fourth estimated 1989 income tax payment.

This trend seemed to reach somewhat of a peak last summer, when I switched television channels from a program celebrating the 20th anniversary of Woodstock to another, which was reflecting on the 15th anniversary of President Nixon's resignation. Soon came the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Poland, the 50th birthday of television and the 15th anniversary of Saturday Night Live. Even more recently I learned about the 25th anniversary of the Verrazano Bridge, the 100th anniversary of the Moulin Rouge and the millennium of the Russian Orthodox religion. Not too long ago we celebrated the middle age of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and Superman. In our nostalgic society the profound and the trivial are thus blended together. One way or the other, the past is inescapable.

But the past is hardly ever what it used to be. According to Duke University psychologist David Rubin, "Most people would be quite surprised at how malleable their memory is - even those memories they feel most certain about." Since both personal and corporate histories are frequently distorted, we often fail to learn from the past as we should. A rewriting of history provides an escape from reality - and an escape from its lessons. George Santayana's observation, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," has become a truism. Recently, Lily Tomlin suggested that our inability to perceive and remember accurately is the real problem. …

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