Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hubris, Experience’s Last Lesson

Time magazine had a recent story about the experience issue in this election cycle and whether Obama had enough or not. The magazine provided a chart showing the experience of all the previous presidents and what kind of experience they had prior to taking office, specifically: public service, congress, or military. I would link to it but Time did not include it the same story online. It was one very informative chart. Amazingly, some of our best presidents had the least experience and some of our worse had the most. What does that tell us?

I saw a recent set of stories of the development of the internet and one theme that seemed to run through all the episodes was how companies lost out because they became big, dominate, and failed to notice changes in the market over which they had seemedly complete control. Microsoft did it to IBM and then nearly had it done to them when they fail to see the internet coming. Netscape was the browser everybody used and didn’t think they had to talk to Microsoft when they woke up and realized the importance of the internet. Who uses Netscape now?

Experience breeds arrogance which will lead to anyone's undoing. It is experience’s last lesson before someone with less experience takes over. And then the cycle begins again.

In the history of American policy, few have had as much experience as Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld and yet their hubris, the arrogance they displayed against any critic or detractor, the authority with which they dismissed the experts in the State Department, CIA, and anywhere else that knew they were wrong led to where we are today in Iraq and their reputation in that ol’ dustbin of history of the forgotten and ruined.

Perhaps someone with less experience is willing to listen to others that have more of it or at least others who have different opinions. Maybe that’s the best lesson experience can teach us: to not rely on experience too much. The best experience is to be open to new experience without prejudice or bias, to not let experience go to your head and make you forget how you gained that experience in the first place.

To some, experience leads to hubris, to others it leads a humility and openness to new experiences. Let us hope our experience will be the latter whoever is elected come November 4, 2008.

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