Thursday, November 10, 2011

Where Have All Our Heroes Gone?

Does it seem to you that we've lost our sense of wonder and our respect for heroes?

The press is filled with stories of flawed or fallen heroes but little praise for the tireless work done every day to make the world a better place.

In the Northeast, 2 million people lost power due to an act of God - an early winter storm.   One week later, a few thousand were still without power.   Local politicians demanded answers from power companies to explain why it took so long and why their planning for the unexpected storm was so poor.   As an infrastructure provider myself, I can tell you that utility workers have done a heroic job - deciding what work would restore power most quickly based on a Pareto analysis, doing the main/trunk/substation work rapidly and leaving the most remote parts of the grid for last.   It's been 24x7, cold, wet, and physically demanding work.    They've done their best and I respect the people that did the work.

Steve Jobs, a remarkable person,  was brilliant and charismatic but could be overly demanding, emotional, and less than perfect with his family and personal relationships.   His death was met with initial shock and an outpouring of respect.   After a week, the press turned to the dark side of Steve's personality, as nicely summarized in this New York Times article  about the short sainthood of Steve Jobs.

I'm an eternal optimist and believe that mankind is basically good.  However, I cannot help but believe that society has lost its perspective when we spend time tearing down our heroes, highlighting their mistakes, and reveling in Schadenfreude when someone falls from grace.  

Everything regresses to the mean, but wouldn't it be best to capture people at their peak of creativity and remember them for what they did right?  Of course we can learn from their mistakes and failures, but we do not need to perseverate on their nadirs when their zeniths are where they had the most impact.

As someone who lives in operational roles 24x7x365, I can say that it is very hard to achieve and maintain perfection. I've written that I do not have power or authority - what I really have is risk of failure.

I would rather celebrate success, learn from failure and acknowledge those human beings who have made a difference.  

The héroes in my life are my wife, my daughter, my parents, economist Milton Friedman, Steve Jobs, former HIT National Coordinator David Blumenthal, former Harvard Medical School Dean Joseph Martin, my second in command at BIDMC John Powers, CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative Micky Tripathi, and the current head of CMS Don Berwick.    I'm sure each has had moments of incredible success and events they would rather forget.    They have all been inspirational to me.

So for one day, let's celebrate our heroes, flaws and all.   Let's ban all news about Lindsey Lohan and Kim Kardashian.

If we try hard enough, maybe our sense of wonder and magic will return.


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