It’s odd how the most egregious behaviors and changes can be rationalized these days. I’ll admit that the world of 2006 is a far cry from that of the immediate post-war period when American manufacturers were the strongest in the world, and the American economy stood alone in its ability to lift our former enemies from the abject poverty of their loss on the battlefield. The unmatched power of that time pushed the American auto industry to new heights as first the auto companies became the “Arsenal of Democracy” before morphing into giants at home and abroad. Unfortunately, the hubris inherent in this level of might brought with it a sense of superiority that caused its owners to dismiss their smaller competitors, and opened the way to the situation we have today.
The panic—and there can be no other word that adequately describes what automakers have been experiencing on and off for the past 20 years—that has set in is such that anything goes in order to right the ship. Right and wrong have no meaning anymore, shoved aside as this or that person or business theory offers a formula for surefire success. And there have been plenty of these equations swirling just under the rim of the toilet bowl the Detroit car industry is in, each promising its adherents fame, fortune, and—above all—eternal success. As though business was any different from any other aspect of life where down inevitably follows up and the only certain things are balance and change. Yet we blindly follow these gurus through the trenches and into battle, amazed at the carnage brought on by slavish adherence to a set regimen or idea.
When failure follows momentary success, the next group sidles in with its magic nostrums promising to undo the mistakes of the past leadership and return the patient to health. These doctors—and they often have the same messianic complex, arrogance, and contempt for their fellow, inferior, man found in top medical practitioners and serial killers—throw aside everything associated with the past in order to bring “fresh thinking” to the table. And while I will be the first to admit that complacency, familiarity, and lack of competition have kept fresh thinking outside almost everyone’s world headquarters, it’s also as true that—as night follows day—the newcomer has a set of people/agency/ideas they bring with them and the intelligence and good ideas that already exist are expunged. Plus, as often happens, these self-same “fresh thinkers” run roughshod over those who stand in their way, demanding what they shouldn’t have and getting it because they are the chosen.
It’s a dangerous game that’s played. One that could be avoided by the steady application of the rules to all, a balanced approach to the market, and respect for others. Unfortunately, business no longer cherishes these principles. All too often the ugly result is washed away in a rationalization that is both simple and corrosive—and worthy of a Mafia hit man: “Nothing personal. It’s just business.” It’s as though these words excuse any action. However, as we find out all too often, they don’t, as today’s scandals, failures, and imminent business collapses testify. After all, the words: “Do unto others” is not followed by “before they can do unto you.” It’s time to relearn that truth and rebalance the equation that makes up our lives.