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Last Updated: Mon Jan 27 11:18:09 UTC 2014

Quotations and Reflections

October 2009
Updated November 2009
compiled by Dr Carlo Kopp

One of the unavoidable aspects of pursuing a reform agenda is having to confront the more perverse aspects of individual and organisational behaviour. Sadly these behaviours have a long and not so colourful history, dating back as long as recorded history it would appear. If there is anything remarkable about dysfunctional organisational, group and individual  behaviours, it is that they recur with high frequency and arise whenever organisations are poorly led and managed.

Niccolo Machiavelli  (1469 - 1527), author of The Prince, observed that “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.  For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had the actual experience of it.”

This collection of various quotes is provided to encourage reflection and thought on these realities.

Political, Organisational and Individual Behaviours

Upton Beall Sinclair, Jr., I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked, 1935

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Friedrich von Schiller, German poet, 1759 - 1805

“Against stupidity the gods themselves are helpless.”

Freedom can occur only through education.

To save all we must risk all.
Eric Arthur Blair, writing as George Orwell, British writer and satirist , 1903 - 1950

“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act.”

“People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”

Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist, 1879 - 1955

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem.

Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.

Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.

I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.

Arthur Schopenhauer, German philosopher, 1788 - 1860

“All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

“There is no opinion, however absurd, which men will not readily embrace as soon as they can be brought to the conviction that it is generally adopted.”

“The discovery of truth is prevented more effectively, not by the false appearance things present and which mislead into error, not directly by weakness of the reasoning powers, but by preconceived opinion, by prejudice.”

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

“In the sphere of thought, absurdity and perversity remain the masters of the world, and their dominion is suspended only for brief periods.”
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1469 - 1527

“Men nearly always follow the tracks made by others and proceed in their affairs by imitation, even though they cannot entirely keep to the tracks of others or emulate the prowess of their models. So a prudent man should always follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been outstanding.”

Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.

Hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil.

It is necessary for him who lays out a state and arranges laws for it to presuppose that all men are evil and that they are always going to act according to the wickedness of their spirits whenever they have free scope.

Men are so simple and so much inclined to obey immediate needs that a deceiver will never lack victims for his deceptions.

The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.

The wise man does at once what the fool does finally.

“There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.  For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had the actual experience of it.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman politician and author, 106 BC - 46 BC

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.

A mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than can a field, however fertile, without cultivation.

It is a true saying that "One falsehood leads easily to another".

Fear is not a lasting teacher of duty.

Freedom is a possession of inestimable value.

I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity.

Gaius Julius Caesar, Roman general and politician, 100 BC - 44 BC

Men in general are quick to believe that which they wish to be true.

What we wish, we readily believe, and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also.

Aldous Leonard Huxley, English writer, 1894 – 1963

An unexciting truth may be eclipsed by a thrilling lie.

Cynical realism is the intelligent man's best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation.

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.

Hell isn't merely paved with good intentions; it's walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.

Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don't know because we don't want to know.

That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons of history. 

Carl E Sagan, Astrophysicist, 1934 - 1996

“It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.”

“The universe seems neither benign nor hostile, merely indifferent.”

“Knowing a great deal is not the same as being smart; intelligence is not information alone but also judgment, the manner in which information is collected and used.”

“We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.”

Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report, 2003

“Bureaucracy and process trumped thoroughness and reason.”

David Steel QC, Formal Investigation into m.v. Herald of Free Enterprise

“From top to bottom the body corporate was infected with the disease of sloppiness.”
Chapter 17, Nimrod XV230 Review Inquiry, 2009

“1. The lessons to be learned in the case of Nimrod XV230 are not new.
2. There are 12 uncanny, and worrying, parallels between the organisational causes of the loss of Nimrod XV230 and the organisational causes of the loss of the NASA Space Shuttle ‘Columbia’:

(1) The ‘can do’ attitude and ‘perfect place’ culture.
(2) Torrent of changes and organisational turmoil.
(3) Imposition of ‘business’ principles.
(4) Cuts in resources and manpower.
(5) Dangers of outsourcing to contractors.
(6) Dilution of risk management processes.
(7) Dysfunctional databases.
(8) ‘PowerPoint engineering’.
(9) Uncertainties as to Out-of-Service date.
(10) ‘Normalisation of deviance’.
(11) ‘Success-engendered optimism’.
(12) ‘The few, the tired’.

3. The Columbia Accident Investigation Board Report emphasised the importance of identifying the fundamental ‘organisational causes’ of accidents rather than just focusing merely on errors and omissions by individuals. It should be required reading for anyone involved in aviation safety.

4. The present case also has parallels with other catastrophic accidents such as the Zebrugge Disaster (1987), King’s Cross Fire (1987), The Marchioness (1989), and BP Texas City (2005).
5. Columbia and other cases have shown that, usually, there are fundamental organisational causes which lie at the heart of many major accidents, and these have to be addressed in order to learn the real lessons for the future.”

Leadership Quotations
Gen Colin Powell, Chairman (Ret), JCS, A Leadership Primer, January 2000

“Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.”

“Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard.”

“Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible.”

“Keep looking below surface appearances. Don't shrink from doing so (just) because you might not like what you find.”

“Never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position goes, your ego goes with it.”

“Fit no stereotypes. Don't chase the latest management fads. The situation dictates which approach best accomplishes the team's mission.”

“Never neglect details.  When everyone's mind is dulled or distracted the leader must be doubly vigilant.”

Barry Rand, CEO of Xerox

“If you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant.”

Military Quotations
Sun Tzu, Chinese General, Art of War

The general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat - how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

To fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.

The art of war teaches us to rely not on the likelihood of the enemy's not coming, but on our own readiness to receive him; not on the chance of his not attacking, but rather on the fact that we have made our position unassailable.
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus, De Re Militari

Let him who desires peace prepare for war.

The courage of a soldier is heightened by his knowledge of his profession.

Few men are born brave. Many become so through training and force of discipline.

We find that the Romans owed the conquest of the world to no other cause than continual military training, exact observance of discipline in their camps, and unwearied cultivation of the other arts of war.

Napoleon Bonaparte, French General and Emperor, 1769–1821

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

Victory belongs to the most persevering.

There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run the sword is always beaten by the mind.

There are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.
General Giulio Douhet, The Command of the Air, 1921

“To conquer the command of the air means victory; to be beaten in the air means defeat and acceptance of whatever terms the enemy may be pleased to impose...”

“Victory will smile upon those who anticipate changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after changes occur.”

Because of its independence of surface limitations and its superior speed the airplane is the offensive weapon par excellence.

I have a mathematical certainty that the future will confirm my assertion that aerial warfare will be the most important element in future wars, and that in consequence not only will the importance of the Independent Air Force rapidly increase, but the importance of the army and navy will decrease in proportion.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, 1874 - 1965

The power of an air force is terrific when there is nothing to oppose it.

Air power may either end war or end civilization.

Not to have an adequate air force in the present state of the world is to compromise the foundations of national freedom and independence.

For good or for ill, air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power and fleets and armies, however vital and important, must accept a subordinate rank.

The Navy can lose us the war, but only the Air Force can win it. The fighters are our salvation, but the bombers alone provide the means of victory.

Air power can either paralyze the enemy's military action or compel him to devote to the defense of his bases and communications a share of his straitened resources far greater that what we need in the attack.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

In critical and baffling situations, it is always best to return to first principle and simple action.

A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.

Never give in - never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

No matter how enmeshed a commander becomes in the elaboration of his own thoughts, it is sometimes necessary to take the enemy into account.

Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

General George C. Kenney, US Air Force, Commander SWPA/FEAF, 1889 - 1977

Air power is like poker. A second-best hand is like none at all — it will cost you dough and win you nothing.

General Douglas MacArthur, US Army, 1880–1964

There is no security in this life. There is only opportunity.

No man is entitled to the blessings of freedom unless he be vigilant in its preservation.

The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself.

In no other profession are the penalties for employing untrained personnel so appalling or so irrevocable as in the military.

General George S. Patton Jr,  US Army,  1885–1945

If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking.

Perpetual peace is a futile dream.

Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.

Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.

You must do your damdest and win.

Curtis E LeMay, Chief of Staff, Air Force, 1906 - 1990

“Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral and if you let that bother you, you're not a good soldier.”

“If you kill enough of them, they stop fighting.

We're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.

If we maintain our faith in God, love of freedom, and superior global air power, the future  looks good.

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Wehrmacht General, 1891-1944

Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete command of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops, under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success.

The future battle on the ground will be preceded by battle in the air. This will determine which of the contestants has to suffer operational and tactical disadvantages and be forced throughout the battle into adopting compromise solutions.

Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don't in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered and teach your subordinates to do the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.

Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, Wehrmacht General and anti-Nazi, 1878 - 1943

I divide my officers into four classes; the clever, the lazy, the industrious, and the stupid. Most often two of these qualities come together. The officers who are clever and industrious are fitted for the highest staff appointments. Those who are stupid and lazy make up around 90% of every army in the world, and they can be used for routine work. The man who is clever and lazy however is for the very highest command; he has the temperament and nerves to deal with all situations. But whoever is stupid and industrious is a menace and must be removed immediately!

Line Artwork: © 2000, 2007, 2008, 2009 Carlo Kopp

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