Category Archives: Quotation

Render therefore unto Caesar

I let the book fall open where it would. As it happened, it fell open to the chapter about the island's outlawed holy man, Bokonon.

There was a quotation from The Books of Bokonon on the page before me. Those words leapt from the page and into my mind, and they were welcomed there.

The words were a paraphrase of the suggestion by Jesus: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's."

Bokonon's paraphrase was this:

"Pay no attention to Caesar. Caesar doesn't have the slightest idea what's really going on."

—Kurt Vonnegut. Cat's Cradle (1963).

Maintenance

Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.

—Kurt Vonnegut. Hocus Pocus (1990).

This is my go-to line about the relative disdain of maintenance. I'm not offering it from a lofty place of superiority. Rather, I'm dealing with a result of the flaw.

Hammer

I suppose it it tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

—Abraham Maslow, The Psychology of Science: A Reconnaissance (1966)


This is a common quote, sure—"To a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail". While reading Michael Watkins, The First 90 Days: Critical Success Strategies for Leaders at All Levels (notes), there was a reference to this line by Abraham Maslow, which is, according to the author, the original.

Unfortunately, reality

There is an almost irresistible temptation to choose one scenario over the other: to say, in effect, "This is the future which we believe will take place. The other futures are interesting. But they're irrelevant. We're going to follow this scenario." [...] Unfortunately, reality does not follow even the best-thought-out scenario. The point of scenario-planning is to help us suspend our disbelief in all the futures: to allow us to think that any one of them might take place. Then we can prepare for what we don't think is going to happen.

—Peter Schwartz, The Art Of The Long View: Planning For The Future In An Uncertain World, p. 195 (notes)

Errors of omission

Now for a key fact: accounting systems in the western world only take account of errors of commission, the less important of the two types of error. They take no account of errors of omission. Therefore, in an organization that frowns on mistakes and in which only errors of commission are identified, a manager only has to be concerned about doing something that should not have been done. Because errors of omission are not recorded they often go unacknowledged. If acknowledged, accountability for them is seldom made explicit. In such a situation a manager who wants to invoke as little disapproval as possible must try either to minimize errors of commission or transfer to others responsibility for those he or she makes.

The best way to do this is to do nothing, or as little as one can get away with. This is a major reason that organizations do not make radical changes.

—Russell L. Ackoff. "Why Few Organizations Adopt Systems Thinking". Systems Research and Behavioral Science 23 (December 2006): 705-708.

The few real hours of life

By trusting your own heart, you shall gain more confidence in other men. For all our penny-wisdom, for all our soul-destroying slavery to habit, it is not to be doubted that all men have sublime thoughts; that all men value the few real hours of life; they love to be heard; they love to be caught up into the vision of principles. We mark with light in the memory the few interviews we have had, in the dreary years of routine and of sin, with souls that made our souls wiser; that spoke what we thought; that told us what we knew; that gave us leave to be what we inly were.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson. "An Address." Collected in The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Imitation

Imitation cannot go above its model. The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson. "An Address." Collected in The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.