I’ve heard it said that any business — no matter how highly performing, no matter how dominant — is only three bad decisions away from going bankrupt.
We’ve all seen it. Enron comes to mind. Of course, it was probably 3,000 bad decisions, but the fundamental three sealed their fate:
Decision 1. Self-interest can now rule. Once this decision was made, all the other decisions suffer from a conflict of interest.
Decision 2. We are smarter than anyone else. Once that decision is made, you can’t learn from anyone else. In the immortal words of Bear Stearns’ Ace Greenberg, you suddenly are confused, thinking that “our body odor smells like perfume.”
Decision 3. ___________________________ There wasn’t really a third bad decision. Unless you count the 2,998 smaller decisions that levered the stupidity of the first two.
This is true for more than strong businesses sliding quickly into failure. It’s true of relationships and lives.
A couple months ago, I visited the Ohio Reformatory for Women. I was there as a guest of ArtSafe, a not-for-profit organization that uses art to change kids for the better. Much of ArtSafe’s work is in penitentiaries, where teenagers have been incarcerated for committing adult-sized crimes.
I met an inmate that said, “Eight months before coming to ORW, I was an honor student in a suburban high school. But I fell in with the wrong group of kids. And now I’m here.” One bad decision: hanging with the wrong people. That surely led to two more bad decisions. I didn’t ask what her crime was. But I did learn that she has a wonderful relationship (in spite of the circumstances) with loving parents.
But she made three bad decisions.
A note on why ArtSafe is a great program: If you ask a teenage inmate to describe herself, she will simply repeat the words that the prosecutor used when she was tried in court. After all, those words were spoken about her in public, with a finger pointing at her. And those words were ratified by the jury’s decision. And, to be sure, perhaps those words were accurate at the time. But, as citizens, taxpayers, and ethical people, do we really want this teenager to maintain that self-image? Do we want her coming out of prison thinking, “I am a criminal, just like the prosecutor said”? No way. Criminals do as criminals are. We want this person rehabilitated, which includes redefining her own self image. ArtSafe does that, by helping her find a different voice through artistic expression.
ArtSafe is worthy of your generosity.