God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. (Friedrich Oetinger, as quoted by Reinhold Niebuhr, "The Serenity Prayer.")
All of us have been conditioned to question our own values and choices. Some of us do a better job than others. Almost every thinking American human being in the work-a-day world hears an inner, almost subtle and understated voice, which whispers within us and pulls us, more often than we like, into a cacophonous and surreal private battle of self-talk and self-questioning. Ours is the age of psychotherapies. And running amok in this assortment of self-improvement strategies, are other layers of less-enlightened contrivances for getting our heads together.
Changes...change...change. Millions are struggling to change themselves and their worlds.
We trim down, we jog, and we meditate. We embrace new modes of thought to offset and neutralize our depressions. We rehearse relaxation techniques to diminish our stress. We exercise to improve our memory and to intensify our reading speed and comprehension. We adopt harsh and severe timetables to give up smoking and drinking. We seek more meaning in our lives. We try to enhance and lengthen our life span. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And when it doesn't, it hurts.
On the other hand, there are those who would throw caution to the wind. For them, change is a lost cause, a biological impossibility, despite all our efforts to improve. Change is biologically determined and genetically inflexible. It is just a matter of time before our biology makes a change...on its own terms.
In many sectors of the economy today the art of doing business is like walking the tightrope between these two alluring yet conflicting psychological ideologies. On the one hand, there is the business view that states that change is like psychotherapy. The climate of business will improve if certain psycho-economic steps ensure the success of the enterprise. On the other hand there are those who would champion the tenets of biological determinism. For them business improves because business improves.
Any practitioner of business and management in the 21st century must decide what can be changed about us as human beings, and what cannot be changed. This is tough for many managers. You see, it is in the very fabric of the American historical experience to conclude that anything and everything can be changed for the better. But is it truth or jingoism? As we approach the millennium, we will examine a range of emotions managers do not like to tackle and how they can or cannot change them.