Do you suppose that we are in a time of major change? Is today’s economy undergoing a fundamental shift, driven perhaps by new technologies, changing social values, and an increasing polarization across society, not only here in the US, but in Europe and Asia as well? Is the brewing economic competition between China and the US really going to be “the duel of the 21st century” (as we explored in the previous blog post)?
Or, alternatively, is this just another set of challenges that are not unlike other challenges from the past?
Being in the midst of it, it’s really hard to tell. Some argue that it is indeed a turning point, while others don’t see that at all. Yes, it will be clear in hindsight, but managers and leaders must use foresight, they must make decisions today that will impact on what their organizations and institutions can do, and cannot do, tomorrow.
Through the fog, leaders always looking for insight – at conferences, in the press, and in books.
The intent of this blog post is not to suggest an answer to the question about whether this is “big change” or “little change,” but to let you know about a book I recently read that explains in glorious detail about a time that really was big change, the period leading up to World War I.
The subject of the book is a triple biography of three men, cousins and descendants of Great Britain’s Queen Victoria, King George the V or England, Tsar Nicholas of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the monarchs who led their countries into the war. Of the 3, one (Nicholas) died during the war, a victim of the Russian Revolution, and also a victim of his own ignorance of the deep unrest that was growing in Russia throughout his reign. Wilhelm was deposed during the war, a victim of his own incompetence; he spent the rest of his life in exile defending himself and blaming others for the mistakes he made, and the mistakes made in his name and under his command, many of which directly precipitated the disaster. George and the British monarchy survived the war and its critical leadership role in British society were reaffirmed, but the social upheaval that the war provoked brought the age of the British Empire definitely to an end; following the war, Canada, Australia, India, and indeed most of the Empire’s possessions achieved independence.
As I read the book, which is very well written, I couldn’t help but look for parallels with our own times, and I come away believing that we are indeed going through a period of fundamental change, and that we need leaders who appreciate both the unique character of our times, and the broad sweep of history that has brought us here. To them, this is a book that I highly recommend. It stands with Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August as deeply insightful tellings of the story of a critical time in modern history.
If you choose to read this book, George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm, please let me know what you think of it. Thanks!