Peggy Noonan has been my favorite journalist since 1999. In the centennial issue of Forbes, a group of thought leaders were asked to write about the forces that would shape the 21st Century. Their enthusiasm for technology, ecology, and emerging economies was everywhere. I was beaming with optimism when I got to Peggy Noonan’s prediction. I read the first three paragraphs and then read no more; not the rest of her predictions or anyone else’s. Those first three paragraphs left me stunned by her clarity and truth. She was the only thought leader in 1999 who saw the coming century’s greatest threat as the rising disruption of terrorism.
Of course, history has proved her right and that it why I read her column in the Wall Street Journal with devotion and anticipation. There are few true prophets among us and even fewer who write a weekly column.
Her Thanksgiving message, “Music in the Key of America”, in the November 26th edition of the Wall Street Journal was pitch perfect. She wrote a self revealing piece about how she loves to listen to movie sound tracks when she writes. She moved from the rousing “Spartacus” and “Wyatt Earp” to the contemplative “A River Runs Through It” to her favorite “The Best years of Our Lives” about soldiers returning to America after World War II. She frames her Thanksgiving wish with a closing chorus about America 2015:
“There is a hunger to be reminded that we are all in this together, that this thing we’re all part of is, in fact a great and noble project. We all want to be moved by the public acts of public men and women. We want to be stirred by the soundtrack of the nation we love. We all want a leader who is equal to the music.”
I was stunned by how well she captured my hope for our future.
The Business World Is Inspiring
In my business world there are many interesting and hopeful people and many intriguing sound tracks. Jamie Dimon leads the “too big to fail” super bank JP Morgan (Mary Poppins Soundtrack – A Tuppence in the Bank). Marissa Mayer at Yahoo is saved by a predecessor’s investment in Alibaba (South Pacific Soundtrack – I ‘m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of my Hair). Carl Icahn is constantly shaking down some white shoe management team (Soundtrack – The Sting-Easy Winners). Uber is demonized for disrupting the monopolistic hold of regulators and organized labor by giving employment opportunities to millions of freelancers (Soundtrack – Taxi Driver). Mark Zuckerberg is acting like Bill Gates and giving away 99% of his Facebook shares (Les Miserables Soundtrack – I Dreamed a Dream). Meg Whitman is splitting up HP (Neil Sedaka Soundtrack – Breaking up Is Hard to Do). I respect and admire the music they are writing. They are part of the greatest song of all time which is the soundtrack of American business.
In business, we are all in it together because we are ruled by the immutable law of money; that it rarely sticks to fools, incompetents, liars, or impostors. There are also business expectations with consequences that are inflexible and demanding:
- Accountability – you have a boss and must make your numbers
- Honesty – your fortunes often follow your word
- Collaboration – teams trump individuals
- Innovate or perish
- Create orderly succession
- Be transparent
Political Leaders Play a Different Tune
The political world is completely different. It would remind Peggy Noonan of the soundtracks to “Psycho”, the “Exorcist” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” with a lot of strident pitches, heart stopping crescendos and goofy notes that sound like mating calls of a trumpeter swan on horseback; or, for Hillary Clinton, a more refined version of reciprocity in the Chicago Soundtrack “When You’re Good To Mama” and for Donald Trump the Soundtrack to “The Great Impostor”. This is not my idea of the sound of America because it is so shrill and dissonant, so discordant that only tone deaf personalities can be attracted.
When you embellish the political disharmony with the media’s re-mastering of those disturbing original scores, you get the Music Man’s “Ya Got Trouble in River City” and Chicago’s “Razzle Dazzle”:
“Give ‘em the old razzle dazzle
Razzle Dazzle ‘em
Give ‘em an act with lots of flash in it
And the reaction will be passionate.
Give ‘em the old hocus pocus
Bead and feather ‘em
How can they see with sequins in their eyes?
What if your hinges are all rusting?
What if, in fact, you’re just disgusting?
Razzle Dazzle ‘em
And they’ll never catch wise”
I wonder if this is the stirring soundtrack that framed Ms. Noonan’s Thanksgiving dreamscape?
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