HR (lost) wisdom: The toxic culture of ‘Perfectness’ (The Nimitz example)

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Society today values being perfect.

We seek perfect professionals.

We seek perfect companions.

We seek perfectness in anything we do.

And sure…

HR ‘lets go’ of people who are not perfect.

The mottos of companies promote excellence and perfectness.

Why seek anything else?

Would anyone pay for failures?

Not the perfect ones!

I am sure all the above do ring a bell in one way or the other. Perhaps not in their absolute form, perhaps not in the sense mentioned above but in another very similar one. Yet, this idea of ‘perfectness’ penetrates and transcends out culture and our thought and it is very hard to find a company or a person not pressing themselves to strive for the perfect.

Sure, mistakes are for humans. We learn by our mistakes. But these kind of words are limited to our parents and our loved ones, or – at best – to a sympathizing HR manager scolding a low-level employee on their first mistake at the work. If you want to be in the big league, big mistakes are unforgivable. See for example two incidents in the US Navy here (Navy Removes USS Philippine Sea CO After Fuel Spill) and here (2 Top Officers of Navy Ship John S. McCain Are Removed) and here (Carrier Roosevelt CO Relieved Over ‘Extremely Poor Judgment’ in Creating ‘Firestorm’ Over COVID-19 Outbreak).

Now…

Let me tell you a story…

Ensign Chester Nimitz [source: US Naval Institute]

Meet Chester Nimitz.

You might know the name Nimitz to-day. Because it is the name of a whole class of nuclear powered aircraft carriers [source].

Impressive aren’t they?

The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74), left, and USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) conduct dual aircraft carrier strike group operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific. [source: Wikimedia]

The honor of naming a whole class of ships after you is not an easy feat, especially when we talk about aircraft carriers which are at the cornerstone of the US power projection capabilities as we speak.

But it was a natural thing for Nimitz.

You see Chester William Nimitz, Sr.  was a fleet admiral of the United States Navy. He played a major role in the naval history of World War II as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Commander in Chief, Pacific Ocean Areas, commanding Allied air, land, and sea forces during World War II.

Chester Nimitz while Chief of Naval Operations [source: Wikimedia]

On September 2, 1945, Nimitz signed as representative of the United States when Japan formally surrendered on board USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. On October 5, 1945, which had been officially designated as “Nimitz Day” in Washington, D.C., Nimitz was personally presented a second Gold Star for the third award of the Navy Distinguished Service Medal by President Harry S. Truman “for exceptionally meritorious service as Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet and Pacific Ocean Areas, from June 1944 to August 1945.” [source]

The surrender of Japan aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945: Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, representing the United States, signs the instrument of surrender. [source: Wikimedia]

Amazing story isn’t it?

Well this is the end.

Oh, did I tell you how the story started?

Well…

In 1908, Ensign Chester Nimitz ran the destroyer USS Decatur (DD-5) aground in the Philippines. He was court-martialed, found guilty of neglect of duty, and issued a letter of reprimand. [source] It was a different era so he still able to make admiral despite this career setback [source].

USS Decatur (DD-5), 1902. [source: Wikimedia]

Would Nimitz be able to get to be an admiral (let alone Fleet Admiral) if he had such an accident to-day?

Short answer: NO.

He would be relieved of command and would be lucky to have a desk job until the end of this pathetic thing he would dare to call carreer.

To-day we are too perfect to allow specks of imperfection stain the perfect image we have been trying to build for us, our company, our customers, our Navy. And yet, are we getting any better? Are we improving the way we treat people? How many Nimitz admirals have we forced to drop out of the Navy because we cannot tolerate the obvious?

Experience is our teacher.

Yes, mistakes are human nature.

My mom told me that.

And I am sure Fleet Admiral Nimitz would say that too.

Note: Later in his career as a commander of a submarine squadron he may have remembered this initial incident when he cut some slack for a sub commander who bent a prop pulling away from the pier [source: The Admirals].

Because at the end…

What do you get when you fire someone who has run a ship aground?

Someone who has never had the experience of running a ship aground…

Forgetting who you are… One experience at a time…

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Photo by Johannes Rapprich from Pexels

Researchers have revealed that infants aged 4- to 5-months already hold a primary cerebral representation of audiovisual integration of material information in their right hemisphere, and the number of types of material which can be processed by infants’ brain increases with the experience of the materials. This finding may lead to understand the trajectory of acquiring general knowledge about objects around us. (1)

The more you do something the more easily you can do it.

The more you breathe, the more easily you can breathe. The more you walk, the more easily you can walk. The more you experience the material cosmos, the more easily you can gain new experience of that cosmos.

But there is a catch in this gift. And Silenus will soon come to warn us. At the end, we will experience everything. But we will lose everything we could have without experiencing nothing. Like Midas, we will be rich. But we will die out of starvation…

Kids playing on the beach.

Happier than ever.

Dying a slow death…

One experience at a time…

Longing for experience…

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Photo by Bisesh Gurung from Pexels

Opportunities for people to interact with nature have declined over the past century, as many now live in urban areas and spend much of their time indoors. Conservation attitudes and behaviors largely depend on experiences with nature, and this ‘extinction of experience’ (EOE) is a threat to biodiversity conservation. Researchers now propose that citizen science, an increasingly popular way to integrate public outreach with data collection, can potentially mitigate EOE. (1)

Socrates experienced everything. Without ever leaving Athens. Parmenides talked about One. Without ever leaving the shores of Ionia. Hawking talked about the boundaries of the universe. Without ever leaving his wheelchair.

Long not for more experiences.

But for a free-thinking mind.

Without it you might be climbing on Everest and still be sitting on your house’s couch…

MAGNIFY! (Do you trust your eyes?) [against senses… again]

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Extremely distant galaxies are usually too faint to be seen, even by the largest telescopes. But nature has a solution: gravitational lensing, predicted by Albert Einstein and observed many times by astronomers. However recently, an international team of astronomers, led by Harald Ebeling of the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, discovered one of the most extreme instances of magnification by gravitational lensing.

Using the Hubble Space Telescope to survey a sample of huge clusters of galaxies, the team found a distant galaxy, eMACSJ1341-QG-1, that is magnified 30 times thanks to the distortion of space-time created by the massive galaxy cluster dubbed eMACSJ1341.9-2441. (1)

Everything we see is distorted in one or the other way.

Light passing through fields, light passing through matter or dark matter, through water or air, through lenses, through your very… eyes! No, you can never be certain that what you see is real. Look without prejudice and you will see, that the only thing you can be certain of is that you cannot see!

Look at that coffee cup.

There is no coffee.

Only molecules of coffee.

But you are smelling coffee.

Wishing coffee.

Because you have a hard time waking up.

And you have to go to work even though you don’t want to.

It is your life that you are experiencing.

Not just a cup of coffee.

But sure.

You can just say “I see coffee”.

Dead. But still alive. The fallacy of definitions. The wisdom of not knowing…

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Brain activity was detected as much as 10 minutes after death. (1)

Well, at least “death” by the current standards of what dead means.

Our definitions have come back to bite us.

We have rushed to define death.

But we do not even know what life is.

Look at that butterfly.

It knows more than you.

For it just lives and dies.

Without needing to define anything…