Current Affairs Frustrations Living

Is This the Best You Can Do?

Years ago, I remember reading a memoir of Henry Kissinger. Frankly, my memories are probably more apocryphal than factual at this point – but the story’s still a good one – so read on! I’ve told this story at least a thousand fifty times to friends and colleagues. The theme of this particular story is about how you get to the best possible result. Steve Jobs also seems to know a lot about this – but he hasn’t written his memoirs!

In the book, Kissinger tells a story about how he dealt with new senior staffers at the State Department. At some point, they’d have to bring forward to the Secretary of State a briefing document on their particular area of focus. Kissinger’s brilliance was how he handled those initial document reviews – setting a special tone for that new relationship.

Instead of just reading the briefing document, Kissinger wouldn’t bother to read it at all – instead, he’d simply write on the first page: “Is this the best you can do???” and send it back to the staffer.

You can imagine the new staffer’s reaction when the briefing document came back with that comment on the cover. So, that staffer would get immediately to work to make it even better, refining their arguments, double checking the facts, etc. And, then, send it back up to Kissinger.

Kissinger would, of course, notice that the follow-up briefing document had arrived. This time, again not bothering to read it, he’d simply write on the cover “Is this REALLY the best you can do???”

Wow, you can imagine the staffer’s deflated ego when that briefing document arrived back on their desk. That staffer would again, in earnest, go back to work to make this briefing as perfect as they could make it. And, this time, the staffer would actually schedule an appointment on Kissinger’s calendar to hand deliver the briefing to Kissinger in his office.

In his office, Kissinger would ask the staffer verbally one more time – “Is this the best you can do???” “Absolutely,” the staffer would respond. Kissinger would reply: “Good, then now I’ll read it.” Wow!

I’ve been upset about the whole AIG bonus situation – and have posted here earlier about it. But I do think that Gerald Seib has a good point in his column in tomorrow’s Wall St. Journal when he says:

When the House passes, as it did Thursday, a tax bill designed specifically to extract money from 73 individuals who took large bonuses from AIG’s financial-services unit, it’s pretty clear that things have gotten out of hand.

Obama seems to be ready to sign this legislation – assuming it survives in some form in the Senate. There’s a huge wave of citizen anger that’s descended on our representative in Washington about the AIG bonus situation. No surprise that.

But, instead of just signing this legislation, I think Obama should send it back to the Hill – a veto – with a scrawled note on the cover: “Is this REALLY the best you can do???” Because it’s not their best. Clearly and simply, it’s not. And the representatives of the people in this representative democracy need to do better – much better indeed.

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