Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Death of Ernest May

The time stamp for the Associated Press announcement on the San Francisco Chronicle Web site is 4 AM this morning. The announcement was of the death of Harvard University history professor and former dean Ernest May. May's name has come up a lot on this blog (as it did on my Reflections Beyond Technology blog, which I am currently reviewing before Yahoo! shuts it down in its current incarnation). I frequently cited what I called "the Neustadt-May thinking-in-time approach to dealing with crisis situations." This referred to the book Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers, which May wrote with Richard Neustadt. While on the surface this book is little more than about a dozen case studies, the value lies in the unifying methodology that Neustadt and May derived from those case studies. I was not surprised to learn that this book is used in the training of intelligence analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency. Had this book received more attention in the financial sector, we might have avoided the current economic crisis (or we might have taken a more reasoned approach to getting out of the mess). Sadly, the financial sector always seems to have preferred the history-is-bunk philosophy of Henry Ford, which makes it all the more ironic that the Ford empire seems to be the one component of the United States automobile industry that is even barely capable of standing on its own feet. The most appropriate way to remember May would be for everyone to take off the time to read any one case study from Thinking in Time, but I am sure the Ford folks will have any number of reasons for why they are too busy for such frivolous matters!

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