Monday, January 9, 2012

Glorious decadence

LunchIn a competitive environment complacency is one of the most dangerous states of mind to inhabit. Complacency befalls those who think themselves to be in the lead or close to it. And that is where it is, of course, most dangerous to the future prospects of those same leaders. If you are trying to catch someone ahead of you complacency is generally less of a problem - although, of course, those in second position cannot be complacent about those in third!

When you combine the temptations of history with the potential for complacency the mix can be toxic. Such is the situation in good old Europe these days. European public life is still suffused with the unshakeable belief that the continent is the fountainhead of all culture, education and wisdom. When a few years back the OECD's PISA international educational rankings showed that central European countries such as Germany, France and Austria were falling behind the educational attainment of kids in places such as South Korea, Finland, Singapore and Australia the shock was palpable. In some circles it even went as far as to questioning the measurement scheme itself, even though it was developed by an international organization with no overt national preferences. Shooting the messenger is always an option when the message is not the desired one.

Today it is the economy that should be the greatest concern for Europeans. But, here too, complacency remains the order of the day. Nowhere else do you see so clearly that the obsession with history and past achievements that prevails in too many parts of Europe can be a burden to those trying to manage the challenges of the present and those of the future. Is glorious decadence a European invention or did the Europeans just perfect it?

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