Mike Richman  |  01/11/2009

Courage

The cheesy wisdom of Dan Rather

Well, well, well… 2009 is upon us. That sure happened fast. What happened to 2008? For that matter, what happened to 2007, or 1995, or 1978? It’s true what those Nationwide Insurance ads say: “Life comes at you fast.” (See how well advertising works?)

Not very many of us are mourning the end of 2008. It was a tough 12 months: numerous food and product safety recalls, soaring (then falling) oil prices, a long and bruising U.S. presidential campaign, and a mortgage market meltdown that helped usher in the worst financial collapse in several generations. Huge government bailouts of the financial sector and the auto manufacturers might help stem the tide--or might not. President Obama, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

For professionals in the U.S. manufacturing industry, the recession comes as the vicious right cross following the stiff left jab of outsourcing and offshoring. This is the nature of capitalism, however; inefficiencies in markets are exploited, often with unsettling consequences, and then conditions stabilize. On a macro level, in the due course of time, the economy will be just fine.

On the micro level, however, it’s another story. Yes, in the natural course of things jobs, companies, and even entire industries wither and die. But “jobs,” “companies,” and “industries” aren’t arcane, abstract concepts--they represent real people like you and me. So what words of comfort and wisdom can I offer to those real people who’ve been hurt by the economic downturn?

“Courage.” For a week in 1986, CBS news anchor Dan Rather used that single word as his signoff. No one knew for sure what he was advising people to be courageous about, and he received more than his fair share of ridicule. After a week, he dropped it. A few weeks after that, he was mugged by a couple of guys who asked, “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Maybe mysterious quotes just follow the guy around.

I’ve been thinking lately about Rather and his single-word signoff. I believe that Rather was referencing something inherent in his chosen profession. He’s spoken often about courage and how important that quality is to a journalist. To do their jobs well, journalists must have the guts to seek out the story and tell it as it needs to be told, despite the dangers--both personal and professional--that often come with the territory.

Sound familiar? The parallels between journalism and quality assurance aren’t hard to see: Professionals in both fields seek to uncover the truth, to shine a light on waste, inefficiency, and even corruption.

All that takes courage. For those of us who have chosen quality (or journalism… or both) as a career, we can rest easy in the knowledge that our courage and our dedication to our craft will sustain us, even in the face of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. If you’re holding onto your job and covering for those who’ve lost theirs, have the courage and steadfastness to handle the increased workload. If you’re worried that you may lose your job, have the courage and focus to do the best you can in the areas that you can control, and let go of those that you can’t. If you’ve lost your job, have the courage and persistence to take your unique skills and experience to a new organization that may need a fresh look at its quality processes.

“Courage.” Embody it, keep it, and sustain it in 2009.

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Mike Richman

Mike Richman is Quality Digest’s publisher.