Friday, February 20, 2009

Lessons From Humpty Dumpty on the Financial Crisis

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is an Op/Ed Piece written by Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, Professor of Economics, Dean, School of Business & Technology, Webster University.

As a child growing up, I was raised and nurtured with nursery rhymes, some made up by my parents, others borrowed from a long list of universal rhymes. One has stayed with me all my life: It is a story of risk, failure and perseverance, the story of Humpty Dumpty, the anthropomorphic egg who tried to defy the odds and met with interesting results. Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The key word is the very last one: 'again.' It implies that this wasn't the first fall for Humpty; he was a serial risk taker. In my eyes, he was bold, fearless, unrelenting and entrepreneurial. Humpty obviously believed in setting stretch goals and was very familiar with the reality called failure. But, this egg refused to allow failure to define him. Failure for Humpty was just real-time feedback, an opportunity to regroup, reassess and try again until success was eventually achieved.

That attitude is a most valuable skill in today's challenging climate. The wall is a simple metaphor for the singular act of overcoming adversity. Climbing a wall is moving beyond where you are, overcoming adversity, challenging conventional wisdom, pursuing goals that are not easily achievable and refusing to give up in that pursuit.

There are many people the world over who now find themselves faced with the greatest challenge of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, life savings and are gradually losing confidence. They are down because they have fallen. As we contemplate the severity and hopelessness of the present and seek to overcome the uncertainty of the future, I believe it's helpful to invoke the story of Humpty, a journey of endurance and the willingness to keep trying. The lesson behind a childish rhyme speaks of the courage to seek challenges, to gratefully accept help when needed and to persevere when there is no apparent reason to do so. It's also a reminder that even when you do everything right -- remain loyal to your employer, invest your money in a 'foolproof' fund, pursue the American Dream -- you may fall and fall again. Remember, when we fall we should strive to get back up and not allow setbacks to define who we are.

None of us is perfect. At times, we make faulty judgments. Perhaps we overreach as we try to make life better for our families. Sometimes, we act based on fear versus hope. At other times, our overconfidence leads the way when it should be tempered. Occasionally, our desire to keep pace with our peers leads us down a slippery slope. All of these imperfections speak to the story of Humpty and the resolve to scale the wall of obstacles. There is a little Humpty Dumpty in all of us. We have fallen, yes. We have been broken, certainly. But somewhere deep inside -- behind the doom, beyond the gloom -- we still have our eye on that wall and are ready to successfully climb it, cracks and all, as insurmountable as it may seem.

In closing, I am particularly impressed with Humpty's support group: his friends, all the king's horses and all the king's men. They provided the ultimate safety net. We have all climbed that wall and have fallen many times, but if it weren't for our 'king's horses and men,' getting back up would have been impossible. They gave us the endurance to keep on keeping on. These are the kind of friends we all need, especially these days.

As we grapple with these difficult financial times, may our journey be blessed with good friends and may we learn as much from our falls as we do from our ascents.

With its home campus in St. Louis, Webster University ( is a worldwide institution committed to delivering high-quality learning experiences that transform students for global citizenship and individual excellence. Founded in 1915, Webster offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs through five schools and colleges, and a global network of more than 100 campuses. Its 20,000-plus student population represents almost 150 nationalities. The University's core values include excellence in teaching, joining theory and practice, small class sizes, and educating students to be lifelong independent learners, fully prepared to participate in an increasingly international society.

Since opening its first campus overseas in Geneva in 1978, Webster has become a recognized leader and innovator in global education, with an international presence that now includes campuses in London; Vienna; Amsterdam and Leiden, the Netherlands; Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chengdu, China; and Bangkok and Cha-am, Thailand. Webster also has educational partnerships with universities in Mexico and Japan.

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