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Only a handful of times have the actions of the Highest Court in the United States created such anticipation about heavy, contentious rulings within a few days of each other. This week was one such occasion, including a key ruling about the Affordable Care Act and capped with a rare Friday ruling on same-sex marriage.

Looking beyond the headlines, these rulings are intertwined with the heat of ongoing debates among Americans about weighty topics. The Supreme Court itself is inscribed with ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ across the transom, though that has been called into question time and time again. Whether a group of nine people can truly represent the opinions of 330 million-plus is an ongoing debate within itself!

However, today was, I believe, a true step forward in the court playing the role it should: Ensuring all Americans have equal treatment and the same rights and privileges as their neighbors. Even the partisan Constitutional theorists can align on that as a guiding principle.

I was struck most by the Supreme Court’s incredibly salient grasp of its role while reading the final paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s [incredibly well-written] opinion for the majority:

Justice Anthony Kennedy 2015-06-26

Regardless of your opinions on the topic of same-sex marriage, the majority eloquently stated that nobody should have the power to deny you the right of choice. I found Justice Kennedy’s statement incredibly moving.

What’s equally interesting is how, on a macro scale, the opinions about same-sex marriage have changed rapidly across the country. Even statistics guru Nate Silver is intrigued by how quickly public opinion on gay marriage has shifted. It’s worth a read because this trend is likely to continue as the issues and catalysts that force those issues onto the national stage continue to evolve.

Daryl DuLong

 

This weekend is the University of Rochester alumni/reunion homecoming, named Meliora Weekend, which has grown from a small(-ish) gathering of classmates to a 3-day mega-event filled with keynote speakers, diplomats, scholars, comedians, performers, game changers, big thinkers, etc. This year’s keynote speaker was Former President Bill Clinton, and alumni turned out in droves today to hear him speak.

He spoke about the challenges we face as a nation, and offered some tangible, actionable solutions to address those problems. I recall in a speech earlier this year President Clinton said “I’m not President so I get to say and do unpopular things”, referring to the fact that he’s not campaigning, so he gets to call things as they are. Today he did a fantastic job of presenting a non-partisan view of the issues, and further displaying his already incredible wealth of knowledge on a variety of subjects. As one commentator said, “he’s a true polymath“.

Whatever you decide to do in this century, I think perhaps the most important question will be “how do you propose to do it?”, so that you turn your good intentions into positive changes. –Fmr. Pres. Clinton

As I do more and more research, I find the work of The Clinton Foundation to be absolutely fascinating, and the strength and breadth of the support in only 10 short years is astonishing. (Something to the tune of 2,000+ commitments helping more than 300 million people.) He drew parallels between the Foundation’s work and the issues we face as a nation and a world, highlighting the importance of co-operation, and the fact that many other developed and prosperous nations embrace the idea of co-operation, which typically leads to positive outcomes. “The debate [in the U.S.] is all wrong,” he said.

He also commented on how he’s worried, even more so recently, about the future of our country and what it means for our ongoing competitiveness among the global economies. The key to long-term success is to improve the percentage of Americans who actually finish a 4-year degree. (He added that the United States is 1st among nations for percentage of population who start a 4-year college degree, and an astonishing 23rd among nations for percentage of population who finish a 4-year college degree.) When asked about the outlook for recent graduates amid the current economic uncertainty, he provided some encouraging words:

Don’t ever make a decision to be disappointed. Make a decision to be happy, to be fulfilled, to succeed. Life has disappointments enough and setbacks enough without that. But there’s no reason for you to be all that pessimistic if we just get our heads on straight and start doing what works. –Fmr. Pres. Clinton

The biggest thrill for me was that David and I happened to be in the right place at the right time following his talk. We found ourselves among a small group of audience-goers who were lining up to shake hands with or get autographs from President Clinton. Lo and behold, David and I both got to look him right in the eye, shake his hand, and thank him for a great talk. I wasn’t fast enough to capture photos of either David or me mid-handshake, but these two images to the right illustrate the moment fairly well.

It was a very memorable experience for me.

Thank you, President Clinton, for your visit and for your enlightening and thought-provoking keynote address.

 

The latest development in the saga between Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and the United States Treasury/Federal Reserve brings up yet another classic example of the Knowing-Doing Gap gone awry. I’ve been hot on this topic for a few weeks, following a recent lecture by Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer on evidence-based management. He writes:

“Fear helps create knowing-doing gaps because acting on one’s knowledge requires that a person believe he or she will not be punished for doing so—that taking risks based on new information and insight will be rewarded, not punished. When people fear for their jobs, their futures, or even for their self-esteem, it is unlikely that they will feel secure enough to do anything but what they have done in the past. Fear will cause them to repeat past mistakes and re-create past problems, even when they know better ways of doing the work.”

— Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton

Mr. Lewis embodies Prof. Pfeffer’s criticism of management almost to the word. His decisions were short-sighted, and put his fear of his employment (and of the ultimate loss of a deal) far ahead of what would be a good, sound business decision. I would argue that his transaction with Merrill Lynch’s CEO John Thain was an even further example of Mr. Lewis trying to be the hero, versus trying to grow the business in an appropriate way. Frontline ran a special about Ken Lewis and his appetite for deals, and they draw a conclusion that supports Prof. Pfeffer’s theory.

 

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President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden practice their putting on the White House putting green April 24, 2009.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza