Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Words of Wisdom: Out of Imagination, Not Memory

Drayton McLane
(Image from Baylor Magazine)

I've been learning all my life, and I'm continually discovering how ignorant I am, so I suppose that I've always been learning the same lesson that Socrates learned well so long ago. What I learned today is that I've been living my life facing the wrong direction the whole time, for I just five minutes ago read the reminiscence of ueber-businessman and Baylor alumnus Drayton McLane on a lesson that he learned upon receiving his MBA:
"Operate out of your imagination, not your memory."
He learned that from Dr. Kenneth Wilson, dean of Michigan State University's business school, way back in 1958. He later learned a similar lesson in imagination from Sam Walton, just two years before Walton died, in 1992, and that lesson was about not getting so locked into a routine that you miss out on a great opportunity. You can read about that story in the Baylor Magazine article.

Operating out of memory is an occupational hazard for historians like me, and I've always thought that in memory lies wisdom. Maybe I've not been entirely correct about that point, but perhaps not entirely wrong either, for these farsighted business guys don't forget the past either. McLane recalls Dr. Wilson's words. And Sam Walton's. And I know that Mr. Walton remembered the past, too, for I once met his second-grade teacher in a nursing home in Missouri. That was around 1982, and she was in her nineties, and blind, but she was completely alert and told me of how Mr. Walton had remembered her and had given a banquet for her when she retired. In his prepared words to those invited to the banquet, he had spoken of the high expectations that she had of her students and of how much he had learned from her.

That encouraged me to work at becoming a good teacher as well, although I'm not so sure that I've yet succeeded at that.

But I'm still trying, and I guess that I just need to keep looking ahead for what I still can do instead of staring behind at what I haven't done.



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