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William Slim on inheriting a mess

It is one thing to know what is wrong; it is another to put it right. I have no doubt whatever that Hutton, if he had been given even a few months in which to prepare, would have corrected much of this and a lot more too. But I was to find, as he had, that to retrieve the past in the midst of a fierce and relentless present is no easy matter.

Viscount William Slim – Defeat into Victory

Inheriting a mess is hard. It’s also something that we all do, personally and as organisations and communities. Perhaps most often (and most frustratingly), we inherit messes from ourselves.

Slim is noteworthy for how rarely he points the blame. He praises individuals for their contributions, and almost always blames circumstances or generalities for other people’s failings while taking responsibility for his own.

He’s also right about the difficulty of retrieving the past. The present is always short of something. The trick – as well as fighting the fires that need addressing today in order to live to tomorrow – is to redeem a little of the future by working steadily on the non-urgent things that will make things easier tomorrow.

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