published Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Jenkins: Lessons from Abe Lincoln and other great leaders


by Donnie Jenkins

History and technology are twins of a kind, as each develops in tune with the other.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a few very different people from our history to see what lessons they might have for us when it comes to technology.

First up, two presidents:

Abraham Lincoln has been almost deified by history. One of my favorite Lincoln biographies is written by Stephen Oates, called “With Malice Toward None: The Life of Abraham Lincoln.”

The lesson I learned from this book was this: Pay attention to detail but never lose sight of the big picture in your work. Lincoln was incredibly busy every day of his presidential life, and I was surprised to find just how of much of his time was absorbed by people seeking favors from him. Oates says Lincoln was overwhelmed on some days. Still, he never lost sight of his goal of preserving the Union in spite of all the distractions.

Franklin D. Roosevelt has always fascinated me for many reasons. He managed to deal with being stricken with polio. He invented a way to appear to walk by holding on to others and using his upper body to propel himself. He also invented a system by which he could drive his car, even without the use of his legs. Above all, he engineered the country’s eventual recovery from the Great Depression along with many others who advised and aided him.

His great tech lesson to me was this: Be willing to improvise and to change your approach when you need to do so. This idea has served me well in many areas of life, especially in dealing with technology problems.

Mark Twain is well known for his sharp wit, but many don’t know that he was infatuated with technology all of his life. This almost led to his ruin, as he heavily invested in an automatic typesetting machine that never worked well and a few other questionable ventures.

His tech lesson for me was this: Don’t fall in love with any one device or idea. His persistence and stubbornness was a blessing as a writer but did damage to his life and family when applied to technology.

Finally, I’d like to call attention to a lady that seldom gets much attention, but who may have the most valuable lesson to teach us. Aretha Robinson was the mother of Ray Charles, the musician. When he began to lose his sight as a young boy, she immediately began coaching him to become independent.

Her words to him — as reported by Charles in an interview — were, “You have to find a way to make it work for you.” I find it amazing that she could have such presence of mind and focus in such a crisis. Her lesson to me here is, take responsibility for whatever is to come.

This idea could serve us all well as we enter the next phase of online life, for example. Privacy and security issues will need our attention, and we can’t depend on anyone else to take care of these for us. Also we can only help ourselves by assuming a creative approach to life.

Email Donnie Jenkins at donniejenkins@yahoo.com.

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