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Foreword

Foreword

America has two generations for whom Pearl Harbor has no emotional power and almost as little cognitive clout. It is not surprising that the nation developed an assumption of invulnerability. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 changed that: Where buildings had pierced the sky, now there was only rubble. Where 50,000 people had worked, there was only impenetrable dust: Dust to dust… but there was no solace in that. Our sophisticated and powerful society had not protected its people. In our primitive, fundamental, and atavistic core, we were assaulted. Whether in New York or California, Europe, Asia, or Australia, our sense of reality, our notions of how things are supposed to happen, were besieged.

I wanted to visit Ground Zero, to see it for myself, because this was a transformational event, one that would forever change how people saw and structured reality. I'd had that experience once before, on December 7, 1941, when I was a little girl. Though it was forever ago, I will always remember that night. My parents were hunched close to the radio, faces somber and disbelieving, saying again and again to no one, “This is war… this is war.” September 11, 2001: “This is war.”

On September 27, just 16 days after the World Trade Center towers fell and the people within them were lost, my friend Anita Ross and I set out to get as close to Ground Zero as we could.

Like most everyone else, we had spent days glued to the television, our minds not grasping the images that played on the screen. We had watched the same scenes over and over and over, as though repetition could make sense of the incomprehensible; as though repetition could dull the agony everyone felt but could not express. This pain was beyond words; language doesn't have words to describe what is unimaginable.

By September 27, New Yorkers as well as the rest of the country had begun to roll up their sleeves and go back to work. Men and women wore red, white, and blue ribbons on their lapels. The city wasn't normal but it was getting there. There were people on the streets and in the stores and subways—just not as many. People were walking, but their strides weren't as purposeful. Even on the subway, people were friendly and helpful. In the face of the assault, helpfulness, friendliness, and patriotism were rising just as they did a little more than half a century ago.

We took the subway as far as we could and around 4:30 in the afternoon, got out to walk the mile or so to where the towers had stood. We walked deliberately, one foot slowly following the other. We gradually became aware of a faint odor that became progressively stronger. It was the smell of smoke, of things burned. Everywhere we looked we saw whitish-gray powder, the ashes of paper, wood, and insulation.

Men and women in police uniforms and military garb kept telling us to keep moving, not to stop, not to take pictures. But people continued to move as slowly as possible, lingering and staring as long as they could. As we got closer, where a block ended and was cut by a cross street, we looked to the right and there it was. It was exactly what we had seen on television, and yet it wasn't. The size of it, oh, the size of it! Enormous steel girders were twisted—wrapped into coils like an unruly Slinky. The two remaining pieces of the façade remained incongruously, incredulously, upright. We lingered as long as we could. We couldn't believe it…but we couldn't leave.

There was everything to see and nothing to be seen. Ambulances weren't rolling and people weren't running. There were no sirens, there was no clash of grinding gears. In the slow-moving crowd of observers, there were no cries of anguish, no tears, and no shouts of retribution. We heard soft voices in many languages, but more than anything there was the solemnity of silence. This assault was too big to lend itself to words.

We had gone as close as we could and had seen as much as possible. It was time to leave and yet, it was not time to go. Why couldn't we leave when there was nothing more to see? Part of it was the need for repetition, to see the same thing over and over and make it real. By making it real, we stripped it of the unbelievable. As the destruction became real—but finite—it ceased being the untamable awfulness of nightmares.

There was also another reason for staying. The enormity of this tragedy and outrage are not communicated well by ideas, words, or even pictures. It was only in its presence, that we could feel what happened. In the face of it, it became impossible to diminish the importance of what we had experienced. We couldn't trivialize what we had seen by giving it short shrift, so we dignified the experience by staying with it.

There was silence there and slowness and finally, dignity because the place where the towers stood was already a shrine. Religious or not, we bowed our heads. What will soothe here will be ritual: Scottish bagpipes, Amazing Grace, flags at half mast, and a perpetual flame.

The assault did not weaken America. Instead, the narcissism, materialism, arrogance, and pettiness that became too characteristic of the United States is giving way to purposefulness, unity, and resolve. The assault on material America has awakened a keen sense of our history and the very meaning of the nation. Death has generated community. At least that's true for now.

The 21st century is a world of permanent turbulence. The world's economies, like its geopolitics, like terrorism, are borderless. Jets, phones, faxes, computers, and pagers have made any event, anywhere, our event. Everywhere, in everything, there are accelerating changes in alliances, markets, technologies, competition, and opportunities. Our sensibilities about what to expect in business, as in the world, are continuously challenged.

With unrelenting change and unpredictability, it is hard to feel confident that we know and understand what is happening, it becomes hard to make decisions and act on them, and it becomes hard to sustain a basic sense of well-being.

Yet the world of permanent turbulence is our world: We have to live in it, we have to work in it, and we have to flourish within it. The goal of the first half of this book is to achieve greater clarity about a world, especially the world of business, that is in a permanent state of transformation. When we perceive these realities clearly, we've taken the first step to regaining a sense of control over what's happening. In the last half of the book we'll begin to formulate recommendations about what we must do as a nation, as organizations, and as individuals in order for us to succeed under the stressful conditions of unending, swift, and major change.

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