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Confederacy of the Dunces Revisited
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If you have not read "Confederacy of the Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole, I highly recommend it. It was published in 1980, eleven years after Toole's suicide. Toole's mother took the manuscript to Walter Percy who initially dismissed it, but was persuaded by her to read it, out of sympathy if nothing else. It turns out to have been brilliant work. I read somewhere that Toole committed suicide after a slew of rejection letters. Life is more tragic than fiction.

The book is focused on a coterie in New Orleans who, reinforced by each other's limited views of the world, draw some conclusions about their own lives and interactions with the world that are tragic/comedic in form and largely incorrect.

Recently, the Rasmussen organization has done some serious survey work that indicates an elite 1% of the US population that has quite different ideas than the rest of the people. This 1% went to the elite schools and largely controls the institutions in the United States, including but not limited to universities, the media, and major corporations. A tiny, inwardly focused group with an outsized influence.

What do these two seemingly disparate issues that I have outlined so far have to do with each other? More particularly, what do they have to do with the pulp and paper industry, our day in and day out subject of study here?

Simply this. As I have wandered around manufacturing industries the last fifty-four years, I have seen many demonstrations of opinions and behaviors that would easily fit within the narrative of the "Confederacy of the Dunces" and/or the Rasmussen survey results.

Think about it. Don't you largely interact with the same people every day, absorb information from the same media and form your opinions and make decisions based on these few routine inputs? What are you missing that could improve your business?

The mantra these days is that diversity is good, and in most cases this is true. But what are you doing to ensure you receive diverse inputs?

We are creatures of habit because habits are comfortable. If you are like me, you have a routine when you arrive at work each morning. That routine courses throughout your day. Four days out of five I go to the same restaurant for lunch, for instance.

Stated another way, what do you do to shake up your thinking? Would shaking up your thinking improve your career or the business you manage?

You won't know until you break out of your (perceived) secure shell.

If you work in a large manufacturing facility, change where you park and walk into the facility through a different door. Eat lunch at a different place. Pull news from sources you normally don't watch. Talk to different people.

Sometimes, our doctors help us gain a different perspective when they frown and "give us the news."

Whatever works, shed your old dull self and see what happens. It will likely be a very positive surprise.

Jim Thompson is CEO of Paperitalo Publications.



Get Jim Thompson's "Monograph on Purchasing." Available here.


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