Getting past the ‘Mr. Magoo Syndrome’

In the early 1950s, a cartoon character of enduring quality was born. Quincy Magoo was a nice enough person who had achieved some success in life, but suffered from a condition that only allowed him to see short distances. Subsequently, Mr. Magoo (as he was known) left behind a wake of turmoil for others to deal with rather than him.In this recognizable metaphor of life, the loveable character refused to admit, or become aware of, his condition, and he happily went through life. As long as his personal journey was OK, he was fine. Are there any Quincy Magoos among us?Awareness is a powerful thing. It’s not so much that people don’t have all the facts, or don’t necessarily see past the next short-term goal, that bothers me. It’s that they refuse to be aware that they don’t have all the answers. It’s seen as a sign of weakness in today’s fast-paced world to suggest that there are more sides to a coin, or that answers to problems are complex.In some people’s minds, if they just maintain a direction, following an organized rule or some universal principle, then they are righteous. It’s a simple concept to believe in something because believing gives us comfort and provides us with clear direction and choices. It’s convenient.In the recent past, there has been a national movement to take a shortsighted approach. It comes to us in many forms. One local example is the health services that were cut as part of the budget process. These included funding for mental health and substance-abuse recovery services.The theory is that if we cut these services for substance abuse, mental health, the handicapped (pick your subset of people), we can save money and the trickle-down social economics dictates that society will cure these ills. I happen to believe that there are some people in our society who will try to do just that. But what happens if the people with substance-abuse issues don’t get taken care of by their families or get any support — what is society’s cost then? Police services maybe? Escalating crime and homelessness? Broken families, years of pain, generational dysfunction? What is the cost of that?Object: SustainabilityI’m all for doing a cost analysis or ROI on the issue, but I can’t help coming to the conclusion that the Mr. Magoo Syndrome is at play here.There are some obvious things that our society needs to pay for and support, for the good of society and the long-term good of the economics of the situation.Many companies over the past several years have gotten stronger through the recession. If we look at these firms, they may have cut costs in some areas but also invested in others.For example, what is the cost of a healthy workforce? I would argue that the best companies to work for took a long-range approach. They invested in healthy workplace initiatives, improved employee engagement and generally took care of their people, regardless of their “afflictions.”The secret is that taking care of each other is good for business. Through the recession, good companies also kept their research and development initiatives alive, shed unprofitable parts of their business and became creative about how to be sustainable.In this case, sustainability means being relevant and advancing along a growth curve, whatever the curve, toward their mission. I think these same sound principles in thinking should apply to many areas of our society, including what to do with those among us who are struggling with being unhealthy and unproductive at work, as well as those who are struggling with addiction, and everything in between.Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the answer is to be “all things to all people,” just like our companies should not turn into health clubs. But I do think we have a responsibility to each other, as citizens, and that makes great business sense.One part of the solution is to look at a situation from a personal perspective. If we know an addict, we likely have some compassion. If we know someone who has lost a job, we understand the situation better. If we know our employees, we tend to care a little bit more about their happiness. I think that when we make business decisions, smart leaders know that all business is personal.The decision-making, the rhetoric and the mistakes we are making may be short-sighted. We should call on all leaders, wherever we are, to get to know the population we are serving, managing and inspiring to be productive in our society. We just can’t exist, sustainably, alone.After all, if Mr. Magoo was able to be aware of the damage he caused, don’t you think he would have gone to see an eye doctor?Dr. Russ Ouellette, managing partner of Sojourn Partners, Bedford and creator of The Future of Everything Project, can be reached at 603-472-8103 or