Robert McNamara Was Right

Robert McNamara was a former president of Ford motor company, A Secretary of Defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and was generally known as one of the first “whiz kids”.  He was involved in returning Ford to profitability in the 1950’s and such global events as the Vietnam War, the Cuban missile crisis and the USS Pueblo controversy.Through out those events he maintained a directive that stood him and the country in good stead. He always said to get the information first, and then check it again.


We have all looked at a report, spreadsheet, balance sheet or P&L and after glancing at it said that everything looked in order. With the shear number of documents and emails that we have to look at in one day, we find ourselves falling more and more into this habit. We get to feeling that if things look right, then they must be right, right?


To be truthful, in many instances the simple answer is usually the correct one. Your instincts and a scanning of the documents will do. Things will be as they seem.


However there will always be the exception to the rule. You can not allow a bad habit to lead to a bad result. You will need to get into the good habit of double checking and triangulating your information. You need to understand where the information you are working on has come from. There are very few events that call for such an immediate response that you cannot re-look at the data before acting.


A good manager will look at the information and if it looks right, they will take action. A business leader will look at the information and if it looks right, will look at it again to make sure that it is right, before taking an action. That’s how you make sure you are acting on a studied decision instead of reacting to an external stimulus. Sometimes it might appear right, but sometimes appearances can be deceiving. Checking the data again seemed to work well for Robert McNamara.

One thought on “Robert McNamara Was Right”

  1. Steve raises a great point. You need to have a high degree of experience and business intimacy to make instinctual leaps of faith to the correct answer.

    However, relying on hunches and gut feels has led many a leader to folly. Building a process based solution to analysis, where you predefine the rules for your accounting structures, your logical data relationships, and having a high culture of discipline and compliance to how you feed for source of the truth are imperatives required.

    Filters on the volumes of reports and data elements are important. Leveraging your extended staffing structure by building on a process of rich analytics will allow you to institutionalize tribal knowledge and improve the core reliability of your instinctual decisions. All of this is dependent upon a high degree of accuracy and understanding of your fundamental information blocks. Simply having a large ERP platform and powerful data warehouse are not enough. You need the controls and process to make data and information meaningful.

    Good Blog Steve.

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