The vice president in charge was closing the sales conference with an impassioned speech. At its climax he quoted from the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Would you believe he also echoed Longfellow: "All things come round to him who will but wait"?
It's infinitely more likely, of course, that he used a favorite saying of Vince Lombardi's: "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Or the hoary words of John Paul Jones: "I have not yet begun to fight!" Or even the derisive quip of Leo Durocher: "Nice guys finish last." ggression and victory are keynotes of office cliches and their subcategory, cliche quotations. And their main sources are the kindred worlds of sports and war. As we run with the ball (often for daylight), bring out the heavy artillery, go for the fences, counterattack, try to cope with third and long, and worry about being shot down in flames, our leaders intone, "The best defense is offense," and "God is on the side of the big battalions."
Business oratory also exhibits much the same cosmic perspective as a famous pregame speech of yesteryear: "Gentlemen, you are about to play football for Yale against Harvard. Never in your lives will you do anything so important." In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if that amazing pronouncement has been paraphrased a few times in a business context.
Possibly the only well-known quotation arising from sports that has been spared us at the office is this one, for obvious reasons: "When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name--He marks not that you won or lost but how you played the game."
Grantland Rice just wouldn't have made it on the motivational circuit. As has been said (and said and said), winning is what it's all about. And our sales departments are not alone in sounding combative. Where there are no obvious competitors to beat, we set up our own war games. Keeping costs below budget is a battle won. Missing a production quota is an ignominious defeat.
As for our revival meetings (Pep rallies? War dances?), the other theme of themes is sheer effort. We hear the words of Anonymous: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." Or Edison: "Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." Or John F. Kennedy, in a painful paraphrase: "Ask not what (organization) can do for you; ask what you can do for (organization)."
Not that I'm against perspiration or a decent dedication to business success. It's the sermons that are overworked and tired.
When American business seems to be suffering from a long-time emphasis on short-term profits and quick-fix projects . . . and from a lot more remodeling than rethinking . . . perhaps our preacher-generals should ponder some lesser-known texts.
"Basic research is when I'm doing what I don't know I'm doing" -- Wernher von Braun.
And this bit of Chesterton would certainly get our attention: "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."