Speaking at the spring commencement May 15, 2021, on the West Lafayette campus, Purdue University president Mitch Daniels offered a great message to the many Americans, government officials, and public-health “experts” who believed and may continue to push the fiction of our ability to live in a zero-risk world:
This last year, many of your elders failed this fundamental test of leadership. They let their understandable human fear of uncertainty overcome their duty to balance all the interests for which they were responsible. They hid behind the advice of experts in one field but ignored the warnings of experts in other realms that they might do harm beyond the good they hoped to accomplish.
Sometimes they let what might be termed the mad pursuit of zero, in this case zero risk of anyone contracting the virus, block out other competing concerns, like the protection of mental health, the educational needs of small children, or the survival of small businesses. Pursuing one goal to the utter exclusion of all others is not to make a choice but to run from it. It’s not leadership; it’s abdication. I feel confident your Purdue preparation won’t let you fall prey to it.
But there’s a companion quality you’ll need to be the leaders you can be. That’s the willingness to take risks. Not reckless ones, but the risks that still remain after all the evidence has been considered.
Maybe the great historian Jacques Barzun summed it up best: “The last degree of caution is cowardice.”
Certainty is an illusion. Perfect safety is a mirage. Zero is always unattainable, except in the case of absolute zero where, as you remember, all motion and life itself stop.
What is true for public health is also true for business and innovation and many other things in life. This is an important message. The whole thing is here. (H/T to Todd Zywicki)