Are the Best and the Brightest Heard?

David Halberstam’s “The Best and the Brightest” describes how John F. Kennedy and his advisers made the decisions that led the US to Vietnam. Early in the the book, Kennedy is talking to his Secretary of Labor, Arthur Goldberg, after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion where irregular troops attempted to topple Castro’s Cuba. Goldberg complained to Kennedy that Kennedy was limiting himself to a small group of advisers and it was leading to some poor decisions.

Kennedy said that he meant no offense but although Goldberg was a good man, a friend, he was in labor, not in foreign policy.

“You’re wrong,” Goldberg replied, “you’re making the mistake of compartmentalizing your cabinet…I was in OSS during the war [WWII] and I ran guerrilla operations and I know something about guerrillas. That they are terrific at certain things. Sabotage and intelligence, nothing like them at that. But they’re no good at all in confronting regular units. Whenever we used them like that, we’d always lose all our people…But you didn’t think of that – and you put me in the category of just a Secretary of Labor.

This compartmentalization must happen all the time in business too.

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