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All Manner of Truth

All Manner of Truth

When things are going pear-shaped can we afford not to speak out?

This month's column comes to you courtesy of a rather liquid dinner party a couple of weeks ago at Chez K. We'd done a round of pre-dinner Mojitos and managed to polish off a reasonable white and four very nice reds over three courses. Not bad for three couples (two of whom were taking taxis home, by the way). There had just been a unanimous vote, with everyone agreeing another red was called for, so Chez K's sommelier was in the wine fridge looking for a 15-year-old Pyrus. (Ever notice that at a boozy dinner party, the final bottle of the evening is frequently a notch or two better than the previous one or two served?)

I can't help but wonder how often the Cassandra Syndrome wreaks havoc in an organization's IT department

Anyway, the sommelier and I had just returned from Greece and the table was swapping travel stories, and at some point the conversation slid down the track of Greek drama. (I think someone happened to mention the movie 300 because we'd spent some time in the Peloponnese. And yes, I agree that Aeschylus and Frank Miller have little in common — the wine-addled brain is a remarkable thing.) Next thing you know, we're all trying to prove the merit of a liberal arts education and seeing how many gods, goddesses and the like we can name. Obviously Bacchus was first out of the gate.

After about three rounds, one of the guys comes up with Cassandra. And it kind of stops the momentum, which was probably a good thing because, let's face it, this conversation was going south to dullsville big time. So now we're all trying to remember exactly what Cassandra's thing was (maybe those liberal arts degrees weren't so valuable after all). In truth, we all knew it was something to do with seeing the future; it's just that we couldn't quite agree as whether it was limited to the doom and gloom stuff. Also wasn't there something about her being crazy?

I went to check Wikipedia while the sommelier went searching for another bottle. Here's a synopsis: Apollo falls in love with Cassandra's great beauty and grants her the gift of prophecy. But she does not return his love and Apollo puts a curse on her so that no one will ever believe her predictions. While Cassandra foresees the destruction of Troy, she is unable to do anything. Her family thinks she's mad and incarcerates her, and as a result Cassandra does go insane.

"Geez," one of the guests said, "think of the number of times that you know something's going to go wrong and no one will listen, or worse you just can't tell anyone."

The sommelier arrived with a 1992 Penfold 707, and further discussion led us to agree that what we had started calling The Cassandra Syndrome is a recurrent factor in our lives. (For example, I just know that something's going to come to grief if Chez K's sommelier picks up a power tool.)

I can't help but wonder how often the Cassandra Syndrome wreaks havoc in an organization's IT department, and therefore the business. People up and down the ladder recognize that something is terribly wrong with a project or strategy, and because of the culture are unable or unwilling to point it out. Or when they do, everyone dismisses them as, well, Cassandras.

It's enough to drive you crazy.

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