Threats and challenges have been an ever present feature of the human experience: Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

Colin has held public appointments at local, regional and national level and professorial appointments in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, India and China.

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Here is the part -2 of the text of Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas* talk at Gyan Diksha Samaroh Commencement Ceremony of 22nd Academic Session at Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research, New Delhi held on September 2, 2017

Success can be measured relative to our aspirations and what could or should be, and relative to our individual and collective potential. Attributes considered positive – and behaviours sought – tend to be those that appear to work.

We can learn from own experience about what works and does not work. Sometimes this involves learning the hard way and experiencing disappointment, failure and pain. It makes sense to learn from the wisdom of others, particularly wise people who over the centuries and millennia have thought about what advice to give.

Ancient wisdom and past attempts to create shared values – and in some cases universal ones – have helped our ancestors to get us to where we are today.

Both Bernard of Chartres and Sir Isaac Newton acknowledged that they were able to move forward because they stood upon the shoulders of giants. Respect those who have gone before and have laboured to build the foundations of our civilisation.

Not everything that has been recorded has survived. Much has been lost, as when the great library at Alexandria burned. However, much has also been painstakingly passed from generation to generation.

The literature and domestic fragments that have survived, suggest human nature has not changed that much over the last few thousand years. When we see similar expressions of character all around us, it is a brave, arrogant and perhaps irresponsible person who ignores ancient wisdom or refuses to learn from it.

Threats and challenges have been an ever present feature of the human experience. Previous civilisations have been laid low by climate change, war and conquest, inadequate governance and failings of character and morality. Much of what ancient voices have to say can be relevant – indeed especially relevant – to us today.

At the same time, in all eras the unexpected can and often does arise. We need to be prepared for novel situations, new challenges and unanticipated events. Be inspired and motivated by ancient wisdom rather than constrained and limited by it.

To confront some challenges and seize certain opportunities we need to be creative, innovative and entrepreneurial. Traditional, learned and approved responses may not be sufficient, appropriate or effective. We also require the ability to assess, imagine and invent. We also need the courage to discover, explore and pioneer.

Certain challenges already affect the planet we share with other forms of life. Human activity has adverse consequences for us, other species and the environment.

Unless innovation and disruptive technologies provide viable alternatives, our future may depend upon the extent to which we change our priorities and adopt simpler, healthier and more sustainable and fulfilling lifestyles.

I will share what I have observed and learned. Its relevance may vary according to your aspirations, priorities, situation and circumstances.

Be balanced. Avoid being at the extremes.

Keep a sense of proportion. As Charles Handy said to us when we started at the London Business School, don’t trip over the daises. He also advised against looking over your shoulders at others. Comparisons may not be relevant and can be misleading.

You don’t have to be first at everything. I was last at Latin at school. The sum total of who and what you are, your aspirations, your motivations, who you associate with, and how you live your life will determine your impact in and upon this world.

Also Read Part -1: People and organisations should aim high: Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas

Also Read Part – 3: Leadership and entrepreneurship are about thinking as well as doing: Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas


*Prof. (Dr) Colin Coulson-Thomas has helped directors in over 40 countries to improve director, board and corporate performance.

In addition to directorships he leads the International Governance Initiative of the Order of St Lazarus, is Director-General, IOD India, UK and Europe, chair of United Learning’s Risk and Audit Committee, Chancellor and a Professorial Fellow at the School for the Creative Arts, Honorary Professor at the Aston India Foundation for Applied Research, a Distinguished Professor at the Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management-Research and a member of the advisory boards of Bridges of Sports and the Arvind Foundation, and ACCA’s Governance, Risk and Performance Global Forum.

An experienced chairman of award winning companies and vision holder of successful transformation programmes, he is the author of over 60 books and reports. He was educated at the London School of Economics, London Business School, UNISA and the Universities of Aston, Chicago and Southern California. He is a fellow of seven chartered bodies and obtained first place prizes in the final exams of three professions.

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