The Shultz Hour Edition
On time, space, and reflection
Taking a Shultz hour and re-running this from the archives. Back tomorrow. -Colin (CJN)
Colin here. Last year, the world lost a giant of diplomacy. George Shultz, former US Secretary of State under President Reagan, died at 100. He held four cabinet-level positions throughout the course of his career and was known in the diplomatic world as a master strategist. Perhaps most notably, Schultz played a role in the peaceful end to the Cold War, alongside high stakes Middle East negotiations.
A WSJ Op-Ed outlined some of his characteristics:
Shultz’s successors would do well to remember three aspects of his diplomacy. First, he knew that diplomacy requires strategy, setting goals and working toward them over time. “Confronting tremendous problems” on coming into office, Shultz wrote, “the economist in me asked, ‘Where are we trying to go, and what kind of strategy should we employ to get there?’ recognizing that results would often be a long time in coming.’ ”
Second, he understood that strategy requires reflection. That means confronting what Shultz’s friend and colleague Paul Nitze, called the “tension between opposites”—between reflection and action. The flood of decisions demanding the secretary’s attention leave little time to think about the big picture. Accordingly, Shultz created his “Saturday seminars,” to which he would invite a diverse group of experts to explore with him for several hours key aspects of important issues.
Why is this interesting?
It would be totally fine to remember Shultz based on an incredible diplomatic career. But one of his lesser-known habits is also worthy of dissection. Being a strategist at that level requires focus and reflection. To get the intellectual breathing room he needed to think and make decisions, Schultz used what is now coined, a Schultz hour. And only his wife or the President himself were allowed to disturb him.
The Times explained:
When George Shultz was secretary of state in the 1980s, he liked to carve out one hour each week for quiet reflection. He sat down in his office with a pad of paper and pen, closed the door, and told his secretary to interrupt him only if one of two people called:
“My wife or the president,” Shultz recalled.
Shultz, who [was then] 96, told me that his hour of solitude was the only way he could find time to think about the strategic aspects of his job. Otherwise, he would be constantly pulled into moment-to-moment tactical issues, never able to focus on larger questions of the national interest. And the only way to do great work, in any field, is to find time to consider the larger questions.
You don’t have to be a grand geopolitical strategist to require this time. Amidst the flurry of notifications, calendar invites, and Zoom calls, everyone could stand to learn from these moments to step back and allow for time to do deeper and uninterrupted thinking. And if you build it into your daily practice, it is a subtle yet pleasant tribute to an important figure in American history. (CJN)
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Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
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