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February 20th, 2009
01:57 PM ET

Humpty Dumpty’s rebound strategy

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande
Professor of Economics, Dean, School of Business & Technology, Webster University

As a child growing up, I was raised and nurtured with nursery rhymes, some made up by my parents, others borrowed from a long list of universal rhymes.

One has stayed with me all my life: It is a story of risk, failure and perseverance, the story of Humpty Dumpty, the anthropomorphic egg who tried to defy the odds and met with interesting results.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty Dumpty together again.

The key word is the very last one: 'again.' It implies that this wasn't the first fall for Humpty; he was a serial risk taker. In my eyes, he was bold, fearless, unrelenting and entrepreneurial.

Humpty obviously believed in setting stretch goals and was very familiar with the reality called failure. But, this egg refused to allow failure to define him. Failure for Humpty was just real-time feedback, an opportunity to regroup, reassess and try again until success was eventually achieved.

That attitude is a most valuable skill in today's challenging climate.

The wall is a simple metaphor for the singular act of overcoming adversity. Climbing the wall is a simple metaphor for moving beyond where you are, overcoming adversity, challenging conventional wisdom, pursuing goals that are not easily achievable and refusing to give up in that pursuit.

There are many people the world over who now find themselves faced with the greatest challenge of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, life savings and are gradually losing confidence. They are down because they have fallen.

As we contemplate the severity and hopelessness of the present and seek to overcome the uncertainty of the future, I believe it's helpful to invoke the story of Humpty, a journey of endurance and the willingness to keep trying.

The lesson behind a childish rhyme speaks of the courage to seek challenges, to gratefully accept help when needed and to persevere when there is no apparent reason to do so. It's also a reminder that even when you do everything right - remain loyal to your employer, invest your money in a 'foolproof' fund, pursue the American Dream - you may fall and fall again. Remember, when we fall we should strive to get back up and not allow setbacks to define who we are.

None of us is perfect. At times, we make faulty judgments. Perhaps we overreach as we try to make life better for our families. Sometimes, we act based on fear versus hope. At other times, our overconfidence leads the way when it should be tempered. Occasionally, our desire to keep pace with our peers leads us down a slippery slope.

All of these imperfections speak to the story of Humpty and the resolve to scale the wall of obstacles. There is a little Humpty Dumpty in all of us. We have fallen, yes. We have been broken, certainly. But somewhere deep inside - behind the doom, beyond the gloom - we still have our eye on that wall and are ready to successfully climb it, cracks and all, as insurmountable as it may seem.

What particularly impresses me is Humpty's support group: his friends, all the king's horses and all the king's men. They provided the ultimate safety net. We have all climbed that wall and have fallen many times, but if it weren't for our 'king's horses and men,' getting back up would have been impossible. They gave us the endurance to keep on keeping on. These are the kind of friends we all need, especially these days.

As we grapple with these difficult financial times, may our journey be blessed with good friends and may we learn as much from our falls as we do from our ascents.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. Larry L.

    Barney Frank sat on a wall. Barney Frank had a great fall. All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put the U.S. economy together again.

    Let me ask you something,if you get into financial trouble with using a charge card for what ever reason……….do you get another charge card and try to buy your way out of debt on the new card ??? Please ,explain to the Democrats ,this is not going to work.Some how they just don't get it.

    February 20, 2009 at 11:31 pm |
  2. Wardell katrina Survivor

    In this country, we try to avoid panic, all the king Georges men couldn't put it back together again, thus present day calamity, bloomberg said billion, it's trillions, so many so that noboby wants to really try to count them all.Whats being done now is slow and careful steps to creat something different, it can't be put back together again,it was flawed,I don't think the same people should be allowed to stay at the top, but massive forced removal would give some satisfaction, but cause panic, panic, look at the DOW, even the smartess of the smart don't have an answer for this MESS. The last eight years, was over seen by someone who supposedly ' COOKED THE BOOKS" now the books have to be opened. and the worst thing possible is already being seen.You can't put it back together, something new has to come about, and that can't happen over night, week, year ?? YEARS, God, help US, They chose GREED over GREATNESS.

    February 20, 2009 at 11:19 pm |
  3. betrayed taxpayer

    This mess was not caused by housing. Twenty some years ago jobs started going over seas. The goverment started cutting interest rates to stimulate the economy and construction. Jobs continued to go over seas and the goverment contintued to cut interest rates and building continued to boom, but not everyone can work in building forever.All good things come to an end. Now there are no factory jobs and we cannot begin to compete with people who make 20 cents an hour and preserve our standard of living at the same time. When you take our technology overseas in pursuit of cheap labor you have betrayed us!!!

    February 20, 2009 at 11:07 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    I can truthfully say I have never thought of Humpty as a metaphor for the economy or our reaction to it. While your metaphor is creative I think you are stretching it a bit....if you carry this metaphorical comparison to its logical end then we are hosed – Humpty couldn't be put together again – so perhaps our economy cannot be either? I hope that is not the case.

    February 20, 2009 at 4:53 pm |
  5. Jim,California

    Professor- I've leaneed economics through the school of hard knocks
    – if you find your self in a financial hole the first rule to survive is simple- STOP DIGGING. second rule- lighten your load-if that means one meal a day to keep a roof over your head you take the money you would use for the other 2 meals & pay your NEEDs ahead when things like Cofee are on sale for $5.00 a can you get 6 cans which for me would last 6 months.
    pay the bills you can ahead water- power,storage, garbage, auto insurance.then work on paying off debts. I'm 46 & have survived quite well with NO Credit cards & NOT DEALING with Banks. In your analogy- in other words keep Humpty out of places that he does not belong in the first place & He won't get scrambled when trouble comes.I've been unemployed for the last 2 years, NO HELP from the government yet I legally have a roof over my head, food in my stomach & clothes on my back.

    February 20, 2009 at 4:11 pm |
  6. Joe G. (From Illinois)

    “When does someone seek a challenge in life?” Is a 64,000 Dollar question not worthwhile asking.. Dr.!!!

    February 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm |
  7. Paul from Illinois

    I think Mr. Obama and Mr. Geitner should read an article published in Time on February 13th. It has some merit to it, and it would clearly stimulate the economy, unlike the financial reform plans currently being crafted while we all watch and wait. The author proposes an across the board decrease in 30% of the principal outstanding on all residential mortgages in the United States. This is a simpler solution than any previously proposed, and it has a greater degree of equity to it. This would clearly provide immediate stimulus to the economy, and we should consider a 50/50 cost sharing arrangement between financial institutions and the federal government for this once in a lifetime huge loan modification. If we get this done, our economy may actually kick-start back into action. Otherwise, we have doomsayers like Chris Dodd proposing the nationalization of banks, and sending the markets into further turmoil. What ever happened to the concept of "do no harm," Senator???

    February 20, 2009 at 3:17 pm |
  8. John Malojojo

    It is very unfortunate that many citizens of the United States are in dire need for money and must now prioritize their spending. It is also sad that many businesses are laying off employess and closing their doors and leaving many U.S. citizens without a job to support their family. What really annoys me is that while millions of U.S. citizens are being laid off from thier work, the United States continues to allow foreigners to obtain work visias to work in the United States while our U.S. citizens are laid off and are seeking employment. Wouldn't it make more sense to stop hiring foreigners from overseas and hire our U.S. citizens to work? It sounds to easy, but when you (BILL GATES & Microsoft) have got Congress on your payroll and you are the richest man in the United States, Congress will not allow it. Microsoft has released thousands of U.S. workers in favor of hiring foreigners who are much cheaper so that Microsoft has a bigger profit to put in Bill's pocket. Microsoft contends that there are not enough workers in the U.S. who are elgible or trained to work for him and that he must go overseas to find workers for his company which in actualality, Bill would rather hire cheap labor instead of paying U.S. ciitizens top dollar that they deserve. These foreign workers will work for anything because in their country, they get paid pennies compared to what Microsoft offers them. But in comparison, Bill is paying them pennies too instead of paying our home grown workers top dollars. The United States and the state department needs to stop issuing out work visas for all companies in the United States, send all foreign workers back to their countries, and mandate that all of these companies employ our U.S. citizens who can do the same work but for the correct wages (not pennies Bill) so that our unemployment rate will start to decrease and our citizens will be able to support their families and pay their bills on time. Thank you.

    February 20, 2009 at 3:07 pm |
  9. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    I just read something extremely troubling concerning our new Secretary of State. It seems like the COMMUNIST Chinese are even manipulating President Obama’s foreign policy agenda. Seems like these COMMUNIST ENSLAVERS of Human Beings and Human rights are being given yet antoher Frees Pass to do whatever the hell they want simply because our wonderful American ‘Patriotic’ GREED mongering corporations have made us so economically beholden to them. In reality the COMMUNIST Chinese don't have to fire one single shot to bring down Capitalism. All they have to do is call in their loans of our own offshored money, industry and jobs. I say lets just plain out cancel any ‘debt’ we have with them and just start making things right here once again. This regardless of what Ali Velshi and other ‘useful IDIOT’ American economists may view as a nation of cute little china dolls and benign manufacturers is ACTUALLY an overt EMENY of DEMOCRACY and has openly avowed the destruction of the United States of America and everything our CONSTITUTION stands for !

    IF the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton continue on this course of ANTI-AMERICAN COMMUNIST APPEASEMENT purely for the benfit of the Fat Cat American Corporate Money Changers I might just find myself swinging back the other way on the Political Pendulum come next election.

    February 20, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  10. Gene Penszynski from Vermont

    I just read something extremely troubling concerning our new Secretary of State. it seems like the COMMUNIST Chinese are even manipulating President Obama's foreign policy agenda. Seems like these COMMUNIST ENSLAVERS of Human Beings and Human rights are being given yet antoher Fress Pass to do whatever the hell they want simply because our wonderful American 'Patriotic' GREED mongering corporation have made us so economically beholden to them. In relait the COMMUNIST Chinese don;t have to fire one single shot to bring down Capitalism. All they have to do is call in their loans of our own offshored money industry and jobs. I say lets just plain out cancel any 'debt' we have with them and just start making things right here once again. This regardless of what Ali Velshi and other 'useful IDIOT' American economists may view as a nation a cute little china dolls and benign manufacturers is ACTUALLY an overt EMENY of DEMOCRACY and has openly avowed the destruction of the United States of America and everything our CONSTITUTION stands for !

    IF the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton continue on this course of ANTI-AMERICAN COMMUNIST APPEASEMENT purely for the benfit of the Fat Cat Money Changers I might just find myself swinging back the other way on the Political Pendulum come next election.

    February 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm |
  11. Philip

    Moral Hazards: Wall Street Versus Main Street

    The Moral Hazard of bailing out corrupt and incompetent bankers by the FED and Treasury with what Bloomberg has determined is over $8,500 Billion is ruining America and Americans.

    It is appalling that Wall Street Traders with Santelli as their voice has a problem with helping young families and others to the tune of $75 Billion.

    That is 113 to 1 in favor of Wall Street's incompetence, corruption, greed, and scheming.

    As a Retired person I have lost 60% of my University retirement due to WS Greed and my son with four young girls has already lost his home. It is an OUTRAGE that people with so much baggage would criticize helping Americans.

    They argue that Wall Street types are more productive. Every Americans either wants to work or does work and is productive. Wall Street is counterproductive by driving down America with its Toxic Paper and its illegal naked shorting, its excessive 100 to 1 leveraging.

    All Americans should be outraged and protesting in the Streets at Wall Street, but instead in this backward American System Wall Street is protesting against Americans!

    This is UPSIDE DOWN and NONSENSE!

    February 20, 2009 at 2:37 pm |
  12. JC- Los Angeles

    While the resilience of Humpty Dumpty might provide some with reason to persevere, the spolied rotten children of Willy Wonka are most representative of the failed leadership that has caused so much pain.

    With each egregious Greenspan rate cut, the glutonous consumption, instant gratification, morally bankrupt , reprehensible leaders of America feasted on fraud, corruption and no accountability.

    It was as if all Americans drank from the chocolate river, bought geese upon geese in hopes of landing a golden egg, installed countless flat screen TVs and gourged themselves on cheap cash.

    While Augustus Gloop, Violet Beauregarde, Mike TV and Veruca Salt showed us what rotten looked like, our modern day leaders, executives and politicians have carried on their legacy with aplomb.

    February 20, 2009 at 2:34 pm |
  13. EvereadyFreddy

    The Key word IS NOT again. The only significance of the word is that it rhymes with King's men. Your logic is as flawed as your metaphors.

    February 20, 2009 at 2:31 pm |
  14. Invest? Are you crazy?

    Even if I had any money to invest, I would be nuts to do so. First, the bank big shots are skimming billions; the Madoff types are ripping off investers like mad; the SEC knows nothing & doing less. Bookkeeping 101 would indicate non-profitable business = no bonus.

    February 20, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  15. emma schlossheidelberg

    Flawed: the 'again' refers to the state of 'togetherness' Humpty was unable to be returned to. The only inference you can draw is that he had it together on the wall. At no point post-fall are the men able to get him together AGAIN. You read real good.

    February 20, 2009 at 2:22 pm |
  16. earle,florida

    Years ago I read somewhere that ,"Great Depression's" happen like clockwork,and in America's case somewhere between every 80- 100 years. What's funny about the article I read was their were no nay-sayers? Now let's look at the remedies for fixing our countries current financial dilemma. There are a myriad of solutions,but I'll keep it simple, focusing only on,"Two"of these successful fixes that have garnered my respect. Citi-Group,and Bank of America should be Nationalized [(option #1 of closure, and liquidation aren't realistic)(option#2 merging with a healthy bank is beyond the pale)(option#3 Nationalization is the only viable short,and long term fix)] over the week-end (the sooner the better), period! Now, the second part of this "Banking System Restructuring" would be implementing,and establishing ,(ie,"The Bad Bank") the "Resolution Trust (RTC) Corporation" to facilitate/manage the onslaught of defaulting Collateralized (CDO's) Debt Obligations,written on the Credit Default (CDS's) Swaps to hold these toxic dirivatives assets from imploding/exploding ,and spreading to solvent financial institutions. RTC could aggregate this intangible debt regarding (BAC & Citi were the market-makers for these CDO's and AIG was responsible for underwriting the CDS's) it's mark-to-market intrinsic value stablizing temporarily these very,very toxic exotic instruments! We must be held responsible for trying to get our arms around these CDO's,and CDS's, which is paramount in fixing our financial crises! JMHO

    February 20, 2009 at 2:15 pm |
  17. JAN

    You could not be referring to President Obama as humpty dumpty. You must be referring to one of your relatives, because as you mentioned humpty dumpty is a part of you.
    NOW WE MUST DEAL WITH POSITIVE RACISM? What is sadi and how it is said is ones reponsibility.

    February 20, 2009 at 2:11 pm |
  18. Cindy

    Well unlike Humpty we can't afford a failure in this stimulus package made by Obama and his crew. Failure will mean our economy will fold and so will we! It's good to take risks when you can afford to but right now we can not!

    Cindy..Ga.

    February 20, 2009 at 2:06 pm |
  19. Barbara Murray

    I don't think this was a good metaphor for the conditions of the people because after all, Humpty Dumpty was at such a fragile state (an egg) the kings horses and kings men (his support group) was not able to put Humpty Dumpty together again. I truley believe that Americans are not at the fragile state that Humpty Dumpty was in and when we fall we will be able to get up dust ourselves off and thru our support whoever and whatever it is we will be able to be put back together again.

    February 20, 2009 at 1:59 pm |
  20. Luis

    Oh My Good Lord. The Market are crashing and the media has yet to put to rest the idea of nationalization fears. would the media shut up.

    February 20, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  21. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Professor--it is not how far we fall--but rather how high we bounce.

    February 20, 2009 at 1:17 pm |