Nietzsche1875Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was born on this date in 1844. A favorite target of Christians because of his statement “God is Dead” (which is usually followed with “Nietzsche is dead – God”),

Nietzsche actually performed a valuable service for all believers in God by challenging his/her/their existence and his influence remains substantial.

Wikipedia calls it “his radical questioning of the value and objectivity of truth” – a phrase I particularly enjoy because it lays bare the fundamental assumptions that underpin our lives. In fact, have you ever considered how much you take for granted?

When I was in graduate school, there was a professor that decided to examine if there might be another formulation for describing electromagnetic fields other than Maxwell’s equations. “Maxwell’s equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits.” [Wikipedia] And when we say form the foundation, we mean that these four equations are considered gospel to physicists – you don’t question the gospel. At least that was the reaction to this professor’s attempt to find another formulation for explaining electromagnetic fields. His effort ultimately failed but the act was significant because it resulted in reinforcing the validity of Maxwell’s equations.

Not all such attempts end in failure. James Burke, in his book and TV series The Day the Universe Changed, describes multiple times that our fundamental assumptions have been challenge and proved to be wrong. The world isn’t flat; we don’t sail off the edge and get eaten by monsters; the universe doesn’t revolve around the earth; man can fly; and even set foot on the moon.

Nietzsche also can teach us valuable lessons if we are willing to listen and understand. Stephen R. Covey even listed “Seek first to understand, then be understood” as one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. For example, Nietzsche championed the power of the individual to strive beyond social, cultural, and moral contexts [Wicks, R. (Summer 2011) “Friedrich Nietzsche“. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.)., ] – think of those that have helped societies move beyond what had been the historical expectations to systems of greater freedom and prosperity – Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King.

Nietzsche also can teach us about what can happen when others gain control over your work. In 1897 he was under the care of his sister Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche until his death in 1900. She assumed the role of editor of his works and it was her works, reportedly being Nietasche’s, that resulted in Nietzsche being associated with anti-Semitism which Nietzsche strongly and explicitly opposed. But, like Marie Antoinette [Are You a Henry or a Marie?], history was written by others.

So, today we celebrate Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche’s birthday with a question: What are the fundamental assumptions of your business or life – are they true? How do you know?

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.