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Quotes of the day: Hyman G. Rickover

Published Monday, January 26, 2015 @ 6:53 PM EST
Jan 26 2015

Hyman George Rickover (January 27, 1900 - July 8, 1986) was a United States Navy admiral who directed the original development of naval nuclear propulsion and controlled its operations for three decades as director of Naval Reactors. In addition, he oversaw the development of the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, the world's first commercial pressurized water reactor used for generating electricity. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


Above all, we should bear in mind that our liberty is not an end in itself; it is a means to win respect for human dignity for all classes of our society.

Administration is, or ought to be, a necessary overhead to aid production, and should at all times be kept as low as possible.

Any one detail, followed through to its source, will usually reveal the general state of readiness of the whole organization.

Attempts to limit war have always failed. The lesson of history is when a war starts every nation will ultimately use whatever weapon it has available.

Be technically self-sufficient.

Develop the capacity to learn from experience.

Do not regard loyalty as a personal matter. A greater loyalty is one to the Navy or to the Country. When you know you are absolutely right, and when you are unable to do anything about it, complete military subordination to rules becomes a form of cowardice.

Everything new endangers something old. A new machine replaces human hands; a new source of power threatens old businesses; a new trade route wipes out the supremacy of old ports and brings prosperity to new ones. This is the price that must be paid for progress and it is worth it.

Face facts.

Free discussion requires an atmosphere unembarrassed by any suggestion of authority or even respect. If a subordinate always agrees with his superior he is a useless part of the organization.

Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must be driven into practice with courageous patience.

Human experience shows that people, not organizations or management systems, get things done.

I believe it is the duty of each of us to act as if the fate of the world depended on him. Admittedly, one man by himself cannot do the job. However, one man can make a difference...

If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.

If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy. God will forgive you but the bureaucracy won't.

In greek mythology, Antaeus was a giant who was strong as long as he had contact with the earth. When he was lifted from the earth he lost strength. So it is with engineers. They must not become isolated from the real world...

It is a human inclination to hope things will work out, despite evidence or doubt to the contrary. A successful manager must resist this temptation.

It is a human inclination to hope things will work out, despite evidence or doubt to the contrary. A successful manager must resist this temptation...

It is incumbent on those in high places to make wise decisions and it is reasonable and important that the public be correctly informed.

It is said that a wise man who stands firm is a statesman, and a foolish man who stands firm is a catastrophe.

Nature is not as forgiving as Christ.

Nothing so sharpens the thought process as writing down one's arguments. Weaknesses overlooked in oral discussion become painfully obvious on the written page.

One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints as well as for their own. Open discussions and disagreements must be encouraged, so that all sides of an issue are fully explored.

Optimism and stupidity are nearly synonymous.

Require rising standards of adequacy.

Respect even small amounts of radiation.

Responsibility is a unique concept... You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished.

Rules are the lowest common denominator of human behavior. They are a substitute for rational thought.

Sit down before fact with an open mind. Be prepared to give up every preconceived notion. Follow humbly wherever and to whatever abyss Nature leads or you learn nothing. Don't push out figures when facts are going in the opposite direction.

Success teaches us nothing; only failure teaches.

The Devil is in the details, but so is salvation.

The man in charge must concern himself with details. If he does not consider them important, neither will his subordinates.

The tools of the academic designer are a piece of paper and a pencil with an eraser. If a mistake is made, it can always be erased and changed. If the practical-reactor designer errs, he wears the mistake around his neck; it cannot be erased. Everyone sees it.

To doubt one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man. Don't defend past actions; what is right today may be wrong tomorrow. Don't be consistent; consistency is the refuge of fools.


(January 27 is also the birthday of Lewis Carroll and Samuel Gompers.)

Categories: Hyman G. Rickover, Quotes of the day


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