In ancient Greek mythology, Apollo, god of poetry and prophecy, falls in love with the beautiful Cassandra, daughter of the king and queen of Troy, whose tangle of red hair and alabaster skin is famed throughout the land. He woos her by giving her a rare and treasured gift—the ability to see the future—and, in response, she agrees to be his consort.
But when she later betrays him and breaks that vow, a furious Apollo curses her with a kiss, breathing words into her mouth that forever take away her powers of persuasion. From that day forward, she is doomed to scream into the wind: No one will believe the truths she speaks, and everyone judges her to be insane. Though Cassandra foresees the coming destruction of Troy—she warns that a Greek army will sneak into the city inside a huge wooden horse—she is unable to prevent the tragedy because no one heeds her warning. The story of Cassandra is traditionally taken as a parable about what happens when valid warnings are ignored. But for me, it raises different issues. Why, I always wonder, do we think of Cassandra as the one who’s cursed? The real curse, it seems to me, afflicts everyone else—all of those who are unable to perceive the truth she speaks. I spend a lot of time thinking about the limits of perception. In the management context, particularly, it behooves us to ask ourselves constantly: How much are we able to see? And how much is obscured from view? Is there a Cassandra out there we are failing to listen to? In other words, despite our best intentions, are we cursed, too?