Many operate from a belief that organizations, and lives, can be made successful through well-planned strategies and goals, supported by tightly-scheduled to-do lists. I have always questioned this belief system, and have never lived my life this way, Perhaps I am just looking to justify my obstinacy, however, a new book, Antifragile by Nassim Nicolas Taleb, has added fuel to the fire that burns within.
Note: The following is being published this week in the March issue of Batavia Business, the monthly publication of the Batavia Chamber of Commerce.
When I began these words, I would have thought that being human and being inhuman were opposites and mutually exclusive. But now I wonder.
The spectrum of words that define “inhuman” range widely. At the brutal end are words like barbarism. At the softer end, even “lacking kindness, pity, or compassion” are invited to this party.
Steve Jobs, was a creative genius, and he could ignite fire in those around him. And yet, his ability to frighten, intimidate and reduce others to tears is legendary.
Was this brutal side an integral part of his success? If someone had found a way to polish Jobs’ rough edges—soften his abrupt, angry, impatient manner—might Apple have succumbed to one of its near-death incidents? After Lisa (a commercial failure in the 1980s), might Macintosh have remained only a variety of apple you eat. Might iPod, iPhone and iPad never have seen the light of iDay?
Was Jobs’ willingness to reduce others to rubble what ensured the innovations that made it to his office were more refined, more dramatic and more creative than they would have been if he treated product developers and researchers with kindness, pity and compassion? Did those invited to his office, knowing their careers could be made or broken by Jobs’ quixotic reaction, work harder, refine further, create more before daring to walk under the transom to his office?
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics were organized under the attentive, uncompromising, often critical eye of Peter Ueberroth. Those Games were to become the first privately financed Games and resulted in a of $250 million surplus that supported youth and sports activities across the United States. Compare that to the Montreal Games eight years earlier, which left that city burdened with debt for 30 years. For reimagining the financial foundation of the Games, and perhaps rescuing them from ruin, Ueberroth was awarded the Olympic Movement’s highest honor: the Olympic Order in gold. He was named Time magazine’s Man of the Year in 1984.
I once had the great joy of spending time with Dee Hock, founder and CEO Emeritus of Visa International, considered to be one of the greatest businesspersons of the 20th century. Similar to Steve, Dee was a visionary and innovator. Visa—or BankAmericard when first formed—saved the credit card industry from turmoil and eventual ruin with Dee’s radical view of the electronic transfer of bits and bytes that represented money. If you read Dee’s book Birth of the Chaordic Age (sadly renamed and reissued as One from Many) he too was very hard on those around him during his career, Like Jobs and Ueberroth, Dee had a vision that was so clear, so inviolate that compromise was simply not possible. When I asked him why, he looked at me and said, “I had a sense that if I didn’t take a stand, something in me would die.”
I hold each of these leaders in the highest esteem. Each opened doors to innovation that might have remained closed for many years without them. And yet, each let some edges of inhumanity slip into their lives. Or perhaps, our definitions of inhuman simply do not allow us to be fully human.
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World by Margaret J. Wheatley.
Note: This post will be published as my article, Beginnings, in the May/June Issue of Neighbors of Batavia magazine. It is printed here with permission.
“Don’t confuse connection—feeling a part of something larger than yourself, feeling close to another person or group, feeling welcomed and understood—with contacts.”
Edward Hallowell in Connect
Many years ago, when I had the opportunity to interview her, Kathie Dannemiller, an icon in the field of Organizational Development, uttered a phrase I will never forget: “I don’t want my life to be a throw away line.” She was nearing the end of her formal career and having difficulty discerning if her life meant anything. She passed away several years later and I’m sure the question remained for her.
Kathie Dannemiller changed our fundamental understanding of organizations, and touched the lives of tens of thousands of people who work in them. In the process, she captured the hearts of hundreds of us and changed what we knew of ourselves. If it is difficult for Kathie to find the meaning of her life, how much more difficult must it be for the rest of us. Perhaps I am the only other person besides Kathie who wonders whether the time I spend on this planet will have added to its magnificence or detracted from it. I know I have done many things on both sides of that ledger of life.
When Edward Hallowell points to the difference between contact and connection, he is also pointing us towards ways to find the meaning of our lives. Even though I was interviewing Kathie, she had a marvelous way of making me feel welcome and understood. But the welcoming and understanding came when you were in her presence. You had to sit with her, look her in the eyes, and have her look back into yours. It was in those times of deep connection, not contact, that she could tell you what she saw in you that emanated from deep inside.
Much of the world is now delivered to us in bits and bytes splashed across screens attached to our computers and cell phones. It is the world of the Internet, texting, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, flikr, LinkedIn, Plaxo and so many other “platforms” through which we are told we can now connect with the world. We live in an era in which we can trade missives with hundreds…thousands…or perhaps even millions of people by pressing a few keys on our electronic weaponry. And when I do, not one of those people is able to stare into my eyes and tell me what they see in me that I am incapable of self-witnessing.
Don’t misunderstand; these electronic bully pulpits enable me to correspond with people with whom I might otherwise lose touch. A high school classmate I had not heard from in over 35 years, I now discover is editor of a newspaper in New England. He makes an annual mission trip to care for an African village immeasurably less fortunate than the one he now calls home. Judi and I made a small donation to help purchase mosquito netting to protect the children of that village. What a gift to affirm and acknowledge the work of someone I was close to so many years ago. But how much more could I learn—about him, about myself and about the world—if we could sit together over several cups of coffee eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart?
If any generation should have benefited from this new world, it would be those for whom it is second nature…the first generation to have known no other. Yet, when a large group of high school students was recently asked if they had ever considered suicide, I was stunned to see the number who had.
I wonder in this new world—a world in which we are challenged to condense our wisdom into 140 character “tweets”—if we are overwhelmed by the number of people we can contact, but underwhelmed and saddened by our loss of connection.