The economic downturn scares me, and not for the reason you might think. My company, Highroad, has weathered the storm well and we’ve continued to seek new ways of building bridges between cultures. No, the recession scares me because of the hidden costs, the ones we don’t think about until one day we wake up and discover that what we’ve lost is not just tangible – it’s a matter of soul, a pillar of an organization’s survival. Let me explain.
Earlier today I stumbled upon a quote from my favorite author, archetypal psychologist Thomas Moore.
He said, “When we tell stories of the past, do we emphasize efficiency or charm? Do we ride the Orient Express because we know it will arrive on time? Do we visit Antarctica because the accommodations are so comfortable? Ultimately, what satisfies the soul is that which is captivating, spellbinding, or full of charm.”
That statement made me freeze, forget the dinner I had planned to get on the stove, and reach for the computer to write this entry. Now let me clarify something right away. I am a big fan of results when I work with an organization. One of my biggest work-related challenges is when I give a two-hour workshop for a conference, for example, and I may never get to know the impact of what I offered. Similarly I worked in software development for many years at my former job, and my left-brain was always looking for a way to make things more efficient for better results. After all, you can’t just do something for the sake of doing it. Whatever you do should have significance for the organization, and that significance should be measured.
Or should it?
Herein lies the dilemma, and the recession has only made this more sticky. Many of the world’s most successful companies built their market share on lean practices, return on investment, and creative cost cutting measures. While research, development, and innovation do occur in these environments, true creativity is still often constrained by the larger goal of keeping the company growing and viable. Since the economy turned sour, I believe this pendulum has swung even farther toward the side of efficiency and measurement. Because every penny counts, and every second is worth a certain number of pennies (or dollars), companies demand more justification for just about every step taken, and we can all understand why. These are scary times. In today’s climate, people often do the work of two or three team members and everyone has to make more out of less.
While I respect the need to measure mission-critical activities and achieve efficiency of thought and word, I also believe we need to be charmed.
No organization will survive without innovation, yet we often downplay the elements needed to encourage it such as people’s stories, a sense of adventure, color, and unreasonable dreams.
I believe that in the down economy and into recovery we must seek both charm and efficiency, and in greater force than ever before. Nowhere is this more important than when working across borders. We need leaders that can not only achieve results across countries but who are curious, open, and excited by what they can learn from other cultures. We need people to hold their own values dear while integrating meaningful parts of other value systems. We need daring stories of risk and of roots, of wild invention and calm diplomacy.
And I believe that while we do need efficiency, we may need charm even more. We do not necessarily need to fix what is broken from our down economy. We need to enchant it until it comes back to life.
Now more than ever we need to listen to our staff, ask them about their passions and what they most like to work on. We need to encourage our subordinates to take more risks and play to their strengths. We need to trust employees more and watch the clock less. We need to meet with team members one on one to talk about their concerns and listen to their stories. And we need to study the root causes of our successes, not just our failures. Once we do these things and the spark comes back to weary organizations, we can proudly put our Six Sigma belts back on. We just need to remember to keep igniting the spark of curiosity again and again. Our organization depends on it.
For my part I’m going to start a new type of blog entry that you will see from time to time called Blast from the Past – Travel Tales for the Not So Faint of Heart. In these entries you will hear of giant rats in Nepal, pregnant camels in India, bugs in my food in Thailand, and more stories from my early adventures. The purpose? To charm and delight, and to spur the adventurer within.
What stories, places, moments, and people have charmed you? Please use the comments section to tell us! Let’s start a charm epidemic. I promise it won’t hurt a bit.