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Thursday, March 15, 2012

The gift of positive thinking

There is a story of two shoe factory representatives, George and Jake, who had to do market research in a remote African village. Georges report was succinct: "There is no potential in this village. Nobody has shoes!" Jake's report was also succinct:" There is enormous potential in this village. Nobody has shoes! "This story shows how two people can look at the same situation and draw totally different conclusions. The world has an abundance of Georges and a shortage of Jakes. And this is where I would like to start my real point.

I believe you can provoke major changes by starting small: with one person at a time. The way I try to contribute to a positive change is through education and writing. I share my ideas with small and sometimes larger groups in hopes that at least some members of these groups will actually be touched. Some people are natural Jakes, so they need little encouragement to create positive change to work. Most, however, are Georges: they see a problem in every opportunity, and refuse to change the current situation regardless how much they suffer from it! It takes a lot of courage - and often work - to bring about positive change. Oftentimes, you will find yourself chastised if you even dare to suggest something different!

Yet, it all starts with changing yourself, because the best example is set by your own life, right? George Bernard Shaw, a famous Irish writer, once said: "The best reformers our world has ever known are those which commence themselves." There's a funny note about Gandhi that proofs this: a woman asked Gandhi to tell her son not to eat sweets anymore. Gandhi suggested the woman come back in two weeks. When she returned Gandhi said to her son: "Boy, you should not eat sweets. It is not healthy." The woman asked Gandhi why they had to wait two weeks to hear this and Gandhi said:" Because I was eating sweets myself two weeks ago!"

Now, to continue about change: if you are bold enough to try for a change you should be prepared to get vilified. Think of Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and many others now widely honored, but all of which were murdered. Today the ideologies of these history-transformers have many followers.

Unfortunately, the bulk of these followers make exactly the same mistake as the murderers of their role models: they refuse to hear about anything else! Why? Because the world has more Georges than Jakes! I notice it every day in my work. As a management professor, I am convinced that I teach the most important thing, because management is not just about our work: it pertains to our entire life! Yet, as in almost anything else, there is also apathy in management. Think of your own work: You probably have a supervisor (or are one yourself), and a department head, followed by a vice president and a CEO. This construct was built on a system that thrived over 100 years ago when people were mainly engaging in assembly-line work, which required constant supervision to ensure that everything happened as effectively as possible.

Today, we have machines to do the repetitive work, while human beings engage more in the intellectual tasks. The problems workers face today are quite different from those of a century ago: instead of recurring issues we now solve ambiguous problems. The logical result should be that the way we lead others should shift from controlling to motivating. However, applying this change takes courage, so I keep talking, writing, and acting, hoping to help awaken the Jakes, so they can say, "Nobody has shoes? What an opportunity! What an opportunity!"

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