Many aspire to be great, few are great. It occurs to me that this applies at just about every level and all spheres of human life. Why is this the case?
What is missing the presence of which would make a difference in enabling more individuals-groups-organisations-nations to be great?
- Is it information? Do we lack adequate information?
- Is it a lack of frameworks, methods, tips and techniques? Do we need more-better frameworks-methods-tips-techniques?
- Is it perhaps lack of process? Do we need to inject more process into the human world, make it even more mechanistic than it is today.
- Is it a lack of metrics and management on the basis of these metrics? Do we need to come up with and put in place more-different-better metrics?
- Is it the lack of suitable tools? Do we need more-better-different tools?
- Is it strategy? Do we need more-different-better strategic frameworks and tools?
Consider the business world. Why is it that few organisations come up with great products like Apple does? Why is it that few companies get the online user experience and logistics right like Amazon does? Why is that few organisations call forth the best from their employees and deliver great customer service like John Lewis does? Why is it that few airlines excel in the ways that Virgin Atlantic and SouthWest do?
Or consider how it is that there has been so much talk and spend on Customer since 1999 when Siebel touted itself as the ‘fastest growing software company in history’, yet so few companies have got anywhere in cultivating meaningful relationships with their customer and/or really making much of an impact on the effectiveness of marketing, sales and service operations.
What answer did you come up with? Whatever it is that you came up with I ask you to put that aside for a moment and listen to the insight of Eliezer Sobel:
I finally figured out why I’m not enlightened. Over 30 years ago, when I had just made the proverbial first step on a “journey of a thousand miles” I heard the following well-known tale:
A man approaches a Zen Master and asks to be shown the path to enlightenment. The Master replies, “Okay, follow me,” stands up, and walks the man to a nearby river and into the water. Without warning, the Master forces the man’s head under the water and holds it there as he struggles violently for his life, until he is nearly dead. At last the Master pulls the man up, gasping for air, and says, “When you want to be enlightened as badly as you wanted to take your next breath just now, come back and see me.”
Again and again in the spiritual literature, and particularly in the fierce world of Zen, we come across stories that are similar………the message seems to be that enlightenment, or the realization of Truth, is not a casual affair for mere spiritual tourists, but only for the very rare individual willing to sacrifice any and everything, including his or her very life, in its pursuit.
It would mean putting enlightenment at the top of our To-Do list and priorities, ahead of career, family, comfort and security……..
Ram Dass, the well-known teacher and author of the canonic Be Here Now, once spoke of a picture he saw in the newspaper of an abused and battered infant wailing as it was taken out of the arms of its mother, reaching back desperately for its abuser. The message was clear: we are wired to choose the familiar and the comfortable at any cost.
What advice does Eliezer Sobel have for those of us – individuals and organisations – with the ambition or pretensions of greatness say in leadership, product design, customer experience, customer loyalty etc? Let’s listen once more:
Yet now, looking back, I’m wondering if I could have saved myself a lot of trouble had I simply answered the question implied by that story honestly: No. No I do not want to get enlightened more than life itself, more than I would crave my next breath in that situation.
If you have aspirations for greatness – for yourself, your team, your organisation, or your nation – then it occurs to me that it is well worth pondering Eliezer Sobel’s insight over this Christmas period.