14 Jan Musical mentoring and New Year's reflections have much in common
As I once heard Steve Jobs say, “Everything in life can be summed up in a Beatles or a Dylan song.” Indeed, whatever your soundtrack is download it now and pick a spot by the fireplace. It’s time for all of us to contemplate yet another year passed.
So what did you do this year that will go down in history? Tough questions for most of us who didn’t scale Everest or row across the Atlantic. Perhaps even for those who did.
Allow me a few minutes of reflection that might help shed some light on the question.
Years ago, a much more energetic and control-obsessed version of me asked the late Peter Drucker a question. We were having lunch and Peter was sharing with me the perils of getting old; the price of wisdom. It was a good time to share my own failings of youth. So I asked him, “Why is it that despite all of the work and writing I do to analyze, describe, and shape organizational behavior that I still find it so amazingly difficult to follow my own prescriptions?”
Peter looked at me with slight disdain and said, “You take yourself far too seriously, Tom. Don’t try so hard.”
Coming from the world’s worst workaholic, that was odd advice. But as I’ve aged, the words increasingly make more sense. Peter’s comments had nothing to do with how hard or how much we work, but instead were an observation on how much we convince ourselves that we truly have achieved.
It seems that most of us take not only ourselves but our achievements far too seriously. It’s not that we should be laughing when a crisis looms but rather that we should learn to let go, just little bit, of the notion that we have it all figured out.
If any theme is consistent throughout human history (or any one human’s history), it is this silly notion that WE have finally figured IT out. We like the arrogance of placing ourselves, our generation, our technology, our time, and place in history at the end of the story. History should teach us that we are always in the middle of the story, always stumbling over new chapters that make obsolete so much of what has already been written.
The newness of each trend, technology, and terror we face seems to infatuate us as the latest and greatest of its kind. If age bestows any lasting benefit, it is the realization that too often we dress old problems in new clothes and expect them to behave differently. As the parent of an eight year-old, let me assure you it doesn’t work that way.
We have a lot of work to do and so do our children.
• We find ourselves giddy over the use of the internet, yet by even the most optimistic measure less than 20 percent of the world’s population can use it.
• We talk about a flat world, yet three out of four people still don’t have personal access to phones. (See the Grameen Foundation’s `06 report).
• Two thirds of the world’s inhabitants form the base of the economic pyramid (BOP) with yearly incomes of less than $3000. (See the World Bank’s report).
What have you done?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m anything but a pessimist. I believe deeply that we are moving forward and that getting technology in the hands of everyone is a big part of that. I just worry that we will give ourselves too much credit and not enough motivation to keep moving forward.
As I contemplate 2007, I think of how far we have to go. It’s just too bad New Years’ reflections only come along once a year.
So, keep the John Lennon sound track playing: “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over, and a new one just begun.” Never stop asking, “and what have you done?”
Recent articles by Tom Koulopoulos
• Tom Koulopoulos: Painful technology: Can you hear me now?
• Leveling a top-heavy world, one laptop at a time
• Tom Koulopoulos: Innovative teams point the way to discovery
• Tom Koulopoulos: Flat world could make dotcom bubble look tame
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