Saturday, February 21, 2009

Don't speed up--slow down

I spent a day in Boulder with Jim Collins talking about his new book--he'd finished it the day before I got there--on How the Mighty Fall. We spent 4 hours in front of a video camera and at one point Jim talked about a rule of thumb he'd heard from a man who'd gone to fight 9 tours in Vietnam. When Jim asked him what he'd learned from his tours of duty that could be important and useful for his career, the man said, "Don't put your gun on automatic." In other words, when things look the worst, when the enemy is all around you, when it's easy to lose your head and start firing indiscriminately, don't speed up--slow down. Take a few breaths and make every shot count. New rule of thumb: "Don't put your gun on automatic."
If you just let yourself listen, really listen, there are rules of thumb in almost every conversation. Wednesday I flew from San Francisco to Denver for a meeting in Boulder with Jim Collins. At the airport in Denver I got picked up by a young man from Africa who took me on the 45 minute drive to Boulder. On the way over, we talked about the difference between his country and what he's found in his two years in America. "In my country," he told me, "we have a saying. If you are hungry on the inside, you should never show it on the outside. If people are hungry, they work. They might borrow money, but they never beg. It is a disgrace to beg, a disgrace to your family, to your parents, to yourself." He wanted to know why, in America, poor people are allowed to die if they can't afford to pay for medical care. That would never happen in his country. "In my country if someone in a family is sick or is crippled, the rest of the family must care for them. That's what it means to have a family." He had a wonderful accent, and a very thoughtful, kind, and honest demeanor. It was easy to listen to him talk--and as he talked I found myself listening even more intently. Our little space in the car was alive with his voice and his philosophy. He was talking from his own experience, and what he was saying had the distinct ring of truth, the ring of rules of thumb having been lived in another culture and another country.

All Rights Reserved 2009 (c) Alan Webber, Rules Of Thumb