Seeing What Others Do Not Part Three

Continuing each Monday another section from my 2001 book Hoover’s Vision: 


Finding the Strangeness in the Familiar

It’s hard to get far enough out of our familiar patterns to see what is truly odd in our everyday lives. Yet there are things that we would view as strange if we came from another planet. I’ve always thought that Martians would be amazed at the way we ritually gather in our dwellings, alone or in groups, every evening between seven and eleven, and gaze silently at little boxes of flickering light. Visitors from afar might think these boxes were altars to some deity.
What would someone from Mars think of the western sport of rodeo? We train the bull to throw the rider; we train the rider to stay on the bull. To quote a rodeo announcer on TV, “If you land on your feet, then things didn’t go well at all!” Meanwhile, the participant at greatest risk is the one dressed like a circus clown. If this doesn’t fit the definition of strange, I don’t know what does. But every region and country has sports that appear odd from the outside (check out curling — or golf).
Would Martian visitors find it odd that grain alcohol is legally available and acceptable throughout most of America, but that people who smoke marijuana are supposed to go to jail? Or that our government’s way of showing it is wrong to kill is — to kill? Or that many powerful leaders of business and government organizations tremble at the idea of appearing in public without a knotted piece of silk dangling from their necks?
No, I’m not saying we should all stop wearing ties. I think a beautiful Italian tie is one of life’s blessings. I will wear mine long after it is banned in Silicon Valley. What I am saying is this: it’s worth stepping outside our own world and looking at what might be odd from other points of view.

Learning from and Living with Paradoxes

 “The paradox is the source of the thinker’s passion.”—Soren Kierkegaard
If you can get to the point where half of you is asking, “Why?” and half of you is saying “Why not?” then you may achieve new insights. For example, in the 1960s you might have asked, “Why does it take me so long to get in and out of supermarkets?” But the next day, you might be in one of first 7-11 stores saying, “Why do people pay so much for these items when they could buy them for a lot less at the supermarket?” If you had put the two thoughts together, you might have answered your own questions.
Look at the paradoxes that you will find throughout this book if you read between the lines:
·        One of the most important things is understanding the future, being a visionary in some way large or small. But understanding the future first and foremost comes from looking at the past.
·        Understanding the world, the key changes going on around the globe, depends on understanding our own town and neighborhood. Putting our own culture in perspective requires looking outward at other cultures. The foreign is understood through the familiar, the familiar better understood through the foreign.
·        The best teachers are also scholars, always learning. Learning is enhanced through teaching and discussing what you know.
·        To succeed, you must be obsessed with observing others and serving them. You must go out of your way to see things as others see them, to put yourself in other people’s shoes. But you will not succeed unless you look deeply within yourself, at your own goals and desires, understanding and developing your own unique style and personality.
·        To understand the world, you must be continually “grazing,” eyes wide open and interested in everything. But to be successful you must be extremely focused, figuring out what things are most important to achieving your goals and putting your energy into them.
·        Successful enterprises are successful because they have a consistent essence, which they hold true to, through thick and thin. Successful enterprises adapt (change) on a daily basis to the shifting needs of their customers and to new technologies. Knowing what to change and what not to change are at the core of leadership.
Resolution of such conflicts is not what we seek. We don’t want to pick “either-or.” Remember that a string stretched taut is made stronger by the tension of being pulled from both ends. The interwoven nature of all these ideas will become clear throughout this book. It is above all else intended to be a challenge to your thinking, a springboard from which you can create you own success.