Stopping the Runaway Train in Triplicate
"After an Ohio State University convocation, the chairman ran out for an aspirin and the audience fell down laughing. The Story: A distinguished old judge was invited to speak, the decision was made without realizing that the judge was somewhat eccentric and growing senile, He plodded to the lecture and started reading his typescript in a high, cracked voice.
When he got to the bottom of Page One, he turned the page and continued reading. It soon became apparent that the judge was again reading Page One. And if that was not enough for the startled audience, the third page was Page One.
Everyone now realized that the materials in the judge's hands were in triplicates. In all, seventeen pages were read three times over by the absent-minded old gentleman before he got off the platform."
-- Paul Lee Tan
How embarrassing. How uncomfortable the audience must have felt. How they kept from laughing I'll never know. How could they sit through the entire lecture without doing something about the situation?
How often do we find ourselves in the same situation? We know that someone needs help, but we feel helpless and hesitant. Or we know that something is wrong, dreadfully wrong, and yet we keep quiet . . . waiting for the ordeal to be over.
We see the same thing in business. It's like the old children's story of The Emperor's New Clothes. Everyone knows there is a problem but they're afraid to speak. Someone knows that a new procedure has never worked for them, but they hold back. Fearing that they will be made the fool, they do nothing. But in today's business world we can't do that. Doing nothing could be ruinous.
We can't afford people who are afraid to speak up. We can't afford to have ideas not shared. If we don't bring up problems that we see, we can't wait for the runaway train in the market to destroy our company and our jobs. If one person with key information remains silent we are doomed.
Communication is the key to survival and change. And the key to that communication is trust. We need to know that our ideas will be listened to and be taken seriously. And we need to know that our comments, when given in good faith, will be free from retribution and rancor.
The emperor might not like being told he has no clothes, but it's certainly better to know that before strolling among the masses.
The judge at Ohio State might have been embarrassed about reading his papers in triplicate, but if someone had stopped him and helped him reshuffle his papers, the people who gathered to hear his wisdom might have learned something.