Stand Back

Did you ever notice that when you disengage from your “normal” business activities, you realize that the state of affairs that you’ve grown used to isn’t always the best way to do things?  I usually assume that “if it isn’t broken, then don’t fix it,” so how can I tell the difference between the illusion and the reality lurking in the background?  Stand back.

To be more objective and realize that something isn’t reasonable or sustainable my suggestions are to:

1) Approach the issue with a beginner’s mind–being objective, not invested

2) Go on vacation to clear your mind of its preconceptions


3) Stand back and not drink the company Kool-Aid–being a cheerleader isn’t always the best way to approach a situation

There are probably more ways to step back and see things as our customers see them–without the hype and without the emotion and hope that we bring to our own activities.  Any of us in the business world need to do this “attitude cleanse” once in a while so that we make objective decisions and aren’t lured by the glitter and glamour of our own preconceived ideas.

This was brought home to me on my recent vacation in Turkmenistan.  I expected a country that was struggling to get it’s balance post-Soviet Union, investing in some infrastructure and putting social programs in place.  What I didn’t expect was its capital, Ashkhabad, to be a cross between Las Vegas and Disneyland.  Every skyscraper downtown was the same size and shape, all faced with white Italian marble.  Fountains poured into canals that ran for blocks.  Every few minutes we passed a memorial with a statue or reference to the former president, gilded in gold leaf. 

At first, it seemed like entering the Emerald City in the “Wizard of Oz.”  While spectacular, the feeling soon became one of “this doesn’t make sense.”  How could a country rebuild it’s core area so quickly and so majestically in the 19 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union?  How could a country that’s 80% desert have unlimited fountains, supplied by the world’s longest irrigation canal (which is contributing to the draining of the Aral Sea–considered by some to be the world’s largest ecological disaster)?  Why does a country known for its bazaar where camels are bartered on Sundays, also have gold-plated statues too numerous to count?  How could the populous of the capital be given free gas, water and electricity but where the water quality is so poor that even locals drink bottled water?

It was easy to point out the anomolies and non-sustainability in Ashkhabat.  But when I thought about it, Las Vegas has some of the same issues: imported water, unlimited fountains and swimming pools evaporating in the desert air, massive and glamorous architecture imported from other parts of the world, high rollers from out-of-town alongside the highest state unemployment rate in the country.  It’s become so integral to the fabric of our culture to “go to Vegas” for vacation, trade shows and bachelor parties that we don’t even realize how unsustainable our “Glitter Gulch” really is.

Vegas is just one example that paralleled another country’s unsustainable, yet celebrated city.  What illusions have you broken by standing back and seeing things in a new light?

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