Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pirandello: Where Are You Now That We Really Need You?

"Don't write the story, set the stage" read a recent tweet by @asliver. What a great metaphor for what we should be doing in executive education, in particular, and "leadership" in general!

In our new book, "The Idea Hunter, we speak about the power of metaphors to serve as a catalyst for the imagination, and @asilver's metaphor has resonated in my mind all morning: "don't write the story, set the stage." Nearly all of the professional situations that I find myself in, either as a professor in an executive education program, or as a consultant, are characterized by my knowing less -- about an industry, about an organization, about a technology, about a customer base, etc. -- than anyone else in the room; and it doesn't matter which room we're in! Furthermore, I need to start with the assumption that everyone in the room is smart; and my role has got to be to help them use that intelligence in a more effective fashion. How presumptuous to believe, then, that I can walk right in and write the story (or even tell the story)! This has got to be a shared affair and, incidentally, everyone else who really knows something has got to be a part of the writing crew.

All of which brings to mind Luigi Pirandello's great Six Characters in Search of an Author, as a "design" for what we're trying to do in executive education. Increasingly, executive education has got to be about setting the stage, and then inviting the "characters" up on the stage to co-create the story; rather than taking on the burden by myself, as the "least knowledgable" person on the room, to try to "write the story" for everyone else.

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