Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hitting the Reset Button

The story is told of a young Greek artist named Timanthes who studied under a respected tutor some 2,000 years ago. After several years the teacher’s efforts seemed to have paid off when Timanthes painted an exquisite work of art. Unfortunately, he became so enraptured with the painting that he spent days gazing at it.

One morning when he arrived to admire his work, he was shocked to find it blotted out with paint. Angry, Timanthes ran to his teacher, who admitted he had destroyed the painting. “I did it for your own good. That painting was retarding your progress. Start again and see if you can do better,” he told him. Timanthes took his teacher’s advice and produced Sacrifice of Iphigenia, which is regarded as one of the finest paintings of antiquity.

It’s been said that life is a continuous process of getting used to things we hadn’t expected. There is no denying that we are living in challenging times. As economic troubles continue and political tensions rise, some have suggested hitting the reset button and starting over to find a solution to the problems that abound.

Many speculate on just what the “new normal” is and how it will change our way of thinking. From the story of Timanthes we can glean a few ideas for today’s leader.

You can’t live in the past so reset your priorities. Timanthes spent days admiring his work to the point where it ultimately became a distraction. The economic downturn and recession has taken an unprecedented toll on many fronts. The far-reaching effects have dramatically altered not only the way in which corporations operate but household as well. What we did in the past and what we took for granted has changed how we look at things today.

Harry Truman once said, “Men who live in the past remind me of a toy I am sure all of you have seen. The toy is a small wooden bird called the “Floogie Bird.” Around the Floogie Bird’s neck is a label reading, “I fly backwards, I don’t care where I am going. I just want to see where I’ve been.” Flying backwards is not an option for moving forward in today’s economy. Priorities today must be honest, realistic, transparent, and flexible.

You have to embrace challenges so reset your attitude. Timanthes was upset when he discovered that his work was blotted out with paint. Faced with the challenge his tutor presented him, he turned his disappointment into a masterpiece.

Many today find themselves profoundly troubled by the circumstances they find themselves in. Layoffs abound, 401K’s have diminished, and uncertainty looms large for many. Yet in the face of this conflict great opportunity is in the making.

The noted English architect Sir Christopher Wren was supervising the construction of a magnificent cathedral in London. A journalist thought it would be interesting to interview some of the workers, so he chose three and asked them this question, "What are you doing?" The first replied, "I'm cutting stone for 10 shillings a day." The next answered, "I'm putting in 10 hours a day on this job." But the third said, "I'm helping Sir Christopher Wren construct one of London's greatest cathedrals."

While turning the corner for many seems a long way off, the first step begins with a change of heart; a change in attitude. Resilient leaders embrace challenges and overcome.

You have a fresh slate so reset your vision. Timanthes embraced the challenge from his tutor and painted his finest work. He reset his priorities by not living in the past. He reset his attitude by overcoming great disappointment to paint at a new level of perfection he had not previously known.

T.E. Lawrence once said, "All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to the day to find it was all vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for the many act out their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible..."

We may not have chosen the challenges that we face today, and while many are hard pressed to find anything good in it; a clean slate is in our hands. The opportunity of today is to be what Lawrence described as “dangerous men” dreaming with open eyes to create something they never would have imagined in better times.

If you find yourself living in the past, with a bad attitude, take heart. You can turn your crisis into an opportunity and begin with a clean slate. With a clean slate your finest work may now be in the making.

© 2009 Doug Dickerson

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