Did you ever see The Man Who Would Be King? Remote villagers in Afghanistan mistake Sean Connery as their god, the return of Alexander the Great. His pride overtakes him and he plays along. The whole business of being a god goes to his head and he demands a wife. During the marriage ceremony the bride-to-be slices his hand and the people realize he’s mortal.
Shortly after I started working at a Fortune 500 company, my first job out of college, I was put on a team to do some statistical work to determine which of two products would advance. It was a $200 million project. I couldn’t imagine anything bigger. Three years of experiments and testing that spanned continents were summarized on a handful of slides and presented to a steering committee. Within minutes, the steering committee made a decision and moved effortlessly onto the next agenda item. I was shocked to realize that so much work and effort could be passed over so quickly. I was equally shocked to see how my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss suddenly appeared like a typical employee reporting to a steering committee. Prior to the meeting he seemed so regal and seasoned. In that moment I not only realized that my boss was mortal, but that a project I thought was certainly the biggest thing the company was working on could be reduced to a small potatoes agenda item.
Fast forward to last December. I had my first meeting in the Board Room. It wasn’t a board meeting, but it was in the board room. After a few moments of basking in the awe of the high tech gadgetry and stunning furniture I thought for sure this is where the big problems would be tackled. It was a team designed to identify and implement a corporate-wide continuous improvement strategy. After one or two meetings I couldn’t help but notice that these folks were just folks. More experienced to be sure, but they were mortal, and the problems we were dealing with were finite. That’s when it hit me; what if all problems are small potatoes problems when approached appropriately? Can we overcome the intimidation of seemingly major obstacles by identifying their mortality? I believe so.