Christopher Tipler confronts the monster of despair
The mythical world is full of monsters. There was Scylla, a horrible sea monster with six long necks equipped with grisly heads, each of which had three rows of sharp teeth. Poor old Odysseus had to sail between her and Charybdis, a huge bladder of a creature who swallowed vast amounts of water three times a day before belching them back out again, creating whirlpools. Then of course there was the Minotaur, who was half man and half bull, the one-eyed Cyclops, and the Argus (whose 100 eyes now adorn the tail of a peacock).
Monsters are fine in their place, which is not here and not now, and we certainly don’t want them striding around the land-down-under, creating mayhem in the business community. Enter the great Woe, a horrid beast who is doing just that.
Someone had to stop the Woe and I decided it might as well be me, so I went into the dark forest with my dog in search of the witch who, I was told, had the solution. I came upon her in a clearing, stirring a great cauldron (yes, wing of bat and eye of newt).
I got straight to the point with her. ‘I hear that you can catch a great Woe by sprinkling salt on his tail. Is that true?’ The witch laughed and said, ‘no, that only works for blackbirds. If you get close enough to a Woe to sprinkle salt on him, he will just smash your head in’. ‘Right’ I said, ‘I’ll make a note of that.’
‘What about a saucer full of beer?’ The witch laughed again. ‘No, that only catches slugs and snails. The Woe will just drink the beer and smash your head in anyway.’
Things were not going well. ‘All right, what about logic? I hear if you squirt the Woe with logic he will go away.’ More laughter. ‘The great Woe is not the slightest bit influenced by logic. He doesn’t understand it; indeed he has never heard of it.’
I gave up. ‘OK, can you give me a few clues?’ The witch stirred her brew and fixed me with a knowing eye. ‘There are only three ways to defeat a great Woe. First, you have to remember that he is largely a product of our imagination. Business people are very poor at imagining positive things and very good at imagining all the things that can go wrong.’ ‘So, does that mean we have to stop thinking about him?’ ‘Absolutely. Our thoughts have real power, so if you want a monster on your doorstep, feed him with thought energy and he will turn up. But there is just as much power in positive thinking, so you business people have a choice. Guard your thoughts!’
I liked this, but she had said there were three things. ‘Great, so what’s number two?’ ‘What follows from thought?’ I took a stab. ‘Actions?’ ‘Yes, actions. When we act, when we are decisive, there is no room for apathy. The great Woe feeds on apathy. We think woeful thoughts, we become cautious or perhaps even paralysed, we stop acting and the great Woe grows in size and strength. It becomes a self-fulfilling cycle.’
I was getting excited. ‘I get it. I get it. But what’s number three?’ The witch gave me a scornful look. ‘What is the one thing that a Woe can’t stand? Think about it!’
Nothing came to mind. I felt stupid, but the witch took pity on me ‘Heard any good jokes lately?’ Then I got it. ‘Humour. The Woe can’t abide humour!’ ‘ That’s it. Humour dissolves the great Woe in the same way that sunshine dissolves a mist.’
‘So, now you have it Christopher. Spread the word.’ I turned to go, then heard a sound and turned back. The witch had gone and in her place was a beautiful woman dressed for business and clutching a briefcase. ‘Thanks for breaking the spell brother. I’ve got work to do and I’m coming with you. Geeze, I could murder a drink! Is there a bar anywhere around here?’
This was turning out to be a great day. The sun was shining, I had got lucky, and there wasn’t a Woe in sight!
Christopher Tipler is a Melbourne-based management advisor and author of Corpus RIOS – The how and what of business strategy. His web site corpusrios.com contains more material on this and related topics.