Friday, July 22, 2011

Wanted: Salt and Light

In the world I live in, namely strategy, technology architecture and leadership incubation, I am often asked in what area do we experience the greatest shortage in?

Is it technology xyz?

Is it strategy best-practice abc?

Is it …….?

It is easy to point to some technology, business best practice or other area and say “we need more / less of” but I wonder if in doing so, we are merely pointing at symptoms of a larger underlying challenge.

Is it possible that what we truly need more of is salt and light, specifically more people who stimulate and disrupt our world (the salt) and more people to point us in the right direction (the light)?

Stimulating our world doesn’t imply always being inspirational and motivational.  Sometimes it is a calling to have the courage to tell us that the emperor has no clothing on, to encourage us to stand up for what we believe in and to make a difference as a result.  In essence, it is a calling to tell us what we need to know, not what we want to know.

By the same token, being “the light’ doesn’t imply that such individuals are always showing us the beauty in things.  Sometimes it means casting light on something that needs to be corrected, something that we may have been otherwise oblivious to but which is impacting our world in a negative way.  Keeping challenges hidden or ignoring them is a surefire way of guaranteeing that they will be a larger problem later.

Being a motivational, inspirational all-star can be a lot of fun, especially when the accolades flow with relatively little effort.  For some, it presents a tremendous boost to the ego when the “easy love” flows in.

It is the easier of two paths, requires little courage and is somewhat of a free ride.  Everyone loves those whom they perceive to be the all-enlightened optimist who tell us that there are no problems in the world.  It feels safe and doesn’t remind us of our own responsibility to make a difference in the world.

However, sometimes to be the salt and light means that one embraces difficult matters, things that people are afraid to champion or problems that are very difficult to solve but must be solved. 

Problems that must be solved if we are to reach our fullest potential in our personal, professional and societal lives.  Pretending they will go away if not addressed is the death knell of many uber-optimists.

Few have the courage or intestinal fortitude to call it the way it is, especially when the news is bad or troubling.

However, we should be grateful that such people exist, for their impact is often far larger, with far greater sacrifice to themselves and often with fewer accolades commensurate with the sacrifices they made.  They are the pessimists, so we think, who keep disrupting our bliss by incessantly reminding us that there are things that need to be fixed.  Shame on them. :-)

So …… salt and light …..

We can be relatively tasteless table salt and play it safe or we can be the vibrant taste of kosher salt, helping ourselves and others experience the full taste of Life.

We can be a match light in the darkness, illuminating a relatively small area while overlooking important items or we can be a powerful torch, maximizing the illumination experienced by ourselves and others.

In other words ….

We can choose the easy, seemingly painless road, with minimal impact on the world and be embraced as someone who doesn’t shake things up (thus not taking others out of their comfort zone).

Or ….

We can choose a road filled with challenge and complexity, one that creates an opportunity to make a long-lasting impact with far-reaching potential (taking people out of their comfort zone BUT providing opportunity for them to grow towards their potential).

We can be bland and dull or tangy and brilliant …. we can take the safe, easy way or the impactful one.

The choice is yours.

What kind of salt and light are you?

In service and servanthood.



PS.  It’s no secret what side of the salt spectrum most people find me to exist on.  :-)  My friend Bret D. quoted Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy in describing my insatiable need to be “the salt”:

“I am an impure thinker.  I am hurt, swayed, shaken, elated, disillusioned, shocked, comforted, and I have to transmit my mental experiences lest I die.  And although I may die.  To write a book is no luxury.  It is a means of survival.”

To be the salt often creates an interesting, complex structural tension with the very thing one believes must be changed.  It can be thankless, extremely difficult and exhausting – but it must be done anyway. :-)

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