If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out? – Will Rogers
The story is told that when St. Petersburg, one of the most splendid cities in Europe was being laid out early in the eighteenth century, boulders brought by a glacier had to be removed. One in particular had to be removed since it was on the path of one of the principal avenues that had been planned.
Bids were solicited for its removal and as you might expect they were high. This was understandable, because at the time modern equipment did not exist and there were no high-powered explosives. As officials pondered what to do, a peasant presented himself and offered to get rid of the boulder for a much lower price than those submitted by other bidders. Since they had nothing to lose, officials gave the job to the peasant.
The next morning he showed up with a crowd of other peasants carrying shovels. They began digging a huge hole next to the rock. The rock was propped up with timbers to prevent it from rolling into the hole. When the hole was deep enough, the timber props were removed and the rock dropped into the hole below the street level. It was then covered with dirt, and the excess dirt was carted away.
It’s an early example of what creative thinking can do to solve a problem. The unsuccessful bidders only thought about moving the rock from one place to another on the city’s surface. The peasant looked at the problem from another angle. He considered another dimension- up and down. He couldn’t lift it up, so he put it underground.
Creative thinking is critical to your organization. What’s needed is a blend of those who can think creatively and those who can implement. The two are quite different, but when they learn to work together, it can be a powerful force for good. Unfortunately, what we see from the story are the obstacles that poor leadership can generate. Here are three things we learn from the story and what the peasants can teach us.
Poor planning at the top creates more work at the bottom. The city planners in their infinite wisdom in laying out the roads created an avenue knowing full well that there was a very large boulder on the pathway. In addition, they also knew that the task of removing the boulder with limited tools would be a pain-staking task at best.
Why not design the road around or away from the large boulder? Insistence upon the planned route generated more work with additional costs that could have been avoided if they created a different route. One of the flaws of leadership at the highest levels is that there is disregard for the additional work and time it places upon everyone else in the organization. The key here is to plan smart, consider others, and be flexible.
Those who create the problems are not always good at solving the problems. Now that the city planners successfully created the problem, they were now looking to others to solve it. A huge boulder is now staring back at them because they were not creative enough to think about where and how to place a road. And this huge boulder speaks volumes about their leadership.
What boulders are you facing in your organization? What is the obstacle on your path that stands between you and the success you desire? Anyone can create a problem. But smart leaders are those who welcome creative thinking by those who think differently. Sometimes you have to be like the peasants and look beneath the surface in order to find the solution you need. The key here is to know your limitations, surround yourself with creative thinkers, and get out of their way.
The best ideas come from unlikely sources. The lowest bid came from a peasant. It’s likely that the others who placed their bids scoffed at the news. The town leaders believing that they had nothing to lose accepted the offer, and to their great surprise the job was completed the next day.
What preconceived notions about team members in your organization are getting in the way of creative thinking? What about the boulder that is blocking your path and holding up progress? While the peasant may appear to be an unlikely ally, he can help you succeed if given the chance. The key here is to welcome everyone into the conversation, swallow your pride, and learn from a peasant.
© 2012 Doug Dickerson
Follow Doug at www.Twitter.com/managemntmoment