At the impressionable age of ten, I was introduced to the books of Lewis Carroll through my participation in my school’s production of Alice in Wonderland.
I played the very important role of Humpty Dumpty. It was memorable mostly because I had to shake Alice’s hand to greet her and at ten years of age, shaking a girl’s hand was pretty nervewracking. In any case, I carried the task out to critical acclaim and the show ran for a full two nights!
In the original book, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” upon which the stage play was based, there is a wonderful exchange between Alice, who is wandering through the woods, and the Cheshire Cat, perched on a brand overhanging the path. When she sees the cat, she asks him a question:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.
Simultaneously whimsical and profound, there is a tremendous lesson that businesses can take away from a seemingly simple exchange such as this. In business, we rush to tactics in the hopes that the tactics solve a bigger problem. We treat symptoms in our business as if they are the problems, confusing motion with progress.
We often make decisions based on short-term needs or trends rather than long-term vision or purpose.
We make decisions that “feel” right, not realizing that others may “feel” differently and this subjective approach to decision making means that we might all mean well but we end up pulling in different directions based on our own biases and feelings.
When Simon Sinek delivered his now famous Ted Talk in 2009, he popularized the notion that it was not only acceptable, but it was actually essential that we “Start with Why” in everything we do. After all, if we don’t know where we’re going, how can we possibly know which road to take?
Should we hire this person? What should our website copy include? What are the next 5 marketing campaigns we should consider? What should our logo look like? How can we ensure we develop the best culture? Questions like these are asked every day, but until we stop to ask “Why?” or “Where are we going?” then we can never truly answer them.
The greatest businesses and organizations lead with a purpose greater than their products or services. This purpose determines people, positioning, products, process, and profits. From here strategies can be developed which will inform tactics which will (when executed successfully) achieve the goals necessary to fulfill the purpose.
So the next time you have a difficult decision to make or you can’t get buy-in from team members, stop, look up at the tree limb and let the Cheshire Cat ask you his question “Where do you want to get to?”
By answering that question, it’s amazing how different the solutions can look.
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