The Curiosity Chronicles

Musings on Meaning.
I'm Paul Bennett. I work at IDEO. I'm a designer. I'm curious.

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  • March 19, 2012 4:24 pm

    Curious About…Role Models. 关于榜样的好奇心

    (The next installment of the Chinese version of this column, presented as always in its original Mandarin and English.)

    A few months ago I spent a fascinating evening in Shanghai. 

    We had invited a group of young Chinese female entrepreneurs to come into our office to have dinner with us and talk about their experiences of building their respective businesses. We wanted to learn from them and see what principles could be applied to other parts of our business. I kicked off the evening by quoting the Mao Tse Tung proverb (in appalling Chinese, I’m afraid) “Women Hold Up Half The Sky,” and we went from there. Each woman introduced herself; they talked eloquently about their lives and where they had come from – in some cases from poor backgrounds in surrounding villages, about the sacrifices their families had made to get them there. There were tears and laughter and lots of outpouring as they talked at length about their own personal philosophies, in many cases freely quoting Confucius and other ancient Chinese traditions. It was very moving. I was personally blown away by these women; their strength, tenacity and ability to immediately connect to one another emotionally; they came in as strangers but did not leave as such. I remember thinking to myself at the time: “You have a lot to learn here.”

    Another image that is etched into my brain is one of Michele Obama digging in the garden of the White House in Washington, DC, a couple of years ago. She was dressed in jeans and work boots and was laughing. While the organic garden that she was in the process of creating will provide food for the first family’s meals and formal dinners, its most important role, Mrs. Obama has said in the press, will be to educate children about healthful, locally grown fruit and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become a national concern. As a diabetic, this particularly resonated with me.

    “My hope,” the first lady said in an interview in her East Wing office, “is that through children, they will begin to educate their families and that will, in turn, begin to educate our communities.”

    Twenty-three fifth graders from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington helped her dig up the soil for the 1,100-square-foot plot, in a spot visible to passers-by on E Street, just below the Obama girls’ swing set. This was not an isolated example; she has followed-though by vocally supporting the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, whose mission is to reduce childhood obesity by 2015.

    To me, both of these examples share something in common. They are of women, leading in that unique way that women leaders excel: by sharing emotional stories and personally connecting in the first case, and by doing rather than endlessly debating in the second. It brought to mind British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous line: “If you want anything said, ask a man. If you want anything done, ask a woman.” 

    One of the questions I am asked frequently in my work at IDEO is “Who do you admire, who are your role models?” Pondering this question, I realized recently that many of the people I admire in business (and actually in life) are women.

    I was lucky enough to meet Chinese businesswoman and television host Yang Lan a year or so ago on a trip to Beijing and was really impressed with her vision of enabling other women to become powerful leaders. Although I don’t speak Mandarin, I have watched some episodes of her TV show “Her Village,” aimed at the large community of young urban women, and it feels empowering and groundbreaking. I saw her recent talk at TED Global in Oxford in the UK and was really struck by her passionate delivery and the fair and supportive way with which she talks about a complex subject; the internet in China. I was very inspired by her.

    And finally the biggest influence on me personally, as I am sure it is for many of us: my mother. Leaving her home when she was in her teens to travel the world with my military father, living in rural Pakistan, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka and finally setting back in northern England, she taught me the most valuable skill of all – to keep my eyes open, look at the world around me and not to cast judgment on people that were ‘different’ to us but to learn from them and see them as our equals: it makes perfect sense that now, in my role as a global leader of a company that works in many countries and talks to people from all walks of life and cultures, one whose currency is human-centered design and empathy, that my mother’s words ring more true than ever - and frankly, are so deeply ingrained in me that they are simply a part of who I am. I get to bring her influence on me to others and pass this along to my clients and colleagues.

    So why am I telling you all of this? Being inspired by others is one of the most important aspects of leadership in my opinion, and having role models is a way to have something to constantly strive for. And work towards. It keeps us grounded and reminds us that we are all human. Whether it’s your mother, a young women who moved you with the story of her journey from village to boardroom or a mother who just happens to be digging a vegetable plot for her children to inspire the rest of the nation to eat better in the most important garden in the world, nothing helps us retain a sense of self better than realizing that there are other people out there in the world that we can learn from. 


    几个月前,我在上海度过了一个非同一般的夜晚。

    我们邀请了一群年轻的中国女性企业家来我们办公室共进晚餐,一起聊聊她们各自的创业经历。这个活动的目的是希望从她们身上学习到能为我们所用的经验。开场时,我引用了毛泽东的名言“妇女能顶半边天”(我是用中文说的,发音估计很可怕),随后进入正题。女嘉宾先做自我介绍,然后就开始畅谈生活感悟和创业历程——有的出身贫寒,来自边远的农村地区——以及她们的家庭为今天的成功所做出的种种牺牲。席间交织着泪水与欢笑,在各自的人生哲学问题上,她们也是畅谈自己的内心想法,经常引用到儒家伦理或其他的中国传统。整个场面很感人。我自己则完全为她们的顽强、坚韧以及迅速在彼此之间建立情感联系的能力所折服。她们来的时候素不相识,但走的时候就不再是陌生人。当时我心里默默在想:“这里值得学习的东西真的太多了。”

    另一个让我印象深刻的画面是几年前米歇尔·奥巴马在华盛顿白宫菜园里翻土种菜的情景。她身着牛仔裤,脚踩工作靴,笑容满面。这位美国第一夫人曾对媒体表示,这个仍在培植中的有机菜园虽然会成为第一家庭日常用餐及正式晚宴的食材来源,但它更为重要的作用是教导儿童食用当地种植的健康果蔬,特别是在肥胖症和糖尿病引发全国关注的当下。这给了我很深的感触,因为我自己就是一名糖尿病患者。  

    “我希望,”第一夫人在其位于东翼的办公室接受采访时说道,“从孩子开始,让他们把这种观念带回各自的家庭,然后由此教育我们的整个社会。”

    当天,25名来自华盛顿班克罗夫特小学的五年级学生一起帮助第一夫人在1100平方英尺的培植地上翻土,来往于E街上的行人可以清楚地看到里面的情景,而这个位置正好位于奥巴马两个女儿的秋千架附近。不仅如此,总统夫人还公开支持“健康体重承诺基金会”(Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation),该基金会的使命是在2015年之前降低儿童肥胖症的发病率。

    在我看来,以上两个例子有一个共同点:都是女性唱主角,以女性所特有并且擅长的方式发挥领导力:在第一个例子中是通过分享情感故事建立相互联系,在第二个例子中则是以亲力亲为取代争论不休。这不禁让我想起了前英国首相玛格丽特·撒切尔夫人的名言:“如果你只想找人随便说说,你可以找个男人;但如果你想找人做实事,那你应该找个女人。”

    在IDEO的工作过程中,经常有人问我这样一个问题:“你崇拜谁?谁是你心目中的榜样?”我想了想,发现近来我所崇拜的很多商业界(实际上也是生活中)的楷模都是女性。

    约在一年前,我在北京有幸见到了中国的女性商业领袖和电视主持人杨澜女士,她关于让女性成为强大的领导者的远见让我印象深刻。虽然不会中文,但我看过几期她主持的《天下女人》,这档节目面向都市年轻女性这一庞大群体,感觉很有鼓舞性和突破性。我还看过近期她在英国牛津的TED全球演讲,她满腔热忱的说辞以及在“中国的互联网现象”这个复杂问题上所表现出的中肯和支持的立场让我为之震撼。她让我深受启发。

    最后,对我个人影响最深的人:我的母亲。相信很多人也和我一样。我母亲十几岁时就离开家,随我的军人父亲在世界各地闯荡,曾在巴基斯坦的乡村、印度、新加坡和斯里兰卡住过,最终定居在英格兰北部。我的母亲教给了我一项最有价值的技能——始终保持以开放的姿态去观察周围的世界,即使人们和自己“有所不同”,也不要妄下评论,而是要从他们身上学习,与他们平等相处。这恰恰是现在我作为一家公司的全球领导所需要的,经常要在不同国家工作,和各行各业以及不同文化的人们打交道,以人为本的设计和同理心是我能否通行的保障。母亲的教导比以往任何时候都更让我受用。坦白说,这种体会是如此的深刻,以致于它已经成为了我生命的一部分。与此同时,我也把母亲给我的影响带给了更多人,包括我的客户和同事。

    那么,我为什么要写这些呢?因为我认为,从他人身上获得启发是考量领导力最重要的一个方面,而树立心中的榜样会给你不断奋斗的目标、前进的动力。它能够让我们始终脚踏实地,提醒着你我都是平凡人。不论感染你的是你的母亲,是某位年轻女性从农村走到董事会的奋斗故事,或是一个为自己孩子在全世界最重要的菜园种菜倡导整个国家健康饮食的母亲,认识到世界上有许多人值得我们去学习是让我们保持清醒的自我意识最好的办法。

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