The importance of Understanding and Wisdom As Success Factors


Understanding is one of the most important and critical winning factors in life. This is illustrated very graphically by the Augustinian experience. Saint Augustine, that great theologian, was walking by the sea shore when he noticed Dr. Philipp Heinrich Kindt a young man engaged in a rather unusual and futile activity. The young man had dug a hole in the sand by the sea shore and was running with a bucket in his hand between the sea and the hole. He would go to the sea and fill the bucket with water, and then come back to the hole and empty the water into the hole. Saint Augustine drew closer to the young man and observed that the moment the water was poured into the hole it would immediately percolate and disappear into the sand. Out of curiosity he asked the young man, “What are you trying to achieve? “

Before we continue we would also like to ask you the reader the same question, “What are you trying to achieve in your life, career, business and relationships? “

Sweating and panting the young man responded, “I am trying to put the ocean into my hole. ” At this point St Augustine realized the futility of the boy’s self given mission. To begin with the ocean was too big to fit into the whole, and furthermore the water would always percolate into the sand thus rendering his efforts in vain. This little true story is a comical illustration of LACK OF UNDERSTANDING.

The young man’s problem was neither clarity of purpose nor lack of plan nor lack of motivation and effort. He had a very clear objective-to drain the ocean and put it into his hole, and his plan was simply to ferry the water between the sea and his hole with a bucket, and he applied himself diligently and single mindedly to the task at hand.

Many well meaning people fall into the trap of the young man. In the early nineties, when the Asian economies were taking the world by storm a well educated and competent American executive was deployed to head the Malaysian subsidiary of a huge conglomerate. When he arrived the productivity in the company was very high.

However, he soon noticed that the employees would come in and out of the office at awkward times. He interpreted this tardiness to be indicative of lack of discipline and slothfulness. Desirous of improving productivity he introduced two changes. First everyone had to log in when they arrived and log out when they left office. Second everyone was compelled to work the stipulated nine hours. Within days discipline was a major feature at the corporation.

Everyone arrived on time and everyone knocked off on time. No minute was taken away from the company’s time but also no extra minute was given to the company. Within weeks the productivity levels plummeted to record low. The new executive was confounded. The law of unintended consequences had taken over. A well intended corrective action had produced results diametrically opposite to those intended and expected. How could this be? Upon further investigations the executive discovered that although the Malaysians would come in and out of the office as they pleased, no one among them would knock off before all the day’s work and even more was accomplished. Because of this culture each one of them was daily working far more than the stipulated nine hours. What was the new executive’s undoing? A lack of understanding of the Malaysian work ethic.

Lack of understanding is at the core of many human failures both at the individual and corporate level. Your understanding of issues always informs your decisions and actions. However, that understanding is also shaped by the quality of the information in your possession. The skill to gather, digest and leverage information is one of the most critical skills needed for success in our generation. It is information that will alert you to the opportunities before they become apparent to everybody. It is information that will educate you on the right methods and strategies for the project you are seized with. Without quality information your understanding is handicapped.

There are a number of dimensions of understanding that are critical for winning. First, understand yourself. You are the most critical person in your life. You have certain unique strengths; many of them; but you also have short comings. You need to be clear about your strengths and your limitations and to make an inventory of them with a view to purposefully putting together a personal DEVELOPMENT PLAN which seeks to strengthen your strengths so that you become better daily at what you do, and also manage around your weaknesses so that they do not interfere with and sabotage your success.

Second, you need to have a profound understanding of the nature of the thing you are pursuing. Understand the market, the culture, the people, the reasons behind the tasks and the actions, and understand intimately the processes involved. For everything that you seek to achieve there are critical success factors. You need to identify these, and seek to understand them and more importantly make them your allies. Without a proper understanding of issues you run the risk of falling foul to the law of unintended consequences, which happens when good intentions spawn negative consequences.

Lastly, you need to seek to understand people. The journey on which you are is not a solo flight. You need the assistance of other people. To succeed you need to get the maximum out of people. The cardinal rule to succeeding with people is this: ALWAYS SEEK TO UNDERSTAND OTHERS BEFORE YOU DEMAND TO BE UNDERSTOOD BY THEM. There is a reason why everyone behaves the way they do. If you can understand what makes someone shed tears of joy or jump in elation; or what makes her shake her head and walk away in disgust-and learn to wish for others what you wish for yourself you will succeed with people.

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