This past June, after almost 30 years away, I returned to India, the country of my birth. To say that I faced culture shock would be an understatement! I recall the India of my childhood as always being colourful, noisy and vibrant, but I was completely unprepared for the sights, sounds, smells and oh yes, heat, that confronted me as soon as I arrived. Teeming masses of people; a never-ending cacophony of voices, music, and traffic; and 42 degrees Celsius (that’s 107 degrees Fahrenheit) temperature – this was my first impression of India. Exhilarating, breath-taking, exciting and just a little bit scary, all at the same time! And then we braved traffic! It is impossible to describe traffic in India with just one word, but the phrase “utter organized chaos” would be an apt description.
As a passenger in the front seat, I spent most of my trip flinching as vehicles of every type – cars, trucks, vans, motorcycles, bicycles, tractors, bullock carts, horse-drawn wagons, pushcarts, rickshaws, and other vehicles that defy description – weaved their way in and out of the flow of traffic. There were many occasions when I saw heart-stopping oncoming traffic in our lane on a divided highway! Other times, my breath caught as pedestrians stepped out into the road in order to cross. Yet through it all, the chaos was somehow, unbelievably, organized. And I marveled at how everybody kept their cool and nobody got seriously hurt. I observed one incident where a tractor clipped the edge of a truck. I waited for the road rage. There was none. The truck backed up, onlookers shouted out both useful and useless advice, the tractor maneuvered around the obstacle and went on its way. And then, in a moment of pure lucidity, I understood why this absolute bedlam worked as well as it did. It was because people were willing to share. The road belonged to everyone, regardless of what you drove or how big or small you were, you had a right to travel down that street. Despite the interminable clamor of an endless variety of horns, people still respected each other and understood that in order to successfully get to their destinations, they had to get along with one other.
Wow! What kind of effect do you think this philosophy would have in our organizations? Imagine a workplace where people respected each other, valued the differences and diversity, and understood that in order to achieve success individually, they had to work with one another to achieve results that were greater than the sum of their parts. I know it’s possible … I’ve seen it happen! What do you think, is is possible where you work?