Progress – Building Social Capital and Mutual Goodwill

Ben Hur & Messala drinking from the cup of life... together

We all want to drink from the fountain of life, but will it run dry unless we learn how to forgive those who vex us, so that together we can at least keep the cup half full?

In catching up with that great 1959 William Wyler epic movie Ben Hur, there was one scene that in retrospect caught my attention.

It was an interaction between the Roman Prefect of the 1st century Roman province of Judaea, Pontius Pilate and Ben Hur.

Pilate is best known for being the judge at the trial of Jesus and allowing him to be executed.  Ben Hur is a ‘Prince of Judaea’,  a fictional character in a Tale of the Christ written in 1880 by American Military general and author Lew Wallace.

It is the scene following Ben Hur’s win over his arch Roman rival Messala in the chariot race, which is a high point in the film. Pontius Pilate (Aussie actor Frank Thring 1926-1994) says to Ben Hur (American actor Charlton Heston 1923-2008)) with great aplomb. ‘Where there is greatness, great government or power, even great feeling or compassion, error also is great. We progress and mature by fault…’He didn’t want Ben Hur to tempt fate, giving him sage advice from his absent ‘father’ in Rome.

Watching that scene put me in a contemplative mood and had me also pondering on a podcast made by American computer entrepreneur and inventor Steve Jobs (1995 – 2011), when he was waxing lyrically about the release of the MacBook Air.

Jobs (1955 – 2011) when he was 20 years of age had tempted fate by taking a bite of a big Apple.

By 1986, in just over a decade he had taken the company he founded to pioneer the personal computer revolution to the verge of bankruptcy before being unceremoniously dumbed by its board.

Steve Jobs spent his years on the sidelines learning and maturing by fault.

He came to understand that his firm would be unable to operate within a future global society without at first defining the nature of its own culture.

That way it would have the best chance possible to further develop intercultural communication skills.

When he returned in 1997, he re-built its social capital as well as its economic viability within two years, bringing it back from the verge of bankruptcy to profitability.

Does progress hinge not on our eradication of mistakes, but on our success at perpetuating them?

Jobs involved everyone in the creation process. To do that he knew they would all need, in a spirit of camaraderie, to co-operate and collaborate effectively with each other, as well as outsiders, to ensure practical and positive outcomes for the products the company was offering the public.

These were products Jobs believed he knew we wanted before we did. He was a visionary in more ways than one. He knew that his employees had to believe as much as he did, if he was to succeed.

Surely the story surrounding Steve Jobs, his return to Apple and, its following success, provides one of the most important role models in western corporation history and indeed, in the development of cross-cultural communication and western society.

Every time you participate in a community event, you’re generating social capital, both for yourself and the other people involved.

American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

Co-operation cross-culturally has become vital for the wellbeing of our common humanity, for our planet and for survival. For any cultural policy in any country in the world today in order to succeed requires mass patience and active participation. It needs the support of both individual citizens and whole communities as well as an improved connection between individuals and generations.

Social capital, or mutual goodwill is shaped when you volunteer to help others, to help your neighbor move, have your friends around for a barbecue, or to look after your family.

The progressive CEO at the end of the first decade of the twenty first century, has gained a new style of enlightenment. Hopefully he has moved past the era from the mid 80’s, when he saw himself as a king surrounded by kowtowing courtiers espousing a theory greed is good.

In our time an enlightened CEO will more than likely find he or she is compared to the head of a huge ideal family.

Although it’s all very new age, the CEO is ultimately responsible, much as a king, a noble, aristocrat and gentleman was for generations, for all those who come under his care. Executives of corporations have become the new nobles and aristocracy.

Make no mistake about it, no one really appreciates just how much it can cost that individual, both financially and mentally to take on the role. They need to stay committed and uncorrupted by both money and power and that takes a very rare individual, much like Steve Jobs.

Climbing higher and higher...but where does it all end?

Whether male or female, the CEO is expected to be a good head of the family by maintaining a serious posture, while everyone else has a happy time in the world they provide. Continually dispensing wise and considered counsel is mandatory as the CEO has to make sure just like any head of family that his managers (sons and daughters in law) subscribe and support the ‘families’ aims and goals.

Some will need cater to the CEO’s needs while others succor the young up and coming recruits (children and grandchildren), mentoring them wisely through the minefield of experiences they must gain and they mistakes they must make in order to learn. When they make mistakes the corporate ‘family’ is there to provide a buffer of support while they recover. If the family succeeds the young look up to their corporate ‘elders’ following the role model established by them

However there is one thing very different in our all new age; forgiveness. This it seems is not an option for many, especially if the head of a corporate family messes up. Then they find themselves, just as Jobs did years ago, eliminated swiftly and often having to endure trial by media as well, such as Mark McInnes CEO David Jones Ltd Sydney in 2010.

The merging of professional and personal life has happened because private family life has spectacularly failed in the the last fifty years of the twentieth century, along with the all encompassing message of love and forgiveness on which western civilization was founded at both the birth and death of Jesus, the Christ.

Instead of fostering an atmosphere of love and understanding many families have been torn apart by playing a blame game, which is fueled by the loss of faith, hope and trust. There’s certainly no welcoming homecoming celebration for the prodigal son or daughter.

The corruption and de-valueing of the world’s biggest currency, its moral and social mores, has turned the western world upside down.

In the corporate family Steve Jobs management style proved the theories and practicalities attached to building social capital by making good mistakes is OK.

People like Steve Jobs, who invest in social profit and capital, are far more likely to find help where and when they need it.

Social profit depends on people listening, reacting, contributing, connecting, conversing and creating.

Creativity’ is intrinsically human; it doesn’t care about skin colour, origin, gender, how rich or poor you are, or the kind of family you grew up in. It is all about the world that you create for yourself, which is what Jobs did so brilliantly.

He did not just interpret that world he also changed it, which was the point. It is about embracing the old adage ‘if at first you don’t succeed, the chances are you are making progress’.

We all want better relationships, happy parenting and as Miss Universe contestants would say, ‘world peace’. But the complex web we weave in our own dealings with each other means, that it is just about impossible.

It is also counterproductive to eliminate mistakes in the name of progress, especially when misunderstandings and mistakes define our progression in a world of ‘I don’t care’.

Utopia, another promised 'garden of eden'...be careful, Adam, or is it Steve? Don't eat the apple

Everyone wants to live in Utopia. However what many don’t realize was that Utopia was only ever a place of theory, not one grounded in any sort of reality. Anyone involved in the world of theory knows that it and practice is more than often poles apart.

The version of Utopia expounded in 1516 by English Catholic Bishop Thomas More was truly a strange book for a so-called ‘man of the cloth’ to write. It has some interesting concepts though.

Gaining enlightenment...

In it he weighs criminals down with chains of gold: the theory being that in fettering them with the one thing all Utopia’s citizens think they want, that somehow they would gain a healthy dislike for the glittering golden metal.

This happens because he has made it all the more difficult to steal it by placing it in plain view.

During the ‘enlightenment’ of eighteenth century Europe the advancement of society and knowledge meant that all of its current theories and societal structures had to collapse and be replaced by new ideas.

Many many thousands of people died in the process.

If we have now entered a period where it has to happen all over again, then our next world view surely will need to carefully balance the friction between expectation and outcome.

We will also have to fire up our curiosity and continue to edge incrementally forward on a new pathway of sefl-discovery, without violence. And, instead of the reduction of errors being seen as regressive, they will now have to be viewed as positive, and a hallmark of our success.

History has proved it is impossible to progress without fault. Life is far from being predictable or preordained. Creativity breakthroughs are often just an immediate response to events, that in hindsight, we may have changed.

It’s still all about timing.

Understanding who said what to whom and when is important in the decision making process. The instructive examples that came out of New York following the tragedy of 11th September 2001 inform that thought.

Don't forget I am the king of the jungle...

The Apple corporation climbed the ladder of success step by step, without any kind of hesitation or insecurity while Steve Jobs was at the helm.

Colleagues, supporters and enemies all said thank you and actively supported Jobs by helping him to lay stepping stones on the field ahead.

For Steve Jobs, and others like him, corporate life was like a battleground, but it was just a different sort.

It was a war waged under a whole new set of ideas and principles, not the least the value attached to society and its good health, mental strength and inner wellbeing.

It’s the harmful consequences of mistakes that we need to eliminate. Not making them.

In the computer age bugs are damned irritating, but they have to be dealt with, whether they are in our bed or in our intellectual domain.

To eradicate them we have to succumb to a new law of unintentional consequences by inducing a massive and dramatic change of attitude.

Perish the thought, but we might all have to accept less happiness to ensure that humankind continues to progress through fault.

It will mean embracing our most embarrassing errors and, instead of viewing them as abhorrent and seeking to enact revenge or punish everyone around us.

We will need to step up to the plate and help to fill the cup more than half full, or even to overflowing so that everyone around us benefits.

Then, and only then will we truly be able to let the Lion really roar.

Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be*.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2010 – 2014

*Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

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