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The fourth ingredient: A character trait that can save a business – and the world


July 21, 2010
By Paul Hogendoorn


Topics

George Harrison, a Dallas Mavericks’ game and a cab ride to the airport. How could these topics have anything at all to do with a column about the manufacturing industry today? The editors of this fine magazine have graciously extended me a lot of latitude over the years – let’s see if they let me try to put this one together!

Actually, it won’t be too much of a stretch at all. In previous columns, I have written about what I believe are the three key ingredients for survival in the manufacturing industry today: adaptability, excellence and attitude. The fourth ingredient, in my mind, is "passion."

Last month I was in Dallas and was watching the Mavericks play the Lakers. One of my company’s divisions designs and manufactures scoreboards, and Dallas is one of "our" venues. During one break in the action, the camera spotted a couple of celebrities in attendance and put their faces on the big video board. The crowd erupted in spontaneous applause, and the celebrities smiled and waved graciously. I had no idea who they were, so I leaned over and asked a colleague sitting beside me. But, since he was in my age bracket, he was equally clueless. We started polling the people immediately around us until we got to a couple in their late teens or early twenties. "It’s Beyoncé and JayZ," they said incredulously, amazed that we didn’t recognize these two mega-stars.

I had heard the names through my kids and, probably, some of their music too. But it wasn’t "my" music, from my era – an era that I would describe as "when music mattered." I don’t want to argue that music in my era was the best, or most creative, or most popular, but I think I can make a strong case that music in my era – the late 60s and early 70s – mattered more than music before it or after it. The music of that day tried to actually change the world, a truly audacious objective – and in a lot of ways, it did. There were all the songs about "peace" trying to stop the war in Vietnam; about "love," trying to change society’s focus from capitalism to personal enlightenment; about a new generation coming of age, with anti-establishment protest songs heralding its arrival. And then there was George Harrison’s classic two-record masterpiece, drawing our attention to the poverty and misery in Bangladesh.

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My colleague was in complete agreement with me. John Lennon, The Who, CCR – so many of the bands and musicians of that day had something important to say. It wasn’t really their music that could change the world, though – it was their passion. Their music was their means of change, but the power that drove it was their passion to affect change. There are many today who suggest that the changes in the U.S.S.R. that led to the eventual dismantling of the Iron Curtain and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall began when the Beatles first toured The Soviet Union and a new generation had been awakened with a fresh sense of their own ideals, ambition and identity.

Today, we have many companies in need of life-saving change. They are holding on by their fingernails, hoping for "the economy to turn around," or a life-saving concession from their workforce, or a government guarantee or bailout. But what they really need is what I wrote about in three of my previous columns – an ability to adapt quickly, a focus on excellence, and an all-inclusive change in attitudes. And, they need world-changing passion; a passion strong enough to change their world.

The next morning, I took the shuttle to the airport. In a casual conversation with the driver, he told me he was from Bangladesh.

"Do you know anything about Bangladesh?" he asked me.

"Only what I know from George Harrison," I replied.

"Oh, George Harrison," he said, breaking into a reverent smile. "He is a true hero in my country; everyone knows about him!"

He went on to tell me that, in his hometown, there is a big museum dedicated solely to George Harrison, because he drew the world’s attention to that country. He told me how the country has never been the same, and that there’s a picture of George’s face covering an entire wall.

George Harrison did change their world with his music, but it was far more than his talent for writing words and creating melodies, it was his passion and commitment for that cause.

Passion is what makes you go on when logic tells you to stop. Passion is what makes you deaf to unbelievers and blind to distractions. A good idea may attract people to your cause for a quick look-and-see, but passion is what keeps them there. Passion is what makes your efforts powerful beyond simple strength; it’s the critical ingredient needed to change a world.

Paul Hogendoorn is president of OES Inc. and a founding member and past chair of the London Region Manufacturing Council. He can be reached at phogendoorn@oes-inc.com.