Tag Archives: Lend Me Your Ears

A Message from Vaclev Havel — We Need A Workplace Built for Human Beings

We lead by being human. We do not lead by being corporate, professional, or institutional. (Paul G. Hawken, founder, Smith and Hawken)
(quoted in Encouraging the Heart:  A Leaders Guide to Rewarding and Encouraging Others by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Pozner.


One of the great struggles in this or any era is this struggle – how do we maintain our common humanity?

Vaclev Havel

I was reading the brilliant speech given by Vaclev Havel when he assumed the presidency of his country  – still Czechoslovakia at the time — delivered in Prague, January 1, 1990.  (It’s available here).  He begins it with some withering honesty.

My dear fellow citizens, 
For forty years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme: how our country was flourishing, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us.
I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.

But it is this paragraph that grabbed me most strongly.  It is not a new accusation, but he stated it so very clearly.

The previous regime – armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology – reduced man to a force of production, and nature to a tool of production. In this it attacked both their very substance and their mutual relationship. It reduced gifted and autonomous people, skillfully working in their own country, to the nuts and bolts of some monstrously huge, noisy and stinking machine, whose real meaning was not clear to anyone. It could not do more than slowly but inexorably wear out itself and all its nuts and bolts.

As I have written often, the question of jobs – where will the jobs be? – is, I believe, the great question of this era.  But in the pursuit of answers to that question, we also have to answer this:  how shall we view the people who do these jobs?  The answer has to be this:  as human beings.


(Yes, this speech is in the excellent volume/compilation Lend Me Your Ears, edited by William Safire – which I am reading, and re-reading, very slowly).

Peter Drucker; Warren Bennis; Tom Peters; Jim Collins; Malcolm Gladwell – Makers of the Business Universe

My blogging colleague, Bob Morris, is more able to tackle this post than I am — but here’s my try.

I was reading a couple of the speeches in the great William Safire compilation, Lend Me Your Ears.  (I blogged about this before here and  here, and Bob reviewed the compilation here).  I read this toast: George Bernard Shaw:  George Bernard Shaw Salutes His Friend Albert Einstein.  It is a remarkable piece.  Here is a key excerpt from the beginning of his toast:

Napoleon and other great men were makers of empires, but these eight men whom I am about to mention were makers of universes…  I go back twenty-five hundred years, and how many can I count in that period?  I can count them on the fingers of my two hands.
Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Kepler, Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein – and I still have two fingers left vacant…
Newton made a universe which lasted for three hundred years.  Einstein has made a universe, which I suppose you want me to say will never stop, but I don’t know how long it will last.

George Bernard Shaw


It was the phrase “makers of universes” that grabbed my imagination.  I really don’t think that we can put the business luminaries listed above in the same category.  (Well, maybe Drucker).  But in a lesser sense, and certainly in a narrower arena, I think we can say that these business thinker/business book giants have created at least some small universes.

Here’s what I mean.  When you think of “leadership,” you think of Bennis.  When you think of studying successful companies, extracting their secrets, you think of Peters and Collins.  Collins “hedgehog principle” has become part of our vocabulary.  And Gladwell is the true master at introducing phrases that become part of our understanding and vital parts of our vocabularies, (even if he borrows the ideas from others):  “tipping point,” “outliers,” the “10,000 hour rule.”

And, if you had only one you could read, you could make the case that Drucker is the one you would choose.  Many have observed that in communication, Aristotle said it first, and everyone else simply provides commentary and updates illustrations.  Well, in business, Drucker said it first, and everything else builds, in one way or another, on his work.

As I said earlier, Bob Morris is far more qualified to choose the names that could be called the “makers of the business universe.”  But I like the quest – who are the voices, the minds, that have most shaped our usable understanding of business effort and success?  Who has created our business universe?

“Extras” on your Reading List — Check out William Safire’s Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History

William Safire's compilation of great speeches

William Safire's compilation of great speeches

I am currently tackling Free by Chris Anderson for the next First Friday Book Synopsis.  And I am making presentations on books related to non-profits for two conferences this month.  But I still try to read a little that is not on my “assignments” list.  I hope you do the same.

Here’s my latest find.  It is a big, thick, terrific compilation of great speeches.  The compiler is William Safire, now retired columnist for the New York Times.  (He was the Pulitzer prize winning, conservative columnist for the Times).  The book’s title is wonderful:  “Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History” – selected and introduced by William Safire.  His introductions to each speech add greatly to your understanding.    The selection is comprehensive, diverse, and covers speeches for all time.  (He starts with Pericles).

A speech is a perfect “short read.”  You can read one in one short sitting, and a good speech can really get you to thinking.

I most recently read “The Easy Way,” by Walter Lippman.  The speech was delivered in 1940, at the thirtieth reunion of the graduating class from Harvard.  Think of the context:  the aftermath of World War I had not gone well, and dark clouds were clearly looming.  The entire speech is utterly quotable, and it sounds as though it could have been given this week. (And there are clearly implications for business in this speech).  Consider these few excerpts:

• For it is doubt and uncertainty of purpose and confusion of values which unnerves men.
• For every good that you wish to preserve, you will have to sacrifice your comforts and your ease.  There is nothing for nothing any longer.
• It was hard to make a good and magnanimous peace.  It was easier to make a bad and unworkable peace.  We took the easiest way…  It was too hard to, it was too much trouble to keep on trying.  We gave up.  We took the easy way, the way that required us to do nothing.
• So we are where we are today.  We are where we are because whenever we had a choice  to make, we have chosen the alternative that required the least effort at the moment.
• I like to think – in fact, I intend to go away from here thinking – that having remembered the past we shall not falter, having seen one another again, we shall not flinch.

The book is filled with great speeches.  I commend it to you as a “free-time, non-assignment” reading pleasure.


I bought it used from Amazon.com for not much.  It was worth the price.

(Current best price — $6.00 plus shipping.  Here is the Amazon link).