July 7, 2006

Excerpts: If Harry Potter Ran GE by Tom Morris

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 3:32 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

 Normally, I'm not a huge fantasy book enthusiast. Yet I picked up one Harry Potter book and have since read all six books (and am eagerly anticipating the next and final book). It's a book that appeals to people of all ages. It's lessons are universal. Knowing this, Tom Morris, applied the lessons to business. What better business to apply it to than GE, a company renowned for innovation and growth? So here it is, business lessons to be learned from Harry Potter.

This particular excerpt from If Harry Potter Ran GE is on Headmaster Dumbledore's lessons. Enjoy.     


"Nothing is mightier than wisdom."

The Harry Potter books are full of wisdom about life. Some of this insight for living is explicitly articulated by one character or another. Some is just shown in the exciting action and developing story line. The most important pieces of advice explicitly stated in the books often come from the mouth of Headmaster Dumbledore.

For example, we see him saying, in various places, such things about life as:

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live . . . (SS 214)

This great leader is both a thinker and a man of action. He lives life to the fullest, and in the best possible way, and wants his students to enjoy the same approach to their time on earth. Dreaming is great, but doing is greater.

Dumbledore also articulates what may be one of the most important pieces of wisdom in the whole series of stories when he says:

It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. (CS 333)

Dumbledore is an existentialist of the most important sort. No preexisting categories need determine our identity or decide our fate.

We have the chance, through choice, to carve out our own identities and create our own futures. The ancient philosopher Heraclitus once said, Character is destiny. Since anyone’s character is ultimately a result of the choices that he or she makes, it’s an even deeper realization to see that choice is destiny. In the recent movie
Batman Begins , one of Bruce Wayne’s oldest friends says to him, It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.Dumbledore takes this insight back to the source, to that factor over which we always have some control, the element of choice.

Dumbledore also says wise things about death as well as about life. At one point he makes an enigmatic and fascinating observation reflecting the wisdom of Socrates when he remarks that, to the well organized mind, death is just the next great adventure (SS 297). It’s an insight of the most profound thinkers that life is a series of adventures.

Dumbledore joins some of the very greatest philosophers by extending that exciting concept beyond the grave and seeing death itself as in this way an extension of life. And with that in mind, he explains at a much later time that when people fear death and darkness, what they really are afraid of is nothing more than just the unknown (HB 566). The headmaster understands that wisdom about life must encompass wisdom about death, and he does not hesitate to pass on what he has learned to his students, who will inevitably face this one adventure at the end of all the others they will ever confront.

Many other wise perspectives of equal importance are never explicitly stated but can be gleaned from the behaviors of various characters and the consequences of their conduct. Rowling doesn’t try at all to be professorial, pedantic, or preachy in her approach to sharing wisdom.

But she clearly considers the wisdom to be learned from the world of the wizards to be an important element in the overall sweep of the
events that she portrays. In this chapter, I want to survey briefly some of this wisdom about living that we can derive from the stories. There is no particular order to the insights and perspectives I’ll offer here for comment and consideration. But they all add up and fit together to begin to outline a powerful, and powerfully good, worldview. Rowling’s intellect and perceptiveness—her philosophical sensibilities and visions—shine through all her stories in both simple and subtle ways.

I believe that she understands quite well that we can lead our lives, and lead other people, in the best possible ways only when we root everything we do in the deepest life wisdom we can find.

First, I should make it perfectly clear what wisdom is and what it isn’t. It isn’t esoteric knowledge or deeply hidden truth about life that is extremely difficult to discover, grasp, and master. That’s a false model of wisdom propounded by the gnostics and sophisticated hucksters in almost every world culture. It’s also a model that has gained unfortunate ascendancy in our own time. Real wisdom isn’t some sort of highly secret key to life that is well hidden from ordinary people. The truth is simple and powerful. Wisdom is just great insight for living. And it’s often conveyed by simple statements that serve to remind us of what we’ve already learned as we’ve walked this path of life from our earliest years to the present day.

Oddly enough, we often forget the insights we’ve already had about living as we continue in our adventures, and we typically do so precisely at the times that we need those insights the most. Of course, our forgetting is never complete.When reminded of something that we long ago realized, we usually recognize the truth of the insight immediately. It was still buried in memory, locked safely away deep in our neurons, ready for retrieval. But somehow we had forgotten that we knew it. It was no longer top of mind. It had lost its proper grip on us.We had neglected to use it to filter our further experiences or to help us govern our emotions and chart out our actions in the subsequent relevant situations we’ve faced. And so we need to be reminded of what we really know.

The great wisdom literature of the world often serves to help us recapture insights that we’ve already had. And it helps us to clarify those thoughts. But it sometimes gives a great many of us new insights as well, things that we had never thought of, and novel perspectives that we can test in our further experience. Even these new insights often ring true instantly as we understand them in the light of our previous experience. They capture patterns that we might at some level have noticed but never thought much about.We may not have made the connections they explicitly give us, but we can see them when they’re shown to us. These nuggets of new wisdom often open for us some new doors into the future based on what’s been learned in the past. And in many ways they can guide our path as we move forward into each new day.

Human beings have always enjoyed capturing their most common insights about living in pithy statements that allow for ease of memory and readiness of use. But wisdom is not always to be found in the form of well-known truths. It’s occasionally captured in a statement that may be surprising to many people, such as Dumbledore’s comment about death’s being the next great adventure. But even surprising wisdom shouldn’t be thought of as involving technical or difficult lessons available only to the greatest gurus and their most devoted long-term students. Wisdom about life can be distilled from the process of living by anyone who pays enough attention.

In our previous chapters, we’ve looked at how Dumbledore embodies wisdom and virtue, how Harry experiences one of the classic virtues, what the wizards in general show us about the distinction between ethical and unethical living, how important issues of truth and deception can come to a new measure of clarification through these stories, and what Dumbledore and Harry can teach us about transformative leadership. In this chapter, we’ll survey some of the main nuggets of wisdom to be found throughout the Harry Potter books, bits of insight and perspective that can help us all to live better and more meaningful lives. And then, in the next chapter, we’ll confront the most fundamental issue of meaning more directly.

Meaning and wisdom are both crucial to the living of a good life. We all seem to know this at some level. But what is not as widely understood is that meaning and wisdom are as important in organizational contexts, and in all sorts of business endeavors, as they are in our personal lives.When we look closely at the lives of very successful and admirable people, we often see that the greatest achievers have plugged into some fairly deep wisdom about life and human nature. They know themselves and the people around them in a penetrating way. They have a sense of what really matters and what isn’t so important. And that’s what allows them to concentrate their time and energy in the best possible ways.Wisdom empowers. Meaning directs.

As we move deeper into a new era, it will be increasingly important in corporate and executive life to understand and embody the insights of our greatest philosophers and the wisdom of the greatest wizards of excellence who live among us. The life wisdom that runs through the Harry Potter stories, and the deeper understandings that crop up at various places in these remarkable narratives, can be expressed in terms of some very simple, clear insights. Let’s look at a few.


This excerpt was taken from If Harry Potter Ran GE by Tom Morris, published by Currency/Doubleday.