Harry Potter, early June
If Harry Potter Ran General Electric
By Tom Morris
Prof. Albus Dumbledore, the principal of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his brilliant disciple Harry Potter, are both natural leaders. So, it's reasonable to imagine what leaders in the real world can borrow from the wizards in J.K. Rowling's fictional world.
Tom Morris, a former professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, who applied the ideas of great philosophers to today's business in If Aristotle Ran General Motors, returns with another erudite extended essay in If Harry Potter Ran General Electric. "The wisdom of the wizards can enlighten us all," he says. EDITOR'S NOTE: CAN YOU HEAR MY EYES ROLLING? I THINK IT IS AUDIBLE RIGHT NOW.
Although General Electric Co. does have a research facility named "The House of Magic," the book only uses the fabled firm as emblematic of modern business. This is not a book of one specific company or business strategy, but of ethics, courage, wisdom, leadership alchemy, and character.
Ethics, he stresses, is about what we do, and what we refrain from doing, to realize our purposes -- however good those purposes may be. As Prof. Dumbledore puts it: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."
Mr. Morris believes that is one of the most important philosophical insights in the Harry Potter books -- indeed, perhaps the theme of the entire series. "It's also one of the most important realizations that any leader, and any person in business generally, can have." EDITOR'S NOTE: AND THIS, WRITTEN BY SOMEONE WHO PROBABLY DOESN'T GET THAT THE MAGIC OF HARRY POTTER FAR TRANSCENDS THIS SORT OF CORPORATE DUMBING DOWN. AND THAT THIS IS ALSO BEING PREACHED TO PEOPLE WHO ARE FAR TOO BUSY STAMPING OUT INDIVIDUALITY AND INDEPENDENT THINKING TO COMPREHEND THE MESSAGE. (AND IF YOU NEED TO BE TOLD THAT ETHICS AND ETHICAL ACTIONS ARE IMPORTANT, ARE YOU TOO FAR GONE FOR ANY PREACHING TO BE OF VALUE?)
From the perspective of many ancient thinkers, he observes, the single most important human virtue is courage. That's also a virtue needed in business, where tough decisions are demanded of leaders. But he points out that few business or leadership books offer any concrete guidance about how to develop courage and muster it when required.
Courage, of course, is probably Harry Potter's most striking quality, amply displayed in his adventures. Mr. Morris stresses that it derives not from fearlessness but from a determination to do what's right even in the face of fear.
In various passages, readers are told Harry's stomach lurched, he felt icy cold, his heart jumped into his throat, or he felt a sensation of numbness or paralysis throughout his body.
But his values push him on, as he is determined to do what is right, not what is easy.
Mr. Morris pulls out five basic strategies from Harry Potter's encounters with danger that we can use in difficult or even frightening situations:
Prepare for the challenge: As athletes demonstrate, nothing builds confidence and supports courage for a difficult undertaking like preparation. Harry undergoes exhaustive practice for his Qudditch matches, the sport of wizards played on broomsticks with flying balls.
Surround yourself with support: One of the most important themes of the Potter stories is the value of friendships. Everything Harry is able to accomplish is rooted in the collaborative efforts of his friends, teachers, the groundskeeper Hagrid, and Prof. Dumbledore.
Engage in positive self-talk: The human mind is subtle and can work with us or against us. In difficult situations, a positive frame of mind can be helpful and a negative outlook deadly. In the stories, Harry occasionally seems to work explicitly on beefing up his courage, reminding himself of what he has accomplished in the past and how he is capable of taking care of himself.
"It matters what we tell ourselves in the privacy of our own minds and in the solitude of our own rooms," Mr. Morris cautions.
Focus on what's at stake: Remembering what's at risk in our work will renew our sense of purpose and restore our energy. For Harry, often a friend's life is in peril, and that encourages action.
"Great values defeat fear," Mr. Morris states.
Take appropriate action: As Harry acts, fear vanishes.
"Sometimes when great values are at stake, you just have to take action, regardless of how things look and no matter how you feel," Mr. Morris sums up.
Whether you have read any of the Harry Potter books or not, Mr. Morris presents a leisurely, enjoyable excursion through them, gleaning insights, and adding in observations from various philosophers, notably Aristotle. It's an unusual mix, but highly appealing for those who appreciate such essays. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO. TAKE A SERIES OF BOOKS DESIGNED TO BE THE ANTITHESIS OF GROUP-THINK, AND SHOE-HORN THEM INTO A BIZ-LANGUAGE CHEERLEADING SESSION. WHERE PEOPLE WILL GO BACK TO THEIR OFFICES AND USE THE CONVENTIONS OF FEAR AND SHAME AND SAMENESS TO MAKE SURE NO ONE STEPS OFF THE PARTY LINE TRACK.
YES, I'M CYNICAL ABOUT THIS SORT OF THING, BUT I'VE EARNED IT. (AND IF I HAD A WAND....AND ANY MAGICAL POWERS....I'D SMITE SOME PEOPLE, OR TURN THEM INTO TOADS, OR SOMETHING).
SO THEY'D BETTER WATCH OUT!
New Wizard of the Month
JK Rowling's official site has been updated with June's Wizard of the Month.
1962 - present
Wrote bestseller 'My Life as a Muggle', after giving up magic for a year.
Married to celebrity gardener Tilden Toots.
EDITOR'S NOTE: I WONDER IF THEY'D LET ME BRING MY STAR WARS ACTION FIGURES WITH ME WHEN I GO LIVE IN HOGSMEADE?