In 2001, I spent a week in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti helping to build a mission house to allow missionaries better access to the Afghan Village. It was one of those life changing experiences that doesn’t really hit you until you get home. The people, the heat, the hard work, the dire conditions, the supreme optimism by folks who don’t even have water to drink and genuine kindness are just a few of the things that I remember.
I’ve always been a bit sarcastic and one to make light of most situations (thanks Dad!) and wanted to describe my experience to my church once we were home. As typical, I was prepared with a few funny stories (humor always works in presentations) and some very descriptive depictions of what it was like there. I remembered one of my favorite quotes from the trip, “You don’t know what it is like in Haiti until you’ve seen it, smelt it and felt it.”
I stepped up to the podium ready to wow everyone and demonstrate my communication skills that were about to lend themselves to NC State University for the next six years and I froze. I realized that this wasn’t about storytelling, or how the people there were more inclined to give you the shirt off their back than 99% of the United States, but it was about how skewed our views and perceptions are – er – my views and perceptions.
I fought back tears as I described the experience (and lost for the most part) and advocated that everyone should find a way to go to Haiti. That was my senior year of high school and it changed my life instantly. Many of the superficial high school things were suddenly so petty and immature…it was like I grew wise beyond my years in one week.
Almost 10 years later, Haiti has been hit with one of the worst disasters in history. A nation with a history of corrupt leaders and incredible people is in peril once again. As meaningless and insignificant as I am to that situation, it has forced me to re-evaluate things a bit…just like when I returned home from my trip in 2001. The home I stayed in is now rubble…five people died in that house last week. The children’s hospital (very last picture) I spent some time in collapsed…it was one of the incredible images in the Boston Herald.
“Only after disaster can we be ressurected.” – Chuck Palahniuk
It is extremely easy to keep pushing forward without evaluating your performance. Do you have a baseline? As companies and professionals, representing products and services, it is all too easy to find ourselves in the superiority bubble trying to inform the masses on why our widget is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Which coincidentally, the inventor of the bread slicer never made a huge impact…he sold the slicer and not the sliced bread.
We need to focus on meeting consumer and customer needs. Too often decisions are made in corporate war rooms by many smart people, but that could be missing the mass-market mark. Cough, cough, let’s put an inferior television in a refrigerator and bump the price a couple thousand dollars.
I challenge you to evaluate how you are meeting the needs of your market more frequently than infrequently. Don’t wait for a disaster to shake you into action. If we are proactive with our companies, products, careers and selves we will see exponential improvement.
Listen, learn and react smartly.
My experience in Haiti always reminds me to continuously improve and not to take anything for granted. To be people-first.
If you sell wheelchairs, have you spent a week in a wheelchair? If you sell games, have you played them? Have you watched passively to see how customers or potential customers use and interact with what you’re selling?
There are a lot of smart people in the world…heck…you are probably one of them, but sometimes it pays to be the dumb guy (that’s the basis of what I hope to present at Ignite Raleigh actually).
Humility is scarce these days, but if you take the time to remove the World’s Smartest Man cap and listen attentively…you may be surprised what you learn.
- Going to Haiti changed my life. I went with New Directions International and it was incredible. Please do what you can to help the Haitian people and make sure you give or volunteer with a reputable organization.