Well, no, I didn’t actually get to meet Zulfi Hussain to say ‘Hello’ – but we were in the same room and we made eye contact and he will know who I am because I was the guy going on about the importance of values in understanding diversity. (“Hey, Zulfi, that was me…Keith Rice!”)
If I sound unusually humble and maybe even a little subservient – fawning, even! – not at all my usual pompous and arrogant self…well, I spent some time yesterday with one of those rare people who just make a difference in the world. Almost just by who they are. You just know, being with them, that you are in the presence of someone special – very special indeed!
I can probably number on one hand the people who have made me feel that way previously: Spiral Dynamics co-developers Don Beck & Chris Cowan, Meta-States developer L Michael Hall, ‘Inner Child’ specialist Penny Parks, maybe former Hidden Resources head honcho John Lavan….
The occasion was a get-together yesterday morning of some of the speakers and committed participants in the ruins of the 6th annual Yorkshire Leadership Conference. The Conference, so successful in previous years, had already been rescheduled once. On the day a vibrant, forward-looking conference of 100-plus participants and a over a dozen speakers and facilitators should have been plotting the evolutionary development of the Yorkshire & Humber region and beyond; instead a rump of less than 25 of us met to discuss the viability and progress of the key issues. Yorkshire Leadership Programme leader David Taylor – whom I have known since the heyday of the 21st Century Group – seemed both genuinely upset and perplexed by the collapse – hopefully, just temporarily – of the conference.
But, as was acknowledged by several participants, once I put values and needs into the discussion using Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943, 1971), the concepts of corporate social responsibility, the environment and sustainability are too far up the Hierarchy to be relevant to many small businesses focussed on survival in what is increasingly being talked up as the worst recession since the 1930s.
Although the meeting was so far from what had been intended, it did produce some useful discussions. Though they were largely inconclusive, you never know what little seeds of ideas might germinate from them in time.
Zulfi was the highlight
At least for me, he was. His story, as he told it, was truly inspirational and a fascinating example of vMEMES at work.
A self-made multi-millionaire who came to this country as a young boy with no experience of formal education, he suffered severe racial abuse at a Bradford secondary school on an estate which was a National Front stronghold. Yet Zulfi appears to harbour no grudges – no bitternesses – from what were clearly traumatic experiences. (At one point he and other Pakistani students were forced to take cover in a part of the school which “we could defend” because it had only two access points.) You might have expected Zulfi’s PURPLE vMEME to polarise him into a position of tribal isolation and opposition to the white tribe whose own PURPLE demonised him and his fellow Asians while his RED would want revenge, taking the law into its own hands in a clear vacuum of dependable BLUE order….
How Zulfi mutated from the harassed, beaten and abused teenager into the suave and confident businessman before us was not part of his story on this occasion. However, he did credit his father’s guidance during these years. There may, however, be an interesting mix of vicarious learning and genes in Zulfi’s development as his father obviously was also a remarkable man, being one of the few Indian soldiers to escape and survive from the Japanese prisoner of war camps during World War II.
The Zulfi of today seems slightly extraverted, a persuasive speaker who was not shy either of reading us a poem composed, he said, for the occasion or of showing us his impressive list of credentials, concluding with his MBE award. However, none of this came across as the kind of bragging RED – or even ORANGE – might engage in. Rather it was part of a strategy to show us what could be done if there was sufficient will.
I have no doubt that this man is capable of 2nd Tier thinking.
Connections and bullying
It was Zulfi’s story of how he set up his Global Promise Foundation which most illustrated what can be done and which demonstrated his 2nd Tier mastery of 1st Tier thinking.
His GREEN horrified by the devastation wrought by the ‘Asian Tsunami’ of 26 December 2004, his TURQUOISE realised some of what needed to be done to prevent more of the survivors dying. His ORANGE entrained by 2nd Tier thinking made the best use of his huge network of business contacts, to acquire both much-needed supplies and the means of getting those supplies out to the survivors. With people dying first from injuries and then from disease, speed was literally of the essence and Zulfi’s 2nd Tier-entrained RED was put to use in what sounded at best like brutal badgering and at worst like outright bullying.
Zulfi told us gleefully how he telephoned one senior BT executive early in the morning of 26 December and said: “The sooner you say Yes, the sooner I’ll let you go back to bed.” Another company, who offered some clothes over the phone, soon found themselves with Zulfi in their offices; 4 hours later their offer had expanded to 3 full containers. Zulfi then told them he wanted one more thing: transport. Thus, the company was bullied into bullying their haulage contractor into transporting the clothes for free.
Zulfi’s TURQUOISE could see that cash was needed as well as supplies and he set up a number of fund-raising events, even exploiting members of his own family! Money was taken from younger members of his family if Zulfi could get an aged uncle onto the dancefloor; when the ruse was explained to the uncle, he was badgered into promising £5,000 a head if Zulfi could perform a similar trick on the youngsters. Which he did. RED using PURPLE for 2nd Tier purposes!
Through his fund-raising, Zulfi raised over £2M – a relative drop in the ocean in terms of what was needed in the aftermath of the tsunami – but undoubtedly it saved lives. And, if lots more £2Ms were raised….
It also was the start of Global Promise, with its vision of making “a real difference to the quality of life of local communities around the world, helping them achieve their potential.” Interesting that Zulfi uses ‘Promise’ – such an optimistic term – rather than the usual ‘Concern’ or ‘Relief’ or ‘Aid’.
It was an inspiring privilege to hear his stories and realise some of just what can be done if there’s the will.
Friday, April 10th 2009 at 13:12
I think, David, you’re absolutely right. We have to help the businesses which are focused on survival find ladders out of the pit.
To change metaphor…
Battoning down the hatches and trying to ride out the storm may work for some purely as a survival stategy but there’s not going to be much left on deck when it’s eventually safe to come up. Far better to set a different course that takes you somewhere different around the edges of the storm.
I guess the challenge for people like you and I is talking to them in their language to link up survival with the bigger picture concepts so that they can see beyond the storm.
Wednesday, April 8th 2009 at 21:31
Keith – I enjoyed the blog. The only thing I would say is that I wasn’t perplexed and upset personally; I was framing it that way to create the group exploration. Your evaluation in values-terms is spot-on. The challenge is whether to simply focus on activity that is about survival – join the businesses in the “illusion” that is recession, or focus on ladders to help them out of the pit and move their awareness further up the spiral. It is an intereswting challenge in Spiral terms.