Sometimes, the way things happen leaves me breathless.
At the Certificate Program conducted in rural Nicaragua during the week of September 5, I prepared for two and one-half days of presentations on the topic of open book management. I have a long history with the subject, having adopted an aggressive open book management initiative at Foldcraft Co. in the 1990’s and having spoken frequently on the topic, especially within the employee-ownership community. This should have been familiar ground for me.
But sharing OBM experiences at Foldcraft is a lot different than trying to teach the essential components over the course of a few days, especially to an audience which has heard little of the concept previously, produces crops as opposed to commercial seating, has likely received limited other education of any kind, and which does not speak or understand the English language. I confess to experiencing reservations about my ability to effectively engage and teach. Nerves, even.
I began Monday morning tentatively, feeling the group and measuring the level of its receptivity, as I always do. But my audience quickly calmed me down. I sensed their partnership in this learning event immediately, a feeling of collaboration that fed my own confidence and, in turn, their own. We took off together in ways that presenters often dream about, with interest, enthusiasm and absorption mutually fueling our energy.
This rural Nicaraguan cohort proved to be among the most interested and receptive groups with whom I have ever worked! I had quietly hoped for careful listening and signs of eagerness; what I experienced was rapt attention and ideas being internalized even as I spoke. They exhibited a hunger, perhaps giving example to the notion that “there must be a hunger before food for thought can satisfy the need.”
By Tuesday, my sense was that our learning together was becoming something special, a collaboration which had begun to feed upon itself, elevating to not just a good session for conceptual learning, but a memorable event that might, in fact, hold transformative capacities. I think we were all sensing it. And then, a little bird told me that it was so.
I had just begun reciting the tale named, “The Snowflake.” For the uninitiated, I reproduce it here:
“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a tiny bird asked a wild dove.
“It is nothing but a crystal, so it is nothing more than nothing,” was the answer.
“In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the tiny bird said. “I sat on the branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow. Not heavily, not in a raging blizzard. But just like in a dream, without a wind, without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd flake dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing as you say, the branch broke off.”
Having said that, the tiny bird flew away.
The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for change to come to the world.”
On Tuesday, I had no sooner uttered the words, “a tiny bird,” when a hummingbird suddenly flew into our meeting room through the open door and landed, stunned, upon the floor. I stopped talking. The participants went silent, watching this little creature in wonder. They looked from the bird to me, as if somehow I had orchestrated its arrival at that very moment for effect. But I was as stunned as the hummingbird and, realizing that, the class erupted in utter amazement and joy.
Yeris, a beekeeper and friend of creatures great and small, scooped up the hummingbird, cradling it as though its arrival had been a most special gift. It remained quite still in his open hands, as if willing to share the beauty and symbolism of its presence. It was then gently escorted from the room, to be administered a few drops of sugar water in order to revive its energy for flight. Yeris returned to the room with thumbs up, and within minutes the intrusion was complete.
Some in the room looked to each other to understand what had occurred. Others bore enormous smiles in realization that they had just witnessed something rather incredible. I noticed two in the group who appeared to wipe away tears. My own heart was absolutely racing. When I had sufficiently composed myself, I could only ask whether the group felt blessed in some way, to which there was universal assent. Do you believe in messages?
“The Snowflake” was intended to be but a small contribution to the week’s lessons, albeit a powerful one. Amidst days of workshop rigors, knowledge transfer and difficult exercises, the story occupied but a tiny fraction of our time. But on occasion, those fractions can become like the weight of a snowflake, significant in their importance and memorable for reminding us what we are capable of knowing and feeling….