Monthly Archives: September 2010

Nasrudin’s Gold Coin

Nasrudin lost his lucky gold coin. For days he searched everywhere for it, but it was not to be found. Finally, Nasrudin fell to his knees and prayed:

“Oh Lord, I’ve lost my gold coin. I’ve  done everything I know to do, but it’s still missing. Please help me Lord. It’s my most precious possession. Help me find it, and I promise I will give half my wealth to the poor.”

Nasrudin opened his eyes. Immediately he spotted his gold coin, lying almost completely hidden under his prayer rug. Quickly Nasrudin closed his eyes again and said: Continue reading Nasrudin’s Gold Coin

Nasrudin Loses His Keys

Late one night a friend of Nasrudin’s found him standing under a streetlight, peering anxiously at the ground. “What are you doing?” the friend asked. Nasrudin replied, “I’m looking for my keys.”

Being a good friend the man joined Nasrudin in the search. After ten fruitless minutes, the friend asked: “Nasrudin, exactly where were you standing when you dropped your keys?” Nasrudin pointed toward a dark alley. “Over there.” Continue reading Nasrudin Loses His Keys

Nasrudin Makes Soup

Nasrudin had some vegetables and grain; his friend had a meaty bone from a lamb roast. Together they made soup. Nasrudin got a pot and picked some herbs while his friend fetched water. After each ate his fill, another serving of the rich, hearty soup remained. Nasrudin set it aside for tomorrow.

The next day a man knocked at Nasrudin’s gate. ”I’m a friend of your friend. He said I could have his share of the soup.” Nasrudin eyed the soup wistfully, but he added enough water to stretch it to a weak but still tasty broth and they both had a portion. A bit of broth remained in the pot, which Nasrudin set aside for breakfast.

Next morning another man knocked at Nasrudin’s gate. “I’m a friend of the friend of your friend, and I’ve come for some soup.” Nasrudin took some water, heated it, poured it into a bowl, and handed it to the man. He took one sip and asked: “What’s this?” Continue reading Nasrudin Makes Soup

Nasrudin Plays Golf

Nasrudin took up golf and quickly fell in love with the game. Every day he and three others met just after lunch and got in 18 holes. He returned home every afternoon, tired and happy.

But one day he returned home quite late, and his wife could see he was in a terrible mood. “Nasrudin, what happened? Didn’t you enjoy your golf game?”

Nasrudin replied: “It was just terrible! Bob teed it up on the first hole, hit a great drive right down the middle of the fairway – and keeled over, dead of a heart attack!” Continue reading Nasrudin Plays Golf

Nasrudin and the Strange Green Fruits

Nasrudin loved to experience new cultures. Once, in India, he sat in the market and watched people shopping for a bewildering variety of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. He noticed that everyone bought one particular small, green fruit, so he used his last rupees to buy a kilo of it.  He sat under a tree, with great anticipation bit into one of the fruits – and choked as his mouth began to burn as if on fire!

“How unfortunate!” he thought to himself. “I must have chosen a bad one.” So he picked another of his small green fruits, bit into it – and found the fire in his mouth doubled.

Just then, a passerby saw the tears streaming from Nasrudin’s eyes and asked what was the problem. When Nasrudin explained, the passerby laughed and said: “Those fruits you bought are chilies! We only buy one or two, and use them to spice a big dish of vegetables. Nobody ever eats them raw.”

Nasrudin nodded thoughtfully, looked at the large pile of chilies in front of him, picked up one and began to eat. The passerby was astonished: “Why, man, now that you know what they are, why are you eating the chilies?” Continue reading Nasrudin and the Strange Green Fruits

Nasrudin Shoots an Arrow

Nasrudin decided to try his hand at archery. He fit an arrow to the bow, aimed at a nearby tree, pulled back the bowstring and let fly. The arrow flew straight past the tree and stuck in Nasrudin’s shirt, which was hanging on the line to dry.

Nasrudin let out a great shriek and sank to his knees, wailing. His wife rushed from the house to find out what was the matter.

Nasrudin pointed in horror at the arrow sticking out of the shirt. His wife looked at the shirt, pulled out the arrow and said: “Nasrudin! What’s wrong with you? It’s an old shirt, it’s only a small tear, I can mend it – what’s the big deal?” Continue reading Nasrudin Shoots an Arrow

Nasrudin’s Donkey Goes on a Diet

Nasrudin attended a lecture on the health and spiritual benefits of fasting. He was impressed by the speaker’s claims, but, being a cautious man, decided to try out this new path to enlightenment on his donkey first.

He began slowly, cutting back the donkey’s food by a little each day. And everything was great – the donkey seemed more cooperative, he did all his work, and Nasrudin was saving a lot of money on his food! Finally Nasrudin achieved full implementation of the program: the donkey received no food at all. Nasrudin eagerly anticipated seeing with his own eyes the health and spiritual benefits of fasting. Continue reading Nasrudin’s Donkey Goes on a Diet

Nasrudin Takes a Hike

Nasrudin decided to go for a hike in the wilderness. Since this was new territory for him, he studied the map beforehand, and planned out his route carefully. He put a good sandwich into his backpack, made sure his water bottle was filled, and set off.

Hiking in the mountains, Nasrudin came to a fallen tree which completely blocked the trail. He started to go around the tree, when suddenly he encountered a huge bear who did not seem happy to see him. Nasrudin ran back the other way, the bear in hot pursuit. Nasrudin tripped over a rock and fell into a mud puddle as he scrambled uphill. He grabbed the sandwich from his backpack and threw it at the bear, who, being more interested in the sandwich than Nasrudin, stopped to eat it while Nasrudin scrambled out of the mud and over a ridge.

After a time, being sure the bear was no longer following him, Nasrudin sat on a rock to clean up and get a sip of water. He took the map from his backpack and looked at it with disgust, saying to himself: “I’ve got to get a better map! None of that stuff was on this one!”

Commentary: Alfred Korzybski famously said: “The map is not the territory.” He might as well have said: “The plan is not the reality.” Plans are everywhere in organizations: strategic plans, business plans, action plans, investment plans, growth plans, cost-reduction plans … It’s hard to be taken seriously in business, politics or academe without a well-documented plan. And we do take them seriously: in many circles, “not making plan” is the strongest criticism of a manager’s performance. Just as we wouldn’t start on a trip without mapping out our course, we want to be sure to have a good plan before we start our endeavor.

But once we get going, reality has a nasty tendency to deviate from the plan. A sharp competitor cuts into our market share; interest rates head down instead of up; a new technology opens up a whole new set of opportunities; we recruit some key players for our team while losing some others; credit markets freeze solid. What do we do about the plan, then? Do we “stay the course,” insisting on “making plan” regardless? Do we revise the plan, or just abandon it and improvise? At what point does the plan become an obstacle to success?

But there may be a deeper meaning here as well here. Could Nasrudin be asking us to recognize that reality is filled with unexpected hungry bears?

Is he reminding us that something big and unplanned for always happens? How often do we find, looking back, that the most important thing we had to deal with was completely unforeseen? Perhaps we should consider the fallen tree and the bear as the rule, rather than the exception. We can’t know what it will be, or when it will come, but one thing Nasrudin asks us to consider: when all is said and done, the least likely scenario is finding that everything played out as we planned.

Nasrudin may be reminding us to keep our eyes out for hungry bears (and that sometimes you need a good sandwich to feed the bear more than you need a good map).

Contemplation: How are your plans doing in matching reality? Are you confusing the map for the territory? What are you doing to keep an eye out for hungry bears?

Dedicated to the millions of people who lost trillions of dollars in 2008 when the “impossible” and completely unforeseen became real.

Nasrudin Buys a Horse

Nasrudin witnessed a horse race. He was enthralled by the great beasts, galloping with such power and speed around the track, and he resolved on the spot to replace his plodding old donkey with one of these magnificent creatures.

Nasrudin went to the market and bought the biggest, most spirited horse he could find. He had never ridden a horse, but he had spent his life riding donkeys, so, figuring it can’t be that much different, he jumped onto the horse’s back.

The horse, being startled by this unexpected turn of events, bucked wildly and started to run. Nasrudin was thrown forward and began to fall off. He desperately threw his arms and legs around the horse’s neck, and wound up hanging below the horse, looking up at the by-now-frantic beast who was running at top speed.

A friend saw the scene and shouted out: “Nasrudin! Where are you going?” Nasrudin called back as he disappeared into the distance: “Don’t ask me! Ask the horse!”

Commentary: On first consideration this might be a cautionary tale, warning us of the dangers of getting caught up in “the latest and greatest” – technology, management fad, Wall Street story, whatever. Who among us hasn’t “upgraded” our good old reliable software only to spend hours (days, months) recovering from the “improvement”? How many companies have “diversified” at great cost of time, money and opportunity, only to shed these “diversions from our core business” a few years later? How often have you done things “the way it’s being done now” only to find that way doesn’t work for you?  How many hot sectors have you invested in, only to see them crater in the next quarter? How much better off might we be if we stuck with what we really need instead of chasing what we think we ought to have?

But there may be a deeper meaning here as well. How much of what we as leaders think of as “control” is really – illusion? Ricardo Semler, owner of Brazil’s legendary Semco and author of the provocative business autobiography Maverick, routinely challenges fellow CEOs to show him their five year plans – from five years ago. He routinely gets embarrassed refusal. Do you – do any of us – really have any idea where the market or the economy is headed? Are you really sure how your workforce will respond to the new corporate initiatives? Your customers to the new product line? What direction your industry is headed in the long run? What your financial results will be quarter by quarter, let alone five years from now? Do we keep up this illusion of control because the truth is too humbling – that if one really wants to know where we are going, we would have to say: “Don’t ask me – ask the horse!”

Contemplation: What horses have you been “riding” lately?