When a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it...


Little epiphanies

If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? Well, at one time I thought it did not, mostly because I was taught that perception was reality. I have to admit that I am not nerdy enough to be literally intrigued by the physical perception of sound waves, but I was curious about each person's situational awareness to perceive right from wrong.

If one doesn't have the awareness, as far as they are concerned it could be happening in a faraway forest.

If someone does something wrong and no one responds, does that make it okay? This question keeps coming back to me especially when I know that I have often times ignored that uneasy feeling and proceeded as if everything was alright.. because if you ignore it, maybe it doesn't exist - right? The little things- they are so easy to look past as we rush through our crazy days. The habit of starting every day fresh, forgetting what happened the previous day.

Interestingly, I found the answer in the most unexpected of places and in the most literal of ways - at the local gym where I volunteer to teach classes. When I turned up at the studio at 4:55 am, the benches and risers stacked up against the wall had completely collapsed. It probably fell in the middle of the night when no one was there. It would have caused quite a stir if it had fallen in the middle of class onto unsuspecting people. The reason for its collapse was pretty straightforward. It had to be stacked in a particular order - grey on grey, black on black. Apparently, the night class did not pay attention to the order and had stacked it wrong.


Similar to the fallen tree problem, the benches had fallen in the middle of the night when no one was around, therefore, in theory, causing no harm. If it had actually fallen during class, I would have paid a lot of attention to it and followed up with a lot of folks on it. But because no one was hurt, I didn't feel the urgent need to respond to it.

But the result of ignoring the little things was right there - lack of awareness caused the collapsed equipment, which wasn't perceived when it happened, but it certainly had the potential to cause a lot of harm if it happened at a different time. So addressing little things as they happened was critical to prevent a collapse later - thus giving the answer to the original tree problem,

Yes it does create a sound and even if you ignore it the sound will be heard one day - very loud and clear.

In the current world we live in where you cannot escape breaking news of powerful people toppling down every time you turn on the TV, it is critical to explore how we are conditioned to ignore the symptoms that turn into trees and might eventually topple.

We know that the news items are just the tip of the iceberg. Below that there could be a world of simmering disengagement, high-stress levels, microaggressions, unhealthy competition, schmoozapalooza fed egos and invitation-only circles in the workplace. This could be either coasts or mid-America, it could be in corporations or startups. Noone says anything because each by itself does not feel big enough to worry about. It could pile up high and teeter, but if no one is present in the forest, does anyone care?

It is becoming very clear that we should care. We should care about the little things that add up, listen to the gut that tells us when something is not right - when you feel that you or someone you know is not getting to be their best self.

It is not about creating preferential treatment for people, it's all about creating that open environment and culture of respect, feedback, and information equality so everyone feels part of the same team, the same company.

It's easier for me now that I have all the say to create and shape our company, being able to keep the commitment of transparency, respect and inviting people to bring their whole self to work. My commitment to myself and my team is to be more present and conscious of the means and pay attention not just to the end result, but to the journey that we are all on together.

Google has a good philosophy - Do no harm. That's great, but I think we can go beyond that. Why not Do good - for your people, customers, communities?



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