December 22, 2009
Earlier this week, Prince William lived out at least one side of the famous story of The Prince and The Pauper. After all, it's in his DNA. When William slept rough in the streets recently, he carried forward his mother's vision of increasing awareness about the plight of homeless teens in London.
While some may cast a cynical eye towards William's efforts (along with front page publicity and goodwill it generated), I look at the exercise as a win/win/win venture that all of us should draw from insight from.
For Prince William, this exercise is a coming of age story for a young leader. First of all, he makes the move from sympathy to empathy when it comes to the issue of homelessness. Before this night of "sleeping rough," he felt bad for the poor (sympathy). After the experience, "he could only imagine...," which takes his understanding of the situation to a higher level. This is also the level that the poor would like to be thought of at too. The homeless don't want pity. They want safety, food and to feel good. Pretty much the same thing all of us want. I think Prince William gets that a little bit better now.
The second benefit to the young leader is that he's smashing his fears by confronting them through the experience of being destitute. Last year, I viewed a five minute talk by Tim Ferriss on "Practical Pessimism." In it, he shared ideas from Stoicism that suggested that the powerful, rich and noble all experience poverty and eat what the beggars eat and wear what they wear. The exercise, helps the have-alots confront their greatest fear: Losing all the stuff. I predict the exercise will help Prince William feel fearless when it comes to moments or even extended periods of not having more cash than you can count.
For the homeless he encountered, there are benefits too. For some, he gave them a shot of hope, believing that help might be on the way. For others, the attentive appearance of Prince William in their hood gave them a voice to the world - and a dose of dignity too.
Done with taste, you can benefit from this exercise too. You can find a way to immerse yourself in the intersection of the community's biggest needs and your greatest assets. Who knows, you might be the only person reaching out this year.
Is there a customer in need? In my first book, I shared the story of Michael Rawlins (former CEO of Pizza Hut). Each Friday, he called his best customers to check on service, thank them for their loyalty and hear out their life stories. One day, he called a single mother of five that worked three jobs to make ends meet. While he didn't walk in her shoes for a day, he listened empathetically. For both of them, it was a life changing conversation. Thanks to Google Books, you can read The Pizza Hut story for all the details.
What is the analog in your business? What did your mother (think founder) care about? Are you still carrying that cause on?