Friday, 19 April 2013

Carpe Diem! Seize The Day!

I am not one for Latin - the late Nick Earle gave up on me when I was about thirteen, and who can blame him.  

But, despite my appalling performance in the third form, I am full of admiration for Latin, at least since I heard the most wonderful phrase, ‘carpe diem’. 

And what do these nine little letters mean?  Well, the literal translation is ‘Seize the day!’ - but the real meaning is a motto for the very way we should be living our lives!
The quote comes from the movie, ‘Dead Poets Society’.  
In the movie, Robin Williams takes a bunch of pretty stuck-up, full of themselves, privately-educated pupils (much like myself at the age of thirteen) and he inspires them to make their lives extra-ordinary!
He takes the students to a photograph of past students and asks about the alumni, ‘How many of them really lived out their dreams?  
Did they do what they set out to accomplish?’  
And at this point in the movie, the teacher leans towards his charges and whispers, ‘Carpe diem! Seize the Day!’
I spend my life as a consultant and mentor working with managers, business advisers, pilots and bankers - very often these people are simply living out scripts given to them by their parents (‘Find a girl, settle down, if you want then you can marry…’).  
Or, even worse, they are completing a trajectory started when they joined the firm at the age of eighteen (suddenly they are 38, with two kids, a Rover 100 and the rest of their lives mapped out, or so it seems).


Well, it is not simply my mid-life crisis kicking in.  
Mind you, I cannot deny that starting to plan my son’s 18th  birthday party is only marginally worse than planning my own forty-something-th. 
And then I remember that there was that time when my band could have gone on to get a recording contract…
No, the significance of carpe diem is not purely of interest to my private life.  
The fascinating thing is that carpe diem applies to the business, to the manager, and to the personal life.  
Maybe I need to explain what I mean a little more clearly.
There are certain, some might say, fundamentals that can be applied to the business organisation, or the manager, or to one’s private life.  
Most of the focus of the American pop-psychology-type self-improvement movement focuses on the development of the self.  
There are several problems for me when I try to read or listen to the materials of the motivation and success speakers such as Anthony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracey, Stephen Covey and John Gray.
One problem for me is that I find it nigh on impossible to filter out the thick American accent; the American-ness seems to positively ooze out of every word in what is usually a ‘deep South’ and/or a highly evangelical tone.  
To make matters worse, these people have wives (usually) and children who, they take pleasure in telling you, are happy and loving and caring and hugging because this is the right way - to devote one’s energies to the love of one’s family.  
This psuedo-Waltons version of happiness is enough to send me reaching for a simultaneous overdose of honey, chocolate, pipe tobacco, sweet white wine, slippers and day-time television - life is never really like this!
However, and I do mean it, if you can only cut through the candy floss pink soft focus of the presentation there are some fundamental lessons that can be learned, most notably for the business, and for the manager and for the individual as well.
The three key lines as taken from the works of Stephen Covey as well as the Neuro-linguistic programmers (NLPers) run along the following lines:
  • Take responsibility and control - be proactive. 
  • Start with the end in mind - if you know what your endpoint is, then you can work towards achieving it
  • Prioritise - do the really important things first.
These lines are a really powerful message for businesses. 


Every successful business must, to a greater degree, take control of its destiny - you cannot simply be like a cork on the ocean, waiting for the next wave to sweep in the direction of success.  
Too many businesses have gone bust because they refused to accept responsibility for what was happening to them - they would not raise their head above the parapet.
I am loathe to admit it but, as a child, I used to collect frogs and put them in saucepans of water.  
We would then place the saucepans on top of the cooker - we would then turn the gas rings on under the saucepans.  
Frogs do not notice changes in the temperature of their environment - the water gets hotter and hotter, until eventually, the frogs explode.
Businesses are often the same - if they do not make themselves aware of the environment then they run the risk of blowing up - “strategic” planning is about planning bearing in mind the context and the environment that you are working in.


Businesses must decide their course and understand the obstacles and barriers.  
If you start with the end point you can often see what needs to be done more clearly than when you are simply looking ahead. 
And here we can bring in exercises such as ‘writing your own epitaph’.  The sort of epitaph that might be written is a direct result of the way we have run our businesses (or lives).  
Our behaviour to date determines our epitaph to date.  
But the good news is that if we want a different epitaph, it is up to us to behave in the way that will bring us the new epitaph.  
The issue is whether we are able to decide what the epitaph should say and whether we are able to live it out in our daily lives.


Clarity about goals brings with it clarity about what is really important in a business. 
Carpe diem is about doing and achieving things - don’t let the people who say that things cannot be done stop those who are doing it.   
Sometimes we need to ‘go for it’.  
My belief is that if we are clear about what we are trying to do (in general terms) then we can recognise the opportunities that are in front of our eyes. 
And remember that failure and success go hand in hand.
And another naff quote is ‘I wish I’d…’. 
What’s interesting about I wish I’d is that in interviews with elderly people, they do not regret what they have actually done - what they regretted was what they had not done.  
They ended up wishing that they had seized the day.
In the ‘New World’ the winners will be those who stand out from the crowd - but to do this, they need to be opportunistic and take some risks: 
  • Tom Watson - the founder of IBM was asked by a young employee, ‘How can I improve my success rate?’.  The reply was ‘Double your failure rate!’ because as long as we learn from our mistakes then we are progressing into new territory.
  • Thomas Edison - had 1052 patents in his name, had 7,000 failed attempts at designing a latex rubber plant and 11,000 failed experiments to design the filament light bulb.  At his 5,000th light bulb failure, the newspapers referred to his work as ‘Edison’s Folly’.  When asked why he kept on trying, Edison responded that he had simply found 5,000 ways that it did not work and so he was getting closer to success.  Persistence is often everything.
  • Colonel Sanders - had to visit over 1,000 restaurants before he could find one that would give him a royalty for his chicken recipe.
  • The Wright Brothers - who would have accepted their invitation to go up in one of their first aeroplanes? - often new things seem crazy!
  • Sylvester Stallone - to prove that persistence (and not even talent, it could be argued) is all that is required, he attended 292 film tests before he was given his first part.
We cannot separate failure from success - I’ll give a fifty-pound note to the person who could ride a bicycle on their first attempt.

Given the right culture, it is attitude that really matters - they do say that your attitude determines your altitude - or to put it another way, success is 15% about skills and knowledge and 85% about attitude!
Carpe diem, my friends!

No comments: