Listen, Learn, Lead

My current read is Talk Like Ted by Carmine Gallo. This book examines why certain people thrive when it comes to public speaking and presenting their ideas with each person being a former speaker at a TEDx conference. I came across the following passage from Ernesto Sirolli which I found extremely thought provoking:  

At the age of 21, he worked for an Italian NGO and “every single project that we set up in Africa failed.” Sirolli’s first project was to teach villagers in southern Zambia to grow tomatoes. “Everything in Africa grew beautifully. We had those magnificent tomatoes...we were telling the Zambians, ‘Look how easy Agriculture is.’ When the tomatoes were nice and ripe and red, overnight, some 200 hippos came out from the river and they ate everything.

And we said to Zambians, ‘My God, the hippos!’

And the Zambians said, ‘Yes that’s why we have no agriculture here.’

‘Why didn’t you tell us?’

‘You never asked.’”

If you want to help someone, shut up and listen. That’s what Sirolli learned from his early experience in sustainable agriculture. “You never arrive in a community with any ideas,” he said. Instead, he recommends, capture the passion, energy, and imagination of the people living in that community.

Sirolli’s intentions were great. He wanted to help the people of Zambia. Yet, he assumed they were unknowlegable rather than inquire about their limitations. This is an important lesson to always approach situations with a curious mind in order to understand why things are the way they are. Sometimes, solution seem easy to come about. Then the hippos come out of nowhere prove to us we are not as smart as we think we are. Go deep, ask questions, and listen intently to those you are serving. Never assume you have the answers without getting to know the situation.