“All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is in making the connections.”
The remarkable gentleman who said this quote, Arthur Aufderheide M.D. (1922-2013), certainly lived by these wise words.
An energetic man with an innate curiosity of the world, Dr. Aufderheide was a medical school professor for the University of Minnesota who founded an entirely new area of scientific research: paleopathology – the study of the spread of diseases in ancient civilizations through the forensic analysis of mummies (think of it as CSI: Ancient Civilizations!).
Aufderheide pursued this unique research with gusto for three decades, traveling the globe locating and examining mummies, in the process defining best practices in the scientific examination of mummies taught and practiced around the world, while also aiding present-day understanding of the spread of diseases. His research would also rewrite history; for example, Christopher Columbus did not infect the native peoples of the New World with fatal diseases brought from the Old World as historians had long assumed; Aufderheide’s research revealed tuberculosis was prevalent in the Americas five centuries earlier.
Aufderheide’s innovative research revealed new insights by correlating new data drawn from new sources that had been waiting for centuries to be discovered. I’m sure anyone involved in any aspect of business intelligence, big data analytics and enterprise information management can easily appreciate this.
Just as important, Dr. Aufderheide was the perfect person to make those new correlations. He came up with the idea for his unique research by combining his decades-long knowledge of disease with his many personal interests in archaeology, anthropology, outdoorsmanship, world travel and native cultures. It was the perfect correlation of his passions, interests and expertise. His research inspired his students and earned the recognition from the global scientific community because he absolutely loved doing it – right up until he finally retired at the age of 86.
Of course, Dr. Aufderheide made a living doing this work, but he could have also “made a living” (as in “work for the paycheck”) by remaining in his original career as a hospital pathologist, a job he no longer found fulfilling. Instead, at the age of 55, he wisely made a career change into academia. Had he opted to just “tough it out” in his old job, counting the days to early retirement, it’s safe to say his remaining life work would have been mediocre at best. By the same token, a different university professor who found his work just as unrewarding most likely would have produced little if any meaningful new research of their own, even if she or he was given Aufderheide’s idea!
There are two key business takeaways from the story of Dr. Aufderheide and his successful life work:
First: Organizations with a culture of genuine passion for its mission will outperform competitors that don’t, even if those competitors are much bigger with much deeper pockets.
This is true for a couple of key reasons; for one, passionate companies will only hire people who will share their passion. At a recent open discussion event at General Assembly Boston, start-up founder and CEO John McEleney emphasized the critical need for start-ups to hire with great care. You must “have the right people on the bus” and keep mediocre players out of the organization, by requiring any new potential hire to be sponsored/referred by an existing employee. Product Management executive Gopal Shenoy agreed, adding that former SolidWorks CEO John Hirshtick often said that “hiring is the most important thing you do in your company” – and he expected Shenoy and other managers to change their schedule as necessary to accommodate a colleague’s request to interview a job candidate.
Unlike organizations that pay mere lip service to the notion of passion for their company missions, leaders of truly authentic passionate organizations empower managers and workers to passionately pursue the company’s mission to the fullest, free from company politics, turf wars or internal arguments. Otherwise, an organization will end up with people who are just working for the money.
Second: Organizations with genuine passion for its mission will develop and utilize technology far more effectively than other companies. They will uncover more/better/faster new data correlations revealing new business answers drawn from big data analytics, enterprise search, information management tools, and other complementary technologies. This is because they are always actively asking new questions about their business.
And because they are not wasting their time dealing with palace politics, questions about the business are not only asked freely, but they are also actively encouraged by leadership without judgment or blame.
Finally, I encourage you to check out Simon Sinek’s viral TED presentation directly related to this topic if you haven’t seen it yet (or if you have, definitely well worth watching again!):
Well, that’s definitely describes the kind of organization I’d love to work for. How about you?😉
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