I recently spoke at a TEDGlobal conference on the topic of facing challenges and raising questions within companies. Few businesses do this well, frequently enough, or with sufficient energy. For the most part, employees still think that the way ahead is to agree with their bosses and that dissent is a recipe for disaster.
One response to my talk came from a blogger named Michael Schultz, who quoted the founder of Honda:
"Proceed always with ambition and youthfulness. Dreams--or ambitions--are the positive driving force that motivate us. They can motivate us over our lifetime. They cause us to seek out challenges and to be unafraid of failure. To make dreams come true, we push to overcome obstacles. In our pursuit of dreams, we challenge ourselves and those around us. When we achieve our dreams, we feel a true sense of accomplishment.
Youthfulness has no direct relation to chronological age. Youthfulness is a spirit that can best be described by the wholehearted commitment to ideas. It is the fresh, open-minded passion for learning. It is untempered by experience. It is neither mired in habit nor bogged down by conservatism. It is challenging the obvious and taking risks. Each associate must approach work with ambition and youthfulness, or a challenging spirit."
I wonder how many companies today are run in this spirit. Perhaps they started this way but lost their youthfulness. Or perhaps it is how the founder still feels, but no one knows or believes it.
The one thing I've found as I visit companies and talk to their employees is that it is beyond rare to encounter a business where challenges are believed to be welcome, where debate is encouraged, and where agreement is regarded as lazy. Even in organizations with dynamic leaders eager for debate, employees are fearful, timid, and often cynical. It's an interesting thought that the leader's job is to keep them young and dreaming.