“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures.
And all day he says over and over, ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’”.
(The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943).
The Little Prince was voted the best book of the 20th century in France and has been translated into more than 250 languages. It is one of the most loved books. Everyone knows the story: an aviator in the desert facing long odds of survival, encounters a strange young boy, who has travelled from his home on a distant asteroid, where he lives alone with a rose. The rose has made him miserable and he has flown to other planets. He is advised by a wise fox, and by a sinister snake. The Little Prince was written at times of war, and in fact it relates to emotions, conflict, isolation, fear, uncertainty, and of course, connection and love.
The world is going through unprecedented change, we are confronted with conflict, fear and uncertainty every day. World politics affect us all: they should; one cannot remain indifferent when core values are shaken and unstable dangerous characters rise to power. The labour market is changing rapidly: automation is threatening jobs and Artificial Intelligence is behind the door. The jobs that remain squeeze employees harder and harder – we need to work more, and faster, for less. But not all is gloomy, we have more opportunities than ever, and we have the skills to engage in resistance to unethical leadership and find new ways of working and creating a better world.
The mindset of winners and losers so fiercely promoted by Trump, business and relationships based on obsessive competitiveness, leadership based on impossible productivity targets and a culture of incessant digital communication and self-promotion invading our private lives alienate us from our better selves. Conflict and unhealthy competition are dehumanizing and overwhelming.
Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince is very relevant today, we need to rescue the young inquiring person, get pass the red-faced men obsessed with adding up figures who miss the flowers and stars.
Intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs, ecologists, pacifists, true leaders, engaged workers, passionate artists, defenders of equality and equanimity: the world needs you to wake your Little Prince up. So that we can see a rose, love it for its fragility and become responsible for it.
On his journey to Earth, the Little Prince meets men who have been “reduced” to functions: the Businessman, the Astronomer, the Lamplighter: they have all identified with their professions and lost sight. They are now blind and can no longer see the stars.
“People where you live,” the little prince said, “grow five thousand roses in one garden… yet they don’t find what they’re looking for…”“They don’t find it,” I answered.
“And yet what they’re looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water…”
“Of course,” I answered.
And the little prince added, “But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”
As Adam Gopnik says, in his article in The New Yorker: “It is, again, the essential movement we find in Camus, only in “The Little Prince” it is shown to us as comic fable rather than realistic novel. The world conspires to make us blind to its own workings; our real work is to see the world again.”
Our lifestyles and competitive mindsets have neglected the two most essential innate human qualities that will help us deal with the challenges ahead: creativity and collaboration. To create we need to observe, see with both our eyes and our emotions. To collaborate, we need to do the same: see people beyond their function and connect with genuine curiosity and empathy.
Take a crash-course in networking from the Little Prince:
“All grown-ups were children first. (But few remember it).”
“... I have had, in the course of my life, lots of encounters and lots of serious people. I have spent lots of time with grown-ups. I have seen them at close range... which haven't much improved my opinion of them.
Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: "What does his voice sound like?" "What games does he like best?" "Does he collect butterflies?". They ask: "How old is he?" "How many brothers does he have?" "How much does he weigh?" "How much money does his father make?" Only then do they think they know him.
If you tell grown-ups, "I saw a beautiful red brick house, with geraniums at the windows and doves on the roof...," they won't be able to imagine such a house. You have to tell them, "I saw a house worth a hundred thousand francs." Then they exclaim, "What a pretty house!"
Next time you meet someone, awaken your Little Prince and ask “important questions”. Perhaps if people had asked the red-faced man something that really matters, like “can you love a rose”, they would have known better…
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