After working on a project that demanded all my knowledge and experience of the past 40 years, I was rewarded with deep learning and epiphany.
As I was reading Rachel Remen’s Kitchen Table Wisdom for the 23rd time, I came across the part that described the work of business consultants. Although Remen was talking about the work of medical doctors, if we viewed business consultants as business doctors it is still so true. It is a story about an elderly woman with cancer who decided against surgery that would prolong her life. Her decision enraged the hospital and staff. 35 years after this incident, Remen presented this tory to a class of medical students.
Recently, after I presented this story to a class of medical students, a second-year student commented that he felt the problem was that the doctors had known this woman’s disease, but not the woman herself. Who was she? he asked. She was elderly. Had anyone found out what she had lived by all that time? What was important to her?
A fine discussion ensued about the difference between defending a person against death and making a commitment to their life. The students raised some hard questions: How do we serve life? Can we know what is “best” for people, or do we only know what is best for the treatment of their disease? Is it possible to improve someone’s physical health and yet diminish their integrity?
So I have felt about my recent project. How do I know what is “best” for people? I feel common business consulting practice may improve a company’s financial statement which is supposed to reflect the health of that company, but I also feel many of practices to improve the bottom line sometime diminish the company’s itegrity.
Remen wonders how comments like the one her medical student made would have been received 35 years ago by her class mates and teachers, and she suspected it would not be received well. Business world has been changing too. Thinking about these deep matters may not have been important in the past, but it is our job now to consider these matters.