Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Long, long ago, younglings, there was a grand adventurer named David Livingstone.  He had one job, tasked to him by his boss.

After failing his training course, a sympathetic staffer gave him one more chance to pass.  He did and became a missionary.  Livingstone was sent to Africa (after his request for China fell through) to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity.  That's the entirety of his task list: spread Christianity.

In 32 years he had converted, according to his own records, one person.  One soul. To the minds of middle managers worldwide, that would fall into one of two categories; either "a big miss" or "bad ROI".  Both of which are glaringly short-sighted and inaccurate.  While he may not have hit the target for his original task, his accomplishments outside that job description are without question a "big win".  Let's take a peek at 5 of Livingstone's outside-the-task-list successes, shall we?

         1)  He gave his life working to end the slave trade. Not on the original 'Scope of Work' but I'm fairly certain it could be voted unanimously as a really great thing. Yes, the missionary bit might not have been great, but seeing the horrors of slavery first hand and doing all he possibly could to stop it REALLY matters.Now that's what I consider a 'positive, forward-thinking' staffer.
         2)  He wrote the map for AfricaLiterally. While scooting around looking for people to introduce to Jesus, he became arguably the most prolific explorer of his age. These activities not only allowed future generations to safely navigate the land and waterways. Nope, not on the 'action items' spreadsheet, but quite magnificent.

         3)  He worked with non-traditional medicines to create cures. A skilled doctor, he abandoned that practice to do the missionary gig.  While in Africa, he kept his mind open to embrace a different way of thinking.  “Livingstone Rousers” were pills that helped him overcome Malaria, with the help of local 'witch doctors'.  Basically, he created the idea of 'inter-departmental collaboration'.  In the middle of a jungle in the 1800s.  Rock Star, this man.

        4)  He was willing to give praise and credit to the higher-ups that he respected.  When he came upon the most beautiful waterfall he'd ever seen, he did not immediately name them "David's Neat-O Water Park" or "Livingstones Splash Pad" - no.  He named them after the monarch he adored, Queen Victoria. Talk about your '30,000 foot view strategic plan'...

       5)  The 'only one person converted' thing is a bit of an mis-statement.  Current scholars say that “Livingstone did not try to change the indigenous cultures and languages of Malawi. Instead, he allowed these to subsist together with Christianity.”  The missionaries that came after him set up health systems, schools and centers for education. That, my friends, should be considered a 'win-win'.  In every context.

Perhaps we can begin to take a look at how employees perform outside their specified duties, and see if they might actually have the capability of changing the world by simply changing tasks.

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